Tag: Audiobook

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.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

John Scalzi is a somewhat enormous figure in genre fiction, having published some 20+ novels, eight non-fiction books, and a generous handful of short fiction and essays. Not only that, but his role as “influencer” is further cemented by the popularity of his “Whatever” blog and his more-than 110,000 followers on Twitter. But we’re not here to talk about Scalzi’s reach as an author, prodigious though it may be. We’re here to talk about the audiobook of Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi I listened to, courtesy of Audible.

The eighteen stories in Miniatures are, as the title suggests, very short. In the introduction, Scalzi says that the longest piece in the collection is only 2,300 words long. The audiobook for the collection is teeny-tiny, clocking in at just under three hours. The stories are funny, and all hover around the central of subverting “conventional” science fiction tropes or dropping a surprise reveal at the end of the story. I enjoyed Miniatures tremendously. The different narrators for each story (and sometimes multiple narrators in a single story) were all excellent, bringing precisely the right kind of humor each moment demanded. Some were deadpan, others matter-of-fact, others over-the-top dramatic. More than once, I found myself having to stifle giggles at my desk, lest I inform the whole world that I’m multitasking.

Some of the stories were more compelling for me than others, as is often the case with collections, but rather than talk about one story that really did. “The Other Large Thing” was a delightful story that introduces a curious protagonist, master of his domain, who watches as a new entity is introduced into his world. This new thing learns to communicate with Sanchez, the protagonist, and acquiesces to all of Sanchez’s demands. Sanchez plots to use this thing to take over the world.

Spoiler: Sanchez is a cat. But you don’t know that until later in the story—though on a second listen, it’s rather obvious. Something about the way that story unfolded had me grinning the entire time I listened to it. Bolstered by the gravelly delivery of the narrator, the Sanchez character is at once absurd and very serious. The way he makes demands, punishes and rewards his “others” and the “other large thing” is delightful. Long story short (no pun intended), it’s a great story that left me curious about how to pull of a similar feat.

For those of us who enjoy audiobooks but are not particularly keen on forty-hour epic fantasies, Miniatures is perfect. Short and sweet, with a host of narrators and wildly different settings (though, like I said, there’s a thematic thread throughout), it’s something I recommend to anyone and everyone. And hey, if it’s not your cup of tea, at least it’s only a few hours long.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is available on Audible and Amazon.

The Echoes of Sin – Chris Philbrook

(Beware of spoilers, for they be plentiful below.)

The concluding entry in Chris Philbrook’s Kinless trilogy, The Echoes of Sin, does a massive amount of worldbuilding. It reminds me a bit of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series, wherein after being taken on a wild journey through a fantastical world, we learn that it’s actually some kind of post-apocalyptic vision of Europe. Whereas Lawrence loosely explains it as a result of science growing too powerful for its own quantum britches, Philbrook leaves the gap between the “fall” and era of the story unfilled.

I burn with curiosity as to the nature of the fall. I hope, nay, pray that he dig into it in some future date. The word ‘trilogy’ fills me with dread, however, that this story is done and that I’ll never find out more about the fascinating world Philbrook has built, where human souls manifest as spirits and the talented can speak to the souls of machines and inanimate objects.

Now that my plea for more information is out of the way, let’s talk about The Echoes of Sin. We find the twins on the run with their compatriots, having been accused of the murder of their aunt—the one who orchestrated the inciting events of the trilogy. But they’ve got bigger fish to fry. They’re on their way to uncover the biggest secret in the world, the thing that pivoted the course of history for the planet, the cataclysm whose echoes ripple throughout the world and the hundreds of years that have elapsed.

Meanwhile, the purple queen (of the empire that took center-stage in the first book) is at the border with an army of zombies and necromancers who are prepared to steamroll over an ill-equipped town that blocks their path. The tension ramps up more rapidly in this book than in the previous two, but that makes sense, given the threads that need addressing in the story,  but the pacing works well.

The heroes get the more immediately compelling of the two plots, fighting a group of vampires with an intriguing connection to the Church of Souls—they were left by the twins’ aunt to protect the secret that the others were killed over. The fighting is tense, the sides find compromise and, eventually, the heroes are lead to the heart of the secret: a gateway to the past.

It’s a must-read if you’ve read the other two. And since you should read the other two, I suppose I’m saying you’ve got to read this one.

There are some excellent twists in The Echoes of Sin, and narrator Kevin T. Collins did an admiral job of bringing the book to life in a way that raised my heart rate at the right times, and personified the whole cast well. As was the case with the previous books, I found his narration a bit slow, but thankfully I was able to easily speed it up to my comfort level.

