Review of Dragons of the Dwarven Depths by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Dragons of the Dwarven Depths by Margaret Weis and Tracy HickmanDragons of the Dwarven Depths: The Lost Chronicles, Volume I
By Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, read by Sandra Burr
13 CDs, 1 MP3 disc – 15 hrs [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 9781423316107 (CDs), 9781423316121 (MP3 disc)
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Heroic / Sword and Sorcery / Magic / Adventure /

In an untold story from the War of the Lance, the companions have saved the refugees of Pax Tharkas and led them to a hidden valley. For a time they are safe, but the forces of the Dragon Army are in pursuit.

This novel takes place after the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. The story starts with a large ensemble of characters already in place. Along with the refugees that these characters have saved, they must choose a path for escape. The Draconian army is still strong and hungry for vengeance against the rebels. The best path for the group is to send a small group to the underground dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin, where they hope to find shelter for the winter for their party, and also find the legendary Hammer of Kharas.

As a reviewer it’s important to tell you that this is my absolute first exposure to the Dragonlance universe. This book is very much a sequel of sorts. Although it’s the first book of a trilogy, it’s filling in the untold tales of Dragonlance’s first trilogy.

This book is not a good jumping-on point to the series. It took effort to pay attention through the early parts of the book, because characters are introduced in quick succession. After you get to know the characters (and they separate into smaller groups) the listening becomes much easier.

Looking at the cover, it would be foolish to expect more than a Tolkienesque fantasy. And that’s exactly what you get. An adventure with a pantheon of familiar fantasy creatures as well as humans. The characters all had distinct traits and their own motivation. The evil characters are just that – evil – yet interesting. But more interesting was that many of the characters on the side of good came in various shades of gray.

My favorite element of the audiobook was listening to the excellent performance of Sandra Burr. She has a pleasant narrative voice. She creates many unique voices for the menagerie of characters. Not only does she have to do the dialog of mostly males, but many are not even human. Her voice characterizations helps the listener sort out all the different inhabitants of the novel.

The writing of this book had to present some difficulties for the authors. The characters all have a past and future in other books, so there are many restrictions that would have to be adhered to for the sake of consistency and continuity. As a new reader to the series I did not get a sense that the characters were being “shoe horned” into a contrived story. In the end, the story kept me engaged, and for fans of the Dragonlance books, I’m sure it’s a welcome addition.

Review of A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

Fantasy Audiobook Review

Fantasy Audiobook - A Feast for Crows by George R.R. MartinA Feast for Crows
By George R.R. Martin; Read by John Lee
26 CDs – Approx. 31 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0739308742
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Medieval setting / Power Struggle / Dragons /

There’s a long story behind A Feast for Crows, but I’ll make it short. George R.R. Martin, while writing the fourth installment of the superior A Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy series, found it was getting too long. Long enough, in fact, that if he published it as-was, it would need to be broken up into two volumes. So, rather than break the book into two pieces at the middle, he split the book by character, including the complete story of select characters in one volume, leaving the rest of the characters to appear in the next volume. A Feast for Crows, then, is the fourth book, and a new fifth book (A Dance with Dragons) will be published relatively soon. This novel is a bit shorter than the previous volumes, but still clocks in at 31 hours on unabridged audio.

Roy Dotrice read the first three volumes in the series, but this time British actor John Lee narrated. I’m not sure why the change was made; the narrators were very different. While Dotrice has a rough, earthy delivery, Lee’s style is smooth and skilled. Both narrators succeed with Martin’s story, because with such a large number of characters, ranging from royalty to peasants, each found places to shine.

The myriad of characters brings me to my next point. This is the first of these large novels that I’ve heard before I read. Some listeners have complained that the novels are difficult to follow on audio because there are so many entrances, but I didn’t feel that way until now. With this novel, I found that the portions of the book that involved characters I didn’t know from previous books were indeed difficult to follow. When a character I knew arrived on the scene, I was fully engaged with the story.

