Sunday, April 17, 2011

Audiobook spotlight: The River of Shadows makes a splash

Image courtesy of Tantor Media and used by permission of artist Connie Lemieux

Some books you simply read and absorb. Others take you on a journey, and leave you never quite the same.

There are a few books that have given me that experience: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I am proud to give The River of Shadows by Robert V.S. Redick a place on that particular shelf.

This is the third book in the Chathrand series, and sorry to say I have not read the first two, although I am well on my way to, as my British friend would say, "tucking into" the first one, The Red Wolf Conspiracy. So how did I stumble upon this one?

For those of you that don't know, my day job when I'm not tapping away on this fabulous blog I listen to audiobooks. Yes, I get paid listen and proof audiobooks all day. It's okay, I know you're all jealous. When I saw this book come up on our projects list I knew from the synopsis I had to nab it. Ancient magical schooner? High seas adventure? Get me on board! And luckily enough, no one else had a burning interest for it, so I found myself launched headlong into the world of the Chathrand, and what a bewildering, compelling and complex world it is. It's the kind of book that will get under your skin, into your bloodstream, and stay there long after the last page or the book (or the last minute is heard, as the case may be) is over.

I should warn you right now the book is a monster. At 592 pages, which translates to 24 hours of listening time, this is no light read. But let me tell you, it is worth every second of your time.

The last book I developed a strong emotional bond with was The Golden Compass. I remember putting the book away and letting the tears flow freely - tears of compassion for the characters, for the bravery of Lyra, the main character, and tears that the book was over, and while I could always reread it again, I would never be able to have the new experience with it once again. I felt the same way with River of Shadows, only MORE so because by listening to it, the characters had life breathed into them by the extremely talented British narrator Michael Page, who somehow has a unique voice for all of the myriad of characters that appear in this book.

Being the third in the series, it takes a little while to catch up on what exactly is happening, but the author has a gift for weaving an extraordinarily complex tapestry of plot while giving us enough background to find our "sea legs" so to speak (please forgive the bad pun). The gist: the crew of the Chathrand, which is a huge floating palace of sorts, is comprised of several uneasy alliances and a race of small, pixie-like creatures called Ixchel who have taken several of the crew hostage, including the ship's captain. Led by young adults Thasha Isiq, a fierce warrioress the tar boy Pazel Pathkendle, and their compatriots Neeps and Marila, they fight through the social unrest on the ship to track down the powerful sorcerer Arunis before he gets a hold of - and learns how to wield - a powerful weapon of black magic called the Nilstone, which is aboard the ship.

This is an extremely watered down summary of the plot. There are intrigues, people and creatures who are not what they seem, heartbreak and a very brave and loquacious rat with some VERY big dreams. This book will take you on a roller coaster of emotions, and Mr. Page's brilliant voice talents never waver for a moment. I have no idea how he was able to keep track of all the character's voices he did and keep them consistent and true, but somehow he did.

What is so truly incredible about this book however is that while Mr. Page can give each character its own voice and inflection, Mr. Redick does a stunning job of creating a back story for said characters and giving them emotional depth. There are very few "side" characters in this book - like on a ship, everyone is essential, and everyone plays their part, from the lowliest tar boy up to the unpredictable and vituperative Capt. Rose himself. And many parts of the book will have you questioning the ethics of humanity - who is too young to do what - when you have young adults of 17 or 18 killing and fighting for their lives, taking on challenges way beyond their years, who's to tell them what becomes right or wrong in matters of the heart? It reminds me of an old, sweet song, that has a lyric, "They try to tell us we're too young, too young to really be in love......and yet, someday, they may recall we were not too young at all."

I have waxed long on this book, but only because I will tell you truly - it is worth your time and money. And frankly, I can't wait to listen to the first two books (also available through Tantor Audio) because I know I will look at all these characters with new eyes once I have their previous histories under my belt. And I can't wait for more Chathrand voyages to come.

The audiobook is available for purchase now here.

The hardcover is now available! Please click here for more information about the Chathrand series.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Current Reels: Hop proves to be refreshingly bizarre

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

It's a dicey situation when you give someone the premise of how a man becomes an Easter Bunny. But yet, somehow, Hop, created by the same minds that brought you the delightful Despicable Me, pull off a charming film.

Granted, this isn't the best film I've ever seen, but the critics at large have come down on it a bit too harshly. The problem is, it doesn't have mass appeal. You have to be either a very small child, or a very geeky adult to really enjoy it, or (in the case of adults) a bunch of pop culture references and in-joke winks will go right over your head. And of course, if you're a kid it doesn't matter because you are treated to the stunning animation of some of the fuzziest, fluffiest bunnies you've ever seen if your relatively short life thus far.

Here's the litmus test: would you find someone getting a cherry cough drop on top of their sundae rather than a cherry because the diner ran out of them and they thought that was just as good to be even remotely amusing? No? Then this probably isn't the film for you.

James Marsden was the perfect casting choice because I've always thought he looks a little like a bunny anyway, with those prominent front teeth and sweet cheeks. This kind of film would have succeeded in being a total disaster if it hadn't been for one crucial thing - it was fully aware of it's own bizarreness. There's nothing I hate worse than a film that presents a wacky situation and then switches gears halfway through to suddenly become a serious, soul-searching drama. (I'm looking at you, Due Date.)

I have to admire a film that takes chances and gives an unpredictable plot. One of the funniest parts of the film is how when E.B., the son of the Easter Bunny, escapes through a rabbit burrow to Hollywood to become a drummer rather than follow in his dear old Dad's legacy. Once he arrives, no one there seems particularly perturbed about witnessing a talking rabbit in a little flannel shirt. And from what my co-worker has told me from visiting Hollywood, that's just about the state of things there.

Things that did bug me about the film included putting the only Spanish-speaking character (a rather overworked disgruntled chick) as the villain. Okay, can someone explain to me why all the rest of the characters in the magical bunny world, headquartered, where else? on Easter Island, are British and this one villain happens to be Spanish? Just unnerved me.

Also, was it REALLY necessary to have E.B. poop jellybeans? Not very creative or funny. I think if I were a kid, that would put me off jellybeans for a lifetime. And someone needs to put the proverbial kaibosh on comparing Easter to Christmas, like they do so at the very end of the film. If you count "Christmas in July" we already have six months of Christmas advertising, so if they could keep it the hell out of my Easter basket, I'd really appreciate it.

Lastly, I adored the Pink Berets, and especially the third, smaller one that was slightly hapless and had to use an inhaler at times. But would it have really killed the animators to have given them a couple lines?

But overall, it made me laugh more than a couple times and I came out of the theatre not feeling jipped out of my $11. That might not be enough for some people but it's enough for me. I'm just thankful that A. they didn't make it 3D, because the plot really wasn't worthy of it, and B. James Marsden was totally, 100 percent into the role. His zeal at taking on this wacky scenario is really admirable. I could just imagine him reading the script and saying "Cool! Let's do it up!" Because that's the secret really for making a film that pushes the envelope a bit - to just "hop" into it with all four feet. And that kind of enthusiasm has got to be worth something.

Note from Toby: This movie made me hungry.