Review of The Waking Fire

August 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Waking FireThe Waking Fire (The Draconis Memoira, Book 1)
By Anthony Ryan; Narrated by Steven Brand
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 5 July 2016
[UNABRIDGED] – 22 hours, 34 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / epic fantasy / magic /

Publisher summary:

Throughout the vast lands controlled by the Ironship Trading Syndicate, nothing is more prized than the blood of drakes. Harvested from captive or hunted Reds, Greens, Blues, and Blacks, it can be distilled into elixirs that bestow fearsome powers on the rare men and women known as the Blood-blessed.

But not many know the truth: that the lines of drakes are weakening. If they fail, war with the neighboring Corvantine Empire will follow swiftly. The Syndicate’s last hope resides in whispers of the existence of another breed of drake, far more powerful than the rest, and the few who have been chosen by fate to seek it.

Claydon Torcreek is a petty thief and an unregistered Blood-blessed who finds himself pressed into service by the Protectorate and sent to wild, uncharted lands in search of a creature he believes is little more than legend. Lizanne Lethridge is a formidable spy and assassin facing gravest danger on an espionage mission deep into the heart of enemy territory. And Corrick Hilemore is the second lieutenant of an Ironship cruiser whose pursuit of ruthless brigands leads him to a far greater threat at the edge of the world.

As lives and empires clash and intertwine, as the unknown and the known collide, all three must fight to turn the tide of a coming war – or drown in its wake.

Executive Summary: A great start to a new series. It blends a lot of different things together in an interesting way to feel original. I’m really looking forward to see where he takes things from here.

Audiobook: Steven Brand is a great narrator. He reads with good inflection, and does a few voices. In the past my main complaint about him has been he speaks too quietly. He’s either fixed that, or the people making the books are adjusting his volume up to make him a lot easier to hear than past books I’ve listened to.

Full Review
I absolutely loved both Blood Song and Tower Lord. It’s possible that it made it impossible for me to love Queen of Fire. Either way, I was disappointed enough in that book, that I was reluctant to pick this one up. I had planned to wait on reviews from people I trusted to come out before getting it. Then a review copy fell into my lap.

This book is kind of a hodge podge of several things I love: Mistborn, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Dragons. And if that’s not enough there is also high sea adventure, and pirates! That may sound like a mess, but Mr. Ryan does a great job in blending those elements together. I also can’t guarantee all of those things were influences on this book, but they are things I thought about as I was reading.

Mistborn has one of my all time favorite magic systems. This one feels similar, only a little less structured, and with only 4 known types of abilities. The main similarity is the idea of imbibing something in order to do magic, and that only a small number of people are born with the ability. Beyond that they are quite different.

My favorite character is Lizanne, who is basically Jane Bond. Her story line was always my favorite, and I really want to know more about the training she went through. I hope we get some flashbacks or possibly her training new recruits in future books, but then I’m a sucker for the magic school trope.

Clay was also a great character, and a more reluctant protagonist then Lizanne. His story was reminiscent of an Indiana Jones story, with him being basically nothing like him. If anyone is Jones it’s maybe his uncle.

The final protagonist, Lt. Hilemore was enjoyable enough, but I spent much of the book wondering how his story fit in with the other two. Rest assured it’s made clear by the end of the story, but it takes awhile. That doesn’t mean his story wasn’t interesting, it just felt disconnected from the rest of the book for me. With him you get high seas battles and pirates!

None of that even scratches the surface of the great supporting cast. Each subplot has it’s own supply of interesting characters. And if 3 interesting protagonists influenced by different elements, and a great supporting cast isn’t enough. There are Dragons. And really, isn’t that enough?

Overall, I’m glad I got this is a review copy because I really enjoyed this book. I just hope he can take his time on the sequels because I felt like his last book suffered from rushing to completion to meet a deadline. I love getting new books in a series once a year, but I’m willing to wait longer if the author needs more time. I’m hoping he’ll be able to bring this to a more satisfying conclusion than his previous series.

Review by Rob Zak.

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Review of Star Wars: Bloodline

August 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Bloodline by Claudia GrayStar Wars: Bloodline (New Republic)
By Claudia Gray; Narrated by January LaVoy
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 3 May 2016
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 14 minutes

Themes: / Star Wars / New Republic /

Publisher summary:

WITNESS THE BIRTH OF THE RESISTANCE
 
When the Rebellion defeated the Empire in the skies above Endor, Leia Organa believed it was the beginning to a lasting peace. But after decades of vicious infighting and partisan gridlock in the New Republic Senate, that hope seems like a distant memory.
 
Now a respected senator, Leia must grapple with the dangers that threaten to cripple the fledgling democracy—from both within and without. Underworld kingpins, treacherous politicians, and Imperial loyalists are sowing chaos in the galaxy. Desperate to take action, senators are calling for the election of a First Senator. It is their hope that this influential post will bring strong leadership to a divided galaxy.
 
As the daughter of Darth Vader, Leia faces with distrust the prospect of any one person holding such a powerful position—even when supporters suggest Leia herself for the job. But a new enemy may make this path Leia’s only option. For at the edges of the galaxy, a mysterious threat is growing. . . .

Review:

To start I will say that I was about to give up on Star Wars books because I haven’t been enjoying them lately, but now I’m telling my friends that do like Star Wars book to go read this one because we might be turning a corner here.

What starts out as a slow, politics-laden story became a fun Star Wars book that actually had meaningful events. The recent flow of Star Wars novels have felt like filler more than content so it’s about time a story actually starting to really fill in some of the events between Episodes 6 and 7. The book isn’t perfect by any means but I enjoyed it well enough and it gives me hope that more good novels could still happen. Did you miss all the politics that didn’t happen in Episode 7? Well you are going to love the beginning of this book. Glad there weren’t politics in Episode 7? Be patient with the beginning of the book and you’ll be rewarded with some redeeming adventure afterwards!

The story begins with tension in the senate between Democrats and Republicans in the senate….err I mean Centrists and Populists. Really the whole two party system felt like an allegory for the current political climate in many ways. If you’re sick of all the primaries and partisan stuff going on, you’ll be able to relate to the nonsense going on here. Both sides of the New Republic government see each other a villains or weak and their bickering means nothing gets accomplished (see what I mean about it being just like our government???). Enter a real threat and everyone is too busy arguing to pay any head so lets send a bipartisan contingent to investigate! Leia (populist) volunteers to go on a mission to investigate this criminal organization and an annoying, pompous centrist volunteers to go with her.

Enter Ransolm Casterfo. This guy starts out pretty annoying but I actually came to really like him after the first little foray of adventure. He has more depth to him than many other Star Wars characters and is given many nuanced decisions to make throughout the book while dealing with the fact that he becomes friends with his political enemy. He has a big role to play in this story and does not disappoint. There are a couple of other interesting characters that are introduced in this novel and they are also often more than they seem…but Ransolm Casterfo is the best of them.

Speaking of adventure, the action has a bit of a rocky start but gets to be more interesting as the story progresses. There were some moments early on when I got pretty tired of Leia being some kind of expert of the criminal world and acting pretty reckless, but a lot of that pulpy behavior faded out as the story continued. Star Wars is still the kind of world where you don’t send special forces or spies to investigate criminal organizations, you send some of your most important leaders (Like how Star Trek always seems to have the top ranking officers of the ship on dangerous away missions).

As for the audio side of things Star Wars continues with its great formula of great narration, music, sound effects, and atmospheric sounds. January LaVoy does a great job with the narration even though her range of distinct voices isn’t as varied as some. The music and special effects were great as usual with some odd music choices for some scenes but some very poignant choices for others. Most of the atmospheric sounds were good but some scenes go on a while and I felt like the background noise was on a bit of a loop – a problem I haven’t heard from a Star Wars audiobook since Star Wars: Kenobi (thank goodness it wasn’t very distracting).

