Locke & Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows reviewed

Rating 8.9/10

A mediocre Locke & Key is better than most other stories out there.

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Image: Locke & Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows cover The third story arc in the 2009 British Fantasy Award winning and Eisner nominated series continues to impress, although for the first time in its release there is a weak link.

Review by Brian Herstig

Acclaimed suspense novelist and New York Times best-selling author Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) has created an all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder: Locke & Key. Written by Hill and featuring astounding artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez (Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show, Beowulf), Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them… and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all…

If you are not familiar with the Locke & Key series, it is a limited edition graphic novel that is one of the best examples of the difference between  a comic book and a graphic novel. It all starts with Hill, an acclaimed and experienced writer. This is a series whose storyline could easily be a novel. The characters are real, flawed, and relatable. Despite being a fantasy, the actions and situations are surprising believable and feel like they could be occurring in the next town, or house, over. The compelling storyline set in motion in the first book of the series has started a series of events and actions that are constantly mined for deeper and deeper emotional (and visual) impact. Rodriguez is one of the top illustrators in the business and his drawings pair perfectly with Hills prose and add a depth and richness to not just the language and actions occurring, but the world being created.

One of the best things about Locke & Key as a whole is how it feels like it COULD be something that is happening right now. It lives just on the edge of believability. If only because, in some instances, we WANT to believe the fantasy places it goes to could be real. A key to open your brain and take out unwanted memories or emotions? A key that can take you through a door to anywhere you can imagine? But all of these flights of fancy are grounded in reality – as are the consequences of using them. The other thing that makes Locke & Key so compelling is the rich, and realistic, emotional component of the series. The main characters are a family whose father/husband has been mysteriously, and brutally, murdered. As a newly single mother tries to find a way to keep her family, and herself, going, she and her 3 children are horrifically attacked. The mother is beaten so badly that she uses a cane to walk and turns to alcohol to cope. The oldest son, a slacker to some degree before, becomes the man of the house, responsible for the welfare of the family and looking out for his younger brother. The daughter’s response to the senseless tragedy is to eliminate the emotion of fear from herself – but what are the implications of that in a teenager? And the youngest brother, still a child, is being protected by everyone from the strangeness going on around him. Between the family dynamics these situations impose, issues with high school, and a paranormal and fantastic new world opened to them, it’s no wonder the kids are screwed up.

This arc takes us deeper into the mystery of Keyhouse, the keys, and a possible otherworldly hand in what is happening. Unfortunately, it also has the first stumble of the series. Sadly, issue 4, Light of Day, takes a turn too far into fantasy with the discovery of a new key that creates a situation that feels unbelievable for an otherwise grounded series. Hill has created an increasing sense of foreboding throughout the series and in issue 4 begins to draw all of the evil together. This will require a huge response to drive it back and he veers into an area that probably sounded good in concept, and certainly has a very appealing visual nature to it, but ends up not fitting in with the tone of the series.

Locke & Key may take its first stumble, but a mediocre Locke & Key is better than most other stories out there. The illustrations (particularly in issue 2, which focuses on the Drowning Pool) continue to be top notch and the story and issues put forward by Hill are moved forward and deepened. Where else can you deal with a broken family, the emotional trauma and recovery from a brutal murder and attack, high school term papers, and what happens when you remove emotion from a teenager? The opening issue, The Haunting of Keyhouse, gives us some interesting hints about the malevolence behind everything, and the closing scenes of the final issue, Beyond Repair, offer a tantalizing hint of what is to come. Locke & Key is a limited edition series – meaning this is a story with a beginning, middle, and end. That end is coming and the fact that is not open ended, like Y and others before it, only adds to the excitement and plotting in a positive way.

In September FOX announced that Locke & Key would be made into a television series, to possibly debut in summer 2011. Producers will include Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (LOST, Star Trek reboot), as well as Steven Spielberg and it will be written by Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles). All of this is good. How they intend to turn a limited run graphic novel into a TV series remains to be seen. Will it veer away from the plot of the series (a la The Walking Dead, which originally hewed close to the graphic novels but towards the end of the season went off on its own direction)? Or will it stick to it and end up being a limited run series, more akin to a British television series (6 episodes for 4 or 5 seasons)? We’ll have to wait and see, but the pedigree of those involved is promising.

Audio-book review: Left Hand of God read by Sean Barrett

Rating 8.5/10

An example of storyteller and narrator in perfect harmony.

Image: The Left Hand of God book cover “Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary.”

The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a vast and desolate place – a place without joy or hope. Most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose – to serve in the name of the One True Faith.

In one of the Sanctuary’s vast and twisting maze of corridors stands a boy. He is perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old – he is not sure and neither is anyone else. He has long-forgotten his real name, but now they call him Thomas Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming, violent and profoundly bloody-minded. He is so used to the cruelty that he seems immune, but soon he will open the wrong door at the wrong time and witness an act so terrible that he will have to leave this place, or die.

