Review of Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

August 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - Blood Rites by Jim ButcherBlood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)
By Jim Butcher; Read by James Marsters
11 CDs – 13 Hours 11 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: April 6, 2010

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, takes on a case as a favor to his friend Thomas – a vampire of dubious integrity – only to become the prime suspect in a series of ghastly murders.

I can honestly say, Blood Rites is my favorite in the series so far. Now, this was also my first audiobook of the series so that could have something to do with it. It’s hard to tell at this point, but either way, I highly enjoyed Bood Rites.

At first, I thought Marsters was a bit too serious for Harry, at least the Harry I had in my head, but the more I read, the more I realized Marsters is pretty much as perfect as you can get. Harry’s wit and constant one-liners were actually made more hilarious by this narrator who is serious for the majority of the time. I think the heightened seriousness really works better for these books because it gives you a sense of this highly dangerous world where Harry works on a daily basis.

It’s hard to separate the story from Harry himself because it’s told in first person so you’re in Harry’s head the entire time (outside of dialogue from other characters). I thought this was a brilliant way to handle it though, where you get Harry’s sense of humor through his dialogue mostly, his thoughts as well of course, but a seriousness that anchors the narrative because Harry still lives in a world of scary monsters.

I hope any of that made some remote bit of sense.

Anyhow, Blood Rites gets back into the vampires (they seem to be a pretty regular fall back for Butcher) and that makes sense because the set up has been an all-out war between vampires and wizards. Someone’s taking out people on an adult film set and Harry has to go undercover to discover who’s behind it. Of course, it goes deeper than he imagined at first and there’s where the money is for this series… Harry getting into stuff only to get beaten down and beaten on … a lot.

I struggled a slight bit with the first books in the series, but they have really hit their stride now. I didn’t even notice the typical repetitions this time (Harry disrupts electricity, Harry gets really protective of women, etc. etc.) that are explained in each volume as if no one’s ever heard about them before. It probably helps that it’s been a year or so since I last read in the series.

Blood Rites was excellent. James Marsters is so perfectly Harry Dresden it’s almost scary. What a great combination. I’ve already broken my rule of leaving a year between each Dresden file read and started on Dead Beat.

4.5 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

The SFFaudio Podcast #431 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Fitcher’s Bird by Bros. Grimm

July 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #431 – Fitcher’s Bird by Bros. Grimm; read by Julie Davis. This is an unabridged reading of the folk tale (8 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Julie Davis, and Maissa

