Monday, April 3, 2017

Recent Audiobook Reviews

There's two (really three (actually kinda four, except that two are in the same universe, so back to three??)) series below and while trying to keep spoilers to a minimum, reading later reviews will certainly spoil certain aspects from earlier in the series.  You've been warned.

InsomniaI struggled through the entire first half of this book, even joking it might be a cure for insomnia because it nearly put me to sleep more than once.  I only have experience with one other of King's books - The Gunslinger - the first in the Dark Tower series.  It's a book I enjoyed and I always meant to get back to the series someday.

My friend Dan is a big King fan and suggested this to me, though it had already been on my radar due to the occasional sleepless nights of my own.  That aspect - the deep inner-monologue of the main character's thoughts while suffering insomnia - kept me going during that first half while I wondered what the plot was.  I kept thinking, "This is well written but uninteresting" as contradictory as that seems.  I even met friends for dinner one night and asked, "Have any of you read Stephen King?" wondering if it was just me that didn't enjoy this best selling author.  There was group consensus King is boring, which made me feel vindicated, but I still didn't stop reading listening.  There was just enough interesting bits going on in the periphery of an old man getting less and less sleep each night to propel me forward.  Around the mid-point things both kicked into gear and went off the rails.  It's hard to discuss without spoiling things but I'll say the book has ties to The Dark Tower that rekindled by interest in the series.

I have no idea how to rate or recommend this.  The narration was brilliant and music added at tense and dramatic moments effectively amplifying the mood.  The first half was a fight to stay awake and when it got interesting, I was primarily interested in the bits that related to The Dark Tower.  I'm planning to read more Dark Tower and pass on anything else from King.

White Fire (Book 13 of the Pendergast series) - Nothing against New York, but I tend to prefer the Pendergast books set outside the city.  This is one of those, set in a small, affluent resort town in Colorado.  Being outside of New York City also means he's away from his usual supporting cast and the deep ongoing drama of his life.  Basically, there's no real foreknowledge needed despite this being the 13th book in the series, and there are enough references to prior events to fill you in on whatever is necessary.  He's in Colorado to help a friend get out of a pickle she blunders her way into while investigating 150-year-old bear maulings but winds up helping solve an arson case all while looking for a lost Sherlock Holmes story.  That makes more sense in context than when summarized into a single sentence.  I quite enjoyed it.

I don't remember where I first read about Gideon Crew (I've tried to find it again because I'd hoped to quote it but can't), but he sounded ridiculous.  Basically, he's your typical nuclear engineer, master chef, former thief, and master of disguise.  You know, a real everyman.  But I'm a big fan of an earlier Preston and Child book - The Ice Limit - and a sequel to that is the book fourth in Gideon's series, so I figured I'd give the guy a shot.

Gideon's Sword (Book 1) - The book starts with what seems like a clear mission that might take the length of a novel to resolve but actually wraps up in just a few listening hours.  From there, he's hired for a job by a recurring character from the Lincoln and Child universe and that guy's involvement helped propel me onward.  'cause I really like that guy and want to know/read more about him.  In a Liam Neeson particular-set-of-skills way, Gideon gets in WAY over his head yet manages to still save the day.  I'm kinda shitting on him and the book here, but it's entertaining and I enjoyed it.  Book 2 however...

Gideon's Corpse (Book 2) - The first book was good enough to get me to listen to the second.  However, if this had been the first, I doubt I would have continued.  The stakes are dramatically higher here than in the first book, but the pacing is much slower.  Reading them back-to-back, it was mildly infuriating.  There's also the fact that he develops feelings and has relationships with three women over these two books - this is set immediately following the previous book - in the span of about two weeks.  I don't think I have a single good thing to say about this book other than I got more of that character I vaguely mentioned liking above.

The Lost Island (Book 3) - This book's shift from its reasonably fictional beginning to fantastical ending is so slow, I stopped near the end to consider, "How did we get here?"  I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it.  It's well told but definitely goes off the rails.  The break-neck pacing is back which I think explains how the fantastical is so easily inserted - you don't get a moment to consider the absurdity of it.  The real draw for me here is this book is a stepping stone to the one I actually want to read - Beyond the Ice Limit, a sequel to the authors' early The Ice Limit which remains one of my favorites from the pair.  Those past and future events are mentioned multiple times here and each time my excitement grew.

The series is narrated by MacLeod Andrews, whose done nearly 300 books on Audible, but I'm most familiar with him from The Reckoners series.  In short, he's excellent.

The world the books are set in is roughly 19th century with rifles and trains and even a rudimentary punchcard computer.  I considered describing it as "steampunk without monocles" but there's so little detail given outside of the two main groups - Mages and Mechanics - that I don't feel comfortable describing it at all.  I've seen it called "Science Fantasy" but that seems so broad it's effectively meaningless.  Essentially, the Mages and Mechanics have carved out niches for themselves around magic and machinery, and everyone else is referred to as a Common.  Limited tech is given to Commons, but otherwise these groups don't share or get along with one another.

The series is six books long; I've read three of those in the last two weeks, and I'll likely read the rest of the series within the next month.  While I like the main characters and what they're trying to accomplish, I think the secret history of the world is the real hook for me.  I want to know more about the past as much as I'd like the see the ongoing storyline resolved.

The descriptions below are intentionally vague.  I should also note the titles of the books themselves are spoilers since each references something late in the third act.

The Dragons of Dorcastle (Book 1) - The first book started slow and I briefly considered returning it because the main character was so cold.  I hadn't realized this was intentional until the perspective switched the other main character.  At that point, the book really came alive as the two wildly different characters were thrust into adventure together.

The Hidden Masters of Marandur (Book 2) - This was an immediate purchase after finishing the first book.  Things unfold further as the main characters try to stay alive while the very powerful guilds try to have them killed and a prophecy mentioned in the first book is developed.

The Assassins of Altis (Book 3) - Even more attempts are made to capture and/or kill the main characters and unless I'm mistaken, there's a new antagonist keeping a low profile.  Where there were previously only hints as to the world's real history, the actual history is gone into here.