His only hope of survival is to escape across the arid Scablands to Memphis, a city the opposite of the Sanctuary in every way: breathtakingly beautiful, infinitely Godless, and deeply corrupt.

But the Redeemers want Cale back at any price… not because of the secret he now knows but because of a much more terrifying secret he does not.

Paul Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God is a well-written book and makes for a highly enjoyable listen, particularly when narrated by a reader as good as Sean Barrett. Barrett’s tone, delivery and pacing are perfect and he has worked wonders in making the – not-insignificant number of – cast members all sound unique and authentic.

Hoffman’s book is not a masterpiece, it is good solid fantasy, its strength lies in its appeal that has crossed over into mainstream literature. It is not just fantasy fans that have enjoyed reading it but it has also managed to find favour in circles that would not usually read within the genre. No small achievement.

The telling of this story encompasses the listener in a warm and cosy feeling and the author and narrator immediately gain the listener’s trust. There is a vibrancy and life to the tale that provides great entertainment and that compels you to listen to the very end.

The good news is that there will be a sequel and, fingers crossed, Mr Hoffman and Mr Barrett will once again team up to record it. The audio-book version of The Left Hand of Darkness is an example of storyteller and narrator in perfect harmony. Great fun – one of the best fantasy audio-books.

The Left Hand of God
Paul Hoffman
Narrator: Sean Barrett
Length: 12 hours and 30 min

Audio book review: Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, read by Saskia Butler

Rating 8.0/10

Dragon Keeper is an intriguing look at human nature and interaction.

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Guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpents fighting their way up the Rain Wilds River, the first to make the perilous journey to the cocooning grounds in generations. Many have died along the way. With its acid waters and impenetrable forest, it is a hard place for any to survive. People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other aberrations, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the return of dragons: it is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching; as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life’s work to study all there is to know of dragons. But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly; some seem witless and bestial. Soon, they become a danger and a burden to the Rain Wilders: something must be done. The dragons claim an ancestral memory of a fabled Elderling city far upriver: perhaps there the dragons will find their true home. But Kelsingra appears on no maps and they cannot get there on their own: a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them. To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job: their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils on the journey to a city which may not even exist…

The Liveship Traders was a brilliant trilogy of books, amongst the best that the fantasy genre has ever seen. So when author Robin Hobb decided to return to the Rain Wild River to write a stand-alone adventure the news was greeted with great joy from her legions of fans around the world. Hobb had originally intended the new work to be just one volume but her publishers thought it wiser to split it into two books, Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven.

Dragon Keeper is better suited to a female narrator and in Saskia Butler they chose well. Her youthful tone is well-matched to the two young female protagonists, Alise and Thymara, and her delivery is very entertaining and professional. The story itself is VERY character-driven; those familiar with Robin Hobb’s work will expect this but those new to her work should be aware that Robin Hobb does not write non-stop action-packed rollercoaster rides – the characters, and their deepest thought and feelings are paramount to her tales.

The Dragon Keeper audio-book is perfect for those desperate to know more of the dragons and Elderlings that feature in the Farseer, Liveship and Tawny Man books. It does in particular shine greater light on the Elderlings: who they were, how they came to be and – on this part I’m just guessing, and hoping – what became of them.

Dragon Keeper is an intriguing look at human nature and interaction that forms the introductory part of the whole that is The Rain Wild Chronicle. Dragon Haven promises to be even better…

Dragon Keeper: The Rain Wild Chronicles, Book 1
Robin Hobb
Narrator: Saskia Butler
Length: 17 hours and 3 min

Read The Spook’s Apprentice online for free!

Image: The Spook's Apprentice book cover Random House Children’s Books has made the first book in Joseph Delaney’s Spook’s series, The Spook’s Apprentice, available for free online to mark the launch of the seventh book in the series, The Spook’s Nightmare.

You can read the first instalment online now at www.spooksbooks.com and will be available until July 18, 2010. The second instalment is due on June 25, 2010.

If you are you a huge fan of the Spook’s books and would you like to meet Joseph Delaney then you may want to enter the 2010 Spook’s Apprentice Competition. For more information, visit http://www.spooksbooks.com/authorblog/?m=201005

About The Spook’s Apprentice
Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son and has been apprenticed to the local Spook. The job is hard, the spook is distant and many apprentices have failed before him. Somehow Thomas must learn how to exorcise ghosts, contain witches and bind boggarts. But when he is tricked into freeing Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the Country, the horror begins…

About the author
Joseph Delaney lives in Lancashire. His home is in the middle of boggart territory and his village has a boggart called the Hall Knocker.

The Use of Language in Fantasy Novels

I sat down last night and picked up ‘The Blood Knight’, the third in Greg Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series. I finished the second book, ‘The Charnel Prince’ maybe a month or two ago and promptly found myself without the third (and fourth) to continue on with. The order from a certain online store had yet to arrive and was already about three months late.

