Review of A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

February 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

A Discourse in Steel Cover ArtA Discourse in Steel
By Paul S. Kemp; Read by Nick Podehl
10 hours 11 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / sword and sorcery / magic / adventure / fantasy city

My first encounter with the sword-and-sorcery genre came when I discovered Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, neatly packaged into audiobooks at Audible with introductions from no less a figure than Neil Gaiman. How could I refuse? While Leiber’s world-building was top-notch, though, I found fault with his lack of any real character development. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Seth, characters in a sword-and-sorcery novel aren’t supposed to be developed!  While I agree in principle that the genre is supposed to thrive on antiheroes like Michael Moorcock’s Elric, there’s a vast difference between making an intentional authorial decision not to develop characters, or to develop them in an unconventional way, and simply neglecting the care and feeding of a protagonist. Of this I found Leiber guilty. So I set the genre aside in hopes of finding a specimen more suited to my predilections.

Enter Paul S. Kemp’s Nix and Egil series. The eponymous heroes (it’s almost impossible to call them antiheroes) are, respectively, a sprightly little man of craft and cunning from the slums of Dur Follin, and a hulking, hammer-wielding priest of Ebenor, the momentary God. At first glance, you would be forgiven for mistaking this pair for Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, or, perhaps if you squint, Terry Pratchett’s Bravd and the Weasel. But where Leiber’s adventurers are often gray as the Mouser’s name, Kemp’s likable rogues flash and sparkle like a colored prism, reflecting and refracting their personae as the wheel of the story turns. And speaking of the city of Dur Follin, its twisting alleys, Low Bazaar, taverns, and guild houses are every bit as well-realized as Leiber’s Lankhmar.

I rediscovered fantasy in my teens through reading David and Leigh Eddings’s mammoth epics. While I now recognize that much of their work was middling at best, I still admire their capacity to write charming, amusing, and at times poignant dialogue. Kemp has honed this particular skill to a keen edge. The playful, good-natured banter between the two unlikely companions will have you laughing out loud one moment and pondering the mysteries of life itself the next. Their friendship is deep and genuine in the way that so many fictitious friendships simply aren’t. Nix and Egil each have their own past, present, and (it is to be hoped) future. Their hopes, fears, and regrets are writ large in the story’s pages, and this emotional element propels A Discourse in Steel beyond the mark of mere adventure into territory that far too fantasy novels explore.

You’ll notice I’ve said nothing of the plot. This is partly because I cordially dislike plot regurgitations in reviews, but also because the plot is, in a sense, unimportant. I don’t mean to suggest the plot is bad. In fact, it’s well-paced, intricate for a novel of this length, and not without its little surprises. But one comes away from reading this book with a sense that the plot served mostly as a backdrop for exploring these two remarkable characters, like set decorations in a theater performance. Of course, if all this emotional and philosophical discussion makes your eyes glaze over, and you just want to read fun stories of swashbuckling adventure, fear not, A Discourse in Steel has them in spades, or hammers. As you can probably tell by now, I am more captivated by the character development, and sometimes felt the plot barged in on a real moment of heart, but I confess that most readers will find the novel’s plot and pacing perfectly measured.

The novel isn’t without its faults. Nix and Egil are masterfully developed, but the book’s other dramatic personae, with a couple no notable exceptions, lack that same fit and finish. The villains, in particular, come across as fairly one-dimensional, even though they get a lot of stage time. Rusilla and Merelda, the tale’s damsels in distress, fare slightly better, especially towards the end, but as the series title suggests, this is the Nix and Egil show. The novel also flags a bit once the plot maneuvers the characters out of the stress of Dur Follin, which as a city is complex enough to be a character in its own right. To paraphrase one of the characters, Nix and Egil seem to belong in Dur Follin, and watching them out of their element, like fish out of water, takes a moment’s adjustment. The book’s last fault, if you could call it that, is that it ends too soon, leaving several key questions unanswered, questions about Egil and Nix, questions about the city of Dur Follin, and questions about the wider world beyond.

