Tag: Audible

Starfire: A Red Peace – Spencer Ellsworth

A confession, reader, before starting this book review: when browsing Audible’s list of books for review, I saw a familiar name in the Narrator column, and chose this book before looking at the title or genre. Starfire: A Red Peace is jointly narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal and John Keating; long-time readers of this blog will recognize Mary as an author whose work I admire and someone who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and learning from, on that cruise as well as subsequent online classes. I knew that she was an audiobook narrator, but hadn’t heard her work, so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to the first novel in Spencer Ellworth’s Starfire trilogy. Before I dig into the book and narration, I want to thank Audible for providing this book for review, and flag for you, listener, that they’re running a promotion until May 4th, 2018 that gets you a free kindle when you sign up for a one-year membership—12 audiobooks and a kindle for around $130 is a pretty good deal, especially if you consider how they discount audiobooks if you already own the kindle version. I’ll stop that spiel now, lest my words meander into the realm of sponsored content.

Kowal and Keating’s performances for Starfire: A Red Peace are excellent, their choices of accents lending color to a space opera that could otherwise have seemed like yet-another-brits-in-space affair which, continuing my confession, I had been expecting. Instead, there was twang and grit, a bit of a different soul inside the characters. I found it particularly interesting that a change in accent could do so much for certain aspects of characterization—which, on reflection, could have been a result of my own ingrained biases. Something to ponder later, for sure.

What I found in A Red Peace surprised me. It has the pieces of a great space opera—a military populated with genetically engineered soldiers, aliens of various sizes and degrees of ferocity, a plucky young heroine with a knack for getting herself into trouble, and writing that echoes its forbears.

But Spencer Ellsworth’s novel took me by surprise, too. I half-expected to be nonplussed by A Red Peace; not enthralled but not bored. Instead, I found myself fascinated with the ways Ellsworth infused his take on space opera with a breath of fresh air, from the arthropodal spacecraft to the exquisite sequences of intoxication that painted the universe in haunting melodies and strange colors, scenes that lingered on my ears and tongue long after I’d finished listening to the book.

Because I’ve been somewhat derelict in my duties as a reviewer, the space between my having finished A Red Peace and publishing this review is, regrettably, nearly half a year. Many of the details of the story are hazy now, but there are things that do stand out: the excellent performances of the narrators, the spectacular execution of an addiction cycle powered by PTSD…these things stuck with me.

There’s a silver lining, however. Taking so long to publish this review leaves me with the opportunity to pick up the next two books in the series: Shadow Sun Seven and Memory’s Blade, which I intend to add to my to-read list forthwith.

Starfire: A Red Peace is a quick read that will sate your hunger for classic space opera while giving a taste of something new. You can support The Warbler by using these links to pick up the book on Amazon, or to find some of Spencer Ellworth’s short fiction in various magazines at Weightless Books.

The Last Sacrifice – James A. Moore

What happens when the great antagonist, the villainous figure bent on destroying the world, is the divine? The Last Sacrifice, the first book in James A. Moore’s Tides of War series, places that conflict at its core. And while it’s an interesting question—what if the gods themselves are the enemy—the book invests a great deal of time in worldbuilding and stage setting, leaving the “meat” of the plot on the back burner while hopping between points of view.

The Last Sacrifice is Grimdark, which is to say it’s brutal and gory, and deals with some of the darker aspects of human behavior. The inciting incident of the story, which pits the protagonist against the gods, asks about the lengths to which anyone would go to get revenge for losing their entire family for nebulous reasons. It’s a familiar concept—man loses wife and children, becomes enraged, goes on a rampage to avenge his family’s killers. Rinse, repeat. But the execution in The Last Sacrifice breaks that trope open, making the revenge itself a secondary incident which ignites the entire world. The scope of consequences changes, and the man’s blind rage doesn’t get quenched in a vacuum. I really appreciated that exploration, because oftentimes our media that glorifies righteous violence and revenge doesn’t address the fallout of those actions—it lets the protagonist win, and washes its hands of the brutal reality that such violence visits on the world around it. But it’s revenge atop revenge in The Last Sacrifice. In getting his revenge, Brogan McTyre enrages the gods, who want to punish the entire world in revenge for their monthly sacrifices being interrupted by Brogan’s actions. Predictably, chaos ensues.