There is a very simple remedy to this. There are acres of real estate on the packaging for large audiobooks. Why not include a Cast of Characters (Dramatis Personae)? Why not include the maps from the print version? Both of these items would have been welcome.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am a huge fan of Martin’s, and especially this series. I felt that this one started a bit slowly, but ended with a bang. I reveled in being in Westeros again. Many of the characters I like were not included in this novel, which both disappointed me and heightened my anticipation for the next volume. A Feast for Crows delivers much – I was riveted to the last third of this audiobook – but I can’t help to feel that it is incomplete, because of the missing characters and because it is the middle of a long wonderful saga that I am patiently waiting to see through.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Knife of Dreams: The Wheel of Time, Book 11 by Robert Jordan

Fantasy Audiobooks - Knife of Dreams by Robert JordanKnife of Dreams: Book Eleven of The Wheel of Time
By Robert Jordan; Narrated by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer
26 CD’s – 32 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1593977654
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Magic / Good and Evil / Demons / Dragons /

The eleventh installment in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, Knife of Dreams proves to be a fast paced and entertaining listen. This audiobook came as a welcome surprise after the last several novels in this series that tended to feel as though they were bogged down with a lot of useless detail and little action. There may be a movement forming of people supporting the cutting off of Nynaeve’s braid. Although, to be fair, she is now overly prone to “almost” yanking her plaited tresses instead of actually doing it. Other behaviors the movement may be interested in deleting from the text are the smoothing and/or arranging of skirts and shawls, sniffing, and Elaine’s new preoccupation with cursing Rand Al’Thor for her discomforts with pregnancy (after all, it takes two, right?). If these things were taken out of the text the world might be left with Wheel of Time pamphlet instead of the series.

Monotonous behaviors aside, Knife of Dreams came through in delivering resolutions to some of the subplots that have been hanging over the course of several novels. Jordan has breathed life back into his series with this book and regained the vitality of the earlier writing.

Kate Reading and Michael Kramer once again deliver fine performances reading the female and male characters respectively. This duo has narrated each book in the Wheel of Time series. The consistency in their character voices, intonations, and personality style demonstrate how well Reading and Kramer understand their characters and how familiar they are with the direction and emotional climate of the story. If you have been disillusioned with past installments of the series, give it another chance, this book is worth the time.

Review of The Fires of Heaven: The Wheel of Time Book 5 by Robert Jordan

Fantasy Audiobooks - The Fires of Heaven by Robert JordanThe Fires of Heaven: Book Five of The Wheel of Time
By Robert Jordan; Narrated by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer
29 CD’s – 38 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: 2004
ISBN: 1593976062
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Magic / Good and Evil / Demons / Dragons /

The fifth book in Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, The Fires of Heaven is one of the author’s better novels. As in all of his books in this series, this book is enjoyable because there is so much going on with the plot and numerous sub-plots. Jordan does a good job of keeping all of the smaller story lines relevant to the overarching theme of the final battle between good and evil that will culminate for Rand al’Thor and his companions in Tarman Gaidon. Jordan does a nice job of blending interesting concepts such as circular time with a compelling story line that includes humor, drama, suspense, romance and all the rest. What sets this book apart from the others in the series is the clever depiction of an epic battle between the Shaido clan of the Aiel and the mixture of warriors following Al’Thor. Once again, there are a lot of things going on among the principle characters in this battle, and Jordan manages to keep it all engaging and very exciting.

A criticism that I have of this book also applies to the other books in the series. The tension between the men and women in the stories is taken too far and beaten to death. It has become annoying to the listener at the point of this book, and begins to be more so in the subsequent novels. In some cases, as with Nynaeve Al’Maera, the character has become completely un-likeable. The characters would be more believable if they could evolve past this stuff or if Jordan could just not mention it so much.

Kate Reading and Michael Cramer work together to narrate the female and male perspectives. Since the books are so large and such big sections of it are told from one gender’s point of view at a time, it works well to keep the listener’s interest. There are also fewer of the awkward-sounding attempts at trying to depict a character of the opposite sex by altering the pitch of the voice.

