Audiobook Review Bites

A Darker Shade of Magic audioA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Genre: 
Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of A Darker Shade of Magic
Publisher: Tantor (April 21, 2015)
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Narrator: Steven Crossley
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician able to travel across parallel worlds in a universe that has four different Londons: Grey London which is mundane and magic-less; vibrant Red London where magic is revered; oppressive White London where a tyrant rules the throne and magic is savage and something to be conquered; and finally Black London, a shell of a city no one speaks of anymore. When a dangerous artifact from Black London finds its way Kell, he and a young thief named Lila must team up to to save all the worlds.

Despite my middling rating for this book, I really did enjoy it. However, after the great read that was V.E. Schwab’s Vicious, I admit I was expecting something just as good or better, but this one just didn’t have the edge. What was missing? I’m not sure. The novel’s concept of multiple parallel Londons is brilliant and amazingly creative, and the book should have won me over based on that fact alone. And yet, behind that dazzling curtain, the plot itself is actually simplistic and rather typical, and I’m disappointed that after the deeply complex personalities/relationships Schwab developed between Eli and Victor in Vicious, her treatment of Kell and Lila (your standard outcast-street-thief-with-big-dreams character) proved instead to be relatively unremarkable here. In many ways, my feelings towards this book can be likened to my feelings towards Kell and his magical coat — in the outset, things look delightful, extraordinary, and full of  limitless potential…but strip that away and our protagonist underneath doesn’t really stand out, nor does he seem to have much presence.

I don’t think listening to the audiobook version affected my enjoyment; in fact, I think narrator Steven Crossley’s performance actually enhanced it, making me like the book even more if I’d read the print version. From the attention this book got, I expected more, but I’ll also admit to being excited for the next book. The events in this set things up nicely for a sequel, and something tells me I’ll probably like it more as the plot and characters mature.

ae969-new3-5stars

* * *

PersonaPersona by Genevieve Valentine
Genre: 
Science Fiction, Thriller
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the not-too-far future, the International Assembly (sort of like a version of the UN) is about to meet, and ambassadors from different countries are preparing to cast their votes. However, these individuals have no actual power and serve as nothing more than a mouthpiece for their handlers, the people who are in charge in truth. Suyana Sapaki is one of these “celebrity figureheads” who represents the public face of her country, the United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation. She is sent to secretly negotiate with Ethan, the “Face” of US, but before they can have their meeting, she is shot from an assassination attempt. She flees from the scene with help from a paparazzi reporter named Daniel, but is he really helping her out of the goodness of his own heart, or just chasing a scoop?

It’s a shame that this book and I got off to a rocky start and things just never got a chance to recover. For a story that was so hectic and fast-paced, I was surprised at how dry it felt. We weren’t given much opportunity to get to know Suyana or Daniel, so I never got to get a good sense of their characters. The beginning also made me feel like I was arriving to a movie long after it’s already started, and yet at the same time it didn’t seem like we were making much headway in the story even after a couple hours of listening. The book’s premise is good, but I couldn’t help but feel there wasn’t enough plot-wise to keep things interesting.

Also, some novels might work better in audiobook format but I don’t think this was one of them. If I’m to be honest, I think it actually has the kind of story that would work best as a movie, where visual cues could add a lot to the experience.

48642-new2stars

* * *

Lords of the Sith audioLords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Star Wars (Canon)
Publisher: Random House Audio
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Narrator: Jonathan Davis
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably the best Star Wars novel I’ve read in a while, and certainly one of the better Star Wars novels I’ve ever read,  Lords of the Sith is a story centered on Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. Defiant against the Imperial forces’ attempts to control their home planet of Ryloth, a group of Twi’leks led by Cham Syndulla the idealistic freedom fighter (and the father of Hera, of Star Wars Rebel fame) plot to bring the Empire to its knees by assassinating the two Sith Lords. What amazes me is that even though we all know the rebels’ efforts are doomed to fail, Paul S. Kemp valiantly manages to keep the suspense up throughout the entire story.

I’m also impressed at the moments we get inside Darth Vader’s head. If you’re a fan of the character, picking this novel up is a no-brainer. The story examines the Sith mentor and apprentice relationship, and does it very well. Vader, portrayed as utterly loyal to Palpatine, is nonetheless not immune to his momentary lapses and brief, emotional flashbacks to the past. Yes, he’s evil. Yes, he’s badass. And unfortunately, that’s the side of him the majority of Star Wars stories like to focus on. But everyone knows Vader is also a lot more complex than most writers give him credit for, and I feel like this might be the first Star Wars book I’ve read that actually does his character justice. Kemp strikes a fine balance, giving us plenty of full-on-Dark-Side force-choking Vader, but those glimpses we get of what little humanity he has left also made me sympathize with his inner conflict.