Talked about on today’s show:
a rather unusual Brothers Grimm folktale a wizard sorcerer, his magical power is to make people fall in love with a beggar, a male witch from Hansel and Gretel, to live forever, to control women, from the girl’s perspective (the third sister’s perspective), body parts, a backpack full of gold, revenge, get back up on your legs, she’s got the power, magical spells by rhyme, a girl controlling a duck, becoming a duck, ducks are desirable, delicious duck eggs, so bizarre, gruesome, a bathtub full of cut-up body parts, the dropping of the egg, how clever!, betrayal, testing women for faithfulness, keys to every room in the house, she now has all the power, trust, a Garden of Eden situation, promises, the keys to a cage, egg is the future, she can’t think for herself, lying, power, Protector by Larry Niven, a variation of another famous fairy tale: Bluebeard, a donut shaped planet, tell the the Bluebeard myth, a forbidden room, a test, an egg to take care of, a Bluebeard test, I would not have submitted, authority, Julie is stunned, the majority gets cut-up, potential wives, a wife who will obey/trust him, the flaw, everything she desires, lacking mutual trust, curiosity, bewitching, a Pandora’s Box, Charles Perrault, The Robber Bridegroom, Beauty And The Beast, a transformation story, what’s needed, for mutual benefit, an amazing ending, The Castle Of Murder, every window with blood, a skull decked out, diamonds in the eyes, gruesome monster story, a charnel house, the last sentence, “the wizard and all his crew”, who are these people?, a different invitation, “brothers and kinsmen”, rescue, avengers, all his folk, all his friends, burn ’em, hardcore, no one’s doing this again, his mindset, they’re as bad as he is, honey and feathers, magic, Fowler’s Fowl, a white apron, Gretel, magic blood, a virginity test, the concern of men, the concern of women, Philip K. Dick, women want one thing and men want another thing, why would anyone marry Donald Trump?, an evil wizard, women want to make sure their children are well supported, what if she lets in someone who’s not me?, who is this story for?, the lesson is you should be smart not just loyal, loyalty will get you burned to death in a house, a bad hombre, the charismatic guy, it’s the money, fame, it’s easy to give in to thoughtless negative impulses, did he have bad hair?, tiny hands?, cycle of life, breaking out of the egg, a strange new wonderful bird, a great misfortune, like God talking in the King James Bible, God or Jesus, Arthur Rackham illustration, the Wikipedia entry, a Jewish caricature, it’s all turned around on him, resting, “I’m looking through my little window”, he got so tired, Cinderella, cutting off heels and toes, Prince Charming, a title and castle and money, she’s not even human anymore, I’m headed to New York, good enough, they all had poor eyesight and hearing, a very tall castle, an axe, why is he cutting them up?, a serial killer, Dexter, Jesse’s students are from Asia, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, explaining why these conventions come up, projecting backwards, 1850s, Split (2016), we should all watch it together, what are the things you don’t expect to find?, slash movie conventions, survivors, The Descent (2005), all C.H.U.D.s are underground C.H.U.D.s, she’s been reborn, covered in blood, no longer is she weak, she’s powerful, mettle tested, don’t just marry any old prince, exploring every part of your house, Julie rescinds her invitation, knowledge is power, powerful and useful, curiosity killed the cat, people are curious, Clark Ashton Smith, Arthur Machen, “since thou hast gone into my room — thy life is ended”, with the rest, she did not fair better than her sister, the bloody chamber, it has to happen three times for the magic to work, the three sisters, the three journeys, the three pigs, Goldilocks, somebody’s been sitting on my stool, somebody’s been sleeping in my bed and there she is!, what is the meaning behind this story, the ur story, Lady Macbeth, smart and disobedient, gaslighting, you can’t tell me how to think about what I’m seeing, Gaslight (1944), the moral is it’s best to be third born.

Hermann Vogel illustration of Fitcher's Bird

Fitcher's Bird illustration by Arthur Rackham

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The CompanionsThe Companions (Forgotten Realms: The Sundering, Book 1)
By R.A. Salvatore; Narrated by Victor Bevine
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours

Themes: / fantasy / magic / Forgotten Realms / wizard /

Publisher summary:

On the dusty plains of Netheril, a young Bedine girl spins a web of forbidden magic, obliterating a pair of assassins with a single lightning strike. On the banks of the Sea of Fallen Stars, a tiny thief walks willingly into battle with a ruthless killer, a wide grin upon his face. In the tunnels of Citadel Felbarr, a dwarfling is ambushed and strikes back with an attack well beyond his apparent strength and years. These three seemingly unrelated commoners, growing up across the far reaches of the Forgotten Realms®, hold the fate of Faerûn’s most famous dark elf, Drizzt Do’Urden, in their hands. But that fate is far from certain. For in the shadows a cunning cabal of wizards is watching, intent on hunting Chosen—mortals blessed by the gods. These wizards know something mere commoners do not: Long-forgotten gods have begun to stir. Long-lost lands have begun to tremble. The world around them is about to change. And these wizards will do whatever it takes to turn the coming chaos to their advantage. In this first book of the six-book Sundering series, New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore launches a major world-shaping event that will revive old favorites, introduce new complications, and move his signature hero Drizzt into a restored era of the Forgotten Realms.

Oh, Salvatore. Never change.

Drizzt Do’Urden is back in The Companions, although in a very limited fashion. The bulk of the story focuses on Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis as they are (I am not making this up) sent back to live again, from birth onwards, in order to help Drizzt far after their original deaths.

Yep. They have adult consciousness in baby bodies. They’re aware of the sensation of being birthed. They have completely adult, mature minds trapped in little toddler dwarf/human/halfling bodies. They have to struggle through relearning how to walk, eat, be toilet trained…let me back up.

Mielikki, a goddess of nature, allows the Companions to chose whether to be reborn in order to help Drizzt in a time of great need. Wulfgar appears to chose not to, electing to go to his heavenly reward instead, but the others are all reborn and go through childhood. They constantly work to hide their identities while being somewhat torn in their loyalties. The story culminates with their reunion with a wounded Drizzt and his magical panther, Guenhwyvar. Even Wulfgar shows up at the end, and it’s nicely set up for the next book in the series.

