Review of The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

May 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews, Uncategorized 

SFFaudio Review
Magician's LieThe Magician’s Lie
By Greer Macallister; Performed by Nick Podehl and Julia Whelan
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 13 January 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / magician / illusion / crime / unreliable narrator /

Publisher summary:

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband’s murder—and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence. The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear. But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free…and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

The description for this book says it’s a blending of Water for Elephants and The Night Circus but I really get much Night Circus from this. It really was more The Prestige (movie version) in a Water For Elephants setting because it’s all about a traveling illusionist. The description had me expecting more in the realm of fantasy but I still enjoyed it over all. While not a big part of the book, this isn’t for the squeamish as there were a few moments that I almost turned it off because of some sadistic/masochistic moments and female assault in the book.

Why is this book more like The Prestige than The Night Circus? The Night Circus had fantastical, unexplained magic happening while The Prestige is all about illusionists who are competing for audiences. There are several illusions described in this book that got me thinking about The Prestige. Another big element in here was the unreliable narrator. Much of the book is a frame story told from the perspective of the main character in the first person so you are often wondering if what they’re telling is true…just like in the movie version of The Prestige (the book was a bit different).

As for the audio side of things, the narrator performance was passable but nothing fancy. Julia Whelan has a neutral, flat tone that I didn’t like so much at first but I acclimated to as the book went on. Nick Podehl did a good job but wasn’t what I hoped for from him compared to others I’ve heard him narrate. I could go either way on recommending this for audio or paper, but the usage of two narrators for a frame story is pretty nice; especially since each part is from a different persons perspective so that the voice of the narrator is essentially their voice.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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 The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes

December 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Gardens of StoneThe Garden of Stones (The Echoes of Empire #1)
by Mark T. Barnes, read by Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 CDs; 16 hrs, 53 min.

Themes: / epic fantasy / dynasties / civil war / warrior-mage /

Publisher summary:

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.

Review of A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

September 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

discourseA Discourse in Steel (Egil and Nix #2)
By Paul S. Kemp; Read by Nick Podehl
Publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio
ISBN: 978-1469271750
[UNABRIDGED] 9 CDs

Themes: / buddy sword and sorcery / assassins /

Publisher summary:

Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword- and hammer-play for them! But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild. And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head.

When I read The Hammer and the Blade, the first Egil and Nix book, I had a good time with this buddy-sword-and-sorcery (is that redundant?). The characters were entertaining if a bit melodramatic, the action spot-on, and the writing professionally done.

A Discourse in Steel exceeds The Hammer and the Blade on just about every level (probably even the melodrama). I thoroughly enjoyed Discourse and a lot of that could be because I’ve gotten to know the characters that much more.

First, you have to know that A Discourse in Steel is more a second Egil and Nix book than a sequel. Yes, it follows the The Hammer and the Blade in both publication and timeline, but the events in Discourse are self-contained just like those in Hammer. In fact, you don’t need to know anything to jump into this book.

Egil and Nix are just a great pair. I enjoyed them in the first book, but found their relationship and the events a bit cliche at times. Here, I’m convinced they’re cliche and melodramatic, but it’s such a good combination with tons of heart that you can’t help but be won over. I mean, look at this exchange:

“Graduates of the conclave are bungholes,” Nix said absently, and rifled his satchel. He quickly found the tallow sticks and the scribing wand and pulled them out. He also anticipated Egil’s jest and cut it off. “I didn’t graduate priest, as you know.”

“Possibly still a bunghole though.”

“Conceded.” Nix said, with a tilt of his head.

I had to pull over and write that one down. This also means any mistakes are mine although I’m sure I got all the words right.

In Discourse, Egil and Nix are up against an entire guild … and the guild is the one that should be worried. In the first book, they were so powerless, it was a bit frustrating even though it worked for an interesting plot. This one really got me for this reason right here. Their attitude was awesome, I’d recommend not messing with them when they’re even remotely serious. :)

And since I “read” the audio version, I have to comment on Nick Podehl. This was my first read by him and this guy seemed made for the duo that is Egil and Nix. He was hilariously sarcastic and blended the melodrama well too. It’s actually quite interesting because Nick is reading my current book which is very serious. At first, it didn’t work because I was used to the fun and sarcasm, but now I can’t even believe they’re the same person. Nick is an excellent narrator, I’ll be happy seeing his name on audiobooks in the future.

Speaking of that, I’m looking forward to reading more of Kemp’s work in the future too. I can’t believe he balances four kids, a corporate attorney position, and writing. Plus, he finds time to discuss on reddit.com/r/fantasy and other places where fans congregate.

A Discourse in Steel is exactly what it claims to be. It’s tons of fun with plenty of action and while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it knows when to be serious. Kemp stepped up his game and I’m looking forward to more adventuring with Egil and Nix.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

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