Review of Hounded by Kevin Hearne

SFFaudio Review

YA Fantasy Audiobook - Hounded by Hounded: The Iron Druid Chronicles
By Kevin Hearne; Read by Luke Daniels
8 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2011
Themes: / Fantasy / YA / Druids / Occult / Werewolves / Vampires /

This is the first of a hugely popular YA series, highly recommended by a friend and, luckily for me, available as a review book from SFFaudio.

Here’s the brief summary for those who, like me, hadn’t heard of this book:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old — when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer. Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down…

The book begins with verve as Atticus is a charming narrator who introduces us to his friends, who are mainly from the supernatural world. We meet Druid gods, local werewolves, a Viking vampire, the local coven of witches, and Atticus’s Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom Atticus can carry on mental conversations. There are few genuine humans in Atticus’s life and none are developed beyond a paltry few amusing characteristics, such as the Irish widow who likes to get drunk before going to Mass and forgives murder on her lawn if she is told the victims were British. The most likable character in the group is the dog Oberon who is charmingly focused on doggish things and has just enough understanding of Atticus’s world to offer his own solutions from time to time.

My initial attraction to the story soon ground to a halt. The problem with this book, and it is a large problem, is that Atticus is a perpetual Peter Pan character. His emotional development seems to be frozen at several years younger than his outward 21 years since a heaving bosom is all it takes to permanently distract him from whatever he’s doing. Pity. One would have hoped that 2,100 years of living would result in a certain amount of experience leading to wisdom. Instead, Atticus spends more time in a practical joke on an ambulance attendant than in thinking through how much he should have healed himself from a bullet wound to make it seem convincing to local law enforcement. That’s ok though because Atticus has friends and allies who unfailingly show up to give an easy solution without readers ever feeling that Atticus himself is too worries about the outcome. This leads to a permanent lack of dramatic tension.

It’s a pity there isn’t a “Wendy” to accompany Atticus’s “Peter Pan.” That would give Hounded the necessary depth and contrast. Now we can see how wise J.M. Barrie was in the construction of his tale. Without a truly human element who lacks control of the situation, all the adventures are one boring episode after another with nary a worry about how Atticus will escape.

The one good thing about this book is the narrator, Luke Daniels. I haven’t come across him before but will keep an eye out for him in the future. His talents kept me listening long past the point where I would have given up. His voicing of Oberon has found its way into my head whenever we “speak” for what our dogs in our household.

Sadly, Daniels’ talents aren’t enough to make this shallow story worth your time. There are many wonderful YA stories out there that are worth reading and rereading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, White Cat by Holly Black, and Assam and Darjeeling by T.M. Camp are just a few.

For that matter, try Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. You’ll see what Hounded could have been with proper attention given to the storytelling.

Posted by Julie D.

Five Children and It on BBC7

SFFaudio Online Audio

BBC Radio 7 - BBC7 Good stuff is happening on BBC7 lately, like Mike Walker’s remarkable 6-part historical drama series, Caesar!, that aired over the last two weeks. This Saturday, 7 Drama will present the full cast dramatization of Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It (which certainly ranks as one of the best ever titles for a kids novel), a story about a magical sand fairy (that) grants five children a series of wishes

A little background, quoting here from Wikipedia, Edith Nesbit popularized an innovative style of children’s fantasy that combined realistic, contemporary children in real-world settings with magical objects and adventures. In doing so, she was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J. K. Rowling -as well as C. S. Lewis and Michael Moorcock. Yow!

Some will recall Nesbit for her memorable novel, The Railway Children, and the film and BBC television series based on the book (presented wayyy back in the 1960’s). I said some will -if they’re willing to admit that they’re old enough to have watched Star Trek: TOS in prime time.

Now, I have to admit that I haven’t heard this production before but given the Beeb’s track record, the play should be good. At an hour and a half long, there should be enough time to cover the story while keeping things moving at a brisk pace. Also, BBC dramatizations tend to feature excellent child actors. This should be a big plus here. -A lot of “shoulds”, I know, but being a fan of Edith Nesbit’s books to begin with, of course I’m looking forward to this.

Check out Five Children and It with me on Saturday, August 16 from 12:00- 13:30 GMT. Teleport to 7 Drama here to do so. Or you can use the Listen Again feature to hear the show for six days after it airs.

Lastly, you can read and download Edith Nesbit’s novels online at Project Gutenberg. All are in the public domain. Yay!

Posted by RC of Radio Tales of the Strange and Fantastic

CBC Comedy Podcast skewers with Harry Potter alternate endings

SFFaudio Online Audio

CBC Radio Podcast - Comedy FactoryMike O’Brien, of the CBC Radio Comedy Factory podcast has a funny series of six audio skitlettes right at the beginning of the latest show. All of them are inspired by the ending of the final Harry Potter novel – they’ve got some alternate endings for us (and don’t worry there are no spoilers for the real deal):

-the “funny misunderstanding” ending
-the Scooby Doo ending
-the Conrad Black ending
-the M. Night Shyamalan ending
-the Star Wars ending

Download the |MP3| direct, or subscribe to the podcast and stay funny weekly:

http://www.cbc.ca/podcasting/includes/cf.xml

Apocalypse Al must be freed!

Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
By J.K. Rowling; Read by Jim Dale
17 CDs – 19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0307283658
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizardry / Youth / Magical Creatures / School /

At this point, the Harry Potter universe has become so entrenched in our culture that it’s impossible to approach the newest installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with anything like objectivity. Most readers already care so much about Harry and his associates that the reading experience has become less like enjoying a good novel and more like continuing the biography of a good friend or beloved celebrity. Which isn’t to say that The Half-Blood Prince isn’t a good novel; on the contrary, it ranks right up there with The Prisoner and Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire, and is a damn sight better than 2003’s gloomy and ultimately disappointing The Order of the Phoenix. For those of us who feel better when things are given in Star Wars terms, The Half-Blood Prince is most similar to The Empire Strikes Back; it advances and complicates our views about the series and its characters, while apparently moving backward from the hero’s inevitable triumph over the villain.

In The Half-Blood Prince, author J.K. Rowling maintains her own tradition of opening the novel without the titular hero in sight. In this case, the muggle Prime Minister of England is anxiously awaiting a visit from the Minister of Magic and reminiscing about their previous, mostly unpleasant, meetings. When Cornelius Fudge arrives, he brings news that the wizarding world is in an uproar; Lord Voldemort is apparently growing more and more powerful, Voldemort’s followers, the Death-Eaters are becoming more brazen in their attacks, and wizards, witches, and muggles are all at increasing risk of severe harm or death.

While Rowling never mentions real-world events in the books, the tone and situations of the two novels published since 9-11 indicate that the world inside her head is not completely insulated from the world outside. It’s telling of Rowling’s own views that the Ministry of Magic is, at best, ineffectual in dealing with these threats, and is often outright dangerous; in The Half-Blood Prince, the Ministry of Magic detains individuals it knows to be innocent, in order to give the appearance of making some progress against the enemy.

The initial expository scene, combined with a tantalizingly ambiguous revelation about one of the Hogwart’s professors, makes for such a dark opening that it’s an almost tangible relief when Harry finally makes an appearance. The likeable young wizard is now 16 years old, and Rowling has again taken pains to ensure that the novel has matured along with Harry. Passages dealing with the magical comeuppance of the Dursleys, the pointless ins and outs of Quidditch matches (why bother with anything but the snitch?), and the minutiae of wizard candy are fleeting and widely spaced, while more chapters are devoted to fairly violent magical battles (a faithful movie adaptation could very well garner an “R” rating), career counseling, and “snogging,” (making out, for those of us on the Yankee side of the pond).

Once the novel starts in earnest, Rowling doesn’t stray from Harry’s point of view, but she cheats somewhat by using the “pensive,” a magical device that allows Harry to explore the memories of others. The pensive is put to good use in the book, as its main function is to investigate the background of “He-who-must-not-be-named.” Readers who are hoping for a complicated, even sympathetic, take on Lord Voldemort (ala Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon) will be disappointed. It turns out that Voldemort is just plain bad, always has been, and apparently, always will be. More psychopath than sadist, Voldemort never hurts or kills just for enjoyment, his villainies are always means to an end. Voldemort’s particular brand of evil means that the guilt that might be expected to accompany these activities just isn’t there.

Other magical items are used less effectively in the story. An episode involving a bottle of “liquid luck”, called “felix felicis,” (the letters of which do not rearrange to spell deus ex machina) feels so contrived, requires a such a lengthy and complicated set-up, and requires Harry, Ron, and Hermione to act so outside their characters, that it’s one of the few times the book feels like something that somebody made up, rather than a description of actual events.

All told, however, the sixth installment in the Harry Potter series is excellent, and the unabridged recording of the novel makes for a very enjoyable listen. The folks at Listening Library made an inspired choice when they chose Jim Dale to read The Sorcerer’s Stone, and, five books, two Audie Awards, five Headphone Awards, three Grammy nominations and one actual Grammy later, his performance of The Half-Blood Prince is, to borrow a word from Harry, brilliant. Even without sound effects, music, or multiple actors, The Half-Blood Prince plays like a good BBC radio drama. Dale lends nuance and individuality to each of the characters, while his “normal,” narration voice is dignified, yet accessible. Dale also has an uncanny knack for interpreting speech adverbs; where Rowling writes “reprovingly,” or “reminiscently”, Dale puts reproach or reminiscence into the dialogue, so much so that very often the listener will be able to predict Rowling’s choice of adverb before Dale reads it. Maybe the highest compliment that can be paid to the audio book is that at no point is the reader reminded of the sub-par (but increasingly better) film adaptations of the books. While listeners who desire an experience closer to reading, with more neutral performances that allow for more personal interpretation, might resent having Dale’s vigorous interpretation thrust upon them, most listeners, particularly younger ones, will enjoy all 19 hours of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.