Did I mention the vampire drow? Or the dolphins? This book has it all.

Except for the beginning and end, Drizzt is not part of the action. He has escaped capture and is considered lost, so instead each chapter begins with a letter of his, a seeming memoir, on a theme that is then touched upon in Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis’s new lives.

I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend this book, as it was very odd. I did enjoy it, even as I laughed at some of the parts, and would definitely listen to the next one.

The narrator did a really good job, even managing to pull off a falsetto for the female characters voices without it turning off-putting. There was a short bit of music in between each disc, and they repeated the first few sentences from the last disc in the first track of the next disc.

Posted by Sarah R.

Review of Oz Reimagined

June 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

ozOz Reimagined
Edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen; Performed by Tanya Eby and Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
11 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / fantasy / wizards / dorothy / oz /

Publisher summary (paraphrased):

The ultimate anthology for Oz fans – and, really, any reader with an appetite for richly imagined worlds… Some stories are dystopian…Some are dreamlike…All are undeniably Oz.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

“The Great Zeppelin Heist of Oz” – Rae Carson & C.C. Finlay
“Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust” – Seanan McGuire
“Lost Girls of Oz” – Theodora Goss
“The Boy Detective of Oz: An Otherland Story” – Tad Williams
“Dorothy Dreams” – Simon R. Green
“Dead Blue” – David Farland
“One Flew Over the Rainbow” – Robin Wasserman
“The Veiled Shanghai” – Ken Liu
“Beyond the Naked Eye” – Rachel Swirsky
“A Tornado of Dorothys” – Kat Howard
“Blown Away” – Jane Yolen
“City So Bright” – Dale Bailey
“Off to See the Emperor” – Orson Scott Card
“A Meeting in Oz” – Jeffrey Ford
“The Cobbler of Oz” – Jonathan Maberry

I didn’t pick this book to review out of Oz-Nostalgia, since I only have very vague childhood memories of reading the original L. Frank Baum stories, and these memories were nearly bleached out of my brain completely when I was in my twenties, because I worked in an electronics store that played The Wizard of Oz movie on a seemingly infinite loop. Despite that traumatic experience, I wanted to read this collection because I love seeing how different authors’ voices, experiences and imaginations can flavor a similar story concept; and because I remembered the best parts about Oz were the scary parts – the Winged Monkeys, the Wheelers, the mean witches – and so the idea of darker, more adult perceptions of Oz really appealed to me.

The collection was even better than I expected. The tales were so eclectic and interesting I never got tired with being in Oz and even ended up downloading the original stories once I’d finished so I could revisit the world. The Oz Reimagined stories include everything from murder mystery and psychological drama to dystopia, urban fantasy, and cyberpunk. The tones of the stories are also varied, with some taking a darker view and dealing with themes like aging or death, and others leaning more to the whimsical, colorful and cute.

The narrators, Tanya Eby and Nick Podehl, did an amazing job with all the different voices and styles of storytelling in this collection. When I clicked back through the audio to remind myself of the stories, I could tell which story was which right away just by the narrator’s cadence and tone. They managed a huge range of voices. I especially adored the voices of the pathetic lion and bitchy Dorothy in “Off to See the Emperor”: I listened to that one twice, both for the good writing and entertaining narration.

The authors in this collection range from rising stars to old pros. The stand-out stories for me were Seanan McGuire’s “Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust,” which was a beautiful tale with equally beautiful use of profanity (I love artfully used curse words); Tad William’s “The Boy Detective of Oz,” which is set in his Otherland computer-simulated world and which stars the fascinating glass cat; Dale Bailey’s “City So Bright,” about a working-class munchkin who polishes the wall for a system he realizes is completely corrupt; and Orson Scott Card’s “Off to See the Emperor,” with two of the intelligent and yet naïve child characters that Card does so incredibly well.

As Gregory Maguire says in the introduction, these are “postcards from the beyond,” and every writer has different experiences and points of view to share. I thought it was an awesome collection that took me on a little trip and reminded me why I enjoyed the scary, weird and colorful world of Oz when I was kid.

