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The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness [Audio]

Some time ago I downloaded the entire Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness on my Kindle. It was one of many, many discounted or free ebooks I have grabbed for my Kindle never seemingly able to resist a cheap or free book.

But, like the vast majority of said acquired books, I never got around to reading the series. But then I happened to stumble on the audio version of The Knife of Never Letting Go at the local library and picked it up for the daily commute. And thus my exploration of the series began.

Interestingly, this was one of those books where I think the audio version might have hindered my enjoyment (often it seems the opposite). I found the accent and language style of the main character quite annoying. I am not sure why, but it just grated on me. I don’t think it was the fault of the narrator and I think if I had been reading it I might have gotten past it.

That experiential note aside, there was a great deal of creativity and world building in this first book that helps explain the popularity of the series.  There is tension and action from the start. And there is the contrast between the seemingly universal human elements with the otherworldly aspects; vulnerability and emotion with violence and desperation.

I did, however, find the repetitive/cyclical nature of the story frustrating at times. Run, capture, escape, run, confrontation, escape, run, confrontation, etc. etc.

And of course, the whole story ends with a giant cliffhanger.

But I was intrigued enough to push on through and keep with the series. The hook for the series, is just creative enough to keep me going and the characters, particularly Todd, are interesting enough that I want to know more.

My reaction to the next two books, alas, will have to wait until another post …

The Song of the Quarkbeast (Chronicles of Kazam #2) by Jasper Fforde

OK, I going to attempt to play catch-up and post some reviews of book I have read. This slump has me way behind.

As you might recall, I have been listening to audio books during my daily commute.  And I stumbled on Jasper Fforde‘s Chronicles of Kazam series at the local library. I started with The Last Dragonslayer and next came The Song of the Quarkbeast.

I really enjoyed listening to this second book in the car. It seemed to move much quicker than the first, not surprising given the work in that book to set things up.

Jennifer Strange continues to be a strong central character with a creative voice: mature for her age, loyal and courageous, but also still young and vulnerable at times. As the story develops we learn more about key characters but also about magic and its history. The quarkbeast thread adds a fun element and ends up playing a key role in the plot twist at the end.

A creative, witty, and fun series. Can’t wait to listen to or read the third book.

The God Engines by John Scalzi

The God Engines by John Scalzi is not my normal read, or listen, as I rarely tackle science fiction or fantasy of this sort. But the audio was for sale at Half Price Books for a couple of bucks so I grabbed it for the commute. Plus, I am always interested in fiction that explores faith.

Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this—and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given.

Tephe knows from the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put—and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely…

Recently, it took its turn as my entertainment for the drive to and from work. It turned out to be interesting and enjoyable but, as so many reviewers have noted, felt a little too short and underdeveloped.

I started out wondering what I had purchased because it was so different than anything I had read recently. And the voices and personalities as they come through on audio heightened that strangeness. But the story picked up and I started getting into it.

Just trying to conceptualizer and envision such a strange and different world was challenging and interesting. Trying to figure out what the different “angles” being played (the bishops, the gods, the captain, etc.) and to what ends keeps you intrigued. And of course, you can’t help but think what philosophical point Scalzi might be making in telling such a story about gods and faith and choice.

But then just as the tension builds and the complexity begins to intrigue the story ends. You are left thinking: “Huh, that was interesting but is that it?”

Still, it is creative and thought provoking and has some well done characters. Have to wonder what it could have been at standard novel length though … Or perhaps I am just not a connoisseur of fantasy novellas.

Death's Doors by Lars Walker

I am a fan of Lars Walker‘s writing (having read a couple of his books and followed his online writing) but I confess I really struggled with his latest novel Death’s Doors.

Death's doorsIn the near future, suicide has become a constitutional right. Tom Galloway is just an ordinary single parent, trying to keep his rebellious and suicidal teenage daughter from going to the Happy Endings Clinic. If there’s one thing he doesn’t need, it’s a tenth century Viking time traveler dropping into his life. But Tom is about to begin the adventure of his life, one that will change the whole world.

I have not read Wolf Time for which Death’s Doors is a sequel of sorts. As with all Walker books there is a great deal of creativity. You have a future dystopian society, Norse mythology, and a story about a family. I enjoyed the exploration of how Haakon views the 21st century world as a 10th century man. I thought the plot hook about how the Old Ones are secretly undermining the US was interesting and well done. The ultimate villainess was great too. And the idea that the underlying conflict came from an inability to understand humans, love and self-sacrifice was a nice element.

