Angels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon Shinn

Angels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon ShinnAngels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon Shinn
Narrator: Coleen Marlo, Justine Eyre, Renee Raudman
Published by Tantor Media on 10/4/11
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

This audio collection of novellas was a resounding success for me, even though it does not include one of the stories (Meljean Brook’s Ascension) found in the text version. That’s quite a coup considering I usually avoid short-story collections like the plague. All three novellas were very entertaining and the narrations ranged from good to very good.

 

Angel’s Wolf – Nalini Singh

Story: B-
Narration: B

The vampire Noel is sent to Louisiana by Raphael, the Archangel of New York. Nimra is the angel who holds Louisiana. Noel was brutally assaulted while working for Raphael and he assumes he has been sent to Louisiana because he is damaged goods. In reality, Nimra requested assistance after an attempt on her life that could only have come from within her court. The two seek the traitor and find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other along the way.

An entertaining novella set in the world of the Guild Hunter series, Angel’s Wolf is an enjoyable romance with a dash of intrigue. I was slightly disappointed at the overall construction of the character of Nimra because I felt there was a lack of consistency between her softer personality and the entire construction of angelic nature that Nalini Singh has developed but it did remain true the male/female dynamics that play out in this series. I actually enjoyed this story more than I did the last two full-length novels in the Guild Hunter world.

I’ve always thought Justine Eyre’s unique sound was ideally suited to giving voice to the tough guild hunters and remote and often cruel immortals who populate Singh’s world and she doesn’t disappoint with this novella. I initially stumbled over Nimra’s accent but ended up being swept into the story. The delivery of some unexpectedly subtle emotional cues capped off a strong narration.

 

Alphas: Origins – Ilona Andrews

Story: B+
Narration: B+

Karina is chaperoning a school field trip when she pulls off at a motel for a pit-stop. When she and her daughter are attacked before they can leave, she is “rescued” by a frightening creature and the group of men who accompany him. She is forced to make a bargain to save herself and her daughter and agrees to be a blood “donor” for Lucas, the creature who rescued her.

Sound like a semi-typical vampire or werewolf PNR-type story? Yeah, not so much and I’m glad of it because I really enjoyed this one. A heroine who makes realistic decisions in a fantastical situation, totally unsexy blood drinking, interesting power dynamics, intriguing semi-sci-fi world-building, a hero whose actions are understandable but not necessarily appealing, and some engaging psychological musings made this a world and characters I would love to read more of.

True confession moment: I’ve listened to Renee Raudman’s narration before (primarily with Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series) and in the back of my mind I’d think . o 0 (it’s OK but not at all my preferred style).  The fact that I would then go on to listen to the next in the series always puzzled me (I can be a bit slow). With her narration of this novella, I found myself having an entirely different experience. While not dissimilar to her presentation style in other audiobooks, it did come across to me as slightly more subdued and I think that made the difference. It also allowed me to finally identify why I could categorize Ms. Raudman in the “not for me” category but still listen or re-listen to books narrated by her: Renee Raudman simply excels at bringing the listener along on the journey of discovery. I become utterly convinced that events are happening as she reads them and neither she nor I have any idea of the outcome; we discover it together. Combine some well-portrayed humor and emotional content with that particular skill and I enjoyed this audio-novella tremendously. Clearly I need to rethink my categorization of this narrator.

 

Nocturne – Sharon Shinn

Story: B
Narration: B-

Moriah is a woman with secrets but when she encounters Corban, a blind angel, she is unwillingly drawn into helping him. Corban has spent the last two years angry, bitter, and in isolation after a tragic accident took his sight and his faith. When Moriah pushes her way into his life, he is forced to put aside his resentment and start living again.

I really like Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series and I enjoyed this chance to venture back into that world and spend some time with the well-rounded and realistic characters that people it. The romance is a slow-build and it’s really the character development and push-pull interaction between Moriah and Corban that draws and holds my interest.

