Best of Audiobooks, Vol. 1

Over the past couple of years I have listened to a lot of audiobooks and have amassed a ton more in my library, to the point where I didn’t know how many I’d owned, which was a problem. It’s fine to let physical books accumulate and pile up all over the floor, but it’s a problem when you let that happen to audiobooks. It’s too easy to forget about virtual books when you’re not constantly tripping over them. The sheer number of unread audios that I own and their combined hours is probably more than my lifespan. Probably.

So organizing my audio shelf has been a long, on-going process that I’ve been meaning to complete for years now, but kept putting off because… virtual shelves, not tripping over them, and all that. Also, I didn’t have the right motivation until recently when a friend on Goodreads asked for some audio recommendations, good audio recommendations, that is. I knew there were plenty I wanted to list for her, but couldn’t recall what they were off the top of my head. So this list, or rather these lists, is a way of keeping track of the best ones, the ones that I know I would gladly recommend to anyone (with some caveats) and I know I would reread (relisten?) to them if I have the chance.

So here they are in alphabetical order by author because… just because that’s how I roll.

Peter Grant / Rivers of London (series) by Ben Aaronovitch (reviews)
read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
When an audiobook narrator and the main character of the book seem like they’re made for each other, magic happens. Literally. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is Peter Grant (if there’s a TV show, the role’s gotta his, right?). But not only that, he also portrays every character in the story, as well as London itself, so skillfully that I always forget I’m listening to the book rather than reading it myself. It’s a joy to listen to and always makes me feel like I’m right in London.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
read by… unknown
I don’t recall who the narrator was, just that he was very good. I borrowed the recording from the library some years ago, but it’s not there any more and none of the other libraries have it. 😦 Anyhow. I just remember the narration was very good and made me love the book all over again. I would only recommend a listen if you read it way back when and had fond memories of the rabbits (and were permanently scarred by their violent deaths). (Watership Down was my Winnie the Pooh.)

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (review)
read by Kyle McCarley
Otherwise known as “he who can pronounce basically any made-up fantasy word.” Just a few examples: Alcethmeret, Ulimeire, Istandaartha, Nazhmorhathveras, Verven’theileian, Untheileneise, Edrehasivar. The mind, it boggles. I liked this book on the first read, but it was the reread in audio that made me love it. (McCarley is also the narrator for City of Bones btw, which was okay overall but not as smooth or well-read as Goblin.)

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
read by Susan Ericksen
Once again, another book that I liked more on audio because of the narrator. This is sweet with a little bit of magic and lots of food (one of the main characters is a gifted caterer). Like Practical Magic (the movie, not the book), but cozier and softer around the edges.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
read by Rosamund Pike (aka Jane Bennet herself)
IMO Jane Austen’s writing is better in audiobook than it is when read by yourself (or myself), and that’s especially true for P&P because of all the dialogue and the internal monologues and the endless balls and gowns, not to mention all the explanation of appropriate fashion and mannerisms. Rosamund Pike does an amazing job bringing the characters and their predicaments to life with her narration, and I think she’s the best reader for this book. She’s got a voice that really brings the time period to life. (IMHO she’s even better than Kate Reading, who’s good but not time-period-enhancing good.)

The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell
read by Tai Sammons
There are so few narrators who can portray a teenager’s point of view in a believable way, while at the same time preventing the tone of the book from veering into whiny YA territory. This book is definitely not YA, but the main character is a teenage girl trying to survive a zombie apocalypse by herself, so there are long passages in which she’s recalling the past. The writing is amazing and I loved this book the first time I read it. Then I listened to audio and enjoyed it all over again.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (review)
read by the author
Bourdain writes like the way he talks and vice versa, and he narrates the same way too–cocky but with the skills to back it up, honest, matter-of-fact, heartfelt, endearing (if you like that type of personality). I play this audiobook just to have it in the background when the house is too quiet just like other people play their favorite albums. It keeps me grounded.

A Natural History of Dragons (Lady Trent #1) (series) by Marie Brennan
read by Kate Reading
Ms. Reading has a natural talent for high fantasies with lots of adventure told from female POVs, and Lady Trent is the perfect character for her voice and style. She and her husband, Michael Kramer, have read a ton of genre books together, but I much prefer her narration to his, so I usually seek out books that she reads by herself (P&P being one of them) and I always pass on books they read together because nothing puts me to sleep faster than Michael Kramer’s voice.

