Fool’s Quest (Fitz and the Fool #2)
By Robin Hobb; read by Elliot Hill
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 11 August 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 33 hours, 13 minutes
Themes: / epic fantasy / magic /
The harrowing adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer and his enigmatic friend the Fool continue in Robin Hobb’s triumphant follow-up to Fool’s Assassin. But Fool’s Quest is more than just a sequel. With the artistry and imagination her fans have come to expect, Hobb builds masterfully on all that has gone before, revealing devastating secrets and shocking conspiracies that cast a dark shadow over the history of Fitz and his world—a shadow that now stretches to darken all future hope.
Long ago, Fitz and the Fool changed the world, bringing back the magic of dragons and securing both the Farseer succession and the stability of the kingdom. Or so they thought. But now the Fool is near death, maimed by mysterious pale-skinned figures whose plans for world domination hinge upon the powers the Fool may share with Fitz’s own daughter.
Distracted by the Fool’s perilous health, and swept up against his will in the intrigues of the royal court, Fitz lets down his guard . . . and in a horrible instant, his world is undone and his beloved daughter stolen away by those who would use her as they had once sought to use the Fool—as a weapon.
But FitzChivalry Farseer is not without weapons of his own. An ancient magic still lives in his veins. And though he may have let his skills as royal assassin diminish over the years, such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten.
Now enemies and friends alike are about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose.
Executive Summary: I loved this book. It’s everything I had hoped Fool’s Assassin would have been. There are a things I didn’t like, that will understandably be much more off putting for some than they were for me.
Audio book: Elliot Hill once again does an excellent job. He does a variety of voices and inflections that make doing this book in audio a good option.
I absolutely loved Fool’s Fate. I’d have been perfectly content if the series ended there. Last year’s Fool’s Assassin was enjoyable, but not as much as I’d have liked. It left me apprehensive for this book. I shouldn’t have been. That isn’t to say bad things don’t happen to our beloved Fitz. Any fan of the Ederling books won’t be surprised by that. Ms. Hobb sure loves to torment Fitz, though probably not as much as he torments himself.
This book grabbed me from the start, and never let me go. I hated every time I had to stop listening. In fact once my hardcover copy arrived, I augmented my audio time by reading the print as well.
For reasons I can’t fathom, many people seem to skip the excellent Liveship Traders series and more have skipped the quite enjoyable Rainwild Chronicles. While I wouldn’t call it a prerequisites for this book, I would highly recommend reading those books first. There are so many great rewards in the book for people who have. If you haven’t, I doubt you’ll be lost, but you won’t get the same enjoyment in my opinion.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to get into why I loved this book more than the last one without massive spoilers, however I suspect most longtime fans will share my excitement.
That said, despite getting one of my rare 5 star ratings (this is only the second book by Ms. Hobb I’ve given that to), there are some complaints. Or maybe not complaints so much as things I wish weren’t in this book. I found them very upsetting. I’d have preferred some kind of alternative reason used to drive the plot forward. I suspect some people may be more upset than I was, and others may be more indifferent.
Overall though, those were very minor things to me in an absolutely fantastic book. I will warn that if you hate cliffhangers, you may wish to avoid reading this book until we’re much closer to the release of the next book. It is a pretty big one. With it being the second book of a trilogy, and how the first book ended, I can’t say I’m very surprised.
Much like the last one, I am both nervous and excited to read the next one and see what Ms. Hobb has in store.
Review by Rob Zak.
Worldbinder, The Runelords, Book 6
By David Farland; Read by Ray Porter
11.7 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Magic / Supernatural /
After the events of Sons of the Oak, Fallion and Jaz, the sons of the great Earth King Gaborn, are living as fugitives in their own kingdom, newly invaded and secretly controlled by supernatural beings of ultimate evil. The sons are hiding until they can regain their rightful places in the land.
The book opens with Shadowath and Lady Despair setting a trap for Fallion Van Orden by using The One True Tree as bait.
The world that Fallion and his friends, Rhianna, Talon and Jaz return to is one of corruption and darkness. People using any means to usurp power and control others. It’s a world grown dark after the death of the Earth King, Gaborn Val Orden. But Fallion hopes to mend the world by combining it with another.
Sadly, this is exactly what Lady Despair wanted. The two shadow worlds are falling into darkness. The one Fallion knew where humans were turning to greed and corruption, using their Runelord powers to force their will on the people, and the other shadow world where the Warrior Clan fought the evil Wyrmlings who served Lady Despair and wished to destroy all things good, including nature itself.
Fallion, Jaz, Talon and Rhianna must find allies and forge new alliances to combat the Wyrmling threat and save both worlds from Despair.
Like Brotherhood of the Wolf, this is a dark book that leads the main characters into untenable situations. The story goes from bad to worse. And yet, you are left with the hope that all is not lost and that the worlds may yet be saved.
I admit that I had a very hard time with the ending of this book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I do not generally like dark stories, but the characters and story are so compelling, so well-written, that I found myself continuing with the story.
It is not all dark. Like all good tales there are ups and downs, victories and losses. This book has more losses than victories, but in the Hero’s Journey, loss is a necessary part of growth and Fallion must grow to become The Light Bringer.
Ray Porter does a wonderful job pulling you into the story and holding your attention. I’ve enjoyed listening to his telling of the tale.
Like all of the Runelords books, I recommend this one. As long as you go in knowing it’s part of a series and that the dark times prophesied in the first series are now here, it’s a great story.
The book can be read as a stand-alone, but I think reading it as a series is much better as you get the entire saga.
I give this book a 4. It sucks you in. I’m reminded of the trip to Moria in Lord of the Rings. It’s dark and gets darker, but I have great hope that all will end well.
Posted by Charlene Harmon
The Providence of Fire (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2)
By Brian Staveley; Narrated by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 13 January 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 23 hours, 37 minutes
Themes: / fantasy / brothers / monks / assassins / barbarian hordes /
Brian Staveley’s The Providence of Fire, the second novel in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, a gripping new epic fantasy series in the tradition of Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over. Having learned the identity of her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire’s most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable. Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.
I gave this book the same rating as The Emperor’s Blades, and I think in many ways it’s better. But I also had higher expectations coming in. I had none for the first book, and found myself pleasantly surprised. So I was looking forward to this.
This book started off slow. With how the last one ended, I guess I was sort of expecting the book to hit the ground running. The last book is largely the “magic school” trope, although there isn’t a whole lot of magic. But there is rigorous training and rivalries and the like. And some of the characters can do magic.
Maybe my love of that trope, or the fact that they were “in training” made me less aware of just how STUPID The Emperor’s kids are. There was no hiding that here. I’m not a big fan of the super smart, super capable protagonist who can’t seem to do any wrong, but I hate the “I’m going to pull a plan out of my ass and somehow things will work out mostly right in the end” protagonist even worse. It would d be bad enough if only one of them did, but all three of them did, and continued to do it. They didn’t learn from their mistakes. They didn’t really seem to grow as characters. They just kept being idiots. And selfish. It got pretty frustrating.
So why did I give this 4 stars? Well two reasons mainly. One the story is interesting. The world building Mr. Staveley does in this book is especially intriguing. The pieces he put in place in this novel look to make for a really interesting third (and final?) book in this series.
Secondly he has some great supporting characters. Some are returning from the first novel, and some are new. In particular I really enjoyed the POV chapters from a former supporting character who was given a chance to shine. They were easily my favorite chapters in the book. I only wish they had started sooner. Maybe even in the last book, but it wouldn’t have made too much sense, so I understand the reasoning.
Overall this book is better, but with higher expectations, I found myself a bit disappointed at the same time. But I’m looking forward to the next book. I think for a middle book there is a lot to like. Hopefully the Emperor’s kids will get a clue by then.
As a narrator, Simon Vance is excellent as always. He was one of the main reasons I decided to try out The Emperor’s Blades. His performance is such that this series remains a must audio for me, even if it means waiting a bit longer to get my hands on the next book.
Review by Rob Zak.
[UNABRIDGED] – 25 hours
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.
Today’s podcast is sponsored by Downcast, a fantastic podcast app for iPhone and iPad.
Talked about on today’s show:
A long time since we new released or recent arrived, our SPONSOR: Downcast, Seth’s daily routine, NPR News, Writer’s Almanac, Composer’s Datebook, changing playback speed, customizability, no more syncing, app developers being podcast listeners, an app by podcast listeners for podcast listeners, a one man operation?, ads on podcasts, razor blades, clothing clubs, internationality, Audible, a Science Fiction skin, Luke Burrage’s, Dan Carlin, Jenny is thinking of switching to Downcast, adding and dropping with swipes, categories, short stories!, wisdom in literature: first contact, “a lot of self-help literature is crap,” Understanding by Ted Chiang, Flowers for Algernon, wisdom vs. intelligence, Hansel and Gretel, Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, wisdom in Stardust; Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link; Aimee Bender; Reflection by Angela Carter; Joe Hill; Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland by Eric Shanower with art by Gabriel Rodriguez; Rogues edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, featuring a Song of Ice and Fire novella, not strictly genre; Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction; Hugo Awards going to A Dribble of Ink and SF Signal; time travel mashup category!; The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne; The Drowned World and other strangeness of J.G. Ballard; Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer; Interlopers by Alan Dean Foster; Interlopers b y Saki a.k.a. H.H. Munro; slipstream, portal fantasy, archaeological fantasy?; Close your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian; Ilium and Olympus by Dan Simmons, Homer in spaaaaaace!; Hyperion; Boneshaker by Cherie Priest; chaos theory in A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury; The Last Ship on TNT based on a novel by William Brinkley, “perfect for watching while you’re eating your cereal”; Martian Time Slip by Philip K. Dick; The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson, a follow-up to his epic The Saga of Seven Suns series; Kevin J. Anderson dictates his novels while hiking, influences his writing style?; William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher; Jesse prefers Isaac Asimov’s Robots trilogy to his Foundation series; Sarah A. Hoyt’s Ill Met by Moonlight is “Shakespeare with elves”; we try unsuccessfully to care about any of the new epic fantasy titles; a heady discussion about how an author’s gender influences his or her writing; are some books just for women?; Somewhere in Time a.k.a. Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson; The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman concluding his trilogy; the etymology of demimonde; Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman; Curse of the Wolf Girl by Martin Millar; Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea; Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews; Spyder Robinson’s Callahan series; Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Steakhouse series; Mr. Mercedes, not really genre, is Stephen King losing his edge?; The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft; Lovecraft’s writing does not prominently feature tentacles!; Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain is a Dracula retelling; Hello Cthulhu!
