Category: Audiobook reviews

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – Review

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – ReviewStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Length: 10 hrs and 41 mins
Genres: Dystopian
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Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is an apocalyptic tale about the fall of human civilisation and the struggle of the survivors after a pandemic wipes out 99% of the population.  It follows several characters as they attempt to survive in this new world and come to terms with what has happened to their civilisation.  I Iistened to this in audiobook format and enjoyed it very much.

What I liked

Interesting narrative structure.  Rather than have a straightforward linear narrative, Mandel tells her story through a series of non sequential vignettes taking place before, during and after the Collapse as it is called.  These snapshots are loosely connected through the character of Arthur Leander.  Although Arthur dies in the very beginning, shortly before the Collapse, his presence is felt throughout the book.  These snippets of life give more of an impression than a comprehensive narrative, but it is very effective at conveying the idea of a society after a collapse.

Interesting characters.  Mandel has a wide cast of characters with each given his or her moment in the spotlight.  The points of view covered include characters who remember society before the Collapse, some who have only vague memories of how things were and those younger people who have only known this broken society. This creates a very interesting range of attitudes and experiences.

The audio narration.  The narrator for Station Eleven was Kirsten Potter and I felt she did a fantastic job.  I enjoyed hearing the tale spoken out loud and Potter was great at distinguishing between all the characters.

I would have no hesitation in recommending Station Eleven and gave it four and a half stars out of five.

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four-half-stars

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks – Review

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks – ReviewThe Broken Eye by Brent Weeks
Series: The Lightbringer #3
Also in this series: The Blood Mirror
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Simon Vance
Length: 29 hrs and 33 mins
Genres: Epic Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks is the third and penultimate in his Lightbringer series following on from The Black Prism and The Blinding Knife.  It continues the story of Prism Gavin Guile and his illegitimate son Kip and their attempt to stop the Seven Satrapies from collapsing under the pressure of the Color Prince and his new gods.

My impression of this book was that it was very much a middle book – concentrating more on positioning the characters for the final assault.  It concentrated more on character development than moving the plot forward.  While there were a couple of eyebrow raising moments for me, but nothing compared to the couple of WTF?!? moments of the previous books.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.

What I liked

The magic system.  For this series Weeks has created a wonderfully developed magic system.  I usually consider Brandon Sanderson the master of magic system development, but with this colour-based system Weeks could give him a run for his money.  In essence, Weeks’ magic system works in the opposite manner to a candle.  A candle takes a physical substance – wax – and converts it into light.  Weeks’ magic users (drafters) can take light and convert it into a physical substance, luxin.  Different drafters can convert different colours of the spectrum, red, green, ultraviolet etc – and each colour of luxin so produced has different properties.

Like any good magic system, it has clear limitations.  Drafters need to be able to see the colour they draft.  In Weeks’ world, you can cripple a drafter by limiting his or her access to that colour.  Additionally, it is believed that drafters can only draft a finite amount of luxin in their lives before they “break the halo” and become dangerously emotionally unstable.  This means they must give serious thought before using their magic.    Although drafters can create luxin, that luxin subject to normal physical laws.  More skillfully drafted luxin is stronger and more stable, but lack of skill can be compensated for by amount of luxin drafted.

The character development.  There is some great character development in this book.  Without going into spoiler territory, Kip, Karris and Teia are all becoming the people it looks as though they will need to be for the final book.  On the other hand, Gavin’s character arc has hit rock bottom.  In a standard fantasy, that would mean that his fate is going to take a large upswing.  However, this is a Brent Weeks series we’re talking about here; anything thing could happen.

Setup for final book.  It’s actually really clever that we’re three books into a four book series and Weeks could still go anywhere with his storyline.  That makes it wonderful for speculation.

The narration.  The audiobooks of The Blinding Knife and The Broken Eye were narrated by Simon Vance.  The combination of Weeks’ witty writing style and Vance’s narration is pure gold.  I just ADORED the narration.  In fact, Vance’s narration of book two, The Blinding Knife, was a major factor in my becoming so hooked on audiobooks.  If you’re thinking of checking out this way of enjoying books, you could do a heck of a lot worse than Vance and Weeks.

What I didn’t like

Spot the antagonist. A fantasy series needs a strong villain, and we saw very little of the Color Prince in this volume.  I’m going out on a limb here and assuming the Color Prince is the series’ big bad.  That’s by no means certain when you’re talking about a Brent Weeks series.  The antagonist role in The Broken Eye was played by Andross Guile and for Teia Murder Sharp.  Don’t get me wrong; they’re both nasty pieces of work, but they both operate primarily on the mundane plane.  When you’re getting into territory of new gods being born, you need an antagonist operating in the same sphere.  In some cases it could also be said that the characters’ biggest challenge was their own emotional baggage.  That is fascinating in terms of character development, but less so to create dramatic tension.

In summary then, I would recommend the Lightbringer series – especially in audiobook format.  I gave this particular volume, The Broken Eye, four stars out of five.

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four-stars

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb – SPOILERS Review and Speculation

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – Review

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – ReviewQueen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: Queen of the Tearling #1
Also in this series: The Invasion of the Tearling
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Length: 14 hours 30 mins
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Young Adult
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Evelynne's rating: three-stars

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is a new YA epic fantasy novel which tells the story of Kelsea Raleigh Glynn who must reclaim her birthright of the Tear throne.  To do this she must survive plots against her by her uncle, the Regent, and take a stand against the Mort Queen to protect her people.  The fantasy is quite subtle in this book, unlike HarperCollins’ publicity machine which has been seriously promoting this book.  This has been helped by the fact that Emma Watson has bought the film rights to the book and intends to play Kelsea in an upcoming movie adaptation.  In all honesty, I cannot say that the hype was justified – I had a few significant issues with the book.  But first of all let’s say what I liked.

What I liked

The protagonist.  From various interviews by Erika Johansen I have read it appears she has set out to create a YA protagonist who was more of an Everygirl rather than your typical YA heroine; stunningly beautiful with attractive young men fighting over her attentions while she runs a marathon and slays a few baddies before breakfast.  In that respect I believe Johansen succeeded in this.  Her Kelsea is rather homely, carries a little extra weight, would rather curl up with a good book than hike through the forest, and is refreshingly free (so far) of romantic entanglements.

Social conscience.  I also appreciated that Kelsea has a strong social conscience.  She acts the way she does not merely because she is forced into situations by circumstances but because she genuinely wishes to do what’s best for her people.  

Interesting supporting characters.  The characters Kelsea meets on her journey are wonderfully intriguing.  I look forward to reading more about The Mace and The Fetch, and I suspect we’ll hear more of Barty and Carlin’s backstory before the end of the series.

What I didn’t like

Inconsistent characterisation.  I was especially irritated that Kelsea seemed to be able to assess quickly and accurately the people she meets on her journey.  This is a young woman who has grown up in near isolation for her own protection.  While she has read a lot and has been well taught by Carlin, it seems rather unlikely to me that someone who hadn’t encountered many other people in her life would be able to judge them so accurately and consistently.  I suppose I might give her a pass on that with her training and the possible influence of the magical jewels, but still, it didn’t sit easily with me.

The worldbuilding.  This for me was by far the weakest part of the book.  The important part of any worldbuilding is that it should be logical and consistent within its own framework.  In the case of The Queen of the Tearling that is not the case. From the blurb, I gathered that William Tearling and his followers had left from our modern day world to colonise a new landmass that had appeared and to found a new utopia.  I was left with the question what was this utopia supposed to consist of?  What was their aim?  This appears to have been a planned exodus and not a last minute flight from disaster – the colonists had time to choose and pack books and other resources.  Too often I felt Johansen was trying to shoehorn modern references into a typical epic fantasy mediaeval world with little justification or explanation.  I just could not suspend my disbelief in a world where people understand recessive genes, in which the Harry Potter novels survive, but the colonists have not yet developed a basic combustion engine or remastered electricity.  It’s not as if the Crossing happened twenty years ago; it’s been three centuries since William Tear left our world.  Or were they too busy trying to recreate Harry Potter’s butterbeer to think about electricity? We humans are resourceful and inventive creatures; surely in three hundred years we would have progressed beyond the society Johansen describes?