Vlad Taltos (series) by Steven Brust (reviews)
read by Bernard Setaro Clark
Fun, fast-paced, and very funny. Bernard Setaro Clark is so good that I think I might listen to the rest of this series, even though I already own most of the books in paperback. Clark’s portrayal of Vlad and the stealthy (and often accidentally teleported because he’s so stealthy) Kragar and their friendship is my absolute favorite.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
read by the author
Very good and very funny. I loved the audio as much as I loved reading the book myself. However, I should mention that text books are hard to listen to for long periods of time. The mind tends to wander after half an hour. No matter how good or interesting or engrossing the text is, you’ll find yourself suddenly fascinated by dust motes and the molding on the ceiling.

Lilith’s Brood or Xenogenesis (trilogy) by Octavia Butler (review)
read by Aldrich Barrett
A hard series to read, but since this is Octavia Butler, the pages just turn themselves. I read all three books back to back, turning to the audios whenever the reading got difficult, which was often, and I was able to make it through some of the toughest parts because, for some reason, listening to them made them easier to bare. It really helped that Aldrich Barrett has a voice that’s very easy to listen to.

Wild Seed (Patternist series) by Octavia Butler
read by Dion Graham
Similar to Lilith’s Brood, but mildly easier to read because the story is set on Earth… during the height of the Tranatlantic Slave Trade and deals with shapeshifters indirectly involved in the slave trade, so not that easy, just easier to digest than aliens from outer space interbreeding with humans as part of a genetic trade agreement to repopulate the Earth… Anyhow. My point is Octavia Butler’s books are hard to read but so good. Thank audiobook for talented narrators like Dion Graham who make hard reads… more pleasant.

The Kushiel trilogy by Jacqueline Carey
read by Anne Flosnik
Like Kate Reading, Anne Flosnik is another household name in high fantasy. I think her voice is a good fit for fantasies that feature courtly intrigue, a layered plot with many subplots branching off and then converging later on, with lots of moving parts, and royal families and their subjects squabbling, which is why she’s perfect for the Kushiel trilogy. However, I should mention that it took me more than half of the first book, roughly 15 hours, to get used to her narration style, but I’m glad I stuck with it because the scope of the story is huge and the payoff is very satisfying.

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate series) by Gail Carriger
read by Emily Gray
Very funny and enjoyable. Emily Gray has great comedic timing and she really embodies Alexia Tarabotti’s style of flouncing tradition in favor of doing and saying whatever she wants, often times in public and at the most inappropriate moment. If I ever get around to picking up the second book, I will definitely go for the audio.

The Wayfarers (series) by Becky Chambers
read by Rachel Dulude
Both readings of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit are excellent, but ACCO is slightly better IMO because it’s an emotional gut-punch, whereas Small Angry Planet is light and fun.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
read by Scott Brick (unabridged edition)
This audiobook is 36 hours long and I only listened to parts of it when I couldn’t concentrate and my mind started to wander. So I’m not sure how the whole audiobook is, just the parts that I listened to were expertly read by an expert, Scott Brick. (Mr. Brick is also the narrator for one of my favorite mind bending sci-fis, The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. More on that when we get to R.)

To be continued soon…

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City of Bones by Martha Wells

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: February 20 to 28, 2018

Still a fantastic read the second time around. Don’t know how it’s possible, but I think I love it more this time around.

This book hits all of my fantasy requirements:

  • desert setting (plus, it’s also post-apocalyptic)
  • unique city (it’s a multi-level tower)
  • intricate socioeconomic system
  • intricate caste system (lots of minute but interesting details)
  • political intrigue
  • a cast of outcast characters (that you can’t help but get attached to)
  • lots of dry, self-deprecating humor
  • which makes the interactions between the characters hilarious
  • an ancient, archaeological mystery

The book goes one step further by topping the whole thing off with a high-stakes scavenger hunt that takes the characters through the city and out into the desert, but that’s not all, it ends with an unexpected but worthwhile ending. Very well done overall.

The writing is very detailed without being bogged down by too many unnecessary scenes or exposition, a signature style of Martha Wells. You get a clear picture of the city and many of its tiers, but you don’t get bogged down by pages and pages of descriptions or backstory. All the attention to details may sound like a lot to wade through before you get to good part of the plot, but that’s not it at all. The writing is a breeze and very easy to read. It sweeps you up and takes you right into the heart of the desert without any drudgery.

