Audiobook Review: Endsinger by Jay Kristoff
Series: Book 3 of The Lotus War
Publisher: Audible Studios (November 25, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
It is worth noting that I listened to the audiobook version of this, whereas I read the print or ebook copy of the previous two books in the trilogy. I mention this because it probably affected my rating. For some books the reading versus listening experience can vary greatly, and this is one of those cases. But more on that later.
First, I want to start off by saying that Endsinger is a great conclusion to the series. After all that buildup in Kinslayer, I was skeptical that author Jay Kristoff could wrap it all up in one more book because there’s so much ground to cover, but he pulls it off magnificently. There’s a lot going on here. Without revealing any spoilers, this is just a taste of what we’re dealing with – 1) the Shima Imperium is in chaos, practically tearing itself apart in a civil war, 2) in the last book it was revealed that the Lotus Guild is poised to take over the empire with a secret weapon at their disposal, namely a colossal steampunk giant machine called Earthcrusher, 3) the Kage rebellion is now in shambles and it’s up to Yukiko and her storm tiger Buruu to rally and unite them, 4) somewhere out there, we know there are more of these storm tigers but getting their help would be difficult as they all seem to hate Buruu due to something awful he did in the past, so there’s that mystery to consider, 5) there’s the whole ongoing “gaijin war” happening outside of Shima, and the captured prisoners who are enslaved and subjected to the most horrific fates, 6) and finally, the biggie – Yukiko will have to deal with a major bombshell that was dropped on us in book two. Not going to say anything more than that, except what she learned about herself is a life changing event which would stay with her both emotionally and physically forever.
Then of course there are all the little side plots involving the secondary characters, like Kin and Hana and Yoshi. Everyone is focused on working towards the goal of toppling Shima’s tyrannical reign as well as the evil, blood-soaked lotus industry that drives it. I won’t lie; there’s so much to wrap up here that I was half expecting the news along the way that this series would end up being a quadrilogy. And yet somehow, impressively, Kristoff manages to tie all of this together without leaving loose threads. That in itself is pretty amazing.
There’s a lot to like in this volume. For one, we have the return of some fantastic characters, and as always the relationship dynamics make this one a great read. The story itself is enhanced by the drama of friendships and animosities between characters, the most obvious example being Yukiko’s bond with Buruu, which is one of the highlights of this series. Seriously, it’s a partnership to rival all the classic tales of interspecies friendships through the ages. And obviously, no epic saga is complete without secrets and devastating betrayals – as well as redemption. Plus, there’s also love. We mustn’t forget romance and passion, even in war. This book has all that and more.
The story, however, has a few hitches. I was poised to write about the awesome twists and turns in this novel, until I stopped to really think about that. Sure, there were several hugely significant events that happened in this novel, but could I honestly say I didn’t expect any of them? Not so much. Unlike the last book, a lot of the “surprises” in this one were actually quite predictable, even when it came to some of the major character sacrifices or deaths. I also found the pacing of the storytelling frustratingly uneven. The beginning held me rapt, to the point not even a looming bedtime could have stopped me from listening, and indeed there were several nights where I stayed up late just to get an hour or two farther in the audiobook to find out what happened. Around the middle of the book though, I lost that enthusiasm. The story here started dragging its feet, and it’s a real shame, because unfortunately I never got the momentum back after that.
Now is probably a good time to talk about why I think listening to this in audiobook format affected my experience. I believe it had nothing to do with the narration (which was brilliant) and everything to do with the writing itself. While I think that in general Jay Kristoff is a good writer and an engaging story teller, he does have a tendency to sometimes go overboard with very flowery and ornate descriptions. This has been my experience with the last two books in this series, and in some ways that has prepared me well for going into Endsinger, knowing to expect some of these rough patches and passages. In spite of this, what I didn’t anticipate was how jarring and distracting it is when this kind of purple prose was read to me through an audiobook. As beautiful and detailed as some of Kristoff’s descriptions are, sometimes they go on for far too long, breaking the flow of the story.
I don’t think the effects were so noticeable when reading the actual print books, because my eye may have naturally skimmed over these big paragraphs and walls of text without me even being aware it was happening. This is not possible to do with an audiobook; instead, the audience has no choice but to be swept up into the entire text.
A talented voice actor or actress can make a book come to life (and narrator Jennifer Ikeda certainly delivered an incredible performance in this case), but hearing the writing read aloud can also sometimes clue a reader in to parts where the author is rambling, focused too much on the irrelevant, or losing his or her grasp on the scene. It happened more times than I would have liked here. It was doubly frustrating to have to constantly skip back a minute or two every time I realized my mind had wandered while listening to a particularly long section devoted to overly embellished descriptions.
Still, this trilogy is excellent as a whole, and I have no qualms recommending it to young adults and adults alike (though make that older young adults, as even though the first book started off as more YA, I felt the series grew progressively darker and more mature with each installment). Was the conclusion absolutely epic and completely worth it, though? Yes and absolutely yes!