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Good Morning, Midnight

August 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Good Morning, MidnightGood Morning, Midnight
By Lily Brooks-Dalton; Narrated by John H. Mayer and Hillary Huber
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 9 August 2016
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / post-apocalypse / apocalypse / arctic / astronaut / science / literary /

Publisher summary:

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes that the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success. But when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crewmates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives? Lily Brooks-Dalton’s captivating debut is a meditation on the power of love and the bravery of the human heart.

Review:
Isolation, loneliness, facing down death. This book contains two interwoven narrative threads. One belongs to an aging astronomer named Augustine. The other thread belongs to an astronaut named Sullivan. Something bad appears to have happened, and Augustine chooses to remain at a remote Arctic base as everyone evacuates. Sullivan is on her way back to Earth from Jupiter when Mission Control goes dark.

The premise is appealing. I have a fondness for cold and hard distant landscapes. The arctic and space is ripe and powerful for story. Lily Brooks-Dalton writes a strong opening and a heck of an ending. It is a successful ending as it turns me inward. I am still thinking about… well, no spoilers.

I felt Sullivan’s narrative thread was stronger and better written. As character, she is more round and engaging than Augustine, at least for me. Most of my complaints are founded in my own study of writing and story, and may not be fair or interesting to the general reader. As characters go, Augustine was a disappointment, but Sullivan and her crewmates more than compensated. As noted, I felt the beginning and ending was especially well crafted, but the middle seemed to lag, and the writing here didn’t feel as refined. This leads me to my biggest bug, and this is pacing. I felt that too much of this story was back on its heels, and while this certainly can be metaphor to mirror an inward introspective sense of self and life and universe, at times this slowness pulled me from story. I also would have appreciated a deeper excavation of setting.

Audiobook:
This has two narrators, one for each story thread. John H. Mayer handles Augustine’s portion, and Hillary Huber takes care of Sullivan’s. I usually dislike more than one narrator, as I feel it runs the risk of getting in the way of what is being read, but this was handled quite nice, and I have no real complaints about the decision to use two readers. Both Mayer and Huber were pleasing and I found each voice suited the character. My only issue came with Huber’s accents. There is a South African, Russian, and an American Midwest accent that are rendered a tad dramatic. I think we can agree that this is a small thing, but it still kind of bugged me, and pulled me out of the moment.

This is a solid 3.5 out of 5, and I think if I weren’t so hyperaware of craft and story as story for story’s sake, I’d probably nail a 4 out of 5 on this book. In short, this is a fine book, and if you are at all interested by what this seems to be about, I think you’ll genuinely like it, a lot.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

 

Audio drama review: Robin Of Sherwood: The Knights Of The Apocalypse by Richard Carpenter

June 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Robin Of Sherwood: The Knights Of The ApocalypseRobin Of Sherwood: The Knights Of The Apocalypse
By Richard Carpenter; Performed by a full cast
2 Hours – CD or Digital Download [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Spiteful Puppet
Published: June 30, 2016

England in the reign of King John and a dark force is intent on conquest. Only the hooded man can stand against it… The church lies impotent at the mercy of the Pope and the interdict against the kingdom. With the people living in fear and a series of disappearances that threaten the very fabric of noble society, Robin ‘i’ the hood and his band of outlaws must race to rescue the past so that the future may be protected. A journey to Huntingdon and beyond Sherwood will see them battle their most dangerous enemy yet as Herne’s son faces The Knights of the Apocalypse…

If you close your eyes you’ll see it – it being a new two part episode of the classic ITV television series Robin Of Sherwood, minus the grainy 16mm film stock. From the opening Clannad theme – you’ll see it all – that brightly lit forest green, those grey stone castles and churches, the flashing swords, the flying arrows. You’ll of course hear them all too.