I really liked this book the first time I read it because of its distinctive take on the desert fantasy setting, and the ending turned “really like” into love. It was precisely the right note this story needed to push it from just fantasy into something more, something memorable. Although that is kind of ironic for me to say because, over the years, I have forgotten a lot of the story, but that ending still stayed with me. It’s still as clear in my mind as the day I first read it. And in reading it again, I’m able to really appreciate all the work that went into this book.

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Rereading with Beth via the audiobook.

Read by Kyle McCarley. You may know him from his fantastic reading of The Goblin Emperor.

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Review of first read from March 2014

The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

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Rating: â˜… ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 15 to 20, 2017

This is an interesting police procedural with an interesting hook that you don’t find out until somewhat later in the story. Or at least I didn’t find out until it happened. That caught me of guard and, at the same time, pulled me further into the plot. Best way to get into this story, or any short form fiction, is to not know anything about it.

Since it’s so short there’s not much to say without giving the hook away, but I’ll try anyway.

Set in present time Chicago and it actually feels like Chicago and not, say, New York or some other generic urban sprawl. The writing is short, to the point, and what we come to expect from John Scalzi. He doesn’t mince words or beat a morally gray topic to death. He has a minimalist style that I like.

We’re introduced to Tony Valdez just as he’s about to enter the OR, not as a patient or doctor, but a dispatcher. He’s there as insurance, so to speak, to make sure everything goes “smoothly.” What he is and what his job entails is the hook.

Shortly after the operation, Tony finds out that a friend and colleague has gone missing, and he’s pressured by a detective to help her solve the case. She thinks the job has something to do with the his disappearance. The investigation reveals all the gray areas of what dispatchers do off the books and all the ways in which life and death could be just a game.

And I admit I’m hooked. I hope this is just the beginning and that Scalzi has long term plans because there’s still so much left to explore. Crime statistics, law enforcement, religion, politics, the tenuous definition of homicide in this new age of mortality–an endless trove of gray topics to take on. 

I’m not a fan of short form fiction, so this novella feels somewhat incomplete even though loose ends are tied up and most questions are answered. But if this becomes a procedural series and each book an episode, I could totally get behind that.

A Rare Book of Cunning Device (Peter Grant, #5.6) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 28 to May 6, 2017

Funny, too short, and available only on audio, for now anyway, and it’s still going for free at Audible.

Nightingale is out of town again, and Peter gets called to the British Library about what appears at first to be a poltergeist problem. But after some investigating, it turns out to be a book running amok after dark and keeping the librarians up at night.

The book isn’t actually a book, but an ancient device of magical origins. It has moving parts and seems somewhat sentient, or at least aware of its surrounding. I’d love to learn more about it and see it featured in later books.

Peter brings Toby and Postmartin along to the library and learns from the librarians that the good professor has a reputation for stealing rare tomes. This comes as no surprise to me because I’ve always suspected that about him. Gatekeepers like the people of the Folly have always seemed like the kind to confiscate rare books and other objects of magical origins for “safe keeping.”

This short story reads like another sequence from the cutting room floor, not unlike The Home Crowd Advantage. I get the feeling these two should have been part of the main novels, but for whatever reason, they had to be cut during the editing process. But they were too good to delete permanently, so we get these little snippets to entertain us while we wait for #7.

Foreigner (Foreigner #1) by C.J. Cherryh

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 10 to May 5, 2017

This book ends when the story is just about to get interesting. And that’s the most effective way to lose an audience.

Up until the ending, it’s a real repetitive uphill slog, and I say that as someone who liked it more than most people. Reading it was a labor-intensive task that I never thought would end and I would never have been able to get to the end without the help of the audio–again, speaking as someone who liked the story. The prose and plotting could use a lot of editing, and the inner monologues could use some deleting. But the alien world and cultures were interesting, and they seemed to have the potential to become even more interesting. For that alone, I would pick up the second book.

Back to the ending and what I think most people don’t know about this book: it’s not an ending, but it’s not quite a cliffhanger either, and thus the reason behind so many frustrated reviews. While it’s not an ending, it does leaving you in the middle of a scene that could potentially be interesting if you were already invested in the story and characters. But if you weren’t, it wouldn’t be a huge loss to not know how it all ends or whether or not Bren Cameron survives and is able to navigate the delicate relations between humans and atevi.

I wouldn’t say I’m invested, but I do want to know what happens next–alien worlds and political intrigue are an interesting combination. Maybe not right away though because a break is in order after that slog, but as soon as the audio for the second book is available, I’m on it.

