A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah HarknessA Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda
Series: All Souls #1
Published by Penguin Audio on 2/8/11
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

Book: B+
Narration: A

A decision tree to help you decide if you should listen to the audiobook of A Discovery of Witches, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda (yes, there is an actual review after the flowchart):

This audiobook had excellent narration and pacing that, unless you like character-driven novels, might drive you crazy. I, however, loved it. I’ve read comparisons of other books with the Twilight novels and have never seen it as anything other than a marketing ploy but really, if the Twilight series married Gabaldon’s Outlander series and had a literary child this would be it.

Diana Bishop is a professor of history at Yale who has turned her back on the power her abilities as a witch grant her in order to focus on academics. While researching at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Diana discovers an enchanted alchemical manuscript that has been long hidden. The “creatures” that populate the world of this novel (witches, vampires, and daemons) all want the manuscript and they need Diana to get it. Enter Matthew Clairmont, a 1600 year-old vampire and Oxford professor whose quest for the manuscript quickly turns into a more personal interest in Diana. The battle to obtain the manuscript carries the pair from England to France, America, and … well, you’ll have to listen to the book to find out the last location.

The author clearly loves her area of academic study and included info from it in the book in such a way as to completely intrigue me about the history of science and the allegorical imagery to be found in alchemical manuscripts. I rarely regret not pursuing post-graduate studies but this book reminded me of the joy found in academics. There was a well-delivered (although not often exciting) plot progression that appealed to my logical side which probably explains the flowchart. The world-building feels very realistic and rational (if I can say that about a fiction book). I did struggle with the heroine’s passive nature for much of the book and I was frustrated with the hero’s paternalistic actions but was still captivated by the book and enjoyed the growing romance. The secondary characters were well developed and wove their way through the plot rather than popping up as throw-away characters. I ended up listening to this book a second time and only then realized there was a lot of subtle characterization that my conscious mind ignored the first time around. The ending, while not a cliff-hanger exactly, opened a whole new setting for the next book in the series and I look forward to it.

I found Jennifer Ikeda’s narration to be perfect. My previous experience with her work was a YA novel set in Canada so I was unprepared for the level of skill she displayed in managing the multitude of accents that permeate the story. Silly me. She seamlessly switches between multiple English dialects, Scottish, French, Australian, and American and while I am far from an expert on accents, they all sounded very natural and accurate to me. She employed a smooth and almost conversational delivery for the narrative. Usually I would anticipate that style would make a long story seem even longer but the vocal inflections more than held my interest and at the half-way point in the book I was wondering where the time went. The dialogue was voiced in a manner that easily allowed me to immerse myself in the characterizations and get swept away in the story.

An excellent audiobook for the romance reader who likes character-driven stories and with minimal bedroom time, even non-romance readers will find a lot to enjoy.

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna SheehanA Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Narrator: Angela Dawe
Published by Brilliance Audio, Candlewick on 8/9/11
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

I stumbled upon the audiobook of A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan (narrated by Angela Dawe) by chance and am glad of it because I found it to be a compelling listen. It is one of those audiobooks that my mind kept returning to days after I had finished it. It falls in the genre of YA Dystopian fiction (although it could also be termed speculative fiction or soft sci-fi) but is very different from any in that category that I have read and is my favorite read in the genre so far.

Rosalinda “Rose” Fitzroy is awoken (a la Sleeping Beauty) after 62 years in stasis and although the world she wakes to is a future landscape altered by plague, genetic plant modification gone awry, and the monster of UniCorp, the story is not about the Dark Times the world has undergone but about Rose, the gradual revelation of how she ended up in stasis, and an exploration of what happens to those “Sleeping Beauty” left behind during her long sleep. There were some action scenes but so much of my enjoyment with this story was the slow peeling away of the layers of Rose’s past and to reveal any of them in this review would, I feel, diminish the enjoyment of anyone who hasn’t read the book. I admire Ms. Sheehan’s ability to drop the reader into a story with a lot of unanswered questions immediately in play and let the story organically unfold in a manner much more engaging than if she had dropped clues leading to a big reveal at the end.

Rose is a character I could easily have found irritating but instead found sympathetic as she begins to grow and evolve. The flashbacks to her past are perfectly paced throughout the story and give the patient reader a growing understanding of how Rose’s character was formed. In fact, I can’t think of another novel where flashback scenes are more skillfully and less obtrusively employed. There are parts of this story that provoke the reader to consider some typical dystopian themes such as large corporations and the power they wield, genetic manipulation of plants and people, ownership of intellectual property, social infrastructure and its potential failure but at its heart I found this book to be a disquieting meditation on parenting (or rather dysfunctional parenting). It also posed a situation that made for a disturbing metaphor for parenting via medication and what that may teach a child about methods of coping.

My initial thought on the narration was that Ms. Dawe was able to stand aside and let the story speak for itself but really, I think that is a disingenuous analysis of the performance in its implication that little effort was needed/taken by the narrator. This was a very skillfully delivered audiobook. A large part of my sympathy for Rose during the beginning of the story was due to Ms. Dawe’s ability to voice Rose with the weight of her entire past present in her character, even though the listener is unaware of the events that shaped her until much later and will only subconsciously recognize the vocal characterization… or maybe I’m just trying too hard to explain that most narrators would give Rose more whine and a poor-me tone based on her circumstances at the start of the story and I’m glad that wasn’t there. The narration captures the characters’ vocal tics as described by the author and I was particularly pleased with the natural sounding voices of YA characters and the delivery of the lines that encapsulate the uncertainty and emotional exigency of youth.

Character-driven, compelling, and disquieting; this was an excellent audiobook.