Night of Cake & Puppets by Laini Taylor

Night of Cake & Puppets by Laini TaylorNight of Cake & Puppets by Laini Taylor
Narrator: Kevin T. Collins, Khristine Hvam
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2.5
Published by Hachette Audio on 12/5/13
Genres: Fantasy, Romance

Story: A
Narration: A-

Quick Review:

Adorable! An amusing and romantic short story set in the generally more serious universe of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The dual narration was unexpectedly perfect. Honestly? Don’t bother with the review, just go buy the audio.

Publisher’s Blurb:

In Night of Cake & Puppets, Taylor brings to life a night only hinted at in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy—the magical first date of fan-favorites Zuzana and Mik. Told in alternating perspectives, it’s the perfect love story for fans of the series and new readers alike. Petite though she may be, Zuzana is not known for timidity. Her best friend, Karou, calls her “rabid fairy,” her “voodoo eyes” are said to freeze blood, and even her older brother fears her wrath. But when it comes to the simple matter of talking to Mik, or “Violin Boy,” her courage deserts her. Now, enough is enough. Zuzana is determined to meet him, and she has a fistful of magic and a plan. It’s a wonderfully elaborate treasure hunt of a plan that will take Mik all over Prague on a cold winter’s night before finally leading him to the treasure: herself! Violin Boy’s not going to know what hit him.

My Thoughts:

I think I’m pretty much onboard to read anything Laini Taylor wants to write but when I heard that there was an upcoming novella about Zuzana and Mik – characters from the fantastic Daughter of Smoke and Bone series – I… er… I may have squeed aloud. A little bit. And pestered @HachetteAudio to find out if there would be an audio version. Some of my favorite scenes in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight contain Zuzana. As the perfect humorous foil for the darker material in the book, she got most of the funny lines and I glommed onto her like a raft in the emotional storm that was Karou’s life. I was pleased to discover that this novella lived up to my expectations.

Although we get a short glimpse of the early friendship between Karou and Zuzana, the story is primarily about Zuzanna as she plots her first date with Mik and leads him on a treasure hunt to get to it. Unexpectedly, we also get to hear Mik’s perspective on this adventure. Both characters speak directly to the listener which is a conceit that can sometimes be a bit problematic for me when it’s overdone or seems too clever. In this case it worked perfectly and made me feel like I was overhearing a conversation in a coffee shop the day after a first date.

In addition to the magic of romance, there’s a little of the real magic that inhabits the DoSaB world and they blend together well. As in the full-length novels, Prague comes alive in the story and the atmosphere of one snowy night in that ancient city is a vivid construction in the listener’s imagination. The imagery is beautifully rendered and the phrasing is well-written. This is a sweet, adorable, and laugh-out-loud funny story that’s a perfect companion to the series or a lovely stand-alone listen when you’re in the mood to be charmed.

I was going to include some quotes of the amusing or well-worded parts of this novella but then I realized I’d been cutting and pasting practically the entire book and decided…perhaps not. As a short précis of Zuzana, though, I can’t resist:

“I mean, who would I be if I’d been raised on milquetoast bedtime stories and not forced to dust the glass prison of a psychotic undead fox Cossack? I shudder to think.

I might wear lace collars and laugh flower petals and pearls. People might try to pat me. I see them think it. My height triggers the puppy-kitten reflex – Must touch – and I’ve found that since you can’t electrify yourself like a fence, the next best thing is to have murderer’s eyes.”

and a bit later…

“Anyone with an older brother can tell you: Cunning is required. Even if you’re not miniature like me – four foot eleven in a good mood, as little as four foot eight when in despair, which is way too often lately – morphology is on the side of brothers. They’re bigger. Their fists are heavier. Physically, we don’t stand a chance. Hence the evolution of ‘little-sister brain.’

Artful, conniving, pitiless. No doubt about it, being a little sister – emphasis on little – has been formative, though I take pride in knowing that Tomas is more scarred by years of tangling with me than vice versa. But more than anyone or anything else, it’s Deda who is responsible for the landscape of my mind, the mood and scenery, the spires and shadows. When I think about kids (which isn’t often, except to wish them elsewhere and stop just short of deploying them hence with my foot), the main reason I would consider…begetting any (in a theoretical sense, in the far-distant future) is so that I can practice upon small, developing brains the same degree of mind-molding my grandfather has practiced on us.”

As for Mik…the cat analogy… oh, the cat analogy. It was brilliant and amusing and so well voiced by Kevin T. Collins that I’m not going to quote it but only suggest you listen to it yourself. This novella is well worth a listen and likely several re-listens.

The Narration:

I was concerned when I saw that this novella was going to be voiced by dual narrators. I was please to see that Khristine Hvam would be narrating – after all, she does such a great job with the full-length books in the series – but why did we need another voice? Well, aside from the fact that the story is actually broken out into “Her” and “Him” alternating sections, as it turns out, Kevin T. Collins was awesome as Mik.

Each narrator brings personality and individualization to the characters: from the squeak when Zuzana gets excited about what she’s saying to the tentative uncertainty Mik displays and the way in which Mr. Collins leverages perfect inflections to build the character and his mood and personality in my mind, this pairing was audio gold.

Why the “-” to the A” grade? I heard a little inconsistency in Zuzana’s accent and Mr. Collins uses a lot of breath(iness) to push out Mik’s lines. These were very minor issues as the narration was above average and makes audio the way to go with this story.

Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks

Tempting Danger by Eileen WilksTempting Danger by Eileen Wilks
Narrator: Full Cast
Series: World of the Lupi #1
Published by GraphicAudio on 6/1/2013
Genres: Romance, Urban Fantasy

 

Book: B
Performance: B

The Plot:

A bold new world where the magical and mundane co-exist in an uneasy alliance–and a cop balanced on her own knife-edged struggle is their only hope against a cold-blooded killer.

Lily Yu is a San Diego police detective investigating a series of grisly murders that appear to be the work of a werewolf. To hunt down the killer, she must infiltrate the clans. Only one man can help her–a were named Rule Turner, a prince of the lupi, whose charismatic presence disturbs Lily. Rule has his own reasons for helping the investigation–reasons he doesn’t want to share with Lily. Logic and honor demand she keep her distance, but the attraction between them is immediate and devastating-and beyond human reason. Now, in a race to fend off evil, Lily finds herself in uncharted territory, tested as never before, and at her back a man who she’s not sure she can trust.

This review contains spoilers only to the extent of what you would find if you read the blurbs for the next books in the series.

My Thoughts:

Listening to this graphic audio production was something of an experiment for me: in the past I’ve stayed away from any and all full-cast productions – especially those with sound-effects – because I dislike them…except, it would seem, for when I don’t. *sheepish look*

Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks was a book I had read before and I enjoy the World of the Lupi series. It’s one of the few series I read whose main couple are married for most of the books and, like J.D. Robb’s Eve and Roarke, the conflict that drives the stories is primarily external with a nice splash of realistic relationship issues here and there. Re-listening to Lily’s introduction to Rule over the murder investigation that kicks off the story was almost like experiencing the book for the first time because of the style of the production.

One of the things I like about the world that Wilks has created is that even after working my way through a glutted market of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal books containing werewolves and demons and their own mythology, it still manages to seem fresh. Part of that is because the books have a solid real-world feel in terms of the dynamics of character relationships, Lily’s police job and the procedural elements in play, and the political machinations that take place and when the more fantastic elements are layered over that foundation, it makes for solid and relatable world-building. This series also manages to take my least favorite PNR thematic element – fated mates – and make it not just palatable but an integral and enjoyable part of the series. It helps that the characters act rationally about it and there’s no “I must treat you badly because I can’t resist you” dynamic in play.

Structurally, the murder mystery is the primary focal point although Rule and Lily’s growing relationship adds a nice romantic element as well. Between the two primary protagonists, we get alternating views and I really like that split perspective. The peripheral characters are very well drawn and one of the areas in which Wilks excels in this series is integrating a large cast of characters and seamlessly weaving in multiple story-lines without confusing the reader.