The audiobook is narrated by Nick Podehl, who, to me at least, has become synonymous with epic fantasy in audio, thanks in no small part to his narration of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. His bag of vocal tricks just seem to be a natural fit for the genre. He is able to glide smoothly between Egil’s rumbling curses and Nix’s falchion-sharp witticisms, and during the action sequences his sense of timing is impeccable. Podehl is the narrator equivalent of what’s called in Hollywood a character actor. He lacks the star power and name recognition of a Simon Vance or a William Dufris, but if you’ve listened to many audiobooks recently, you’ve probably heard his voice. He certainly does justice to Kemp’s work.

A Discourse in Steel is the second Nix and Egil adventure, but it can be read on its own, though its predecessor, The Hammer and the Blade, is nearly as good. I’m grateful to the efforts of Paul S. Kemp and his creations Nix and Egil for showing me that the sword and sorcery genre can embody both style and substance. Maybe it’s time I revisit Leiber and the other S&S greats; maybe I’ll find they’re not as soulless as I thought.

Reviewed by Seth Wilson.

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.

The SFFaudio Podcast #229 – NEW RELEASES/RECENT ARRIVALS

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #229 – Jesse, Jenny, Tamahome, and Paul Weimer talk about NEW RELEASES and RECENT ARRIVALS.