Perhaps I am missing some key explanation that was given that makes all this make sense.  If I have, please do let me know.

If you are interested in a post-apocalyptic epic fantasy world with oblique modern day references it is far better executed in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series.  

I gave The Queen of the Tearling three stars out of five.

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three-stars

The Blogger’s Survival Guide – Review

The Blogger’s Survival Guide – ReviewThe Blogger's Survival Guide by Becky McNeer, Lexie Lane
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Doug Hannah
Length: 5 hours and 25 minutes
Genres: Reference
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Evelynne's rating: two-half-stars

I received The Blogger’s Survival Guide: Tips and Tricks for Parent Bloggers, Wordsmiths and Enthusiasts by Lexie Lane and Becky McNeer free to review though Audiobook Jukebox.  This is a how-to guide to assist newbie bloggers in setting up their blog, marketing it and monetising it.  Thank you for the opportunity to review this title.

This is the first time I’ve listened to a non-fiction reference book in audiobook format and I don’t think it’s something I will do much of in the future.  On many occasions the authors referred to online resources to supplement or backup their tips, and I didn’t find the format a great way to be able to pick up those links.  In all fairness the narrator did enunciate very clearly and repeat the urls where necessary, but still for me it was an additional hurdle of the audiobook format.  Additionally, with reference books I find I’m more likely to want to refer quickly to a previous or subsequent section in the book – not easy in audiobook format.  

What I liked

Good structure.  The book is laid out in a series of lessons which cover a specific topic related to blogging; setup, design, marketing, SEO, monetising.  Each lesson was well thought out and had a clear goal.    

Useful information.  It’s clear that Lane and McNeer know their subject.  I personally picked up several tips and generally the material is presented in an easy to understand format.  Any blogger from a novice to expert would be able to follow the book and pick up some tips.

The narration.  I felt Doug Hannah narrated the book excellently.  He seemed interested in the material and took care to speak especially clearly when dictating website addresses.

What I didn’t like

I had one major issue with the book.

Too specific information.  Let me explain.  On many occasions the book tried to guide the blogger through the steps to achieve some purpose with a third party site, for example, Google Analytics.  The information was of the style “click on the yellow button that is the third one down on the right hand side.”  I appreciate that the authors wished to be helpful, but there is a serious risk that the information will be quickly out of date and no longer useful.  That kind of detail could be useful in a web article, but not so in a hard copy or audiobook which by necessity has a longer shelf life.  

All in all, despite the good narration, The Blogger’s Guide just didn’t work for me as an audiobook.  With the concern I had about being out of date, I have to give it two and a half stars out of five.

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two-half-stars

Reading roundup – 3rd July 2014

Here in Canada Tuesday was the national holiday, Canada Day, so I had a day off work.  I was particularly pleased it fell on a Tuesday as that’s the day new books are released.  I was therefore able to spend a pleasant afternoon listening/reading The Jedi Doth Return, the third and final part in Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.

Reading roundup – 3rd July 2014The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher
Series: William Shakespeare's Star Wars #3
Also in this series: The Empire Striketh Back
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Various
Length: 3 hours and 35 minutes
Genres: Classics, Contemporary Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

As with the other two in the series, Verily a New Hope and The Empire Striketh Back, Random House Audio has done a fantastic job with the audiobook – it is a full cast audio with a talented cast and enhanced with sound effects and John Williams’ iconic music.  (Doetscher had the backing of George Lucas for this undertaking). Like the two earlier books, this is one I would recommend in audio format.  The cast is superb.  Audiobook listeners should remain right to the end for a cameo appearance by the Bard himself!