Ms. Reading is always enjoyable to listen to. She is especially talented at enunciating clearly, yet sounds completely natural. Her classic voice is a pleasant match for the characters she portrays and she manages to subtly distinguish the social class and personality of her characters.

Overall, this is an enjoyable story and one of the best out of the ten volumes, as it moves along at a compelling pace with interesting things happening with the various characters. You won’t find particularly deep or moving scenes in this book, nor is Jordan a particularly picturesque writer, but he is a good story-teller. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes an adventurous story, and who is looking for something epic to listen to.

Review of Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Elric of Melnibone by Michael MoorcockElric of Melniboné
By Michael Moorcock, Read By Jeffrey West and Michael Moorcock
5 CD’s – 5.5 Hour [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Realms
Published: 2003
ISBN: 097315960X
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Magic / War / Gods /

If SFFAudio gave 5-star ratings, then Elric of Melniboné would definitely garner all five. I was so impressed with this audiobook that I wrote and thanked the director.

This audiobook reminded me that I need to be very careful with absolutes. In the past I’ve said that I dislike unabridged audio with music and sound in the background, but here one is that does it so perfectly that I have to amend my statement. The music here was carefully placed, and is an extremely effective soundtrack for the book. It is played at a sound level that was never distracting, yet had the same effect for me as a soundtrack has in a movie – it increased my emotional involvement. The audio sounded as good in the car as it did my headphones.

Elric, whose skin is the color of bleached bones, is the Emperor of Melniboné, but is not without rivals. In his manner, he is not quite what Melnibonéans expect. Though he’s smart and contemplative, the average citizen wants action. The brother of the woman he loves wants to rule, and Elric himself often wonders if Melniboné would be better off without him, but fights to keep the throne all the same.

Michael Moorcock wrote this story in a unique mythic style that makes it truly epic. There were times in the book where it felt like he was talking of the entire world as a whole, and other times when we see things from Elric’s point of view as he deals with gods and demons in scenes of real power.

Jeffrey West did a wonderful job reading this novel. He’s a fine reader, without question, and I can’t help but to think that an epic (though short) piece like this posed some challenges for him. He was first-rate, as was the entire production. This one goes in my permanent collection.

One further note: Michael Moorcock himself reads the introduction, which runs about ten minutes. It is not an “author’s introduction”, but is part of the story.

You can find this audiobook at Audio Realms, and they’ve got a sample you can listen to. (Real Audio required to hear the sample.)

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Mystic Warrior by Tracy and Laura Hickman

Fantasy Audiobooks - Mystic Warrior by Tracy Hickman and Laura HickmanMystic Warrior
By Tracy and Laura Hickman; Read by Lloyd James
12 CDs – Approx 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786186860
Themes: / Epic fantasy / Dreams / Magic / Dragons /

Thrice upon a time there was a world that was three worlds; one place that was three places; one history that was told in three sagas all at the same time. Thrice upon a time the gods foresaw a time when three worlds would become one; when the children of their creation would face the binding of the worlds.

Thus begins Book One of The Bronze Canticles: Mystic Warrior by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Fans of Hickman’s work should be extremely pleased with this audiobook. Lloyd James does a fantastic job performing, really embracing the epic fantasy and giving it an energy and depth on par with the finest narrators in the business.

This book is the first volume of a fantasy series in which the Human world, the Goblin world, and the Faery world are being slowly drawn together. The main human character is Galen Arvad, who experiences the drawing together of the worlds through dreams, as do couterparts in the other two worlds. Unfortunately, Galen’s world views these dreams as lunacy, and they seek to put such people to death. Galen does his best to avoid this while discovering the reasons behind all the trouble.

There are scenes from all three worlds in the book, each one interesting in its own right. There are swords, dragons, dwarves, and magic wrapped in an interesting story peopled with good characters. Matched with Lloyd James’ first-rate narration, this is a winner for fans of epic fantasy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson