Review of The Beast of Calatrava

June 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Beast of CalatravaThe Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld SideQuest
By Mark Teppo; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 February 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / knights Templar / alternate history / fantasy / Foreworld /

Publisher summary:

After a battle left Ramiro Ibáñez de Tolosa’s face terribly disfigured, the knight of the Order of Calatrava abandoned his sword for a pastoral existence. But his beastly appearance horrifies all those who cross his path — with the exception of his adoring and pregnant wife. Can he keep Louisa and their unborn child safe from the war that is coming to Iberia? As Ramiro prepares for his child’s birth, Brother Lazare of the Cistercian order searches for a means to inspire men as he travels with the crusading Templars. He seeks swords of legend — named blades carried by heroes of old — believing such symbols have the ability to rally men in a way no king could ever accomplish. But when he learns of the stories told of the mysterious monster that haunts the Iberian battlefields, he wonders what sort of power this new legend might contain — the legend of a man whose scarred face and cold demeanor cannot hide his heroic soul. 

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

As with The Lion in Chains, 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. Unfortunately, unlike The Lion in Chains, even after I finished the book, I wasn’t 100% certain where this fit within the grand scheme of the world. The main characters in this story were not in the main Mongoliad books, and without taking some time to look at the print/ebook versions of this and the other books, I’m not sure I could draw a straight-line reference. I’m equally uncertain as to when, relatively speaking, this book takes place (relative to the events in The Mongoliad: Book One).

More frustratingly, I found myself lost while listening to this story. As happened other times during my reading of the Mongoliad main-series books, it was easy to get confused as to which character was which and who was who. If I haven’t said it before, this is a series begging for a good wiki with a character roster, and possibly a map. While these things may show up in a print/ebook edition, they were not easy to find on the web for quick perusal while listening (at least, I couldn’t easily find anything). The overall thrust is that it’s a story about a former knight, abandoned for dead when his order was defeated, who has turned into “The Beast of Calatrava,” basically a disfigured killer, killing to protect his property and the people (generally) of Iberia, no matter their creed. In parallel, the Templars have arrived in Iberia on a crusade, and brought with them some other soldiers, including some monks, on the search for a legendary weapon. Much of the book is dedicated to The Beast’s personal demons and the growing tension in the “Christian Army” that includes the Templars, monks, and other religious figures, and moves these characters around like chess pieces in seemingly unrelated matches. In the last 30 minutes or so of the audiobook, the story lines somewhat converge, and the ending comes more or less as might be expected.

I don’t know what to say about this story. It really seemed to wander, and was hard to follow along. While I was somewhat used to this in the main Foreworld books, I was able to accept temporary confusion, knowing it would get brought together later, and that my persistence would pay dividends. In this story, with everything being self-contained, that payoff wasn’t there, and in the grand scheme, I’m not sure why much other than the last 30 minutes of the story made any difference…and, since this story doesn’t relate directly to the main-line books, it didn’t feel like it made “sense” in the bigger picture. Without the tie-in to the larger world, this could have been any story set in the same world, so therefore didn’t feel as satisfying.

It will be interesting to see how the final book in SideQuest Adventures No. 1 plays out, whether it will be more like the first story (which was great) or this one (which was unsatisfying).

Posted by terpkristin.

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

June 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

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 Book of Seven Hands by Barth Anderson

August 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Book of Seven Hands coverBook of Seven Hands (Foreworld SideQuest)
By Barth Anderson; Performed by Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 5 hours

Themes: / Foreworld / swordsmen /

Publisher summary:

Expert swordsmen Basilio and Alejo have one last mission before they go their separate ways: they must recover their teacher Don Manuel’s ancient fighting manual and take it to remote Cataluña in order to have it translated by the famous alchemist Paracelsus. Unbeknownst to them, however, Don Manuel has been murdered, and a host of powerful forces has come looking for the coveted book – everyone from old lovers and lifelong archenemies to the King’s assassin, and the Spanish Inquisition. The adventures of Basilio and Alejo usher in a new era of adventures in Foreworld, one wherein the Shield-Brethren, the fabled warrior monks of the medieval era, have been stricken from history. Old traditions are threatened and long-standing secrets are in danger of being revealed.

This is a novella from the Foreworld saga and I must admit, this is my first book from that series. I don’t know if any of the characters overlap from other books, but I had no trouble getting into this book or understanding what was going on.

The general setting is in 13th century Spain where the Inquisition is searching for renowned swordsmen who are seeking the book of seven hands. Those two men are Basilio and Alejo, students of the great Don Manuel. They are fulfilling the master’s last wish in retrieving his old fighting manual and getting it translated for use. Adventure ensues as the swordsmen are pursued espadas, are drawn, and revelations are made take place. Think of it kind like Zorro meets The Three Musketeers complete with bits of humor thrown in for good measure.

Overall I found the book to be enjoyable and fun. My wife and I guessed the big revelation later in the book and it didn’t really have much bearing on the main part of the story anyway.

As for the audiobook, I really like Nick Podehl. I’d even say that the only reason I chose to do this book was because he was reading it. It wasn’t my favorite performance of his but I still really enjoyed all the different characters. I definitely got some flashes of Christoph Waltz from Django Unchained with Mr. Podehl’s voice for Paracelsus.

Posted by Tom Schreck