While I really enjoyed The Jedi Doth Return, I wasn’t quite a head over heels in love with it as I was with the previous two books.  Perhaps it’s because the novelty had worn off somewhat.  I still wish these had been available when I was at school studying Shakespeare!

I gave The Jedi Doth Return four stars out of five.

This week I have also been on a major Robin Hobb kick.  It’s been some time since I read her Farseer trilogy and as she has a new book in the Farseer series, Fool’s Assassin, coming out in August, I thought I should refresh my memory.  I’d forgotten how much fun the Farseer trilogy is, once you get over the initial painfully slow setup.  I read Assassin’s Apprentice and now I am onto Royal Assassin.

Added to my library this week

Random House of Canada was kind enough to give me an ARC of The Shadow’s Curse by Amy McCulloch.  This is the second in a YA fantasy duology started by The Oathbreaker’s Curse, which I also reviewed.  I’m interested to see if McCulloch does pick back up those plot points I in which I was most interested.

Nancy Richler’s The Impostor Bride was on special this week on Amazon.  This has been on my watch list for a while, mainly because it is set in my hometown of Montreal.  It seems to be a character driven chicklit drama.  It may be a while before I get round to reading it, but I will review it when I do.

That’s all for this week folks.  Have a good weekend!

four-stars

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – Review

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – ReviewOrange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Length: 11 hours and 14 minutes
Genres: Autobiographies/Biographies
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Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

Orange is the New Black is the memoir by Piper Kerman detailing the year she spent in a women’s prison.  The drug related offences date from 10 years prior to her incarceration and in the meantime, Kerman had built a life for herself with a rewarding job and supportive fiancé.  The book has also been adapted into a successful Netflix Original television show, of which I have seen season one, and plan to binge watch season two in the very near future.  It should be noted that the TV series and the book, while both excellent, are very different beasts.  There is a lot of dramatisation in the TV show not present in the book, which, on the other hand, gives a very thoughtful, measured introspective into Kerman’s emotional journey during her incarceration.

I listened to the audiobook during my coach trip from Montreal to Toronto – a trip of about eight hours – and not only did it hold my attention through the trip, but I wanted to continue listening when I got home.  

What I liked

The narration.  Cassandra Campbell does an amazing job of providing the voiceover for Kerman’s emotional journey as well as creating distinct voices for each of the people Kerman meets during her stay.  You could easily tell who was talking by the voices.

Kerman’s emotional journey.  I really liked the way Kerman took responsibility for her actions that led to her indictment and imprisonment.  She made no excuses for her actions.  This was especially apparent when she was recounting her interactions with fellow inmates whose challenges included drug addiction.  It came across clearly that she was finally making the connection between her own actions and their consequences for those dependent on drugs.  

Voyeurism.  I admit to definite feelings of voyeurism reading this book.  I have never spent time in prison, and I hope never to do so, so it was fascinating to read about the details of day-to-day life in prison.  

What I didn’t like

Abrupt ending.  I felt the ending was rather abrupt – it ends literally as Kerman walks out of prison after having served her time.  I would have welcomed a chapter or two narrating how she adapted back to life as a free woman.

I would heartily recommend Orange is the New Black, both the book and TV series.  I gave the audiobook four and a half stars out of five.

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four-half-stars

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo – Review

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo – ReviewRuin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha Trilogy #3
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Length: 11 hours
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Young Adult
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo is the third and final book in the Grisha trilogy.  It completes the story of Sun Summoner Alina Starkov and her fight against the Darkling.  In it Alina and her group of trusted friends must escape from the Apparat and his ragtag army of religious zealots, and track down the third amplifier, the firebird, before confronting the Darkling.  Along the way, Alina learns more of Morozova’s background and his secrets.

I enjoyed Ruin and Rising far more than Siege and Storm, which suffered from middle book syndrome and patchy pacing.

What I liked

The Russian style setting.  As in the previous two books, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, I loved the world that Bardugo has created for her characters.  The writing and descriptions really give a feel for Russia with a twist.