Early into The Knights Of The Apocalypse we learn that England is suffering under the “Interdict”, a punishment of all of England for King John’s offence of the Catholic Church. This really happened. The titular Knights of the Apocalypse, though fictional, are said to be a breakaway branch of the Knights Templar – and the ultimate historical destruction of the Templars is very effectively retroactively-foreshadowed in this production.

The two hours, in two parts, had me struggling with the heroes, thinking deep thoughts, rallying against the heavy hand of oppression, chuckling at the baddies, laughing with the heroes, worried at what might possibly happen next, then heart-warmed, and ultimately delighted at the lightfooted sweep all the little details added up to. This is an epic as big as The Swords Of Wayland and as revolutionary as Robin Hood And The Sorcerer.

Barnaby Eaton-Jones, the producer, seems to have made it his mission to make The Knights Of The Apocalypse as true to the original show as humanly possible. Soliciting initial funding using an indiegogo campaign, Eaton-Jones paired a script by the now deceased Richard Carpenter, Robin Of Sherwood‘s creator (he also wrote some of the show’s finest episodes), and tracked down every living member of the original cast to this production. The result is truly tremendous! It is amazing to hear the voices of that old cast once again – Mark Ryan (the brooding Saracen swordsman Nasir), Ray Winstone (forever the hot-headed Will Scarlet), Clive Mantle (smiling and gentle Little John), Jason Connery (that noble second incarnation of Robin, the hooded man), curly haired Judi Trott (voicing the summer maid of Sherwood, Marian), Phil Rose (the friendly friar, Tuck), and Peter Llewellyn Williams (Much, the simple miller’s son).

A lot of folks probably think of Alan Rickman as the most iconic Sheriff of Nottingham – he was terrific – but for me the worst (and by that I mean best) Sheriff of Nottingham will always be Nickolas Grace. Grace is back to his old tricks; playing that cowardly cartoon of law, that malefactor of injustice, all the while wonderfully dripping contempt and venom from every sour word. We get Grace in several scenes, including some with his equally contemptible brother, the Abbot Hugo, played wonderfully once again by Philip Jackson. A few of the voices are new, filling in for the deceased Robert Addie (Guy of Gisbourne) and Daniel Abineri (Herne, now played by his son). But we also get some audio drama stars like Colin Baker and Terry Molloy playing guest villains.

The Knights Of The Apocalypse is a magical experience. Its story will satisfy, so much so that it could slip-in right next to that final TV episode that aired June 28, 1986. No, this is not a reboot, not re-imagining, not a rerun – this is a reunification. You’ll be reunited in righteous camaraderie with the merry folk of Sherwood – doing the work that must be done, for the good of the people, and breaking the law as needs must.

In reading some of the other early reviews I think they’ve short-shrifted both the historicity and the timeliness (or maybe the timelessness) of what’s going on in The Knights Of The Apocalypse. This really isn’t just a story about how a cute cult TV show got a little fan service 30 years after the last episode aired. No, this is a story about power, politics, economics, about religion. This is a story about class and class struggle, human virtue and human vice. For who is King John, that off-screen terror, if not the hubristic government the governs for the rich and not for all? Who is the Sheriff of Nottingham if not a cynical functionary enforcing the unjust laws unequally, and for his own gain? And why is it, exactly, that an old folktale about a band of heroes who break the law for the good of the people so very, very resonant exactly 30 years (or approximately 550 years) after they were first told?

Here’s a recent piece of publicity:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Bigfootloose And Finn Fancy Free by Randy Henderson

June 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Brilliance Audio - Bigfootloose And Finn Fancy Free by Randy HendersonBigfootloose And Finn Fancy Free (#2 in The Arcana Familia)
By Randy Henderson; Read by Todd Haberkorn
13 Hours 36 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: February 2016

In this sequel to Randy Henderson’s acclaimed debut novel, Finn Fancy Necromancy, Finn Gramaraye is settling back into the real world after his twenty-five-year-long imprisonment in the otherworld of the Fey. He’s fallen in love again with Dawn, the girl next door who waited for him. He’s proved his innocence of the original crime of Dark Necromancy, and he’s finding a place in the family business – operating a mortuary for the Arcane, managing the magical energies left behind when an Arcane being dies to prevent it from harming the mundane world.