Posted by Marissa van Uden

Review of Cold Days by Jim Butcher

November 26, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cold Days by Jim ButcherCold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files
By Jim Butcher; Read by James Marsters
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Release Date: November 27, 2012
ISBN: 9781611761603
Playing time: 19 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / fairy / wizard / urban fantasy / near-death /

Publisher summary:
After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…His soul.

After a slight departure from normal Dresden Files form in the preceding Ghost Story–owing to Harry’s (near) death and all–Dresden returns to corporeal form in Cold Days. But he can’t expect a warm welcome, even from his closest friends, because he’s now fulfilling his service as Winter Knight to Mab, the fairy Winter Queen. And this novel manages to raise the stakes again, for Harry, for Chicago, for the world. There have been so many Dresden Files novels now they actually fall into categories: there are vampire novels, fairy novels, wizard council novels, undead novels, and so forth. As the series grows there is more and more crossover, but Cold Days easily qualifies as a fairy novel.

I have two equal and opposite reviews in mind for Cold Days, and instead of choosing which to write, I’ll write both.

The first review argues that Cold Days, the fourteenth installment in the Dresden Files, suffers from serious series fatigue. With a few exceptions, it features largely the same cast of characters, the same locales, and the same themes that readers have grown accustomed to. Despite some glimpses of growth, development, and transformation, Harry Dresden is largely the same smart-mouthed, down-on-the-heel practicing wizard he was in Storm Front. His all-too-frequent pop culture references that once seemed amusing now strike a chord of annoyance. The frenetic action sequences that a few novels ago felt exhilarating now come off as trite and paint-by-numbers. In short, the novel makes me feel as if my once solid relationship with The Dresden Files has fallen a bit flat.

Some of the problems present in Cold Days are inherent in the stagnant conventions of urban fantasy as a whole. Except for a few quick jaunts to Edinburgh or Mexico, the entire series has largely taken place in Chicago. While Aristotle’s unity of place might be best practice for a play or even a novel, it certainly doesn’t work for a series of this length. This reader, at any rate, longs to see the heroes face other challenges in far-off lands. Worse, the single, small, isolated locale undermines the severity of the universal threats posed by the series’ villains. It’s difficult to take seriously a dangerous entity bent on world destruction when the only destruction in evidence takes place within a few city blocks.

With all the storylines introduced over the course of thirteen previous novels, it’s inevitable that not all of them can be picked up or carried along in a sequel, nor should they be. However, a pretty major development took place in book 12, Changes, prior to Harry’s apparent death, that is surprisingly absent from Cold Days, even in Harry’s continuous flow of internal monologue. He makes oblique references to it a few times, but I’d hoped that particular surprise would herald a shift in the series rather than merely the plot for a single novel. It is to be hoped that Jim Butcher will pick up this important thread in future novels.

The other review in my head praises Cold Days as a worthy installment to the Dresden Files series. This is largely on account of Jim Butcher’s vigorous writing style and strong characterization. Pop culture reference overload notwithstanding, Butcher’s writing, like a fine oak-aged whiskey, has only improved with age. Though the action sequences as a plot device are overused, there’s no denying they’re well-written. There’s a knock-down drag-out bar fight early in the novel, and you really can feel every shotgun blast and flying bar stool. The witty, flippant language that jaunts through the novel makes the few moments of gravity or pathos all the more powerful. There’s an exchange between Harry and his friend/love interest (to quote Facebook, “it’s complicated”) Karin Murphy that’s poignant and dramatic enough you’d expect to find it in a Scorsese flick.

And while Harry Dresden himself might wear thin at times, the host of supporting characters still haven’t lost their charm and complexity. Harry’s half-brother Thomas, his apprentice Molly, and polka-infused Medical Examiner Butters all make welcome and notable experiences. These characters crackle with life, personality, and possibility. For me, fantasy and science fiction novels, however wonderful their locales and however revolutionary their ideas, are only as strong as their characters. In a series of this length, the importance of characters increases exponentially. And even if some, including the protagonist, rub me the wrong way at times, they’re still characters I know and care about.