While I find her voice very appealing, Ms. Marlo either has or employs a very distinct cadence and I found the primary barrier to my being fully immersed in the story the fact that both the narrative and every character had that speech pattern, which inhibits my ability to perceive a realistic differentiation between characters, despite very clear pitch differences. With that said, the narration was still good and there’s such a lovely sense of realism when Moriah voices her amusement that I found myself smiling in response, not just hearing the humor being voiced but feeling it as well.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself by Joe AbercrombieThe Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Narrator: Steven Pacey
Series: First Law #1
Published by Orion Publishing Group Limited on 6/3/10
Genres: Fantasy

Story: B-
Narration: A-

It’s been quite a while since I have read what is probably best categorized as Epic Fantasy. I caught a review or recommendation for a later book in The First Law series/world but since I am incapable of starting mid-way through a series, I decided to pick up the first book.  I re-discovered both why I like this kind of multi-tome saga (so much room for character and story development) and why I don’t (so much world and character building needed and not always enough resolution in one book for me). Overall, I enjoyed this book and found the narration to be outstanding. I’ll pick up the second book but I may not rush out and do it right away.

We are initially introduced to Logen Ninefingers. He is a mercenary from the North who, with his companions, has been set upon by Shanka and finds himself alone, on the run, and “…just lucky enough to be alive.” Heeding a summons from a mysterious magus named Bayaz, Logen agrees to accompany him. This begins a journey that takes him from the far North to the kingdom of Angland – a seething mass of people and politics.

Angland is home to Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta. Glokta is a character who engenders quite a bit of ambivalence. A torturer who has himself been a victim of torture by his kingdom’s enemies in his youth, he is a man with a broken body and little in the way of personal power. He is caught up in the political schemes of his superiors and when the magus Bayaz arrives in the city of Adua to claim his place on the council as the long lost First of the Magi, Inquisitor Glokta is assigned to prove him a fraud.

Also in Adua is soldier and fencer Captain Jezal dan Luthar. Jezal is highborn, lazy, and completely self-centered. His regiment commander has placed him in the care of Major West – a lowborn soldier who has been assigned the task of training Jezal for an upcoming fencing tournament. Jezal, however, is primarily focused on gambling, drinking, and (after meeting Captain West’s sister) more amorous pursuits.

As these characters’ paths cross, it soon becomes clear they will be the only hope the Union has of surviving the coming unrest and rest assured, war is coming. Bethod, the new King of the Northmen, is determined to conquer the kingdom of Angland and the whole of the greater Union.

While not bringing anything new and unique to the Fantasy genre, I enjoyed the world Abercrombie has built and I liked getting to know the characters. There was a lot of foundation laid for later books in the series and while there was enough action and intrigue to carry the reader along, the build-up of the characters and the world was extensive and comprised most of the book. That detracted from my overall enjoyment. Glokta is the only character in whom we see any real growth although the potential is there in the other primary characters. His character suffers from an excess of internal monologuing but that does seem to help balance his character in the reader’s eye since the “show” part of his story contains a lot of off-putting torture and general disagreeableness. Bayaz’s history is left under-developed and we just start to get a sense of who Logen is. Luthar is a typical spoiled nobleman and I would have liked to see him lose a bit more of his self-centeredness. I don’t doubt there is a lot in store for these characters but without a bit more development and growth to motivate me to follow their stories, I’m not rushing out to get the second audiobook although I will pick it up eventually.

The standout for me was really the narration. I found Steven Pacey’s delivery to be excellent. He fully-voiced the characters with what was close to a radio-drama style. He paced the dramatic moments well and the emotional tenor of each character came through clearly. With a vast array of accents and nicely varied pitch and tone, I was never in doubt as to which character was speaking. I could even tell when the story switched between characters located in the North and those in other regions as the accent and cadence changed just slightly even during the narrative sections.  Characters’ internal musings were effectively separated from speech by the use of a slightly softer and more confidential tone. Glokta was voiced with a bit of a lisp which never made the dialogue unclear, was accurate for a man missing his four front teeth, and also had the beneficial effect on me of making a not always admirable character more sympathetic. Despite a slight “drag-queen” aspect to the female voices, I found myself nothing but pleased with the narration.

A good story, an intriguing political storyline, and interesting characters who have a lot of potential to develop in future books combined with top-notch narration make this a good listen.

