Review of A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

February 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

A Discourse in Steel Cover ArtA Discourse in Steel
By Paul S. Kemp; Read by Nick Podehl
10 hours 11 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / sword and sorcery / magic / adventure / fantasy city

My first encounter with the sword-and-sorcery genre came when I discovered Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, neatly packaged into audiobooks at Audible with introductions from no less a figure than Neil Gaiman. How could I refuse? While Leiber’s world-building was top-notch, though, I found fault with his lack of any real character development. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Seth, characters in a sword-and-sorcery novel aren’t supposed to be developed!  While I agree in principle that the genre is supposed to thrive on antiheroes like Michael Moorcock’s Elric, there’s a vast difference between making an intentional authorial decision not to develop characters, or to develop them in an unconventional way, and simply neglecting the care and feeding of a protagonist. Of this I found Leiber guilty. So I set the genre aside in hopes of finding a specimen more suited to my predilections.

Enter Paul S. Kemp’s Nix and Egil series. The eponymous heroes (it’s almost impossible to call them antiheroes) are, respectively, a sprightly little man of craft and cunning from the slums of Dur Follin, and a hulking, hammer-wielding priest of Ebenor, the momentary God. At first glance, you would be forgiven for mistaking this pair for Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, or, perhaps if you squint, Terry Pratchett’s Bravd and the Weasel. But where Leiber’s adventurers are often gray as the Mouser’s name, Kemp’s likable rogues flash and sparkle like a colored prism, reflecting and refracting their personae as the wheel of the story turns. And speaking of the city of Dur Follin, its twisting alleys, Low Bazaar, taverns, and guild houses are every bit as well-realized as Leiber’s Lankhmar.

I rediscovered fantasy in my teens through reading David and Leigh Eddings’s mammoth epics. While I now recognize that much of their work was middling at best, I still admire their capacity to write charming, amusing, and at times poignant dialogue. Kemp has honed this particular skill to a keen edge. The playful, good-natured banter between the two unlikely companions will have you laughing out loud one moment and pondering the mysteries of life itself the next. Their friendship is deep and genuine in the way that so many fictitious friendships simply aren’t. Nix and Egil each have their own past, present, and (it is to be hoped) future. Their hopes, fears, and regrets are writ large in the story’s pages, and this emotional element propels A Discourse in Steel beyond the mark of mere adventure into territory that far too fantasy novels explore.

You’ll notice I’ve said nothing of the plot. This is partly because I cordially dislike plot regurgitations in reviews, but also because the plot is, in a sense, unimportant. I don’t mean to suggest the plot is bad. In fact, it’s well-paced, intricate for a novel of this length, and not without its little surprises. But one comes away from reading this book with a sense that the plot served mostly as a backdrop for exploring these two remarkable characters, like set decorations in a theater performance. Of course, if all this emotional and philosophical discussion makes your eyes glaze over, and you just want to read fun stories of swashbuckling adventure, fear not, A Discourse in Steel has them in spades, or hammers. As you can probably tell by now, I am more captivated by the character development, and sometimes felt the plot barged in on a real moment of heart, but I confess that most readers will find the novel’s plot and pacing perfectly measured.

The novel isn’t without its faults. Nix and Egil are masterfully developed, but the book’s other dramatic personae, with a couple no notable exceptions, lack that same fit and finish. The villains, in particular, come across as fairly one-dimensional, even though they get a lot of stage time. Rusilla and Merelda, the tale’s damsels in distress, fare slightly better, especially towards the end, but as the series title suggests, this is the Nix and Egil show. The novel also flags a bit once the plot maneuvers the characters out of the stress of Dur Follin, which as a city is complex enough to be a character in its own right. To paraphrase one of the characters, Nix and Egil seem to belong in Dur Follin, and watching them out of their element, like fish out of water, takes a moment’s adjustment. The book’s last fault, if you could call it that, is that it ends too soon, leaving several key questions unanswered, questions about Egil and Nix, questions about the city of Dur Follin, and questions about the wider world beyond.

The audiobook is narrated by Nick Podehl, who, to me at least, has become synonymous with epic fantasy in audio, thanks in no small part to his narration of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. His bag of vocal tricks just seem to be a natural fit for the genre. He is able to glide smoothly between Egil’s rumbling curses and Nix’s falchion-sharp witticisms, and during the action sequences his sense of timing is impeccable. Podehl is the narrator equivalent of what’s called in Hollywood a character actor. He lacks the star power and name recognition of a Simon Vance or a William Dufris, but if you’ve listened to many audiobooks recently, you’ve probably heard his voice. He certainly does justice to Kemp’s work.

A Discourse in Steel is the second Nix and Egil adventure, but it can be read on its own, though its predecessor, The Hammer and the Blade, is nearly as good. I’m grateful to the efforts of Paul S. Kemp and his creations Nix and Egil for showing me that the sword and sorcery genre can embody both style and substance. Maybe it’s time I revisit Leiber and the other S&S greats; maybe I’ll find they’re not as soulless as I thought.

Reviewed by Seth Wilson.