And finally, if you’ve ever listened to a Star Wars audiobook, you’d probably know that they are in another league all together, complete with sound effects and music (though it might take some getting used to if you’re easily distracted by that stuff). If you’re thinking of checking this book out, I highly recommend the audio format. I’ve heard narrator Jonathan Davis’ work on other audiobooks before, but I never knew he could do such an incredible Darth Vader voice. Short of actually getting James Earl Jones to narrate, I don’t think you can find anyone better than Davis. 5 stars to his performance.

4 stars

* * *

Pacific Fire AudioPacific Fire by Greg Van Eekhout
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Daniel Blackland
Publisher: Recorded Books
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Narrator: Jonathan Todd Ross
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

The bulk of this story takes place years after the first book, following the lives of osteomancer Daniel Blackland and his adopted son Sam, the golem created from the essence of the late Hierarch. The two have stayed under the radar for the last ten years, constantly staying on the move in order to keep Sam out of the wrong hands. That is until one day, word reaches them that some very bad people are attempting to build the ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction — a real, live, honest-to-goodness Pacific firedrake.

The premise behind these novels has got to be one of the most original and creative I’ve ever encountered in an urban fantasy series. The magic system of osteomancy – wizards who ingest creature bones and other body parts to absorb their essence and gain their power — is as cool as it is disturbing. I’m also a sucker for heist stories, which is why I loved the first book. However, this sequel, while also featuring a caper aspect, is more of  character study and coming-of-age tale centered around Sam. Daniel on the other hand is still a major presence in the story, but it does feel like at times he is taking a step back to let the character of Sam shine.

In my eyes, the classic heist plot of California Bones still gives the first book the edge, but admittedly not by much; Pacific Fire is just as fun and full of thrills as its predecessor, and I do appreciate the differences in the two books’ structure because it definitely made things more interesting.

4 stars

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21 Comments on “Audiobook Review Bites

  1. I’ve been curious about A Darker Shade of Magic and like Steven Crossley as a narrator. It sounds like I need to pick it up as well as the Greg Van Eekhout books. They have been on my list for a while. Thank you for the review. I was about to pick up Persona. I think I’ll pick these others up first.

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  2. I’m about 3/4 of the way through A Darker of Shade of Magic and it’s not looking good. I think the characters are a bit lacking, because the story and world is pretty interesting. If I put it to the Bechdel test for where I am at so far, it fails miserably. And I can’t stand Crossley’s voice for Lila, so maybe that’s why I am struggling. Sigh, I will finish, but it has been slow going.

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  3. I have the audio of A Darker Shade of Magic and want to listen when I can fit it in. I also the e-book of California Bones to read. It sounds very good so I hope to get to that soon. Glad to hear you liked both California Bones and Pacific Fire.

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  4. Pacific Fire sounds pretty good, maybe one of these days I’ll get to it. I have A Darker Shade of Magic audiobook and hope to also listen to that one, but probably not for a little bit. Sorry to hear that one, while good, wasn’t as good as you had hoped.

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    • I think I would have enjoyed ADSOM a bit more if I hadn’t read Vicious. It’s a start of a series though, so I wasn’t too surprised that I was left a bit wanting, after all I expect the next books to build on story and character.

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  5. A Darker Shade of Magic looks good. I like the sounds of those parallel Londons. I keep seeing reviews for all these new “official cannon” Star Wars, and seems like they are all great! But I really want to read Red Harvest first… and that X-wing series too.

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    • Well…some of the new canon books are great, some are still disappointing. I’ve read most of them so far, just have Dark Disciple and the two books that came out to catch up with. And Red Harvest! I’ve read Death Troopers, but not that one yet, I’m afraid. And the X-Wing books have been on my list for a long time too, but with the canon wipe my motivation to pick them up has admittedly gone down somewhat.

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  6. Oh too bad about Persona. I was hoping it would be better. And I agree with you about A Darker Shade of Magic. I rated it higher than you but I think it will be hard for her to ever top Vicious:-)

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  7. I’m sorry you didn’t like A Darker Shade of Magic more. But I agree, I’m eager to see how the characters will develop in A Gathering of Shadows, I’m hoping for more history on both Kell and Lila.
    This is a problem with such hyped-up books, especially with authors who have done outstanding stuff before, I always expect them to top whatever they’ve written before.

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    • Yep, A Gathering of Shadows is definitely on my list! ADSOM wasn’t bad, I think I just expected a lot more because of all the rave reviews. I should have been more careful with the hype!

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  8. I’m sorry that you didn’t click with ADSOM more. I’ll admit, that even though I loved it, I wasn’t quite as blown away as I was expecting. I’m hoping that the sequel will add more depth to the characters. Hype is a double-edged sword man, sometimes it helps, by bringing focus to a book you might not have heard about otherwise…but other times, it just raises your hopes too high.

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    • Exactly! I wasn’t blown away and even though I wasn’t expecting it to, I still had high hopes that weren’t quite realized. But I expect the sequel will be better!

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  9. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves, Announcements, and Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  10. Pingback: Book Review: Dragon Coast by Greg Van Eekhout | The BiblioSanctum

  11. Pingback: Book Review: A Conjuring of Light | The BiblioSanctum

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