Full review when I get through the first the books or a complete story in the case of this series.

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His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 15 to 23, 2017
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Simon Vance to the rescue once again as he saves another book for me that I would have set aside for another time or probably indefinitely. Not the book’s fault though since it’s perfectly fine and well written for a historical fiction. It was more a case of bad timing when I picked it up, too much going on and not enough time or energy to spare and all that, but I made it through, with a lot of help from the audiobook which was superbly read by Mr. Vance, and I really enjoyed it.

The story reimagines the Napoleonic War years from the perspective of Will Laurence, an English captain, formerly of the navy, currently of the air force, and the dragon Temeraire which he took from a captured French ship. The pair bonded over a short period of time and grew to become a funny, sweet, interesting partnership by the end of the book. Some of my favorite moments consist of Laurence and Temeraire talking about books, battle tactics and strategies. There’s no magic or magic systems, no mysterious relics or quests, no coming of age farm boy set out to save the world since this isn’t high fantasy; dragons are the only fantastical elements here.

And the dragons in this world are intelligent and can communicate with their handlers and crew, and their interactions are really fun to read, or more accurately, really fun to hear Simon Vance read because he’s got a lovely voice and he has different voices for all of the characters, but the dragons’ voices are by far the best. The historical aspects of the story are well done and really immerse you in the time period, save for the part where there were dragons involved and both England and France used them like fighter jets, intelligent fighter jets with personalities and quirks. But this too, inserting dragons into this part of history, was also well done and really added to the overall historical feel of the story.

The reason I switched to audio was because of the slow beginning. Not much happened following the capture of the French ship as Laurence and his crew waited for Temeraire to hatch, and not much happened afterward when they left the navy to join the air force. While Temeraire was interesting, Laurence was not, unfortunately. Although a captain and in his thirties, he still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of personal obstacles to overcome, and he didn’t become interesting until he fully gave in to the life and culture of the air force and dedicated himself to Temeraire (and dragons in general). By this point, more than half the book was over, and without Mr. Vance’s reading, I most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far or past all of Laurence’s shortcomings to really get into the story.

I’ve only read one other book by Naomi Novik and that’s Uprooted which was mostly okay, so I went into this book expecting it to also be mostly okay, but found myself enjoying it a lot, especially once more characters and dragons were introduced. They’re all a lot of fun except for Rankin whom I’d like to stab–repeatedly, but that’s another matter, unfinished business, saved for another time. Since there are 8 more books of dragon adventures, I look forward to continuing this journey with them.

“How did you come to see it?” [Laurence] said with interest, turning it over in his hands and brushing away more of the dirt.

“A little of it was out of the group and it was shining,” Temeraire said. “Is that gold? I like the look of it.”

“No, it is just pyrite, but it is very pretty, is it not? I suppose you are one of those hoarding creatures,” Laurence said, looking affectionately up at Temeraire; many dragons had an inborn fascination with jewels or precious metals. “I am afraid I am not rich enough a partner for you; I will not be able to give you a heap of gold to sleep on.”

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on,” Temeraire said. “I do not mind the deck.”

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Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, read by Tom Mison

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (for the narration)
Date Read: March 30 to 31, 2015
Read Count: lots
Recommended by:
Recommended for: fans of the show Sleepy Hollow

So good. Haunting and whimsical. Tom Mison has the perfect voice and intonation for this story (because he is Ichabod Crane). Although the story is told in third-person, Mison remains in character from start to finish as the Ichabod Crane he plays in the show. So if you like him in the show, then listening to him read the story is exactly like having Ichabod recount the story of his life in Sleepy Hollow. What’s unique about Mison’s narration is that he presents Icabod as a layered, nuanced character who is full of wonder and ahead of his time. As a character trapped in his time, Ichabod must abide by society’s prim and proper lifestyle, but what he really wants is the freedom to explore. So Sleepy Hollow suited him just fine. It’s a small secluded town full of mystique and “alleged” hauntings. Everything about the locale and history interested him and brought out a sense of wonder.

What I like most about Mison’s reading is how close it is to how I see Ichabod Crane. I’ve always imagined him as a bumbling professor from the backwoods with a morbid youthful glee that’s at odds with Washington Irving’s stiff, puritanical writing style. There’s just something about the character that’s curious and mischievous, but that side of him isn’t shown much due to the prudish writing. At the beginning of the story, Ichabod was a learned man of logic and science, though not entirely adverse to witchcraft or the supernatural; he was, after all, full of wonder and ahead of his time. When the natural and the supernatural coalesced in Sleepy Hollow, however, he couldn’t separate fact from fiction and thus began to lose that sense of wonder. It’s one thing to believe in the supernatural and entertain the idea of facing it head on while never encountering it directly; it’s another thing to see it for yourself and having it shatter your romantic illusions. The change is subtle and gradual, but deeply felt in Mison’s narration. And for that, five stars.