The characters.  We’ve been with these characters for three books now, and I appreciated the way they’ve grown and developed throughout the series.  Their changing relationships were also very well drawn.  Who would have guessed meeting Zoya in book one just how much Alina would grow to rely on her?  I liked that their experiences have left their marks on our characters and that they were not the same people we met in book one.  I was particularly sorry not to be able to follow the continuation of Nikolai’s story – I think his ongoing challenges – both personal and political – would make an interesting sequel.

Theme of friendship.  Alina and The Darkling are contrasted in that the Darkling having lived a long time and lost everyone close to him is very much alone.  Alina on the other hand has a group of friends whom she trusts and who have her back.  This theme of strength in community is prominent in this book.

The ending.  I really liked the way the ending blended the predictable – the truth about the third amplifier was pretty apparent throughout the whole series – with the unexpected.  Yet even the unexpected was plausible, and well within the internal logic of the story, no deus ex machinas here.  It also fits nicely the theme of loyalty and friendship overcoming tyranny.  

The narration.  Once again I loved Lauren Fortgang’s narration.  She gave individual voices to each of the characters and brought them to life.

What I didn’t like

Alina’s kickassedness.  At one point in the story, when Alina’s situation is pretty bleak, she put on her big girl pants and decides that she’s if she’s going to die, she’s going to go down fighting, dammit, in the manner of other YA heroines such as Hunger Games’ Katniss or Divergent’s Tris.  I really liked this.  However, that kickassedness isn’t maintained throughout the rest of the book.  The rest of the book is more about a group of misfits joined together by friendship to bring down a tyrant.  That is also good, too, but I was a little disappointed that Alina didn’t kick butt.

I did enjoy the conclusion to The Grisha Trilogy and gave Ruin and Rising four stars out of five.

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four-stars

Half Bad by Sally Green – Review

Half Bad by Sally Green – ReviewHalf Bad by Sally Green
Series: Half Life #1
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Carl Prekopp
Length: 8 hours 36 minutes
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Young Adult
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Half Bad by Sally Green tells the story of Nathan who is the son of a white witch mother and a black witch father.  In Nathan’s world, black witches are hated and feared and Nathan’s parentage makes him a pariah, someone to be caged and studied.  To make matters worse, Nathan’s 17th birthday is approaching by which time he must receive three gifts and the blood of a family member – or die.

The story starts off with Nathan in a cage and trying to escape before flashing back to recount his earlier life.  The story is told primarily in the first person present, almost stream-of-consciousness – with some diversions off to the second person when Nathan is trying to distance himself from what is going on, such as during torture.  The narrative style is deliberately simplistic to reflect Nathan’s lack of book learning.

What I liked

The narration.  I LOVED the audio narration of Half Bad, which was done by Carl Prekopp.  Written as it is in the first person present, the narrator IS Nathan, and it’s as if the protagonist himself is speaking.  This is emphasised by the simple, informal language. My heart rate did shoot up during certain sections because of the writing paired with the narration.  This is a book I would definitely recommend enjoying as an audiobook rather than in written format.

The world.  I found it interesting that those in the world try to separate witches into black or white, good or evil, when it’s obvious right from the beginning that this is not an realistic worldview.  One character tries to claim that the difference is that white witches use their powers for good and black witches not so much.  Clearly that is so simplistic as to be laughable.  From all the second-hand reports we hear of attacks by black witches, it seems that these incidents were in reaction to white witch activities.  Given that the first witches we meet are white witches who harshly curtail our protagonist’s freedoms with regulations reminiscent of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter before imprisoning him in a cage, the reader is not exactly disposed to like them.  

The pacing.  Given that our hero is under a deadline – to receive his gifts before his 17th birthday or die – the pacing and narrative tension is kept high.  It always helps the pacing when the protagonist has to chase down a McGuffin – in this case, someone who can grant him three gifts and the blood of a family member.  Incidentally, it’s not made clear to me whether the consequences of meeting this deadline would be as severe as Nathan believes – the point is, he believes it.    The action sequences are interesting being written in the first person present.  This was the point at which my own heart rate increased notably.

