May 302012
 

Hounded: The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book 1
by Kevin Hearne
Narrated by Luke Daniels
(link takes you to Audible.com)

Soulless
by Gail Carriger
Narrated by Emily Gray
(link takes you to Audible.com)

Reviewed by Virginia M. Mohlere

I was slow to come around to audiobooks. I read really fast. In early days, when my mother and my oldest friend (our friendship has been old enough to rent a car for a while now) tried to convert me, my reaction consisted mainly of eye-rolling, snorting, and heavy sighs. It all seemed so slow. Reading turned into drudgery. How awful!

A couple of years ago, on a visit to my parents’ house, I was laid up with a bad migraine, and my mother set me up with a dark room, an ice pack, and the audio version of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife to keep me from thinking about throwing up. As a migraine treatment, brilliant. The distraction was terrific, and I felt so stupid with pain that the slower speed was probably necessary. I cried my way through large chunks of that book, which was very well done but is not the subject of this particular ramble.

Later still, my mother was able to talk me into giving the one-month Audible free trial a go. I got two books: Ian McKellen reading The Odyssey and Rilke’s Duino Elegies read by the translator. I learned something valuable: actors read at a very speedy pace. The Rilke is lugubrious (something I had not thought possible), but Magneto McGandalf flies through Homer with such perkiness that if you’re not paying attention, you might start to think Odysseus was having a good time.

On the strength of my response, I received a short membership to Audible for Christmas, which presented me with a challenge, but at least I had learned to listen carefully to the samples. You must listen to samples! Such trouble they will save you.

What really converted me was a drive to Dallas. I hope you have never made the drive from Houston to Dallas, because a more boring road was never traveled. I say that as someone who once rode in a van across the width of Kansas. The four hours up I-45N have approximately two curves and not one hill. Once you’ve passed the prison in Huntsville, you don’t even see any towns — just a series of exits, twenty miles apart. Music makes it too easy to mark time — most songs are four-ish minutes long. An audio book just keeps going on and on, unfolding into plot twists, and I found myself minding the trip very much less than usual.

I think my mother feels a sense of triumph at my conversion.

Soulles by Gail CarrigerThat particular recording was Soulless by Gail Carriger, read by Emily Gray. Gray is a terrific narrator — good with accents, able to give different characters voices that are distinguishable without any of them sounding goofy. The story itself is ridiculous and entertaining — sort of a steampunk paranormal romance that takes place during Victoria’s reign in a London populated by werewolves, vampires, and the protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti, whose absence of soul renders the other creatures powerless.

There’s a mystery (where are all these new vampires coming from?), plus a bunch of Standing Up to Victorian Sensibilities (making-out in the street!), and the usual leap forward/step back of romance novels (she hates him! she can’t stop thinking about him! etc.). There is even a regina ex machina. There has to be in a Victorian steampunk romance novel, right? It’s like a law. The alt-history bits of Carriger’s world are well thought out, and the plot moves along at a steady clip. This is not a Deep, Literary Book, but there were moments when I laughed aloud.

One cannot skim an audiobook. I find this really highlights the flaws in writing. It’s not a flaw, exactly, to spend so much time describing characters’ clothing, but I found it a little wearying, especially when such clothing includes men wearing top hats in the house. I mean, I don’t even. My trip to Dallas was weeks ago, and I’m still grumbling that Alexia thought of a tiresome dinner companion as a “poor sod.” From about ten minutes in, I became suspicious that the writer is an American — correct. But as a person who makes a living as an editor, I’m disappointed that neither the copyeditor nor the proofreader pointed out (apologies to you if you did and were ignored) that “sod” is short for “sodomite,” so there is zero chance an upper-class Victorian woman, no matter how unconventional, would’ve thought of a gentleman in such terms. There were a few other such examples throughout. Overall, though, I found the listen to be fun and worth the hours I put into it.

Hounded by Kevin HearneThis biggest writing lesson I learned from Hounded, written by Kevin Hearne and narrated by Luke Daniels: to go through all my own writing and purge the words “certain” and “somewhat” and the phrase “a bit” forevermore. After a while, I had a certain suspicion that the author somewhat padded the word count by using a bit of equivocation now and again. Great googly moogly.

But anyhow, our hero, with the unlikely name of Atticus O’Sullivan, is a 2000-year-old Druid who seems to have made remarkably few forays into wisdom or maturity during that time. Maybe the spell that keeps him physically twenty-one also affected his brain? Who knows. You will notice, because it is mentioned about nineteen million times, that he has tattoos all over the right side of his body, and when they are in contact with the earth, he receives Earthly Juju. One of his lawyers is a werewolf, and the other is a vampire. All the ladies want to take his pants off with their teeth, including a bartender who turns out to be possessed. He has a magic sword that he likes to use to kill gods in his own pantheon. Personally, I find that a little alarming. He taught his dog to talk to him. And, as you will be told another nineteen million times, he hates witches.

I dunno. I thought Hounded had plot holes in it big enough to steer a cruise ship through. You may be getting the impression that I did not love this book. Much of this had to do with Atticus, whom I disliked intensely. He’s quick with petty revenges, and his judginess of macho “douches” smacked to me of recognizing kindred. Feh! Atticus roams around Tempe, AZ (giving helpful directions everywhere, in case you’d like to follow in his footsteps), dead bodies piling all around him while everyone tries to steal his sword. The villains were uniformly bad, the ladies uniformly sexpottish (except for a drunken old Irish lady who was … uniformly drunk). Honestly, the best character was the dog.

I was slow to come around to that idea. I am a cat person. I am really a cat person. Even the cleanest dog still reeks of DOG in my nose, and they’re so much effort. But Oberon the Irish wolfhound was frequently the only character pointing out the various absurdities of other characters (e.g., all the ladies wanting to remove Atticus’s pants). As voiced by Luke Daniels, Oberon was funny, enthusiastic in a very doggish way, and often the most grounded being in the room.

I have a Policy of stopping any book I’m not enjoying at page 86. There are too many excellent books in the world (more every day) to try to slog through one with which I have no Reading Chemistry. I am still new enough to audiobooks that I don’t yet know what my cutoff point is. I rolled my eyes all the way through Hounded, but Daniels’ energetic reading and generally good job with characters (if not always with accents, and though I’m no Irish speaker, I’m very skeptical that he was given good advice about some of those pronunciations) redeemed the audio experience in part. Daniels is a name I’ll look for when browsing future audios.

 Posted by at 6:49 am

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