Review of Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War

July 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

buckle2Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War (The Chronicles of the Pneumatic #2)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 31 minutes

Themes: / snow / steampunk / zeppelin / airship / aliens /

Publisher summary:

The frozen wasteland of Snow World – known as Southern California before an alien invasion decimated civilization – is home to warring steampunk clans. Crankshafts, Imperials, Tinskins, Brineboilers, and many more all battle one another for precious supplies, against ravenous mutant beasts for basic survival, and with the mysterious Founders for their very freedom. Through this ruined world soars the Pneumatic Zeppelin, captained by the daring Romulus Buckle. In the wake of a nearly suicidal assault on the Founders’ prison city to rescue key military leaders, both the steam-powered airship and its crew are bruised and battered. Yet there’s little time for rest or repairs: Founders raids threaten to shatter the fragile alliance Buckle has risked everything to forge among the clans. Even as he musters what seems a futile defense in the face of inevitable war, Buckle learns that the most mysterious clan of all is holding his long-lost sister in a secret base – and that she holds the ultimate key to victory over the Founders. But rescuing her means abandoning his allies and praying they survive long enough for there to be an alliance to return to.

So if you are reading this, it means you’ve suffered through the first book, Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, and thought, “Well, here’s a series with no where to go but up.” Turns out you were right. After an unexpected opening on a snowy mountain with an obligatory action scene, Preston gets back to the business of the war brewing against the Founders Clan. And while it’s still not a great book, it is much more confident than the last and delves deeper into Buckle’s world.

Like the first book, the story relies a lot on excess for its appeal. Sure, the Crankshaft Clan is arranging an alliance with the other clans to go to war against the Founders who are trying to take everyone over. But now there is also a love triangle, a long-lost sister, and an alien having visions while in a coma. We are also shown some the ordinary goings on of clan life which is reminiscent of frontier life the West. It is unclear how society managed to revert back a couple centuries when they have little to no knowledge of twenty-first century life, but it is nice to feel like the events of the first novel have some sort of background. Once again, the characters were stereotypical and underdeveloped. The women all seem to be in love with Buckle for no real reason while he is completely oblivious. Preston still tells us about about the characters but this book also shows us a little to backup his claims. Still, he would have been better served by shortening the middle to keep the plot moving. The last chapter was again the most interesting part but it shows that Preston will continue to include whatever fantastical elements he can think of to keep his audience interested regardless of how muddled it makes his story.

Although better than the first novel, this book still doesn’t come up to scratch. Luke Daniels continues his admirable narration but it is not enough to make it worthwhile.

Posted by Rose D.

 

Review of Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders

July 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Romulus Buckle and the City of the FoundersRomulus Buckle & the City of the Founders (Chronicles of the Pneumatic #1)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 2 July 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 38 minutes

Themes: / post-apocalypse / snow / zeppelin / steampunk / airship /

Publisher summary:

In a postapocalyptic world of endless snow, eighteen-year-old Captain Romulus Buckle and the stalwart crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin must embark on a perilous mission to rescue their kidnapped leader, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the impenetrable City of the Founders. Steaming over a territory once known as Southern California—before it was devastated in the alien war—Buckle navigates his massive airship through skies infested with enemy war zeppelins and ravenous alien beasties in this swashbuckling and high-octane steampunk adventure. Life is desperate in the Snow World, and death is quick. Buckle and his ship’s company must brave poisoned wastelands of Noxious Mustard and do battle with forgewalkers, steampipers, and armored locomotives as they plunge from the skies into the underground prison warrens of the fortress city.Captain Romulus Buckle must lead the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew of ne’er-do-wells on a desperate mission where he must risk everything to save Balthazar and attempt to prevent a catastrophic war that could wipe out all that is left of civilization and the entire human race.

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders is a wonderful example of why books should never be judged by their covers. Because while the cover looks polished and interesting with a mysterious but kick ass hero, the story is actually pretty boring. It reminded me of the movie The Expendables. It throws in everything that typically makes an exciting steam punk adventure, but doesn’t use any of the elements to their advantages which just leaves a lot of forgettable explosions.