The protagonist.  I did like Nathan – despite his lack of book learning, he is pretty shrewd  I look forward to seeing how he upsets the Council’s worldview in future books.

What I didn’t like

The romance.  For me, it just didn’t gel – it felt forced.  My issue was that Nathan didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Annalise before falling for her.  OK, she is one of the few non- family members who is nice to him, but still, this subplot just didn’t work for me.  (In all fairness, I should point out I rarely like the romance in YA.)

I would certainly recommend Half Bad – especially as an audiobook – and gave it four stars out of five.

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four-stars

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence – Review (Spoilers for Broken Empire trilogy)

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence – Review (Spoilers for Broken Empire trilogy)Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
Series: The Red Queen's War #1
Also in this series: The Wheel of Osheim
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Tim Gerard Reynolds
Length: 14 hours and 37 minutes
Genres: Epic Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

Prince of Fools is the first in a new series – The Red Queen’s War – by Mark Lawrence who wrote the Broken Empire trilogy.  This new series is set in the same world as The Broken Empire, but focusses on a different set of characters.  Emperor of Thorns was one of my top reads for 2013, so I had high expectations of Prince of Fools – I’m happy to say it lived up to them.

What I liked

The setting.  Both Red Queen’s War and Broken Empire trilogy are set in a world which is strongly implied to be ours many millennia after a cataclysmic event (the “thousand suns”) in which magic plays a part.  Some references to our world bleed through but often in an almost unrecognisable form.  It’s a great deal of fun spotting these references.  These are very subtle – for example our protagonists meet a circus elephant, who is, of course, called Nellie.  A week later I still can’t get the children’s song out of my brain and now you can’t either.  You’re welcome.  

Anyway to return to the setting.  One very interesting choice Lawrence made with the Red Queen’s War trilogy is to set it concurrently with the events of Broken Empire.  Certain events make it clear where in the events of the narrative of the first trilogy this second series is set.  Indeed, the protagonists of Prince of Fools actually cross paths with those of Broken Empire at one point.  This intersection of storylines doesn’t seem to have affected either at this point, but it will be interesting to see if there are more such instances.  

Choice of antagonist.  Another interesting aspect is that it is implied that both series share the same Big Bad.  Given that those of us who have read the first series believe we know how this ends, some  good questions are raised.  Did Broken Empire end the way we think it did?  What will Jal’s role be?  Will there be a different threat for Jal to face in the end?   I should point out that it is not necessary to have read Broken Empire to enjoy Prince of Fools, but it will add extra layers to the enjoyment.  

The characters.  One of Lawrence’s real skills as a writer is in writing three dimensional, fully developed characters and he has done the same here for Jalan Kendeth.  Jalan is very different to Jorg Ancrath of the Broken Empire, but still a very engaging character.  Whereas Jorg was a broken spirit even from when we first got to know him, Jal is perfectly content with his life and focussed on little more than his own pleasures and self preservation until he is drawn into this adventure against his will.  At this point, Jalan himself wouldn’t claim much depth of character beyond his interests in women and wine, but there are hints of good character development and knowing Lawrence’s writing, there is an interesting character arc ahead of him.  I look forward to seeing where it goes.

I also enjoyed the contrasts between Jalan and Snorri.  They are portrayed as being complete opposites in every way, both physically and character wise.  Jalan is dark haired and better suited to running away than fighting, whereas Snorri is tall,  blond and built like the Hulk.  Personality wise, Snorri is straightforward, honourable and focussed on others, whereas Jalan is definitely more self centred.  There are many light/dark references to the two of them and I look forward to seeing how that plays out in future books.

The narration.  The narration was done by Tim Gerard Reynolds and while I enjoyed it, I would say it was competent rather than fantastic. 

What I didn’t like.

There was nothing I didn’t like about Prince of Fools.  I gave it four and a half stars out of five,

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four-half-stars
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