Talked about on today’s show:
Tam is back, Haruki Murakami, Kafka On The Shore, magic realism, Japan, kafkaesque, surrealism, 1Q84, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, pretty books, Chip Kidd, rice paper, Requiem by Ken Scholes, Julie Davis, Tor, magic staff, earth in the future, The Steel Remains, “oh crap this is the future”, Gene Wolfe, Happy Hour In Hell by Tad Williams, Bobby Dollar, The Dirty Streets Of Heaven, urban fantasy, demoness tangling, Lankhmar, urban fantasy => a certain kind of fantasy, noir/detective => hardboiled, Otherland, Luke Burrage, cats, “the Walter Jon Williams effect”, MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, mostly dystopian, Oryx and Crake, quasi-humans, The Year Of The Flood, genetic engineering, racoon-pigs, storytelling mode, listening at 2X speed, competitive debate, Margaret Atwood’s preview of a review of Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, a sequel to The Shining, Atwood’s weakness for horror and terror, “because he’s Stephen King”, Will Patton, “don’t judge me people”, is there a stigma in literary circles?, Zoomer magazine’s profile of Margaret Atwood as “Queen Of The Nerds”, Twitter, tweetalong?, a genuine literary reputation, poetry, Orson Scott Card, does it matter?, dystopia, Dreamscape Audiobooks, The Night Lands by William Hope Hodgson, The House On The Borderlands, a very daunting book, big and ambitious, Lovecraftian?, The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, Earth Abides, class, mainstream post-apocalypse, Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, a toothless grandfather, Drew Ariana, Goslings by J.D. Beresford, plague talk!, The Children Of Men, Y: The Last Man, the newspapers, HiLoBooks, “Radium Age” Science Fiction, Gweek, The Road To Science Fiction, classicism, sexism, barbarism, The Iron Heel, numeracy and literacy, the size of the universe or the age of the Earth, Simon & Schuster Audio, Rivers by Michael Farris Smith, Jenny loves destroying the earth, wiping the slate clean, Fallout, Tobias Buckell, Interrupt by Jeff Carlson, Hunter Davis, Brilliance Audio, simultaneously published with print, Neanderthals, the pronunciations, Robert J. Sawyer, Discover Magazine, literally means not literally anymore, it’s figuratively raining cats and dogs, The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, Julie Davis, Simon Vance, science fiction thrillers, John Scalzi, plague, space elevator, working for the enemy?, a compressed schedule, writing 2X, a first novel!, military SF, “we’ve complinished everything”, Reflex by Steven Gould, Jumper, the physical audiobook industry (is it mostly for libraries), Paperback Audio, William Dufris, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, innate teleportation, the Jumper movie, Portal, post-humans, Nightcrawler without the bad smell, BAMFless, The Clockwork Man by E.V. Odle, Ralph Lister, no introductions makes Jesse sad, are there audio previews?, Affliction: An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novel (#22) by Laurell K. Hamilton, The Lord of Opium (Matteo Alacran #2) by Nancy Farmer, The Midnight Heir (Bane Chronicles #4) by Cassandra Clare and Sara Rees Brennan, building on The Hunger Games, Untouchable (Immortals After Dark #8) by Kresley Cole, Robert Petkoff, The Hunt or Capture, the reality TV version of The Hunger Games in The Hunger Games would be very boring, The Truman Show would be a very boring show to actually watch, in fiction the TV shows are without narrative, TVtropes show with an show, Hamlet, William Shakespeare did meta 500 years ago, epic traditional fantasy, traditional epic fantasy marriage, Crown Thief (Tales Of Easie Damasco #2) by David Tallerman, Giant Thief, sword and sorcery, golem or gollum?, Witch Wraith: The Dark Legacy of Shannara by Terry Brooks, Rosalyn Landor, , “Tolkien with the serial numbers filed off”, “its all about the elfstones”, The Lord Of The Rings, questing, trilogy vs. endless series, the Wikipedia entry for Shannara, a magical cataclysm, “a richer broader universe”, Revolution, S.M. Stirling, Robert Jordan, the Dragonlance series, Daniel Abraham, subverting the quest trope, The Eye Of The World, George R.R. Martin, gathering forces and subverting expectations, children’s fantasy, Roald Dahl, Matilda is read by Kate Winslet!, the musical of Matilda, The Twits, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator Futurama, Fry and the Slurm factory, Gene Wilder, great character names!, Dickensian names, The BFG, biography, crime, thriller, JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation Of A Man And The Emergence Of A Great President, Death Angel (Alexandra Cooper #15) by Linda Fairstein, The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth, George Guidall, “now it’s personal”, Penguin Audio, adding heat urgency of character development, adding a baby, Breaking Bad babies, the invisible baby or worse the artificially aging child syndrome, Mork & Mindy, Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson, 30,000 years ago, prehistorical romance, hard edged scientific, Clan Of The Cavebear, Monsters Of The Earth by David Drake, Seanan McGuire, Soldier by Harlan Ellison, The Terminator, The Outer Limits, James Cameron, Philip Wylie, Tomorrow!, John Wyndham, When Worlds Collide, The Answer, nuclear war with angels, The End Of The Dream, The Murderer Invisible.

Dreamscape Audiobooks - Goslings by J.D. Beresford

Posted by Jesse Willis

The Tower Of The Elephant by Robert E. Howard

July 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

The Tower Of The Elephant!
The Tower Of The Elephant - adaptation by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith

Athena Audio Theater CompanyThe Tower Of The Elephant
By Robert E. Howard; Read by Jason McMullan
2 MP3 Files – Approx. 91 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Athena Audio Theater
Podcast: April – May 2013
A strange, blood-freezing story of an idol that wept on its throne, and a valorius barbarian from the fringes of an elder civilization. First published in Weird Tales, March 1933.

Part 1 |MP3| Part 2 |MP3|

Podcast feed: http://www.athenatheater.org/book-show/rss.xml

The Tower Of The Elephant by Robert E. Howard

Posted by Jesse Willis

The Hoard Of The Gibbelins by Lord Dunsany

April 10, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Lord Dunsany’s take on the sword and sorcery sub-genre is high on the Dunsany and low on the Lord (which is itself a very Dunsanian trait).

