Audiobook Mini-Reviews

The last week and a half has been a bit rough here with myself and all three of the kids sick (my amazing wife activated Mommy-immunity and stayed mostly healthy). So, while lying miserably in bed or on the couch I made it through four audiobooks that I’ll be review now. I had a fever, headache, etc. through most of the time I was listening to these so take everything I say with a grain of salt. I don’t really have any comment on the narrators other than nobody stood out as either terrible or phenomenal.

What Ho, Automaton! (Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries Book 1) by [Dolley, Chris]Title: What Ho, Automaton!
(Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries – Book 1)
Author: Chris Dolley
Genre: Steampunk Mystery Parody
Pages: 292
Rating: 4 of 5

This is clearly intended as a parody of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster stories, and I’d say the author nails it. He captures the tone perfectly while transforming Jeeves (Reeves) into a steam-powered automaton and giving Wooster (Worcester) delusions of being a consulting detective on the order of Sherlock Holmes. Like the Wodehouse original, it’s light, breezy fun.

The Scapegoat by [du Maurier, Daphne]Title: The Scapegoat
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Classic Crime?
Pages: 348
Rating: 2.5 of 5

In this unlikely tale, a boring British professor of French history (John) meets his aristocratic French double (Jean) who (more-or-less) forces him to switch places. It turns out his French doppelganger is a morally reprehensible person from a family with a myriad of unsavory secrets. The story slowly unfolds as over the next week John plays at being Jean, uncovering and tinkering with the workings of the corrupt de Gué family. There is some interest in the slowly unfolding story, but overall it is completely unbelievable and has a non-ending that leaves pretty much all the storylines up in the air (and I really didn’t appreciate the casual attitude toward a married man having a mistress…especial with her seemingly being one of the wisest/best people in the book).

The House Of Night And Chains (Warhammer Horror) by [Annandale, David]Title: House of Night and Chain
(Warhammer Horror)
Author: David Annandale
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Pages: 244
Rating: 2.5 of 5

This is a fairly standard haunted house story set in the Warhammer 40K universe. Early on, an awful lot of time is spent on details of political maneuvering that is completely overshadowed and made largely irrelevant by the avalanche of events and revelations later in the book. The Warhammer 40K setting doesn’t contribute much to the story other than making local government into planetary government, substituting a cleric of the Emperor for a priest of God, and similar cosmetic tweaks. If you’re into haunted house stories you might enjoy it…I found it pretty “meh.”

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by [Turton, Stuart]Title: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author: Stuart Turton
Genre: Trippy Mystery
Pages: 480
Rating: 4.5 of 5

This book starts like a classic “murder at the manor house” kind of story, but things quickly get all wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. I don’t want to give away too much since figuring out what is going on is half the fun. The over-simplified version that’s not any more spoilery than the back cover of the book is: our narrator inhabits 8 different witnesses, reliving the same day 8 times trying to solve (or stop) a murder. Most of the people involved have a nasty secret or two, and the twists, turns, and surprises come thick and fast all the way up to the end. I think that in the end it all weaves together nicely and makes sense, but I’d have to read it again (when I’m not sick) to be sure. It’s well worth reading and will probably make my “top 5 fiction” list for the year.

Gods & Thieves

The Gutter Prayer (The Black Iron Legacy Book 1) by [Hanrahan, Gareth]Title: The Gutter Prayer
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Genre: Dark Fantasy (Steampunk-ish)
Pages: 544
Rating: 3.5 of 5

Gareth Hanrahan borrows characterization and tropes from across fantasy and horror sub-genres, and somehow combines them into a highly original dark fantasy setting. Worldbuilding was definitely the standout feature of this book. We get to explore the seedy underbelly of the steampunk-ish (trains, guns, alchemy, etc.) old city of Guerdon, inhabited by thieves, Lovecraftian ghouls, stone men (afflicted with a disease like leprosy that slowly turns them to stone), knife-wielding wax golems, and more.