So, two equal and opposing reviews–how to break the tie? Simple: will I read the next Dresden Files novel? The answer is a definite yes. I don’t say this lightly. It takes a lot to keep me, and probably most readers, invested in a long-running series, especially in a sub-genre I don’t usually read. (Incidentally, the fact that I don’t often enjoy urban fantasy means you should take my first, negative review with a pinch of salt.) I bowed out of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series after book seven, and I put down Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels after the third installment. Blasphemous as it sounds, I’m even losing patience with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet through thick and thin I’ve stuck with The Dresden Files for fourteen novels filled with great characters and complex supernatural elements. And I’m eager for a fifteenth.

The audio edition marks the return of James Marsters, best known as Spike from the Buffy the Vampire Series TV series, as narrator. Ghost Story, the previous novel, was narrated by John Glover. I feel sorry for narrators who have to pick up a series mid-stream, like John Lee who stood in for Roy Dotrice in narrating George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows. John Glover performed admirably in his reading of Ghost Story, and if he had read the series from the beginning there would have probably been no cause for complaint. But for the previous twelve novels, James Marsters was Harry Dresden. His dry, sometimes deadpan style perfectly fits the Chicago detective noir tone of the novels. So his return to the series is a welcome breath of fresh air. Also, major props to Marsters for hitting the sustained high notes in the dialogue of the minuscule fairy underlings.

Posted by Seth

Review of Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

May 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Proven Guilty by Jim ButcherProven Guilty
By Jim Butcher; Read by James Marsters
Audible Download – approx. 16 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2009
Themes: / Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / Magic / Chicago / Wizard / Faeries / Vampires / Black Magic

By the time most fantasy series reach their eighth novel, they’re usually showing their age. For proof, one need look no further than Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, in which the eighth book, Path of Daggers, is seen as the beginning of the cycle’s decline, although some would place this event significantly earlier. In any case, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series certainly doesn’t follow this trend. In fact, Proven Guilty suggests that the series just keeps getting better.

The novel initially follows the series formula: Chicago wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden faces a series of seemingly-disconnected incidents which, as the plot progresses, reveal themselves to be connected in a sinister way. The White Council is on the lookout for black magic; monsters from the big screen are wreaking havoc at a horror fan convention; and Molly Carpenter, daughter of Harry’s good friend Michael, is in some kind of mysterious trouble. Harry must juggle all these fly balls and, as usual, keep himself from getting killed. He’s aided by the usual cast of supporting characters like officer Karin Murphy and the elemental Bob the Skull., and White Court vampire Thomas.

Harry soon discovers that the faerie courts of Summer and Winter have taken an interest in recent events. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed Proven Guilty so much, since it evoked themes from the other faerie-centric novel in the series so far, Summer Knight, which is also one of my favorites. Butcher writes about the fae as if they are both inscrutably beautiful and incalculably terrifying. In general, the Summer Court tends to side with the “powers of good”, while the Winter Court allies itself with “evil”, but faerie politics aren’t quite that simple. Summer can be incredibly crafty and deceptive, while denizens of Winter are prone to occasional acts of kindness and sacrifice.

This moral ambiguity cuts to the heart of the success of Proven Guilty. Themes of morality, self-control, parenthood, and responsibility abound. Butcher’s early novels felt like little more than exciting detective thrillers with a supernatural twist–entertaining, witty, humorous, but lacking any real depth. In later Dresden Files novels, Butcher has cultivated a heightened emotional sensitivity. in Proven Guilty, this manifests most prominently in Harry’s complex relationship with the Carpenter family. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that the execution of a young boy at the hands of the White Council for misuse of magic holds more than a hint of foreshadowing.

James Marsters, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, narrates the novel flawlessly. His hard-boiled narrative style perfectly fits the book’s genre as a detective story, and his dust-dry rendition of Harry Dresden’s dialogue captures the wizard’s lonely character perfectly. Marsters also handles the female characters deftly, avoiding the pitfall of overacting that some other male vice actors fall prey to.

Readers might get away with reading Proven Guilty as a stand-alone novel, since it does a passable job of weaving backstory into the plot in an unobtrusive manner, but it’s worth reading the Dresden Files series from the beginning. Unfortunately, books six and seven (Blood Rites and Dead Beat) haven’t yet received the audio treatment, though they’re schedules for release sometime in the coming months.  It’s well worth plodding through those two volumes in print.

Also take a look at SFFaudio’s favorable review of Small Favor, book ten in the series, which I’m immensely looking forward to once I’ve read the intervening White Night.

Posted by Seth Wilson

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