The prejudice the lupi experience and the ways in which that complicates Lily’s investigation, the lupi hierarchy, family conflicts between Rule and his brothers and father, the resentment Lily experiences from some of her fellow police officers, the spiritual divide between Lily and Rule, the construct of magic systems and who has which abilities… there were just a lot of elements that blended together nicely to make this well-rounded story and I recommend it.

The Performance:

My initial thought was that the casting for this audiobook was excellent and while that is undoubtedly true, the vocal skills of each voice actor were uniformly strong, so credit where credit’s due. From the perspective of getting to hear realistic dialogue, well-delivered emotional content, and strong performances, I was entirely pleased. I did have to adjust to Lily’s voice. Her character was delivered well but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. Her voice was strong, tough, and typically West/Mid-west in inflection and intonation and I think I was expecting her Chinese mother and grandmother to have had more influence on her inflections. I don’t have any text-based reason for the disconnect, just my mental expectations as a reader. Rule, Cullen, Lily’s grandmother…well, the rest of the cast, really, completely met my expectations vocally.

There’s a pretty broad cast of characters who get more page time than might be expected and the full-cast production works well to highlight that. That’s definitely one thing a full-cast production has going for it: the ability to present the listener with perfect voices regardless of age, gender, background, etc. I’ll still never like music underlying the voices in my audiobooks and during kissing scenes the heavy breathing was little loud and the smacking sounds were annoying (if I never again hear the sound effect of someone slurping coffee, it will be too soon) but those ended up being minor quibbles because I enjoyed this production to a surprising degree and immediately moved on to the second one.

I was intrigued by several aspects of the production. I don’t know that I would call it abridged so much as I would call it an adaptation. Having read the book, I had it on hand to compare to the performance and while certain things were omitted, it was more along the lines of descriptions of things that were given voice through sound effects. I was more surprised by the way dialogue was altered slightly with similar wording inserted in place of what was actually written – almost as a person might accidentally do while reading aloud. The story remains wholly intact, though.

Overall an enjoyable audiobook that, if you’re like me and tend to avoid audio dramas, just might change your mind on that. One thing that really assisted me in making a decision about whether or not to buy this audio was the fact that GraphicAudio has an extended sample available on SoundCloud so I’m linking to it here:

 

 

Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks

Never Seduce a Scot by Maya BanksNever Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Series: The Montgomerys and Armstrongs #1
Published by Tantor Media on 9/25/12
Genres: Historical, Romance
Format: Audiobook
four-stars

 

Story: B+
Narration: A-

Once Upon a Time…:

There was a little girl who liked to be told stories that transported her to another world… and every now and again I find an audiobook that reminds of that joy I felt as a child at being read to. The fact that this audiobook was nominated for an Audie award in the romance category as well as its place as the first in a new series whose second book (soon to be released) piqued my interest prompted me to pick it up. I’m glad I did because I enjoyed this audiobook tremendously. Through much of the book, I felt a lot like a kid who was sitting down for story-time at the library (erm, not during the sexy bits though) – including moments when I talked back to the “reader” of the book as I got caught up in the story and couldn’t help myself.

In a Land Far Over the Mountains and Across the Ocean:

“Eveline Armstrong is fiercely loved and protected by her powerful clan, but outsiders consider her “touched.” Beautiful, fey, with a level, intent gaze, she doesn’t speak. No one, not even her family, knows that she cannot hear. Content with her life of seclusion, Eveline has taught herself to read lips and allows the outside world to view her as daft. But when an arranged marriage into a rival clan makes Graeme Montgomery her husband, Eveline accepts her duty -unprepared for the delights to come. Graeme is a rugged warrior with a voice so deep and powerful that his new bride can hear it, and hands and kisses so tender and skilled that he stirs her deepest passions. Graeme is intrigued by the mysterious Eveline, whose silent lips are ripe with temptation and whose bright, intelligent eyes can see into his soul. As intimacy deepens, he learns her secret. But when clan rivalries and dark deeds threaten the wife he has only begun to cherish, the Scottish warrior will move heaven and earth to save the woman who has awakened his heart to the beautiful song of a rare and magical love.” – blurb via Goodreads