From the start I felt lost, like maybe I had actually started listening on the second disk because the story starts in the middle of things. Not in the middle of a fight or a heist or a battle. In the middle of the plot. Captain Buckle and crew are flying to the City of the Founders (formally Los Angeles) to break his father out of prison where he is being kept by the nefarious and secretive Founders clan. After all, why have boring Act I world establishment and character building, when you can just start at the beginning of Act II action and fill your readers in on things only as needed? As a result, I never really understood the day to day of this post-war future. In fact, the only things we are told is that civilization has devolved into family clans, all of whom specialize in a trade but none of whom really get along. At some point aliens invaded earth and mingled with humans long enough to leave half-alien children behind, but they are gone now. And humans may or may not be limited to Southern California. The elusive Founders Clan, who has been kidnapping people from other clans, seems important and everyone seems wary of them but I was never really clear on their role in society. It is defiantly not a world in which you can lose yourself.

But I can forgive mediocre world building for some great swashbuckling characters. After all, our hero is named Romulus Buckle and captains a zeppelin. But don’t have your heart set on Errol Flynn, because Buckle, like the rest of the cast are all straight from a mold. Buckle is dashing, brave and heroic because we are told he is, not because we are shown it. His half-alien stepsister is aloof because she’s an alien. There are goofy, well-meaning sidekicks, wise, old mentors, and mustache twirling villains, but none of this paper doll cast has the panache to hold my attention much less carry a story that is ninety percent action scenes. I’m not sure Preston would have bothered with the dialogue necessary to string the action together if it wasn’t the only way to publish a book. It was not until the last chapter that sets things in motion for the sequel that things became more interesting.

Overall, this is a pretty mediocre book that will a appeal more to teenage boys and diehard steam punk fans. Luke Daniels, the narrator, has a nice, manly voice that does the tone of the book justice but I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening when listening to lengthy action scenes. This is Preston’s debut novel and it feels like it, so be prepared for some clumsy storytelling.

Posted by Rose D.

 

Review of The Beast of Calatrava

June 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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 Katabasis from the Mongoliad Cycle

May 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

KatabasisKatabasis (Mongoliad Cycle #4)
By Mark Teppo, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo, and Angus Trim; Performed by Luke Daniels.
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / martial arts / fantasy / monks / conquests / Mongols / Russia /

Publisher summary:

With the death of the fearsome Ögedei Khan, the Mongol invasion of the West has been brought to an abrupt halt. The defenders, a band of brave warrior monks known as the Shield-Brethren, limp homeward again across a frozen, bloodied wasteland. But where — and what — is “home” now that the threat of invasion no longer shapes their lives? Thirteenth-century Europe has been saved from annihilation at the hands of the Mongols, to be sure, but new and terrible threats are at hand: political and religious turmoil threaten to turn the warriors’ world upside down once more. Painted against a rich backdrop of medieval mysticism and Russian folklore, Katabasis weaves together the tales of victor and victim alike in a fearless exploration of what it means not just to survive, but to truly live again.

When I reviewed The Mongoliad: Book Three in the Foreworld Saga, I didn’t realize that there were to be a 4th and 5th entry into the series. The book ended with the end of a major story arc (if not the most satisfying of endings) and I thought it was okay to leave it there.

But the story didn’t end there. Where the story in the first three books in the series really covered the story of the Christians versus the Mongols, this book follows the Shield Brethren into Russia while the Mongols mostly start gathering to find their new Kahn of Kahns. There was a greater supernatural element in this book than in the previous ones, and it was interesting to see characters I thought we had left at the end of the first book (or thereabouts) make a reappearance. At the crux of this story seems to be old religion versus new religion. It is hinted that Cardinal Vieshi, a cardinal in Rome who we met in the 2nd and 3rd books, is behind an attempt by the Levonian Brotherhood to defeat the Shield Brethren and help “modern Catholics” take a hold in Russia. The old religion, though, the Shield Brethren, the Shield Maidens, and the native Russians, are on their own mission to keep the old religion not only still around, but still relevant. As part of this, the Spirit Banner, guarded so carefully by the Mongols in the first three books, is a central part to the plot with Ferronantus, Raphael, and the Shield Brethren. In a bit of an oddity, Leanne (former slave Chinese woman in Ogedai Kahn’s retinue) has managed to save the sliver of…well, it’s still not exactly clear what it is, but it’s important enough that GonSuk had her protect it and it was attempted to be stolen from Ogedai in the first book. This gives her a tie–if she’s not really clear on what the tie is–to the Spirit Banner and the Shield Brethren.