Before signing off, I want to return to the thought that opened this review. I was being cheeky about it up there, but the message is that the ending of The Echoes of Sins leaves more questions asked than answered. This might frustrate you—it frustrated me a bit—but I think that frustration also falls under the purview of emotions authors may want to elicit in a reader. If you’re reading this, Chris Philbrook, I’d love to know if you did that to me on purpose. Either way, you wrote an excellent trilogy.

The Echoes of Sin is available on Amazon and Audible.

Motive For Massacre – Chris Philbrook

51fvpa-gojlThe sequel to Wrath of the Orphans is, incidentally, much less wrathful than its predecessor. Motive for Massacre might sound like it gets hairy—and it certainly does—the plot of Motive follows the Everwalk twins along the path to discovering who orchestrated the destruction of their home and the slaughter of its two hundred-or-so citizens, and why.

It’s a much tighter story than Wrath, owing to the fact that it didn’t have to do much world building, allowing Chris Philbrook to immediately focus on the characters and their challenges. It is also stronger as a result.

I listened to Motive on Audible at double-speed, which rendered the problems I mentioned in my Wrath review obsolete. Kevin T. Collins’s narration is strong, if still a little one-dimensional.

Motive spends considerably less time traveling, which contributes to its sense is focus, and lingers on description only long enough to give you a sense of place, except when locations are relevant later in the story. As I said above, this one is really about the characters.

Malwynn and Umaryn find themselves in situations where their thirst for bloody revenge takes a backseat to other desires. Umaryn is quickly realizing that her abilities as an artificer are extraordinary, and Malwynn is falling in love.

The twins are challenged by their individual and collective needs, which drives the first half of the book well. And just before that world have become irksome, the story switches gear and the central arc of the trilogy, discovering who was responsible for the destruction of their home, and why they did it.

Their adventure takes them back on the rails, and they learn much more than they’d anticipated about their family’s past and present. Adventure ensues, but it is in many ways subdued when compared to the explosive and violent action in Wrath.

Motive is a more enjoyable book through and through, though it would be impossible to read without making it through Wrath first. That being said, if your want to commit to (probably) more than forty hours of listening to a dark fantasy and steampunk crossover, you could do much worse than dig in to the Kinless Trilogy.

Motive for Massacre is available from Amazon and Audible.

Spell/Sword – G. Derek Adams

Asteroid Made of Dragons was G. Derek Adams’s first (semi-)traditionally published work, but the man was no stranger to releasing books. As you may (or may not) recall from my review of AMoD, Adams had self-published two prequels prior to winning the Sword and Laser contest on Inkshares.

The first of those books is Spell/Sword, wherein we meet the protagonist duo of Rime and Jonas and go careening through glowing canyons and flying on wyverns with them on their first adventure.

Adams was kind enough to provide me with a copy of Spell/Sword in audiobook form, which is currently available on Audible, and is wonderfully narrated by Rachel Ahrens, who brings a voice and character to Rime so close to what my mind created when I read AMoD that I was a bit surprised, to be honest. She really did a fantastic job.

The thing about Adams’s writing is that, when you read it, you can tell how much fun he had writing it. His settings and scenes frequently border on the absurd, and as you laugh along with the characters at the situation, you are convinced of the imminent threats to them and deeply invested in their wellbeing. And curious about how the hell they intend to escape rocket-powered-electro-toads.

AMoD had the benefit of an editorial team, and is therefore more polished than Spell/Sword, but the nice thing about reading (or listening to) his self-published work is that it serves as proof of Adams’s skill as an author. He’s got what it takes to “go pro,” in my opinion.

Spell/Sword is a great read; it’s paced well, action-packed, and does an excellent job of setting high stakes and wrapping up neatly while leaving enough threads unraveled to spawn a torrent of sequels. For my part, I’m glad to know Derek. That means I can pester him about when the next book is coming out.

Until then, I can read Riddle Box, the next book in the series.

Spell/Sword is available at Amazon.com. The audiobook is available from Audible (also Amazon.)

(Using these links helps to support the Warbler!)

Octavia’s Brood – Walida Imarisha & Adrienne Marie Brown

A few weeks ago, I attended a rally in support of Bernie Sanders just north of Oakland, in Vallejo, California. At the rally, I heard a sentence that struck a deep chord within me: An idea does not have to be radical to be revolutionary.