There Lived a Princess:

There’s a lot in this story that’s reminiscent of Disney-version fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White. The persecuted heroine (take your pick from: Eveline fears marriage to a brute of a suitor who terrorized her; within her own clan she’s scorned by some for her seeming lack of faculties; after marriage to the chief of her clan’s mortal enemies she’s reviled for being an Armstrong as well as simple, etc.) eventually finds her prince in a castle (OK, a Scottish keep if you want to be picky), faces the hatred and mistrust of the keep’s women (evil step-sisters, anyone?), is set to work at menial tasks (including floor scrubbing), is kidnapped and rescued by her “prince”, and lives happily ever after.

Who Found Her Prince:

Although Graeme Montgomery is laird of his clan and a fierce warrior, he’s nothing but gentle and understanding when it comes to Eveline: traits I find uncommon in a romance hero outside of a beta hero construct, which Graeme definitely isn’t. The conflict in the story is primarily external to the relationship between the two. Graeme and Eveline both want to find a way to make their pairing work – initially because neither blames the other for their forced marriage or the history of war between their clans and eventually because they fall in love. It’s clan vs. clan conflict, Eveline struggling for acceptance by the Montgomery women, and the late-in-the-game appearance of an evil-doer that drives the story.

Until a Curse Came Between Them:

Eveline made a pretty stupid decision several years previously (for mostly understandable reasons) and is trying to find a way out of the consequences of that choice. That’s part of why she seems so young to me. Add to that the resistance and mocking she receives from the women of the keep and there’s a certain feel of grade school bullying that adds to my impression of her as very young and naive. It also sets her up as a very sympathetic protagonist. Since the story starts with her being pushed out of the protective arms of her family by marriage to Graeme, we meet her at the point at which she’s starting to grow up and trying to make the best of what she’s been handed. She has the requisite “plucky” moments but overall, her arc of character development was very enjoyable.

And Evil Swept Her Out of the Arms of the Prince, who Strove Mightily to Rescue her:

The tension ratchets up at the end of the story as Eveline finally has to contend with her long-ago suitor who is intent on preventing the Armstrongs and Montgomerys from uniting through the marriage and although the ending is never in doubt, several plot threads are tied up nicely and there’s a very smooth setup for the next book in the series.

And They All Lived Happily Ever After:

Really, I just found this to be a sweet story with very likable protagonists who are pitted against outside conflict but who triumph over adversity and find their HEA. Close family interaction – one of my favorite ingredients in romances – combined with a youthful heroine who teased a ghost of protectiveness from me and a caring hero who doesn’t act like an asshat left me with a happy smile on my face when I finished this one… within 12 hours after starting it.

The Narration (aka “I’m Sure I Could Stretch the Fairytale Structure of the Review Sections to Include a Bard but…”):

Also in aid of leaving me with the impression of sitting down to be enthralled with a tale is Kirsten Potter’s delivery. Within a very clear and measured narrative is also an impeccable sense of timing that paces the story perfectly to maximize listener engagement during action-heavy sections and allow more quiet and contemplative reflection with scenes of softer emotion. The one delivery point with which I take issue is during sex scenes. That niggle about the narration kicked off a broader set of thoughts for me so although my discussion of what bothered me takes up a lot of page space, please be aware that it was a very minor thing. The narration was excellent overall and I absolutely recommend the audiobook version.

Romance is most often written in such a way as to make sex scenes (pardon the expression) the climax of the book or at least make it the linchpin of a character arc that’s been building for a while. Because structurally the story is peaking at that point in terms of pacing and emotional build-up, the addition of strong vocal dramatics such as overt breathiness or really ramping up the intensity of the delivery usually pushes it too far over the top for me. In general, subtle will always work better at those moments and Ms. Potter is close the least subtle narrator during sex scenes that I’ve heard. (You can and should take that with a grain of salt, however, since I skip the more theatrical narrators entirely.) Of course, attempts at straight analysis aside, it may also be that I’m a typically prudish American who feels uncomfortable if you’re talking too loudly about sex. ;-)

In a generic reflection on narrators/narration and romance audiobooks, I sometimes wonder how much narrators with formal training as stage actors have to work to pull back their performance in recognition of the fact that the audience is no longer twenty plus feet away from their voice but rather, in the case of earphones, mere millimeters. It also occurs to me that a narrator of a romance title who prefers to work with a different genre may (incorrectly, I would argue) perceive sex scenes as the point of the story and so maximize their emphasis there unnecessarily.