Structurally, The Last Sacrifice jumps between characters and locations, building a large secondary world complete with features that are to be expected in this kind of fantasy: slavers, wretched towns, groups of kingdoms, mysterious geological phenomena, strange humanoid creatures that represent the gods, kilts, guilds, etcetera. It’s no more or less inventive than other fantasy in the same vein, but it’s well executed and feels complete.

I liked The Last Sacrifice, especially as an audiobook (as always, many thanks to Audible for providing the review copy), but I became so hung up on one detail that I couldn’t get really into the book. Let me set the scene.

The world in which Brogan McTyre lives has been sacrificing four humans every season to appease the gods. The sacrifices are (seemingly) arbitrarily chosen, and exchanged for valuable coins that act as reparations for the humans who lost loved ones. This sacrifice has been taking place multiple times every year since time began. Presumably, people would be used to the idea, wouldn’t they? Granted, the Grakhul (the humanoid divine servants who make the sacrifices) took Brogan’s entire family, an unusual event to be sure, but this has been happening literally forever. Brogan and everyone he knows have been raised to accept this sacrifice as part of life, yet when his own family is taken he goes ballistic, rounds up his mercenary friends, and exacts bloody revenge on the messengers of the gods. Throughout the book, characters flout the conventions that the world’s been accepting for its entire existence. Though there are mentions of past lapses in appeasement of the gods on the humans’ part, I kept getting hung up on the idea that so many people would be somewhat blaze about disregarding deeply-held beliefs regarding a global phenomenon that is as old as the world itself.

So when Brogan confronted the king of his country and asked what the King would do in his shoes, I’d expect the king to say he’d tow the line. When Brogan ropes his sellsword friends into the revenge, I’d expect a little less enthusiastic following of the rash actions that lead to the impending destruction of the world. Instead, everyone’s pretty much on board with the revenge plan. And when Brogan decides to sell the remaining Grakhul he hasn’t killed, the women and children, into slavery—a thing they all despise—the group goes along with that too. There’s some recalcitrance, but I always expected some internal conflict among the sellswords, which never fully coalesced. I expected more pushback from those who feel that “this is just how the world works” is a sufficient explanation for Brogan’s loss. There wasn’t much of that, though.

Those issues aren’t digs at the book, per se. Maybe it’s just me inserting my own writing voice into the story. Decisions I’d have made if I were telling the story. The Last Sacrifice will tickle the fancy of any fans of Grimdark fantasy, with its large cast of characters and earth-shattering consequences. The narrator, Adam Sims, does a great job of bringing intensity to the story, and at just under 10 hours, the book is easy to consume in a week of here-and-there listening sessions. Grimdark isn’t for everyone, but if you like it, pick up The Last Sacrifice. You’ll enjoy it.

The Last Sacrifice is available on Audible.

The Divine Comedy – Dante

This is another one of those cases where I feel that a book I aim to review is out of my league. The Divine Comedy is absolutely beyond the scope of my review blog.  So I will attempt to not review it for its contents.

But what I feel is within my purview is a discussion of the performance of the audiobook, since that was how I made it through the somewhat difficult text.

The first time I tried to read Inferno, as a high-schooler, I wasn’t able to penetrate the form. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get past the second canto. It might have been because I was too focused on looking at it as an epic poem, a work of unparalleled religious zeal.

But listening to Edoardo Ballerini’s performance of the book on Audible was a completely different experience. The form—the epic poem—took a back seat to the wild fantasy that is contained in its stanzas. Ballerini brought the sense of the narrator’s fear and awe, his deep love for Virgil and his beatific image of Beatrice, his curiosity and horror and shame to the forefront of the experience. He gave form to the incredible landscapes of the circles of hell, purgatory, and paradise.

But even so, it took me weeks to listen to the 14-hour audiobook. It was a tough thing to commit to doing when I’d sit in the car—was I going to dive back into obscure references to Italians from the Middle Ages on this particular trip to Trader Joe’s?

Typically, when I listen to an audiobook, it’s all I do until the book is done. When I’m cleaning, cooking, eating, commuting—whatever I do, I power through the books. With Dante, though, I felt compelled to finish not by an eagerness to allow the story to unfold, but by a desire to check “Dante” off the list. And for what it’s worth, I’m glad I did. It’s a remarkable work of fantasy, horror, and rapture.

I think that I was only able to finish it this time thanks to the audiobook, so I’ll heartily recommend Edoadro Ballerini’s reading of Clive James’s translation of The Divine Comedy.

This audiobook is available on Audible, through Amazon.