The SFFaudio Podcast #034 – READALONG: The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

August 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #034 – Jesse and Scott have invited a roster of internet celebrities on for this podcast to talk about Richard K. Morgan‘s novel The Steel Remains. Listen in as…

Brian Murphy (of The Silver Key blog and The Cimmerian),

Gregg Margarite (LibriVox.org narrator and book coordinator),

and Luke Burrage (professional juggler and host of the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast) discuss…

The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan [AN UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK from TANTOR MEDIA]!

Talked about on today’s show:
The Cimmerian blog, Deathworld by Harry Harrison @ LibriVox.org, The Real Fantastic Stuff an essay by Richard K. Morgan, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord Of The Rings, noir, Sci-Fi Dimensions interview with Richard K. Morgan (not Dark Horizons), homosexuality, nihilism, anti-hero, the Takeshi Kovacs novels (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies), Morgan’s Thirteen (aka Black Man), Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, Adam Robert’s letter to Hugo fans (about the Hugo nominees), Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, the Hugo Awards, Morgan’s Market Forces, Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg, George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire, David Eddings, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Terry Brooks, the Dragonlance series, magic, Tolkien’s use of magic, Morgan’s use of magic in The Steel Remains, characterization in The Steel Remains, recurring themes in Morgan’s novels, Robert E. Howard‘s Conan, what is Ringil Eskiath’s motivation?, what does everyone think of The Steel Remains?, what is the nature maps in Fantasy novels?, The Darkness That Comes Before by Scott Bakker. Next week we’ll talk about more audiobooks with these guys too.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Guardians Of The West by David Eddings

February 28, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Guardians of the West by David EddingsGuardians Of The West (Book #1 of the Malloreon)
By David Eddings; Read by Cameron Beierle
14 CDs , 1 MP3 CD or Cassettes- Aprox. 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books in Motion
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1596072377 (MP3-CD), 1596072369 (CDs), 1596072350 (Cassettes)
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / War / Magical Creatures / Wizards / Gods /

Guardians Of The West is the first book in a five book series called the The Malloreon. There’s a previous five volume series, The Belgariad, that takes place in this same fantasy setting. In fact, Guardians Of The West picks up shortly after The Belgariad’s ending. I had never read The Belgariad series, so I had to play catch-up listening to this title.

After a prologue that was obviously written as a refresher to those who had read the previous series, the story gets underway. The tale unfolds slowly enough. The large cast of characters are easy to get to know and are varied and interesting in themselves. There is Errand, a naive child with special gifts. Polgara, who is a motherly near-immortal. And her father, Belgrath, a boozing, womanizer, a real Falstaffian character until things get serious.

The novel’s central characters switches to the young king, Garion, who we find to be having trouble with his new spirited queen, Ce’Nedra. The plot really begins to move when there are hints of a new dark power known only as Zandramas. The pacing remains leisure through the first half of the novel. After the climatic ending to the first series, I suppose Eddings needed to maneuver and reintroduce the cast to his readers and create a new major conflict. This could have been frustrating if wasn’t for Eddings’ gift for dialog and characterization.

This book needed a talented voice actor to carry off the large and varied cast. Sprawling fantasy novels may be the most challenging genre for an actor to convey. Cameron Beierle does it all with unequivocal panache. His very intonations carry enough characterization that Eddings’ descriptions of characters become redundant. He uses many accents that seem entirely appropriate to the characters. Like Harry Potter’s narrator, Jim Dale, he has a seemingly endless repertoire of voices. I’d go so far as to call Cameron Beierle the American Jim Dale.

If you haven’t read or listened to Eddings’ Belgariad series, I’m sure that’s the place to start. The first book in the series is called Pawn of Prophecy and it along with all the books in the two series are available from Books In Motion. And all narrated by Cameron Beierle!

Recent arrivals

December 15, 2006 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Recent Arrivals 

Science Fiction Audiobook Recent Arrivals

Science Fiction Audiobook - Triplanetary by Doc E. E. SmithTriplanetary
Lensman Series #1
By E.E. “DOC” SMITH; Read by Reed McComb
CDs and MP3 editions- Aprox. 10 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books in Motion
Published: 2006
ISBN: MP3 – 1596074507/CDs – 1596074493

By the father of the Space Opera genre.

From the back cover:

From the atomic age in Atlantis to a world remote in space and time, two incredible ancient races, the Arisians and the Eddorians, are in the midst of an interstellar war with Earth as the prize. The Arisians, using advanced mental technology, have foreseen the invasion of their galaxy by the corrupt and evil Eddorians, so they begin a breeding program on every planet in their universe. Their goal…to produce super warriors who can hold off the invading Eddorians.

Science Fiction Audiobook - Guardians of the West by David EddingsGuardians of the West
Book #1 of the Malloreon
By David Eddings; Read by Cameron Beierle
CDs and MP3 editions- Aprox. 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books in Motion
Published: 2006
ISBN: MP3 – 1596072377/CDs – 1596072369

From the back cover:

Garion has slain the evil God Torak and been crowned King of Riva. The Prophecy has been fulfilled–or so it seems. While the strange child Errand was growing up in the Vale of Aldur with Polgara and Durnick, showing only occasional flashes of inexplicable knowledge and power, Garion is learning to rule and be a husband to his fiery little Queen, Ce’Nedra.

The Time Traveler