But enough of that. Back to the actual narration! I wouldn’t know an authentic Scottish accent if it walked up behind me and whispered sweet nothings in my ear (although I wouldn’t mind an opportunity to test that theory) but the accent Ms. Potter employed worked well with the caveat that I think the physical construction of how she achieved the accent made every character occasionally sound as if they should be carrying a handkerchief to mop up some spit spray when they spoke with emphasis.

In any story with multiple brothers (in this case, two different sets), voice differentiation can be problematic but that wasn’t the case here. Each brother (three in the Montgomerys and two in the Armstrongs) was distinct in voice and I had no problem determining who was speaking. Also of note since brothers in romance novels seem to invariably get their own story, all the voices were appealing. I could finish up here with additional comments on the technical aspects of the narration that made it a very successful listen for me but they all boil down to the same result: these characters felt real to me, the events were given immediacy, and I was immersed in the story to the point that I forgot it was being narrated.

four-stars

Good for You by Tammara Webber

Good for You by Tammara WebberGood for You by Tammara Webber
Narrator: Kate Rudd, Todd Haberkorn
Series: Between the Lines #3
Published by Brilliance Audio on 12/3/12
Genres: Romance
four-stars

Story: B
Narration: A-

Quick Review:

This was a highly enjoyable romance with protagonists who step outside some commonly seen themes to develop into complex characters with depth. The dual narration works extremely well and enhances this first person contemporary YA/NA quite nicely.

Goodreads Summary:

“Reid Alexander’s life is an open book. His Hollywood celebrity means that everything he does plays out in the public eye. Every relationship, every error in judgment is analyzed by strangers. His latest mistake totaled his car, destroyed a house, and landed him in the hospital. Now his PR team is working overtime to salvage his image. One thing is clear – this is one predicament he won’t escape without paying for it.

Dori Cantrell is a genuine humanitarian – the outward opposite of everything Reid is about. When his DUI plea bargain lands him under community service supervision, she proves unimpressed with his status and indifferent to his proximity, and he soon wants nothing more than to knock her off her pedestal and prove she’s human.

Counting the days until his month of service is over, Dori struggles to ignore his wicked magnetic pull while shocking him with her ability to see past his celebrity and challenge him to see his own wasted potential. But Dori has secrets of her own, safely locked away until one night turns her entire world upside down. Suddenly their only hope for connection and redemption hinges on one choice: Whether or not to have faith in each other.”

My Thoughts:

What starts out as some often seen (and often simplified) themes in romance novels – a good girl (preacher’s kid), a bad boy (and a movie star to boot), and sparks flying as the two butt heads when forced by circumstances to interact – reveals itself to be more than the initial setup might suggest. I haven’t read the first two books in this series (and by the way, this one worked very well as a stand-alone) so I didn’t have any preconceptions about the character of Reid but I hear he was a bit of a jerk in the earlier books. While he was definitely a spoiled and self-centered movie star to kick off the book, he wasn’t unbearable and as the story progresses not only does his personality begin to change in response to his experiences but his actions are understandable given his history. His shift in personality and his desire to be better than he was seemed reasonable to me and I enjoyed his transformation.

Dori was the protagonist who benefited the most from the in-depth characterization she was drawn with. She judged Reid pretty harshly (understandably so) to start with but found herself drawn to him anyway. I reached a point in the story where everything could have wrapped up nicely into a romantic resolution but with more than half the book left, Dori started coming into focus and carried much of the rest of the story for me. She could easily have been a goody-two-shoes but she had some real (and realistic) struggles with her faith that were backed up by an unexpected history that broke my heart. Her present wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows either.