In some ways, this was a complete story. There was a central conflict, and the plot moved to bring that to a relatively satisfying ending. In some ways, the plot lines here were less confusing than in the previous books. There seemed to be fewer plots and fewer characters to keep track of, generally speaking. However, at the end, it got muddled. I suppose it might be just me–I often have felt like I’ve been “missing something” while listening to these books and this one was no different. Something happened at the end that I didn’t quite grok, and it’s obvious that it will play out for the 5th (and final, I think) book in the main Foreworld Saga. I hope that when I finish that one, it will make more sense.

Luke Daniels did the narration for this audiobook, as with the other Foreworld and Foreworld Prequel books that I have listened to. Sometimes, his narration is fantastic. He does different voices for the characters and makes it easy to get drawn into the world. However, between the odd names, multiple plot lines, and sometimes difficult/foreign words, it can be hard to understand what he’s saying or what’s going on. As with the other books, this is one that I think might be easier to read the print first, or at least have a copy handy so you can refer to the Cast of Characters and/or re-read confusing parts. Sometimes, Daniels would do lines in a characters voice and…well, in character. So if the character was to be whispering or muttering, Daniels would do that. This would make it hard to understand what he was saying, especially when he used the thick accents.

All in all, I think I liked this book better than I liked the end of the first three books. I look forward to seeing what happens in the 5th book–which I note is not narrated by Luke Daniels.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer, read by Luke Daniels

May 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Off to Be the WizardOff to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0 #1)
By Scott Meyer, read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 discs; 11 hours

Themes: / reality / wizards / hackers / time travel / computer geeks / pop culture /

Publisher Summary:

Martin Banks is just a normal guy who has made an abnormal discovery: he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. With every use of this ability, though, Martin finds his little “tweaks” have not escaped notice. Rather than face prosecution, he decides instead to travel back in time to the Middle Ages and pose as a wizard.What could possibly go wrong? An American hacker in King Arthur’s court, Martin must now train to become a full-fledged master of his powers, discover the truth behind the ancient wizard Merlin…and not, y’know, die or anything.

This book started really slow, despite a cool concept. A computer geek discovers a file that somehow lets him manipulate not only the world and everything in it, but time itself. So of course he decides to go back to medieval times and become a wizard. As a computer geek who (not so) secretly would love to be a wizard I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, the main character Martin isn’t very likable at the start. Despite being good with computers, he doesn’t seem very smart. For me the story finally started to get good when he meets Phillip. I will say Martin did grow on me as the book went on. I don’t plan to say anything else about the plot because I don’t want to ruin the jokes.

I think your enjoyment of the book will largely depend on if you find the humor funny and your willingness to not only suspend your disbelief but throw it right out the window. Things get silly. Really silly.

There is a lot of computer geek humor as well as some pop culture humor from the 80s and 90s that reminded me a bit of Ready Player One, a book I absolutely love. I think fans of that book, may find similar things to like here. Scott Meyer does for fantasy geeks what Ernest Cline did for gaming geeks.

The only real complaint I have apart from the slow start is the general lack of women. That’s a pretty common complaint in fantasy. However as this is a fantasy book based in current time and involves using computers to manipulate the world to pretend to be a wizard this seems like a big flaw for me. Mr. Meyer has a plausible reason to explain away his lack of female characters, but he could have just as easily had a plausible reason for their inclusion instead.

 I‘ll admit that probably more than half of the reason I chose to review this book was because Luke Daniels was the reader. He did not disappoint. Another excellent performance.

Overall though, I really enjoyed listening to this book and I’ll be on the lookout for his next book as well as planning to check out his webcomic in the near future.

Review by Rob Zak.

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