This is one of those “if you liked the first book, you’ll like this one” types of sequels. I have a great time with Henderson’s humor and his story is a unique, geekier urban fantasy than normal. It has many of the same urban fantasy tropes, but his twist adds something … less sexy, but filled with humor that mostly works.

And I say “mostly” because, and this could just be me, he’s also one of those author’s obsessed with the ’80s for some reason. I know, write what you know, but it’s almost like some authors (maybe just Henderson and Ernest Cline for all I know) think that you only have street cred if you’re an ’80s geek. Knowing other types of geekery is not at the same level and beneath ’80s geekery.

Now, admittedly, the Finn Fancy series has to do with a guy who gets outcast when he’s a kid during the ’80s and comes back in the present so that’s pretty much all he knows. So I get it, I get why, but at the same time I’m tired of it now. And now that we’re on book two, did we still really need to name all the chapters with ’80s lyrics or songs? I mean, the protagonist is now learning about what happened since his exile.

But those complaints aside, I really did enjoy Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free. Henderson’s humor shines with or without ’80s references and it’s a lot of fun. I like his whole mythos with the fae, fae-bloods, arcana, and any other magical you can think of. It’s a great world and well presented.

For the audio, Todd Haberkorn, the narrator, presents Finn well – relatable, silly, and serious all when he needs to be.

The Finn Fancy series is recommended if you enjoy urban fantasy, but you’ve done the same vampires/wizards/werewolves stories and you need something new…with those same creatures… I promise it’s different too.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

June 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Brilliance Audio - Twelve Kings In Sharakhai by Bradley P. BeaulieuTwelve Kings in Sharakhai (The Song of the Shattered Sands, #1)
By Bradley P. Beaulieu; Read by Sarah Coomes
25 Hours 57 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: September 2015

In the city of Sharakhai, Çeda fights in the pits to scrape by a living. She, like so many in the city, pray for the downfall of the cruel, immortal Kings of Sharakhai. Then on the holy night when the powerful yet wretched creatures known as the Asirim wander the city and take tribute in order to protect the Kings, one of them tells Çeda the origin of their dark bargain. And this dangerous secret may be the very key she needs to throw off the iron grip the Kings have had over Sharakhai….

Stunning, immersive world………………check
Deep, rich history……………………..check
Epic scale…………………………..check
Compelling plot……………………………..check
Exciting ending……………………………check

3/5 Stars

So why only 3 stars if this books scores so well on so many levels? Well, it comes down to the characters. I really didn’t feel much for them. Ceda starts out really cool and compelling. She’s the mysterious “White Wolf” who beats the crap out of an abuser in the fighting pit. How much cooler can you get?

But then as the story moves on, she pretty much gets her butt handed to her by just about every single person. She’s not clever and doesn’t say clever things, and she’s, frankly, annoying after a while.

Emre is the other main character and he’s equally as bland. He’s got a great history and great reasons to be a great character, he grew up on the street, helped save Ceda from the street and had it rough. But there’s not much to him. He seems to have trained Ceda in being boring and that’s it.

Now, the ending to this book is great, but had I not listened to this on audiobook I don’t know if I ever would have gotten this far.

And speaking of the audio, the narrator, Sarah Coomes, did do an excellent job. Her accents were, for the most part, on point although she has a tendency to make all older men sound just about the same, not to mention older women, especially seers or spiritual types. They sounded just about the same.

On the whole, I was really impressed with this book … until I started getting bored and the more I started to get bored the more I realized it was because of the main characters, I just didn’t care if they achieved their goals or not and only slightly cared whether they lived to do it or not.

Posted by Bryce L.

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