The struggle between Dori and Reid to establish a relationship was lengthy and it was interrupted part-way through as they pushed each other away and as life pulled them in separate directions. Usually this interruption of “together time” in the middle of a romance would make the book seem drawn out but it worked particularly well for me here because each of them needed to see what life without the other felt like. Dori in particular had to figure out what need Reid met (besides the obvious – nudge-nudge-wink-wink) in her life.

I often find literary characters who evince a religious faith to be written in a manner inconsistent with my experience with religion in real life. They seem to hit an extreme end on the spectrum: either overzealous and so preachy as to be irritating or a former believer whose faith has been crushed by tragedy and now they reject religion entirely. Dori’s religion was a real-world version and she questions it as life throws curve balls her way. It was also a part of who she was and for once, I didn’t get a sense of authorial intent behind the inclusion of faith – that was simply who this character needed to be.

I really enjoyed this audiobook. I listened to it in a couple long sessions over a two day period and it captured my interest completely and had terrific narration.

The Narration:

Although it isn’t my intent to take away from the author’s ability to make a story containing common romance elements something fresh and engaging because the characters are written as complex and interesting people, the fact that the narrators delivered such contemporary and natural voices for the characters absolutely enhanced my enjoyment of this book. Alternating short chapters that switch first person perspective between the protagonists is an ideal situation for a dual narration casting. The selection of narrators who can swing age-appropriate voices in addition to being very skilled in their craft was a major score. If I have one complaint (and I do) it’s that Dori’s voice, which is described as “lyrical”, is given the slightest hint of an Hispanic accent when read by Todd Haberkorn but not when read by Kate Rudd. While either delivery is fine, it’s the disconnect between the two that I had to get used to.

This was my first listen to one of Todd Haberkorn’s narrations but I won’t hesitate to pick up another with his name on it. He was convincing as a young and spoiled movie star while still managing to not make him so much of a jerk (vocally) that I tuned him out in self-defense. He delivered the emotional gamut the story and character called for and nailed distinctive voices for each character. His delivery was very natural sounding which sucked me right in and I heard Reid as a person rather than a character.

This was my second listen to Kate Rudd’s work (and she’s two for two at making me cry, thank-you-very-much) and she was the perfect pairing to put up against Mr. Haberkorn. Her youthful inflections matched Dori’s age and she was pitch-perfect at the lines that delivered the biggest emotional punch. She also brought a very natural sound to the character as well as providing distinct voices for each of the supporting cast. Her delivery was very effective at providing me with a sense of immediacy as events unfolded.

four-stars

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini TaylorDays of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2
Published by Hachette Audio on 11/6/12
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
five-stars

Warning – there may be spoilers in this review for both Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight. Nothing that should ruin your reading but definitions of “spoiler” vary. If you haven’t read the first book yet, I strongly urge you to stop and go listen to it now (and I envy you your first encounter with it.) In fact, if you haven’t listened to Daughter of Smoke and Bone yet and would like to, I will gift a copy to the first two or three Audible.com members (or anyone who can set up an Audible.com account) who use my “Contact Us” form to tell me they’d like one; I’m in the mood to share my audio love for this series.

Story: A
Narration: A

Quick Review:

Damn that was a good audiobook.

The Plot:

Karou has learned the secret of her origins but the gift of that knowledge has left her with nothing but the bitter taste of ashes. The world she knew is now forever out of her reach and she is once again set adrift from the familiar. Beset by guilt and driven by her anger at Akiva, she joins the rebel army and picks up where Brimstone left off. Being a human among the chimaera would be hard enough but the disdain her affair with a seraphim engenders has isolated her even more and she is forced to struggle with her doubts, blame, and the very real moral quandary of her actions.

The seraphim have declared victory over the chimaera and it would seem that all that’s left to do is to mop up the survivors – meaning slaughter the few remaining chimaera solders who are willing to fight and to enslave the civilian populace. Akiva struggles to balance his orders against the moral imperatives that are now driving him while coping with his guilt over the role he played in the war.