Infinite Days – Rebecca Maizel

Infinite Days – Rebecca MaizelInfinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Series: Vampire Queen #1
Published by Tantor Media on 8/25/10
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Book: C+
Narration: B-

I found the premise of this novel to be an interesting take (as over-used a phrase as that is) on vampire mythology and the YA paranormal genre and I wanted to like this book but in the end, I didn’t so much dislike it as it simply left me indifferent. It was a unique premise that ultimately failed me in the execution.

Lenah Beaudonte has been a vampire for just under 600 years and is the queen of the most powerful vampire coven in existence. In Maizel’s mythology, the vampire is a soulless being whose body has been sealed by black magic into an unchanging state. Emotions and senses for a vampire have narrowed down to acute vision, an enhanced sense of smell, and a sort of E.S.P. – all of which aid the vampire in hunting down prey. Their sense of touch is almost non-existent and a vampire’s emotional palette is limited to pain and suffering on a seemingly constant basis. After tiring of a life of endless pain and increasingly reckless behavior, Lenah learns her creator (a vampire named Rhode) has discovered the secret ritual for removing the vampire curse. She coerces him into performing the ritual for her and after a 100-year hibernation Lenah wakes up as a 16 year-old human. Rhode advises her to immerse herself in her reborn human existence and avoid anything that might bring her to the notice of her coven. Thus begins her life as a student at Wickham Boarding School with the requisite boyfriend, best friend, and mean girls included.

My primary frustration with this audiobook was that I didn’t feel enough narrative tension. Although the threat of discovery by Lenah’s coven is a thread introduced early on, it never becomes more than a vague possibility until about two hours before the end. Lenah herself has some interesting characteristics but only in an objective sense. I admired the creepiness factor of Lenah habitually identifying the location and quality of the veins in the people she first meets as a human but only in a . o 0(that was a nice perspective for the author to include) manner rather than being actually creeped out. With little in the way of the vampire mythology or world-building revealed until the end, I had to rely solely on engaging with the characters in the story and I had a distinct lack of empathy, sympathy or connection of any kind with them because with the exception of Lenah, they are almost all cardboard cut-outs with little to no background information or insight into their thoughts or daily life. The only other character with a somewhat fleshed-out background turned out not to be the love interest and faded away for the middle of the story.

Lenah’s relationship with Justin, the hunky and wealthy LaCrosse player that every girl on campus admires, didn’t give me a warm romantic glow or even a hot sexy blaze.  Other than his having three brothers, nice parents, and love of adrenaline, I know nothing about him. I didn’t get any real idea as to what draws him so strongly to Lenah or why a girl/woman with 592 years of life experience is so entranced by this young man/boy.  I know the intent was to make the attraction on Lenah’s part tied in to how Justin has the ability to bring out her human side and the reduction of Lenah’s vampire senses as her humanity asserted itself made for a nice plot construct but the descriptions of the events that trigger these changes (bungee jumping and the single sex scene in the book) didn’t convey a sense of excitement, wonder, or life-changing drama.

I should reiterate that although I mostly have complaints about this book, it isn’t a bad book: It just didn’t reach me on anything other than an analytical level which is not what I look for in my entertainment listening. I did find that the last two hours of the story really picked up the pace and held my interest. Danger, a new location, a bit more emotional insight into Lenah and a greater knowledge of her coven helped engage me but by then it was too late to save my overall impression of the book.

I’ve experienced Justine Eyre’s narration skills previously with Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series and enjoyed it immensely. I initially thought this an odd match between narrator and genre/book and I still feel it was not the ideal casting choice. I’ve always felt that the tenor of Ms. Eyre’s  voice is more suited to mature characters and in one respect that worked surprisingly well for Lenah, given her 500+ years of existence and experience. Where it didn’t succeed for me was in the moments of Lenah’s great life-changing events. The vocal inflections she gives Lenah at each one was more “how odd that happened” rather than conveying any real sense of awe or transformation.  In addition, I often heard a tone of ennui in Lenah’s voice which again, was appropriate for the character given her history but which also aggravated my sense of disconnection with the character. Lenah’s English accent worked well for me although I had an unintentional moment of amusement when Lenah was describing light emanating from her palms. She described it as shining from her very pores which, with the English accent, sounded like “paws” and I found myself wondering when we had switched from vampires to werewolves. Not a bad narration but, to my mind, miscasting.

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.