The Hoard Of The Gibbelins illustration by Sidney Sime

LibriVoxThe Hoard Of The Gibbelins
By Lord Dunsany; Read by Greg Elmensdorp
1 |MP3| – Approx. 10 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: June 24, 2007
The bold knight Alderic seeks the fabled hoard of the Gibbelins. First published in the Jan 25, 1911 issue of The Sketch.

Here’s a |PDF|.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #089

January 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #089 – Jesse talks to James Campanella Ph.D. Jim is an associate professor in the department of Biology and Molecular Biology at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He’s also an audiobook narrator, and podcaster.

Talked about on today’s show:
J.J. Campanella watches very little TV, Lost, The Big Bang Theory, Antarctica, MSU, molecular biology, genetics, plant genetics, philology vs. phylogeny, the Science News Update podcast, “a funny Geordie sounding dude” (Tony C. Smith), duck penises, cloaca, sexing birds, African Grey parrots, ants, What Technology Wants, technology as an extension of evolution, “microscopic brains”, plant intelligence, tropism, phototropism vs. gravitropism, auxins, The Secret Life Of Plants, dowsing, plant signaling (with jasmonic acid), StarShip Sofa, The Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang, knitting and cross-stitching, narrating skills, Uvula Audio, I, Libertine, The Call Of The Wild by Jack London, L. Frank Baum is seriously weird, violence vs. bloodless violence, the Tin Woodsman and his enchanted axe, goiing from cyborg to robot (via a Ship of Theseus metaphor), Sky Island, genocide in kids books, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Lester Dent, Hamlet And Eggs by J.J. Campanella, a comedic detective story, Georgia, 9/11, how to be always wrong, private detectives, The Code Of The Poodles by James Powell, what accent would a talking dog have?, The Friends Of Hector Jouvet by James Powell, Monaco, A Dirge For Clowntown by James Powell, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Divers Down by Hal Gordon, were kids in the ’70s were more respectful?, the Rick Brant series, Tom Swift, The Rocket’s Shadow (Rick Brant #1) by John Blaine, Jonny Quest, adventure, The Venture Bros., The Flintstones, Harold L. Goodwin, serial books, house names, The Bobbsey Twins, Edward Stratemeyer, “electronic adventures”, who read and bought those serial books?, the end of the pulp era, The Mystery Of The Stratemeyer Legacy, Nancy Drew, has paranormal romance replaced kids books?, the Twilight series, the Harry Potter series, Rick Riordan, The Wizard Of Oz, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, the rich and amazing language of Lovecraft, Miskatonic University, Craig Nickerson, At The Mountains Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, Professor William Dyer, The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft, Brazil, proper Portuguese pronunciation, “lethp listhping”, Doctor Who, Silurians, yithians, Horror vs. Science Fiction, Astounding Stories, time travel, “shoggoths etc.”, The Statement Of Randolph Carter, a really serious (and difficult) question: Are zombies Science Fiction or Fantasy?, Romero-style zombies, 28 Days Later, real zombies in nature (mostly in the insect world), Herbert West, Re-Animator, the source matters, if the zombie was dead then it is Fantasy, why are zombies so popular?, people like the idea of being able to kill without remorse, mummies vs. werewolves vs. vampires vs. zombies, Zombieland, Bill Murray, contemporary Fantasy, Neil Gaiman, comics, sword and sorcery, Elric, the Thomas Covenant series, Stephen R. Donaldson, Douglas Adams, American Gods |READ OUR REVIEW| vs. The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul, James Alan Gardner, Expendable is an “absolute masterpiece”, Star Trek, why are there no James Alan Gardner audiobooks?, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Man Of Bronze is terrible, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson |READ OUR REVIEW|, Jim Campanella describes it as “turgid”, Metropia, “photo-realistic Swedish anime”, baby eyes, Steamboat Willie, the evolution of Mickey Mouse’s appearance, infanticide, why do your big eyes prevent me from kill you?, saccharin, the sucralose story (is in the Dec. 2010 podcast of Science News Update).

Posted by Jesse Willis

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