Review: Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

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Rating: ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 25 to 28, 2014
Read Count: once all the way through; first chapter too many times
Recommended by: a lot of people
Recommended for: no one

HARRY DRESDEN—WIZARD
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment

Here, let me ftfy.

HARRY DRESDEN—WIZARD (and good guy chauvinist)
Lost items found… maybe, depending on what or whom you lost and when and where you last saw him/her/it. If black magic is involved in retrieving the item or person, then I can’t help. I’ll feel bad about it for awhile, but I can’t help… (okay, I can try, but it’s gotta be off the books.)

He’s on magical probation or something like that. It’s a long sordid tale, one which he only hints at in this book. I’m mildly interested, but not invested enough in the series to get to the bottom of this mystery. People, much wiser than I, say skip all the way to book #7 because that’s when the writing improves noticeably. Which begs the question: it takes Jim Butcher SEVEN books to get the ball rolling? OY.

I’m glad I finally got through this one though because now I can stop wondering and cross it off the DNF list. Harry Dresden, as I predicted, is inherently unlikable and annoying, and the story told from his POV just grates on me, but I hear it’s supposed to get better later on in the series. Hopefully that’s the case.

Of all the narrative modes, first-person is my least favorite. I can’t stand it most times, but I like urban fantasy and, since almost all UFs these days are written in first person, I have to tolerate it. Sometimes it’s okay when it’s written from a compelling perspective, like when there’s an interesting main character with a captivating inner life and hilarious commentary; when it’s done well, you don’t even notice you’re spending too much time in just one character’s head. When it’s not done well, it feels like being stuck on a long flight next to a tiresome obliviously egotistical seatmate who would not shut up.

The narration in this book isn’t quite as tiresome as that oblivious seatmate, but it comes awfully close. Dresden’s POV is ostensibly self-absorbed while also being self-conscious which seems to suggest he’s “just a regular guy” who’s in over his head, but the thing is Dresden himself isn’t particularly interesting, and the world he lives in also isn’t interesting. And so the combination is tedious, instead of nuanced. In other words, there’s a lot of bravado and showmanship, but not much depth to the characterization or world. On top of that, Dresden’s inner thoughts are just rife with quips like these:

Maybe my values are outdated, but I come from an old school of thought. I think that men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter, weaker men with breasts. Try and convict me if I’m a bad person for thinking so. I enjoy treating a woman like a lady, opening doors for her, paying for shared meals, giving flowers–all that sort of thing.

[…]

Magic came from life itself, from the interaction of nature and the elements, from the energy of all living beings, and especially of people. A man’s magic demonstrates what sort of person he is, what is held most deeply inside of him. There is no truer gauge of a man’s character than the way in which he employs his strength, his power.

Wait, it’s gets “better”:

I gestured toward the room. “Because you can’t do something that bad without a whole lot of hate,” I said. “Women are better at hating than men. They can focus it better, let it go better. Hell, witches are just plain meaner than wizards. This feels like feminine vengeance of some kind to me.”
“But a man could have done it,” Murphy said.
“Well,” I hedged.
“Christ, you are a chauvinist pig, Dresden. Is it something that only a woman could have done?”
“Well. No. I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?” Carmichael drawled. “Some expert.”

Then again, this is exactly what I expect from an unapologetic self-professed chauvinist. Mr. Butcher really knows what he’s talking about.

Dresden also makes a powerful vampire (vampiress) cry.

She was furious that I had seen her true form, horrified and embarrassed that I had stripped her disguise away and seen the creature beneath. And she was afraid that I could take away even her mask, forever, with my power.

[…]

I’d made the vampire cry. Great. I felt like a real superhero. Harry Dresden, breaker of monsters’ hearts.

Good grief, man, have you no mercy! Absolutely none. He also brings “tough-as-nails” Chicago PD cop Karrin Murphy to tears when he wouldn’t let her in on a lead. (I headdesk’d so hard, almost gave myself a real concussion.)

