Review of Mage’s Blood by David Hair

January 7, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

mages blood coverMage’s Blood (The Moontide Quartet #1)
By David Hair; Performed by Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 25 hours
Themes: / fantasy / crusades / religion /
Publisher summary:

Most of the time the Moontide Bridge lies deep below the sea, but every 12 years the tides sink and the bridge is revealed, its gates open for trade. The Magi are hell-bent on ruling this new world, and for the last two Moontides they have led armies across the bridge on “crusades of conquest”. Now, the third Moontide is almost here, and this time the people of the East are ready for a fight… but it is three seemingly ordinary people that will decide the fate of the world.

Overall, 2.5 stars. I prefer character driven stories, and this is definitely that. So why didn’t I enjoy it? The answer for me at least is the characters. I found most of them unenjoyable. If I have no one to really root for, the story has to be that much better or I’ll be bored. Don’t get me wrong, there are things to like about Alaron and Elena, but there is a lot not to like. I don’t need perfect characters who fall into the chosen one trope, but something about their faults really just rubbed me the wrong way and I often found them frustrating and unlikable.

The best character in the book was Alaron’s friend Ramon, who while he was basically a walking trope, was brought excellently to life by Mr. Podehl’s narration and added some nice comic relief to the story. Most of the other characters are flat, or too trope heavy. We have some mustache twirling bad guys, and the helpless Ramita who seems to merely be there to drive the plot as a goal/pawn for the other characters in the book.

The world building here was alright, but seems to borrow too heavily from actual cultures (in particular the Middle East, and religion of Islam) that it didn’t feel much like being transported to another world apart from the magic. And that was another issue I have. I guess Brandon Sanderson spoiled me for poorly developed magic systems, but it all felt just a bit too hand wavy to me.

Overall this book was just too uneven. There were some parts I really enjoyed, and there are questions I’d like to keep reading to get the answers too, but it’s just not worth it for me. There is too many other things I’d rather be reading.

This is my first audio book read by Nick Podehl. I’ve heard mixed, though mostly positive things about him as a narrator, especially for the Kingkiller series.

I thought he was excellent here, and really helped me get through the unenjoyable parts of this book. I think if I was reading this rather than listening, I might have quit the book without finishing.

I look forward to listening to other books read by him in the future, just not the other books in this series.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Marshall versus the Assassins by M. Harold Page

August 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Marshal vs. the Assassins by M. Harold PageMarshal versus the Assassins (A Foreworld SideQuest)
By M. Harold Page; Performed by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 13 minutes

Themes: / Foreworld / Mongoliad / crusades / fantasy / assassins /

Publisher summary:

Sir William the Marshal, legend in his own time, has promised to go on crusade, a vow made to his Young King as he lay dying. But when the Oliphant, legendary war horn of Roland, is stolen by the lethal Assassins, he’s charged with returning the relic in order to stop the very thing he’d vowed to undertake—a crusade; this one engineered by the thieves. With his small band of trusted companions—Sir Baldwin, his tourney compatriot; Eustace, his squire; and Henrik, the giant Norseman—William sets out to take back the relic. But treachery abounds, and when William loses two of his companions, he discovers an unlikely ally—Da’ud, an Assassin himself, bent on taking the Oliphant from the heretic faction that has stolen it. The three fight their way across land, sea, and desert, only to find themselves facing an army…and the Oliphant within their grasp.

This is another book in the Foreworld Sidequest world, another story based on the a real-life character in a real-life time. This time, the character is William the Marshal, a knight who served Henry the Young King. The story grounds itself it William’s time with Henry the Young King, about a relic that Henry earned and William’s promise to Henry on Henry’s deathbed. William promised he would lead a crusade, though while trying to gather the funds to do so, the Oliphant (a supposed relic from the time of Charlemagne) that was buried with Henry is stolen by assassins. The Knights Brethren charge William with its recovery, declaring that failure to do so would give rise to a new crusade.

The self-contained story finds William set out on this task, coming across new crosses and double-crosses and creating alliances with some of the most unlikely characters. The tale was entertaining with many fight scenes–indeed, it seemed that William travelled primarily from scuffle to scuffle and had some semi-mystic power to not only survive but survive victoriously in each skirmish. To be fair, in such a short story, it can be difficult to keep track of motives and characters, and sometimes this was the case here, but in general, it was a short and fun story.