It’s a simple statement, sure, but it has legs. I imagine that, during the height of the civil rights movement, there was a portion of the American population that felt the idea of racial equality was radical. But thinking about it, were people asking for anything completely new? No. They were asking to have the rights of protection, access, and representation that already existed for a majority of Americans. I don’t mean to say that radical action wasn’t taken in the name of revolution. Rather, that the desires of the movement were not radical, though they were certainly revolutionary.

I think that our current politics are in a similar boat. The things that the progressive left is asking for—protection from militarized police, access to affordable education and healthcare, and political representation free from the corroding influence of a rigged campaign finance system—are likewise not radical. These rights exist and are protected in most of the developed world, yet they are treated as heretical impossibilities by people who refuse to acknowledge the facts of the matter.

Ideas can be radical or revolutionary, and the can certainly be both. Writers of speculative fiction, particularly science fiction, frequently create works that embody that duality. Consider our fantastical, technological lives. How many of these devices were born from the minds of great SF writers?

In a recent speech at the national book awards where she was honored for a lifetime of contributions to fiction and writing in general, Ursula K. Le Guin issued a challenge to writers of speculative fiction:

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.


Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”

Octavia E. Butler was an author with radical ideas. Her contributions to the annals of science fiction were revolutionary.  I have books by Octavia Butler on my bookshelf, and several more on my e-reader, but I have yet to open them. I’ve been meaning to, but a consequence of the expansion of this blog has been the total loss of time to read books on my old “to read” list. The books are, for the moment, collecting dust.

So when the opportunity arose, through the ever beneficent folks at Audible, to listen to an anthology of short stories inspired by her work, I leapt at the opportunity.

Octavia’s Brood is, for lack of a better word, different. It’s editors, Walida Imarisha and Adrienne Marie Brown, say it is “the first book to explore deeply the connections between […] ‘visionary fiction’ and movements for social change through the vehicle of of short stories. We believe that radical science fiction is actually better termed visionary fiction because it pulls from real life experience, inequalities and movement building to creative innovative ways of understanding the world around us, paint visions of new worlds that could be, and teach us new ways of interacting with one another.

The term ‘visionary fiction’ is thought provoking, though I doubt many would want to see the dystopian visions of the future in some of the stories come to pass. It demonstrates an understanding of the power of fiction that Ursula Le Guin spoke of: the power to evoke change.

Some of the stories in the anthology are great; others are “merely” good. All of them resonate deeply. And Je Nie Fleming, the narrator, did a wonderful job of imbuing the varied casts of characters with life and emotion, which must have been rather difficult given the range of character backgrounds and settings. It’s the kind of book I want to buy twenty or thirty copies of and hand out to people, just so I can say “here! This is the power of science fiction! This is why we write and keep imagination alive!”

I cannot recommend Octavia’s Brood enough, to social justice activists, science fiction enthusiasts, and everyone in between. If I could get through to them, I’d call on the puppies (the semi-organized group of frothing racists who, like GamerGaters, are currently engaged in a campaign to Make Video Games / Comics / Science Fiction Great Again) to read this anthology. It might teach them a bit about reality while showing them just how good science fiction can be when they open their minds. And that’s the purpose of speculative fiction to begin with; to broaden our horizons. As Ursula Le Guin said, Resistance and change often begin in art. If you’re a fan of art, especially the art of words, you ought to get used to change.

Chariots of the Gods — Erich von Daniken

9781452671536Several years ago, while working at PlayStation, I was introduced to the most compelling evidence I have ever seen for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. That there is extraterrestrial life is, to me, a given. That there is intelligent extraterrestrial life also strikes me as true, it not because of statistical likelihood, then certainly because of the aforementioned evidence.

That evidence came in the form of a four hour documentary called “The Disclosure Project,” in which people who are trained observers — pilots, control tower operators, radar technicians… Mainly military and paramilitary personnel —  soberly talk about their experiences with UFOs and other phenomena. I’m not asking you to watch all four hours of it, but I encourage you to check it out. It might blow your mind a little bit.

“The Disclosure Project” started me down the rabbit hole of research into extraterrestrials. The issue is that the “good stuff” is obfuscated — some say intentionally — by stories and individuals that must be ignored outright. Finding the wheat among the chaff is, unfortunately, not unlike searching for a particular piece of hay in a haystack. The labyrinthine world of extraterrestrial research collides with many other communities, from New Agers to conspiracy theorists and everything in between, and among the group are the Ancient Astronaut theorists.

Simply put, the Ancient Astronaut theory states that ancient texts — religious texts in particular — contain accounts of extraterrestrial visitation. The theory uses things like the great pyramids, nazca lines, and other relics of the ancient past to further prove their point; ancient peoples, they reason, can’t possibly have had the technology to build those things. Therefore, aliens.

The-Ancient-Aliens-Guy-And-The-Ancient-Astronaut-TheoryI’m not certain, but I believe the principle text of Ancient Astronaut theory is Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which was on sale at Audible.com over black Friday.

So I happily purchased it, knowing that I’d get to it eventually, and a few weeks ago I had roughly five and a half hours of chores to do during which I listened to the book in its entirety.  The narrator, William Dufris, performed admirably, but considering that the book is non-fiction, performance wasn’t a thing to which I gave much consideration.

What I cared about was the substance of the book. I wanted to find in it compelling evidence that would show me beyond a shadow of a doubt that civilizations visited this planet thousands of years ago and sparked human society.

But I didn’t find it in Chariots of the Gods. What I found instead was more of the same frustrating tactics that plague the UFO discussion at large: the faulty logic that absence of evidence for one condition constitutes evidence for another, the assumption that ancient religious texts are literally true, and half-formed points followed by series of leading questions designed to distract from the lack of complete evidence.

That isn’t to say that the book wasn’t interesting; on the contrary, I found it to be a fascinating look back in time, to the late 60s, when the moon landing electrified the world and filled people with wild dreams of a technological, interplanetary future. It is particularly interesting to see von Daniken’s wishful predictions about moon colonies in the 80s and humans on Mars by the 90s. I often wondered while listening to the book whether his thoughts were representative of the zeitgeist or if he was an outlier. I suppose I could ask my parents, who would have been in their early twenties at the time.

But back to the book. I understand the point of a persuasive essay, sure, but a Chariots of the Gods only has a handful of salient points within its pages. That being said, I find Ancient Astronaut theory plausible—which would essentially make humanity a cargo cult— which is why I was even more disappointed in the book than I ought to have been.

By asking a plausible question and following up with hysterically delivered series of hypothetical absurdities, von Daniken weakens his salient points. He rests his hat upon the assertion that the Epic of Gilgamesh, Bhagavad Gita, and old testament are literally true, that Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly Merkabah (Chariot) was an eyewitness account. He takes them to be truths without offering any kind of support for that assumption, leaning (I surmise) on the convenience of widespread belief in gospel truth.

That particular assumption fails my first litmus test, and that so many of the subsequent arguments are built on this shaky foundation weakens the whole book enough for me to want to throw the babies out with the bathwater. There are good points in there: rock quarried from places too far to transport conveniently, with no evidence of said transport; mysterious metal alloys that make no sense; accurate drawings of the Pleiades constellation on rocks; and many, many others. Instead, von Daniken and his heirs argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were annihilated by nuclear weapons.  In my mind, that’s not a relevant point.

At the end of the day, the five-hour book is worth listening to, not only because of its sporadic delivery of real head-scratchers, but for its effectiveness as a window into the recent past. And if you click on this here link, you’ll be throwing me a bone, which I appreciate. But if you’re looking for something a bit more serious to dig into UFO research, look at Disclosure (part one, part 2) and  Sirius.

A Crucible of Souls – Mitchell Hogan

91TpLxjBSwLWhen the prologue of A Crucible of Souls started to play, I noticed a few interesting things happen simultaneously. First, I recognized instantaneously that the reader, Oliver Wyman, would be fantastic. Second, I thought “oh I know where this is going.” And finally, I thought, “this, again?”

You see, over the past year I’ve found that epic fantasy has gotten a bit stale for me. This doesn’t cover all of epic fantasy, not by a long shot. But I’ve grown tired of some of the tropes endemic to the genre. This feeling was particularly pronounced when I listened to The Sword of Shannara, which I found tiresome and derivative, much to the chagrin of a few commenters on the internet.

Poorly understood precursor civilizations, whose only remains are valuable artifacts, some language, and thinly veiled threats to not repeat their mistakes, lest you lead the world to a second “shattering,” or “breaking,” or “cataclysm.” A young boy who feels strange, then finds he has an aptitude for magic far beyond what a “normal” boy should have. A big city, idolized in dream, only it is actually a filthy place, rife with thieves and danger.

And A Crucible of Souls has those things. In fact, at about a quarter of the way through the audiobook, I contemplated turning it off and giving up.

And then I decided that no, I would give it a chance.  And I’m glad I did.

What began as a dive through tropes of epic fantasy became a series of reminders about why I found the genre so compelling for so many years.