My Thoughts:

There are some big themes in this book: love and forgiveness, conflict and what begets a continuation of war vs. what can end it, self-doubt and the blame we take on ourselves when our actions have unexpected consequences, the nature of friendship, and several more. While that makes it sound like an “issues book” it really isn’t. It’s the story of these characters and their world and the very real and understandable inner turmoil they face, bracketed by the physical dangers that swirl around them as the waning war between their races takes on a new urgency.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone was my favorite audiobook of 2011. The lyrical writing, the layered plotting, the blend of humor with the more serious stuff, the complex but relatable characters – all of it was seamlessly combined and the same is true of Days of Blood and Starlight. One of my favorite aspects of DoSaB was the shift mid-way through where the world of the chimaera and seraphim came into focus and the history of their conflict was revealed layer by layer. The sequel takes that aspect and distills it to a very potent emotional brew.

There were long stretches of this audiobook that I can only describe as bleak. I held out little hope for even the continuing survival of our protagonists, let alone that their dream of peace could ever come to pass. My initial reaction when I finished the audiobook was that I didn’t like it as much as Daughter of Smoke and Bone. After some time thinking about it I realized that wasn’t the case at all. The truth is, I found this a harder book to listen to because so much of what it evoked was (theoretically) on the negative scale: tension, long stretches of hopelessness, that peculiar literary fear at the decisions made by the characters that weren’t going to result in sunshine and rainbows, serious thoughts about what drives conflict between cultures and nations, and an intricate teasing out of whether I felt Karou and Akiva were right to blame themselves and whether their actions were justified or not – to name just a few. None of that would have affected me the way it did, however, if the writing wasn’t so evocative, the larger issues it made me consider weren’t framed within the context of a very good story that lent them a certain subtlety, and the characters weren’t written in such a way that they almost to take on a life outside the pages of the book and I’ve come to care about them.

Tightly woven into the story of the aftermath of war between these two races, however, are faint threads of hope. There are small acts of mercy and compassion, on and off the battlefield; characters who realize that destruction will never be a sustainable way to ensure the continued survival and well-being of their people and who evince a willingness to find another way; hints that forgiveness, although incredibly difficult to find within oneself, can and should be given and received; and always present was the strong bond of friendship between Karou and Zuzana. Thank goodness for Zuzana and Mick – the comic-relief sidekicks who, despite my use of that cliched characterization term, were an integral part of the story whose presence was both necessary to the plot and to my continued emotional survival as I listened.

As much I enjoy complicated, messy, wrenching, ambiguous novels, I have to admit that it’s easier to immediately proclaim “I loved this book!” when I’m still riding a wave of happily-ever-after endorphins rather than trying to pick up the pieces of my expectations and shattered hopes. I find that it’s easier for an author to make me happy than it is to create a narrative that can reach out and grab my emotions and wrench them about while keeping me totally invested in the story and characters although there’s no doubt that as a reader, the rewards for books that can do the latter are greater for me. Days of Blood and Starlight is just as good a book as Daughter of Smoke and Bone and it added a complexity to the overall plot that I don’t often find in second-in-a-series books. This was an incredibly good audiobook and I highly recommend it.

The Narration:

Khristine Hvam pretty much nails the narration of this audiobook. I’ve enjoyed her work in the past although I sometimes felt there was an element of the theatrical to it that didn’t quite suit my preference for subtle storytelling. With this one, I can’t imagine listening to the text in the hands of any other narrator. While it may just be that I’m familiar with her take on the characters now, it almost seemed that her delivery had softened a bit and took on an even more natural tone.

The aspects of character delivery that keep the listener in the moment and on the edge of their seat: Point of View, Discovery, the Here and Now, very real vocal responsiveness in Dialogue, and Accents were all flawless. If it seems I’m just running through a list of narration “performance markers” and checking them off, well, in a way I am because at no point in the story did it occur to me “oh, that’s very natural sounding dialogue.” I was never less than immersed in the characters and rarely spared a thought for the narrator. The accents were a particular high-point as was the pitch-perfect delivery of humor with the character of Zuzana a perfect exemplar of this. An excellent narration and I strongly recommend choosing the audio version.

five-stars