Parts of this world are locked in a horrifyingly destructive “godswar” where deities and their possessed champion “saints” rage across the land, but the city of Guerdon has managed to remain neutral and relatively safe. Of course, things can’t stay that way for long or we wouldn’t have much of a story, so the story opens on a trio of thieves and a heist that goes horribly wrong and drags them into a maelstrom of political and supernatural machinations.

The writing, aside from the worldbuilding, was good, not great. It felt like it really could have used a bit more editing. There were way too many typos and misused homonyms for a final draft, some characters’ motivations/goals didn’t quite make sense or were ill-explained, and a couple sexcapades felt wedged in and cringey. (I’m also not a fan of the “f-bomb” being dropped every few pages, but that’s more about my preferences/standards than an editing issue.)

That said, I enjoyed the book overall. It was dark without wallowing in existential angst. Some plot points were resolved in a very deus ex machina fashion, which usually annoys me, but it worked within the author’s setting. It was a mostly enjoyable first read of the year, and I already have the next one ready to go on my Kindle.

Ascend Higher

Title: Arm of the Sphinx
(The Books of Babel – Book 2)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Genre: Kafkaesque Steampunk
Pages: 448
Rating: 4 of 5
Future Release Date: 3/13/18 (though I’m pretty sure it has been previously released self-pub – thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free eARC)

The first book in this series, Senlin Ascends, was one of my favorite reads last year (review here). Senlin, now an aerial pirate captain of sorts, continues to search for his lost wife in the Kafkaesque “ringdoms” of the Tower of Babel. His mechanical-armed first mate, Edith Winters (a major secondary character from the first book), becomes at least as much of a main character as Senlin, and the other three members of his crew are sympathetically fleshed out as well.

As in the first book, the plot is a bit episodic, but builds toward a better understanding of the characters, the Tower, and, most importantly, the mysterious Sphinx whose name appears on most of the mechanical devices found in the tower. The narration continues to be light (but not farcical), and the worldbuilding and developing plot are fascinating.

Unfortunately for my personal enjoyment, some elements of the plot seem to be turning in directions that I really don’t like – highlight for *MILDLY SPOILER-Y SPECULATION*:

I can’t stand “I’m on a quest to rescue/return to my wife/lover but am going to go ahead and commit adultery along the way” stories, and we’re definitely headed that direction if nothing changes. Also, I’m not a fan of taking biblical stories/concepts and flipping them around to make God (or his analog) the evil tyrant and we might be heading in that direction.

*END MILDLY SPOILER-Y SPECULATION*

I’m more than willing to keep going with the series once the next book comes out, but I really hope it doesn’t go the direction I think it will.

Chaldean Steampunk?

Title: Senlin Ascends
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Genre: Steampunk?
Pages: 448
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Release Date: 1/16/18 (though I’m pretty sure it has been previously released self-pub. Thanks to NetGalley for an eARC!)

Steampunk usually has a Victorian England-ish setting and rests on a premise like “this is what the world would be like if Babbage had actually built the clockwork/steam computers he invented.” This steampunkish book goes much farther back for our point of divergence…apparently in this world God never stopped the construction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and it has become the pillar (or possibly sinkhole) of culture and civilization.

In this world we meet Senlin, a young idealistic schoolmaster reminiscent of Voltaire’s Candide in his optimism and naivete (with a side order of smug fussiness). He arrives at the Tower with his new wife and his trusty Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel (a book almost but not entirely unlike The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). The honeymoon quickly descends into a Kafkaesque nightmare as he is separated from his wife and begins working his way up the Tower in hopes of finding her.

For the sake of spoilers, I won’t tell any more of the plot or setting since exploring the  surreal hodgepodge world of the Tower with it’s stacked “ringdoms” is part of the fun. Let’s just say that as Senlin ascends the tower, his idealistic vision of the Tower as a shining beacon of culture and his bright-eyed trust in humanity go in the other direction.

For all that, I didn’t find this to be a grindingly depressing book. The author has a light, slightly sarcastic touch and has you rooting for Senlin as he becomes a sadder, wiser man. The book does not offer much resolution to the main plot (there appears to be plenty more Tower to ascend), but I enjoyed the journey enough that I’m not even mad…I’m glad there’s much more to come of this fascinating world. This quirky book just might make my top five list for the year!