Simon Vance narrated this story, another diversion from series regular Luke Daniels. As usual, Vance’s work was not only fantastic, but with his English accent, it felt like he “belonged” in the world. Unlike other stories, this one didn’t reference characters or places mentioned in other books/stories, minimizing the chance for confusion with pronunciation differences. This makes the story more “stand-alone” but may also be frustrating for those hoping for more stories from well-known characters. Regardless, it was an entertaining way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Lion in Chains by Angus Trim and Mark Teppo

June 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Lion in ChainsThe Lion in Chains (A ForeWorld SideQuest #3)
By Angus Trim and Mark Teppo; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: November 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 2 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / Roman Empire / King Richard / crusades /

Publisher summary:

Many were displeased with the “peace” King Richard of England brokered in the Holy Land, and his return from the Crusades wasn’t greeted with cheers, but rather shackles. Now a “guest” of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Lion-Hearted is being held for an exorbitant ransom…so much money that it seems unlikely that the silver will make its way from Britain to Germany. For converging on the caravan are a number of groups with very different motives: French troops who want the silver to continue their war with the English, mercenaries intent on causing chaos, English longbowmen looking to protect their country’s future, and Shield-Brethren hoping to ensure King Richard’s freedom. With a surprising cast of characters, The Lion in Chains is a Foreworld SideQuest that illuminates a decisive moment in European history in an unexpected way, revealing another secret in the long-reaching narrative of the Shield-Brethren.

Note: This book is available individually (as I listened to it) or as a part of the book SideQuest Adventures No. 1, which includes this story, The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, and The Shield-Maiden: A Foreworld SideQuest.

This story is a “sidequest” in the Foreworld Saga, basically a side story to the main-line books intended to give readers more information on certain characters in the Mongoliad series. The events in this book are well before the events in The Mongoliad: Book One and provide some background on Ferrenantus, one of the Knights Brethren who features prominently in the main Foreworld books as the leader of the Knights Brethren involved in defeating the Kahn of Kahns. The events in this book may actually form some of the basis for a flashback Ferrenantus has in Katabasis.

Set in the late 1100’s, The Lion in Chains tells the story of Richard the Lionheart’s capture by then Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. There is tension between England and the Holy Roman Empire, and even some of King Richard’s subjects are frustrated with his peace deal with Saladin. Henry VI comes to the great fortune of having King Richard more or less fall into his lap, so he captures him and holds him for a large ransom. There is a game of chess going on, though, and Henry VI has plans to get the ransom through unofficial channels, though Richard expects this and maneuvers to stop the trickery. King Richard uses his “serving man,” Ferrenantus, and Maria, a woman sent to Richard by his wife, to thwart Henry’s plans.

Through the course of the rather short story, we meet not only Ferrentantus and Maria, but also Rutgar, another Knight Brethren who is in The Mongoliad, and Robin Hood and his band of men. There is humor, there are a couple battles/skirmishes, and of course, there is intrigue in the story. All in all, the short tale gives us a glimpse into what made Ferrenantus the character he was in the main Foreworld books and a bit of fan service with the Robin Hood aspect of the story. This book wouldn’t stand well on its own, but having read the main books in the Foreworld Saga, it was an entertaining diversion for an afternoon (well, part of an afternoon–after all, it WAS only 2 hours long).

Luke Daniels’ narration was a welcome return after the disappointing narration of the 5th book, Siege Perilous. His reading made it easy to listen to and pulled me into the world. Even his female voices weren’t over-the-top but still made it obvious who was speaking. With most of the other books in the series narrated by him, it felt “normal” and somewhat comforting to have him read this one, too.

In the end, it was a cute story that provided some interesting background to the main Foreworld story line. I definitely recommend this book to those who have read the other books in the Foreworld Saga, and possibly to others who might be interested but would like to “sample” the work and world before diving in headlong.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of Dreamer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad by Mark Teppo

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

DreamerDreamer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad (Foreworld Saga)
By Mark Teppo; Performed by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 25 September 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 1 hour, 25 minutes

Themes: / crusades / hallucinaion / pacifism / monks / mongoliad /

Publisher summary:

During the Fifth Crusade, the bloody siege of Damietta grinds to a stalemate and a young Christian soldier begins having visions… Raphael of Acre, a young initiate of the Shield-Brethren, becomes a war hero during a vicious battle for control of a Muslim stronghold. One of his companions, Eptor, is wounded in the battle and falls under the influence of strange hallucinations. When a superior plots to manipulate Eptor’s visions into war propaganda, Raphael struggles between duty to the cause and duty to his faith. Unable to reconcile his roles as Christian and soldier, Raphael seeks out an unlikely source of counsel — the great pacifist Francis of Assisi. Part of the Foreworld Saga, Dreamer confronts the paradox of using sword and fist in an effort to spread a message of humility and compassion.