Posted by Jesse Willis
Themes: / epic fantasy / dynasties / civil war / warrior-mage /
An uneasy peace has existed since the fall of the Awakened Empire centuries ago. Now the hybrid Avān share the land with the people they once conquered: the star-born humans; the spectral, undead Nomads; and what remains of the Elemental Masters.
With the Empress-in-Shadows an estranged ghost, it is the ancient dynasties of the Great Houses and the Hundred Families that rule. But now civil war threatens to draw all of Shrīan into a vicious struggle sparked by one man’s lust for power, and his drive to cheat death.
Visions have foretold that Corajidin, dying ruler of House Erebus, will not only survive, but rise to rule his people. The wily nobleman seeks to make his destiny certain—by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the arcane science needed to ensure his survival, and by mercilessly eliminating his rivals. But mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Näsarat, stands most powerfully in the usurper’s bloody path. For it is Indris who reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace.
I was a little hesitant approaching The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes in audiobook form as I’d heard it was a bit akin to Steven Erikson (more than Garden in the titles) where the reader is simply thrown into the action without much, if any explanation. It turns out my fears were not unfounded and yet I would still highly recommend this book.
I’ve noticed in reading books or listening to audiobooks, there are some books I have a harder time with given the medium through which I am experiencing them. I had the hardest time getting into Dune by Frank Herbert when I tried it in paperback because I kept feeling like I had to look up every single word I didn’t understand and I quickly grew tired of it and gave up.
Later, I picked up the audiobook thinking I needed to at least finish this classic of the genre and not only did I do so, I loved the crap out of it. It’s still one of my favorite books and I’ve been meaning to go back and read it in paperback again.
I know, this isn’t a Dune review, but it illustrates the point that some books are more accessible if you just let go, trust that the author will lead you where you need to go, and leave your worries behind. You’ll get it, even if it’s tough. And audiobooks allow you to do so because you don’t have that handy dandy glossary to look through. That’s also not to say that all books and stories work this way.
With The Garden of Stones, I wonder if I would have stalled in my reading. I’m no stranger to being thrown into the action having survived (and thoroughly enjoyed!) Erikson’s masterpiece, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, so that probably wouldn’t have been a problem. I did, however, have a difficult time keeping a lot of the characters, names, and races straight through listening only. Had I had my eyes on this one, I probably would have enjoyed it even more than I already did.
I’m sure I missed a lot of the connections that were being made early on, but I did get my bearings by the end and quite enjoyed this world that Barnes has created. It’s full of wonder and imagination, tons of creatures, and races that were well-crafted and constantly interesting. I enjoyed exploring each new thing in this world and many kudos to Barnes for that. The characters are also highly interesting, Barnes even plays with an Erikson-like main character who is supremely powerful and someone you really don’t want to mess with. I love a good character like that and feel many shy away because it’s easier to write about characters with many weaknesses.
In the competition between paper and audio, I really do think The Garden of Stones would probably work better in paper, though it’s definitely enjoyable in audio.
Another hesitation I had when starting this audiobook is that it’s read by Nick Podehl. The only experience I had with Podehl prior to this was his reading of Kemp’s A Discourse in Steel. In Discourse, there’s quite a bit of banter and it’s overall a light-hearted piece with lots of jokes and humor even in the most deadly situations.
Hearing that same voice again brought back those memories of slapstick from Discourse, when Garden is actually a serious piece lightly sprinkled with humor if at all. It was about midway through the book when I realized that I no longer thought of Podehl that way, as the joke-telling, razzing narrator, but instead I heard him as the serious purveyor of piety. Okay, not that far, but suddenly I was sucked into Podehl’s storytelling and the story itself. I think that says a lot about both Podehl’s strengths as a narrator and the book’s story as well.
4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)
Posted by Bryce L.