After 30 or so pages of this, I’d had enough. If it hadn’t been for James Marsters’ narration, I would’ve DNF this book again for the Nth time. If Mr. Marsters should decide to continue narrating books outside the Dresden realm, I’m so there. Unfortunately he’s restricted his voice to just this series, which puts me between a rock and a hard place. Continue the series even though I can’t stand it just to hear Marsters narrate or abandon it because life’s too short, tbr list’s too long, and I’m not getting any younger? Decisions, decisions.

And another thing. Did Jim Butcher spend any time in Chicago before writing this book? Because I got the feeling he didn’t. It looks like he did his research by perusing travel websites because all descriptions of the city, which is a huge character itself in urban fantasy, are so generic that you could replace the word Chicago with New York or Detroit or Philadelphia or Washington DC and the change wouldn’t affect the story much. As a character who’s familiar with the seedy underground world of magic, Harry Dresden should also be familiar with the seedy underground locations in Chicago, the actual seedy underground locations of Chicago; anyone who lives in the city and has this particular background would know these places. But Harry Dresden does not. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t seem all that familiar navigating the city, and that’s a huge setback for the story, that Dresden isn’t as knowledgeable of the locales as he should be.

 

Some years ago, the Sci-fi network (before it became “Syfy”) produced a show based on these books starring Paul Blackthorne as Dresden. It ran for only one season and got canceled before it could find an audience. I was sad to see it cut so soon because, as far as SFF procedurals went, it was a fun show and the only one of its kind at the time. It had all the action and mystery of the books without any of Dresden’s usual hang-ups, like his personality or casual chauvinism.

I went into this book expecting it to be like the show but better. Then I found out quickly they’re two different animals. This is one of those rare moments where I say something blasphemous like the adaptation is much better than the original because it was better made. Chicago and urban magic minus Dresden himself was basically what the show was like. It was a good decision to cut out book-Dresden’s personality and replace it with a better one. The show didn’t do well because it was on the Sci-fi channel, not because it deviated so much from the book series.

 

One last thing

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Review: The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archives, #1) by Brandon Sanderson

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: March 17 to April 15, 2014
Read count: 1

Only 3 stars?! BLASPHEMY.

Here’s why: This is a 1,000 page prologue. The action, the real action, doesn’t start until near the end.

I understand the need for a huge set-up to kick off a huge series, but there’s a point when too much set-up is just overkill. And that point is somewhere past page 500.

If not for the audio CDs*, there’s no way I’d get through this whole book. No one was more surprised than I about my reaction to this book because I’ve read a lot of Sanderson and liked most of his work.

As this is Sanderson’s most epic of epics (to date), I was expecting epic-ness of epic proportions which the first chapter did deliver, but then the second and subsequent chapters did not. I kept waiting for things to pick up where the first chapter left off, thinking this couldn’t be it, could it? This is what everyone’s been going on and on about? I was also expecting to see what everyone was gushing about–I still don’t it see. The story is more interesting than most average epic fantasy that promises bigger things to come, and that’s all I can say for the time being.

The writing is classic Sanderson, but with a heavy-handed tone that I didn’t care for. This isn’t so much a critique of the story, but more a reflection of how tired I’ve become of over-blown epic fantasies and Sanderson’s style of fantasy in particular. The former is a matter of personal taste; the latter is creeping up on me and threatening to stay. Sanderson’s style is becoming heavy and drawn-out, so so much that it made reading this book feel more like work. Generally speaking, I don’t like when I can see the author’s hand manipulating the story; it takes the fun out of reading.

However, if you’re an aspiring fantasy writer who’s in the process of honing your own style, I would recommend taking a look if you haven’t already. Even if you don’t enjoy it, there are a few pointers you might find useful.

The whole book is easy to dissect and deconstruct, and here’s why: the writing, as much as it drags, is precise in description and plotting. Sanderson uses vivid imagery and tactile examples to draw out each scene. I find the action sequences and internal monologues easiest to take apart and examine. Sanderson must’ve worked painstakingly hard to write each scene because you can literally feel the time and effort he put into them. He must’ve worked equally hard to achieve that slow build-up leading toward the climax. I would have appreciated the effort and attention to detail more if they didn’t result in a heavy-handedness that dragged the story down.

Because of a semi-cliffhanger, I’m tempted to pick up the second book just to see where the chips fall, but that won’t be for a long while.

* which I won GR’s first-read giveaway (I know, I was just as shocked as you are), and I’d like to thank MacMillan Audio and Samantha Beerman.