Like Sinner earlier this year, Dreamer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad is a prequel to the main books in The Foreworld Saga. We once again see Raphael, this time without Andreas, well before the events in The Mongoliad: Book One.

This story written by Mark Teppo is less plot-driven than the previous books in the series. Instead, it recounts a part of Raphael’s past, and uses the writing to drive home some important themes/things to think about. The story is really two stories–one in Raphael’s present (1244 or so) and one in his past (1219 in the battle of Damietta in the 5th Crusade). Raphael, you may remember, is a sworn knight, and participates in the battle against the Muslims during the Crusades. One of his brothers takes a vicious blow to the head during the battle and word gets out that, as he’s recovered, he’s had visions/hallucinations that seem to be prophetic. One of Raphael’s superiors in the battle would like to use these visions to twist the truth and turn the tides of the battle, with Raphael acting as the “witness” to the prophecy. Raphael is obviously torn between his dual loyalties–that to morality and that to his superiors.

Some years later, he is still feeling the heavy weight of his decision. He seeks out St. Francis of Assisi–a pacifist–as a counselor. This is the “second timeline” of the story, Raphael’s recounting of his tale to the non-violent brotherhood and Assisi himself. This is where a second morality question is presented, the difficulty of being both Christian and a soldier. Early on, Raphael reminds us that as a Christian, he is to love his fellow man. He also reminds the peaceful brothers that the Muslims have a saying much like the Christian “peace be with you,” even if they don’t believe in the same God. Of course, as a soldier, it’s his duty to go where he is commanded, to fight for what’s “right.”

I usually like my stories to have a bit more plot than this one did, but I found myself enjoying the background and insight into Raphael’s character. I’m not sure I would have liked this story if I hadn’t read other (more action-y) books in the series, hadn’t already been introduced to Raphael. So if you are going to read this, I definitely recommend reading at least Sinner: A Prequel to the Mongoliad first.

As usual, Luke Daniels did a fine job with the narration. I was able to put in my headphones, lay back in my recliner, and relax as I let the story wash over me. Unlike The Mongoliad: Book One, there weren’t too many characters with odd-sounding names in this book, making it easier. I’m looking forward to going back into the main Foreworld saga, onto The Mongoliad: Book Two.

Posted by terpkristin..

Review of The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente

March 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Folded World (A Dirge for Prester John, #2)The Folded World (A Dirge for Prester John #2)
By Catherynne M. Valente, Read by Ralph Lister
9 hours 18 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 2011
ISBN: 1597802034
Themes: / Fantasy / Creatures / Monks / Quest / Immortality / War / Crusades / Parenting

Publisher Summary: When the mysterious daughter of Prester John appears on the doorstep of her father’s palace, she brings with her news of war in the West–the Crusades have begun, and the bodies of the faithful are washing up on the shores of Pentexore. Three narratives intertwine to tell the tale of the beginning of the end of the world: a younger, angrier Hagia, the blemmye-wife of John and Queen of Pentexore, who takes up arms with the rest of her nation to fight a war they barely understand, Vyala, a lion-philosopher entrusted with the care of the deformed and prophetic royal princess, and another John, John Mandeville, who in his many travels discovers the land of Pentexore–on the other side of the diamond wall meant to keep demons and monsters at bay.

These three voices weave a story of death, faith, beauty, and power, dancing in the margins of true history, illuminating a place that never was.

To fully appreciate this book, it is essential to first read The Habitation of the Blessed (A Dirge for Prester John #1), because The Folded World starts off right where the last book left off. The mythology of this trilogy is thick, and the second book builds nicely on what is developed in the first.  Where in The Habitation of the Blessed, the reader is introduced to all the fantastical creatures and the ways of the new lands, The Folded World digs deeper into the stories of some of the characters.  Although Prester John himself has lived with his blemmye wife for some time, he is still experiencing life as an outsider as he tries to put his own religion through the filters of the various beings he encounters.

It doesn’t help that the Crusades are going on, and the armies are getting closer.  Prester John doesn’t exactly fit in with his old life the way he used to.  This conflict is central to the development of the overarching story that I’m sure will continue in book #3.

While The Folded World lacked the breathtaking impact of the first book, probably just because the overall world was familiar to me, the same elements that I loved are present here – beautiful writing, a detailed mythical place with its own history and stories, and the clash between worlds.  There is one more book planned in this series, with the release date tentatively set for November 2012.

Posted by Jenny Colvin