Review of Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

June 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Deadhouse GatesDeadhouse Gates (Malazen Book of the Fallen #2)
By Steven Erikson; Performed by Ralph Lister
34 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Themes: / epic fantasy / magic / desert / empire /

Publisher summary:

In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends…. Set in a brilliantly realized world ravaged by dark, uncontrollable magic, this thrilling novel of war, intrigue, and betrayal confirms Steven Erikson as a storyteller of breathtaking skill, imagination, and originality — a new master of epic fantasy.

This book was pretty amazing.  I want to say that right off the bat.  This book is something special.  Steven Erikson has a wonderful way of writing about things that we know nothing about as readers but by the end of the book you look back and have a whole new appreciation for everything you read previously.  His foreshadowing is so subtle and wonderfully done that you don’t even realize that you realize that it’s coming, until in comes.

The characters are all very cool, including a few characters who return from Gardens of the Moon.  Kalam is a real favorite of mine; I really like his progression in this book as he is originally from Seven Cities and it affects him on an emotional level.  I also absolutely love Mappo and Icarium.  Those two were by far in my opinion the most interesting characters, and their relationship is memorable.

We get to see a whole new continent in this book in Seven Cities, with a middle eastern, desert feel.  The Whirlwind is an interesting concept; there is no doubt that this is another world that is extremely dangerous and volatile.  There is no safety anywhere and almost every decision made is one of life or death.

This book ends in a truly epic fashion and I think that anyone who enjoyed Gardens of the Moon will undoubtedly love Deadhouse Gates.  It has awesome magic, epic sword fights, political intrigue, and some truly horrifying monsters.  This book in my opinion surpasses Gardens of the Moon and sets the stage for a truly epic series that I can’t wait to finish.  This is only the second book of ten and I just can’t wait to see where this story is going to go.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

This book is read by Ralph Lister who really brings these characters to life in a way that is truly believable.  It’s as if there are a whole cast of people reading this book.  He does such a wonderful job.  I look forward to listening to Memories of Ice.

Posted by Scott Russell

Review of Breakdown by Katherine Amt Hanna

May 8, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

breakdownBreakdown
By Katherine Amt Hanna; Performed by Ralph Lister
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (Audible)
12 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / post-apocalypse / plague / influenza /

Publisher summary:

In a world ravaged by a deadly pandemic, former rock star Chris Price leaves New York and sets out on a long journey home to England. It’s been six years of devastation since the plague killed his wife and daughter, and Chris is determined to find out if any of his family has survived. His passage leaves him scarred, in body and mind, by exposure to humankind at its most desperate and dangerous. But the greatest ordeal awaits him beyond the urban ruins, in an idyllic country refuge where Chris meets a woman, Pauline, who is largely untouched by the world’s horrors. Together, Chris and Pauline undertake the most difficult facet of Chris’s journey: confronting grief, violence, and the man Chris has become. Together, they will discover whether the human spirit is capable of surviving and loving again in a world of unparalleled desolation.

All I knew about this book when I started it was that it was a post-apocalypse story, so I went into with no expectations except that maybe it would probably be a survival story with moments of action and horror. Instead, it was a beautifully written drama set in a time of global recovery after a massive influenza plague.

The plot itself is character-driven and more mainstream than I usually read, but I was drawn in quickly and hooked by the great writing, tormented characters, and dark setting. Katherine Amt Hanna tells the story from multiple characters’ points of view, and always from a very close psychic distance so you are dropped straight into the character’s thoughts and get to know them very well. The way the characters interact is so realistic (with all their personal triggers and subtext and unsaid things) that I wondered if the author had a psychology background. I couldn’t find anything about this when I checked her bio, so perhaps she’s just one of those very keen observers of human behavior.

I also appreciated how carefully she had thought through how a post-plague would look with the survivors cautiously rebuilding their societies and getting the most essential services like the post and transport running again. There were also some interesting thought experiments about what it would be like to be a survivor in a cut-off place with family and friends scattered in different countries but no electronic communications.

The narrator of the audiobook, Ralph Lister, reminded me a lot of Steven Pacey, who gave one of my favorite audiobook readings ever for Let the Right One In. I love his narrative voice, and even though a couple of the character’s voices bugged me (Brian’s perpetual enthusiasm felt a bit out of place at times, and Pauline’s voice didn’t always strike true for me), he had a massive task to express so many different voices (and if there was any major fault with this book, it was that there were just too many characters). The few voices were pretty minor things in an otherwise awesome reading, and his great narration was one of the reasons I was always looking forward to getting back to this audiobook.

Since this story is character-driven rather than plot-driven, it moves at a very leisurely pace that might be too slow for some people, but the writing is beautiful and there is this quiet dramatic tension through the whole novel, like something terrible could happen at any moment. I love that is a first novel and independently published. This is one of those books that proves self-published titles can be just as professionally written as traditionally published works. It was a memorable read and I recommend it if you’re looking for something gentle but dark, and a little out of the ordinary.