Mysteries wrapped in more mysteries. Factions and politics and betrayal. Magic and swordplay, learning and bending the boundaries of what’s possible within a framework. And through it all, the thread of good and evil, always twisted so that it isn’t quite obvious where some of the characters stand, and paragons of either side to provide a compass for “true good” and “true evil” in the world.

A Crucible of Souls has all of that in spades. Oliver Wyman’s reading brings the book to life, making the nineteen-ish hour listening journey fun, dramatic, and engaging.

Of those three things I realized at the outset of the prologue, one was absolutely true, one was totally false, and the third was partially true.

The narration was fantastic—I highly recommend you picking up the book on audible if fantasy’s your cup of tea.

I wasn’t quite right about where the book was going. It held more than a few surprises that really satisfied.

And while “this, again?” was false, it’s an easily rectified error. Now I can think of epic fantasy and say, “this, again!”

In particular, I enjoyed the way A Crucible of Souls dealt with swordplay and its magic system. The swordplay was great because it was fluid—the way Hogan was able to slow time and give the reader the same sense of focus—and confusion—that Caldan, the protagonist, experiences as he fights. He’s faster and stronger than he has ever been, and doesn’t know why. Sword fighting comes more naturally to him, and he loses himself in the fights, unaware that he’s displaying an uncanny mastery over the blade. I think that Hogan achieves this by being intentionally vague with the minutae of the fight. You get a sense of what’s happening and some basic blocking of the scene, but more generally, you’re imbued with the feeling of the fight. It’s beautifully done, and reminds me of why I loved the fight scenes in the Wheel of Time series so much.

The magic is treated similarly. We are given details not about the mechanisms by which Caldan achieves his magical feats; rather, we are shown his feelings, thoughts, and learning process as he experiments. We know nothing of what the runes and glyphs he carves into metal and paints onto paper are, but we know what he hopes to achieve with them and, ultimately, how well his creations perform under pressure.

What we end up with is a character who is fiercely talented, almost unreasonably good, and very competent. Typically, this type of “superhero” can be a bore to read, but Caldan also has trust issues, and keeps many secrets, which makes him much more interesting. All told, A Crucible of Souls is a fun work of epic fantasy, that I’m sure is followed by an excellent series. I don’t know that I’ll be picking up the next books any time soon, but they’re on my list for the future.

The copy of A Crucible of Souls I listened to was provided by audible.com. You can pick the book up on amazon. (Using this link helps support The Warbler!)

Mycroft Holmes – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career has extended well beyond the sphere of his tremendous success as an athlete. He is a regular contributor to Time, has starred in many films (even opposite Bruce Lee!), and has written a number of books, the most recent of which, Mycroft Holmes, written with screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, is excellent.

Audible.com generously supplied a review copy of the audiobook, which I gobbled voraciously.

The narrator, Damian Lynch, was exquisite, and brought to life the multi-ethnic cast of characters with extraordinary skill. His accents were flawless—except perhaps his American, which was a bit cartoonish, but appropriate for its character. His narration was one of the highlights of the experience, and I found myself listening with two sets of ears: one to a great story, and the other to Lynch’s wonderful performance.

The story follows a young Mycroft Holmes, elder brother of Sherlock Holmes, on an adventure from London to Trinidad.

When Cyrus Douglas, friend to Mycroft and purveyor of fine tobaccos, learns of children dying mysteriously on Trinidad, he informs Mycroft, who investigates by asking his fiancée Georgiana, a white woman who grew up on Trinidad, if she has heard anything from her family. Her unexpected response—leaving for Trinidad at once, and refusing to tell Mycroft why—sends Mycroft on a wild chase, exercising every bit of his prodigious intelligence to place himself on the same ship as Georgiana.

The ensuing adventure is exciting in all of the typical ways a Holmesian mystery excites: physical violence, battles of wits, fascinating settings, and twists upon twists. There are a number of things beyond the central plot of Mycroft Holmes, however, that I think bear discussing.

The first is that I think this might be the most solidly structured novel that I’ve read in a very long time. No loose ends, everything accounted for, foreshadowing in all the right places, and red herrings delicately placed. It was remarkable to read, structurally, because of how tidy it was.

The second is that Mycroft Holmes deals with serious issues of race and slavery with tremendous delicacy and achieves a powerful impact. There are moments of raw pain that eclipse the emotional median of the novel, and others that gave me more pause than I’d expect from a “simple” mystery novel. When you read this book, and I highly recommend that you do—better yet, why don’t you head over to Audible and pick it up—look out for those moments. They’re sprinkled throughout the whole novel, and they transform a good story into a great book.