But I think the bottom line on this book is how far-fetched you think his dystopian society really is and how much that bothers you. Basically, Walker takes current conservative critiques of liberalism (from political correctness, to abortion and euthanasia, relativism, the ignoring of the threat of Islam, etc.) and takes it to reductio ad absurdum levels. The solution to everything is suicide (or really murder given the not so willing nature of the procedure). Courts routinely overturn basic cases because everyone has the “right to their own reality.” Christians are called Crossers and the faith has basically been made illegal for all intents and purposes. Meat is illegal. Muslims control Michigan (and then invade the US). Pagan/heathen religions are back in style and use ancient rituals to bring King Haakon into the present time.

Now, we could argue about how much of this is likely, and to what degree, given our current path but too much of it felt didactic and preachy to me. I get that dystopian fiction is unlikely to be nuanced but, again, instead of feeling like a possible, if extreme, world it felt like a conservative caricature of liberalism’s real aims. It is a straight line from the worst excesses of the lunatic left today to mainstream culture in the “near future.” For me it was a drag on the story and irritant throughout. And part of that was because it didn’t seem like the dark side had an attraction to it or a plausible path to happening. It was as if say the roughly 15% of the left that is really as crazy as Walker makes out suddenly controlled the entire United States. Just didn’t work for me.

That said, it was an entertaining and creative story. And if you are a conservative Christian who thinks we are on the verge of societal collapse already you will love it! OK, that was a cheap shot. But I do think that is the sweet spot audience for this book. Because if you are not deeply sympathetic to the issues surrounding religious liberty, the pro-life movement, the threat of relativism, political correctness, Christianity as the foundation of Western Civilization, the threat of Islamists, etc. I think the strong perspective will be hard to take. Heck, I am pretty conservative and found it too strong.

It is also worth keeping in mind that I am not a big reader of historical fiction or dystopian fantasy which Walker tends to blend together. I am a fan of mythology and enjoyed those elements.

At Goodreads I struggled with how many stars to give. Two seems harsh but is what I settled on. That designation is supposed to say “It was Okay” which seems about right. Although, if I had half stars I would have given it a 2.5.  Ultimately, it was interesting with some well done aspects but didn’t really come together for me.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

On one of our many trips the local library I found myself in the kids/young adult section hanging out while my kids used the computers or browsed for new books.  I stumbled on the audio book section and figured this was a good time to pick out a book to listen to in the car. I had tried some more serious non-fiction of late, to mixed results, and figured some creative YA might be just the thing to make the commute more enjoyable.

As luck would have it, my inspiration paid off. I had been wanting to read the Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente for some time and figured listening to the audio version would  be the next best thing. So I grabbed The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and added it to our pile. When the work week started I popped it in and began my adventure.

If you are unfamiliar with the story here is the publisher’s blurb:

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

I have to say I enjoyed this book immensely from start to finish and gave it the rare Five Stars on Goodreads. (In fact, when it was over I panicked a little and rushed to the library to grab what I thought was the next book in the series so there wouldn’t be any gap in my listening pleasure. But I accidentally picked up the third not second book.

Bluntly, I loved everything about this audio book. The story is a wonderful blend of fairytale, epic quest, and fantasy adventure. It is full of gorgeous language, imaginative characters and world building and a unique combination of hilarity and human wisdom and compassion. Everything is just right: the blend of action and character, the balance between world building and language, and the mix of friendship, adventure and tragedy gives it a depth and beauty that is rare these days.

To top it all off, the author herself reads it in just the most perfect voice (or voices) I could imagine. [I will admit I developed something of a crush on her during the process of listening to this book in the car.]

It was just an amazing experience to dive into this world and the characters Valente has created. I never wanted to get out of the car but wished instead I could embark on a long journey so as to continue listening to the story and the voice spinning the tale.

This has immediately jumped to the top of my list of young adult fantasy books. Which is interesting because I wasn’t exactly blown away by Six Gun Snow White.  As soon as my daughter is a little older I will be reading it again with her. It has the sound and feel of a classic to be read and enjoyed for years and years. Not sure why it took me so long to start the series but I am glad I finally did.

So if you have not yet experienced this amazing series, what are you waiting for?

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