Posted by Marissa van Uden

Review of The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente

March 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Folded World (A Dirge for Prester John, #2)The Folded World (A Dirge for Prester John #2)
By Catherynne M. Valente, Read by Ralph Lister
9 hours 18 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 2011
ISBN: 1597802034
Themes: / Fantasy / Creatures / Monks / Quest / Immortality / War / Crusades / Parenting

Publisher Summary: When the mysterious daughter of Prester John appears on the doorstep of her father’s palace, she brings with her news of war in the West–the Crusades have begun, and the bodies of the faithful are washing up on the shores of Pentexore. Three narratives intertwine to tell the tale of the beginning of the end of the world: a younger, angrier Hagia, the blemmye-wife of John and Queen of Pentexore, who takes up arms with the rest of her nation to fight a war they barely understand, Vyala, a lion-philosopher entrusted with the care of the deformed and prophetic royal princess, and another John, John Mandeville, who in his many travels discovers the land of Pentexore–on the other side of the diamond wall meant to keep demons and monsters at bay.

These three voices weave a story of death, faith, beauty, and power, dancing in the margins of true history, illuminating a place that never was.

To fully appreciate this book, it is essential to first read The Habitation of the Blessed (A Dirge for Prester John #1), because The Folded World starts off right where the last book left off. The mythology of this trilogy is thick, and the second book builds nicely on what is developed in the first.  Where in The Habitation of the Blessed, the reader is introduced to all the fantastical creatures and the ways of the new lands, The Folded World digs deeper into the stories of some of the characters.  Although Prester John himself has lived with his blemmye wife for some time, he is still experiencing life as an outsider as he tries to put his own religion through the filters of the various beings he encounters.

It doesn’t help that the Crusades are going on, and the armies are getting closer.  Prester John doesn’t exactly fit in with his old life the way he used to.  This conflict is central to the development of the overarching story that I’m sure will continue in book #3.

While The Folded World lacked the breathtaking impact of the first book, probably just because the overall world was familiar to me, the same elements that I loved are present here – beautiful writing, a detailed mythical place with its own history and stories, and the clash between worlds.  There is one more book planned in this series, with the release date tentatively set for November 2012.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

October 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Habitation of the Blessed
By Catherynne M. Valente, Read by Ralph Lister
11 hours 10 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 2010
ISBN: 1441870245
Themes: / Fantasy / Creatures / Monks / Quest / Immortality /

Publisher description: This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream? Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit. These strange books chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John, and Hiob becomes obsessed with the tales they tell. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these living volumes, revealing the life of a priest named John, and his rise to power in this country of impossible richness. John’s tale weaves together with the confessions of his wife Hagia, a blemmye — a headless creature who carried her face on her chest — as well as the tender, jeweled nursery stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family.

Full disclosure – I am an unrestrained, shameless fan of Catherynne M. Valente.  She ranks among my top three favorite authors, Palimpsest being my favorite novel, and I have read practically everything she has written.  The only exceptions are Labyrinth, her first novel which she has made available for free online, Deathless, and some of her short stories.  Valente’s prose is beautiful, and her knowledge of mythology and the classics is apparent in every story.  Some of her earlier works read more like poetry.

The Habitation of the Blessed is the first book in a trilogy called Dirge for Prester John.  The next book will be out before the end of the year, and the third is set to be published in 2012.  It is based on the medieval legend of Prester John, and Catherynne Valente has created a website called PresterJohnOnline where you can read more.  Check out this video demonstrating the medieval legend as acted out by action figures (also created by Valente).

Of all of Valente’s works, this reminds me of The Orphan’s Tales, the way there are multiple stories that are loosely connected in an overarching narrative.  But somehow, it is much more intricate, and I was drawn in by this tree of books that is encountered early on by Brother Hiob of Lucerne.  The interweaving stories in the book come from this tree, but they may act more like fruit than paper.

“This tree bore neither apples nor plums, but books, where fruit should sprout. The bark of its great trunk shone the color of parchment; its leaves a glossy vibrant red, as if it had drunk up all the colors of the long plain through its roots. In clusters and alone, books of all shapes hung among the pointed leaves, their covers obscenely bright and shining, swollen as peaches, gold and green, and cerulean, their pages thick as though with juice, their silver ribbon marks fluttering in the spiced wind.”

My imagination was captured in that moment, and it only got better.  The creatures in this book are bizarre and enchanting, and stretch the limitations of the reader alongside Brother Hiob. It is impossible not to start longing for the imaginary landscape of Pentexore, and I look forward to the future books in this world.

Ralph Lister also does a wonderful job with the audio, and the subtle differences in voices help the listener know where one is within the story.

Posted by Jenny Colvin