Months passed, other books were read, a few weeks went by without me reading any fantasy at all (though I did start in on Dewey: The Small Town Cat Who Touched The World, which I’m loving as I pick it up every now and again).

Finally the third and fourth books in Keyes’ series arrived and went onto the shelf next to book one and two. I was looking forward to it, but I had a few other books that had arrived as well, including three books by Joe Abercrombie and Trudi Canavan’s next book. So I didn’t really know when I was going to get to read Keyes, as I suspected the others – new books from publishers rather than purchased and old – would get preferential treatment.

I was wrong, and I’m probably about halfway through The Blood Knight.

And I’m loving it!

I really love Greg Keyes work. From a simple story point of view, it’s great. The general concept is unlike anything I’ve ever read, as it isn’t just a “usurper stole the crown” story or a “there are monsters in the land” story. In fact there are about five different “stories” in here that all intertwine and rely upon one another. The characters are fully realized and fleshed out, tangible and very ‘able: which is to say either likeable or hateable.

I’ll say more about the story in reviews, that’s for certain, but I wanted to touch on something that Keyes does, I think, remarkably well.

Many fantasy authors – myself included – spend a lot of time working out different languages and sources for their languages. You don’t want a book that all of a sudden has a Julius walking into the scene or someone entering a Coliseum; it’s too close to home, too close to reality. Fantasy books are supposed to be just that, fantasy, and that means that they need to take you away from the reality you’re in. One of the methods used to do this is to use different words for commonplace things and peoples names.

Some people succeed, others fail. I’ll get into who else does either at some later date.

For now, let’s just look at how well Keyes does it.

And he does do it well. Very well I think.

Within the novel Keyes’ characters travel through and encounter a variety of different cultures. Some live right next door to each other, and some are across seas. Some are related to one another and others are not. But in every instance, with every new culture introduced, there is a modification or variation on the language. Some of them bear striking resemblance to the “common” tongue (ie, the written word on paper for our reading eyes) while others are substantially removed. Oftentimes the older the reference made the farther removed from the “common” tongue it is, though there are several instances where the native tongue of someone our protagonists come across is indecipherable, saved only by context and/or explanation.

I have just finished reading a scene tonight where Anne Dare meets a native of a particular area whose language is similar, but just a little off from hers. Words like “welcome” are closely written but maybe off by a letter or two, and the way in which the sentences are structured are clumsy by common standards.

But this only makes it more impressive because behind the clumsiness is a certain grace that you can see exists within the natives language but that is lost in translation. Keyes somehow manages to imprint the lilting music of another language without us even hearing it, let alone understanding it.

More than the simple usage of different words (that are either italicized or not) to separate different cultures from our protagonists cultures, but the lead characters have different phrases for commonalities in our world. For example a nightmare is known as a Black Mary, and is frequently used as such with no hesitation. It is not a once off thing but just the way that the people speak. ‘They wake up from a bad dream and they want to cast off the lingering touch of the Black Mary,’ or something like that.

And these changes – both language wise and phrase wise – are beautifully interwoven into a story that is as much dependant on these changes as the changes are dependant on the story.

The differences between the common tongue and other tongues and historical tongues are integral to unravelling what is going to happen, revealing mysteries to the reader at the right time and creating moments of “ah ha” for the characters. One character is important almost solely for his ability to understand multiple languages both past and present. That takes a lot of guts to create a character like that, who is essentially a scholar without any of the Indiana Jones-esque abilities.

So I’d suggest that if you are at all interested in languages (or well written fantasy) than these books are for you.

The New Jedi Order

A look at the list of Star Wars novels will see the Star Wars expanded universe split into several eras. There is the Rise of the Empire era, the Rebellion era, the New Republic era and the New Jedi Order era (as well as the Legacy era which follows). For the majority of those periods of time the books that fill it are a collection of trilogies, duologies and individual books.

Image: New Jedi Order

However, towards the end of 1999, the beginning of a single line of books, published under the title The New Jedi Order, or more commonly referred to as NJO, was started. The brains trust behind the Star Wars novels decided it was time for a change, and the change would leave a lasting impression on the Star Wars universe.

The New Jedi Order is made up of 19 novels, plus a collection of short stories, ebook novellas and comic books. Published between 1999 and 2003, the series wrought heavy changes in the Star Wars universe.

Possibly one of the biggest changes was the dark tone that the series took. Death and destruction were brought to the fore, and the death of several major characters had fans outraged and unhappy. Most unfortunate was the untimely release of Star by Star, a book that bore striking resemblance to the September 11 attacks and was sadly released so soon after said tragedy.

Though not as unloved as the prequel movies, the NJO books were not the huge success within the Star Wars fanbase that the brains trust had hoped for.

Star Wars novelist Timothy Zahn felt the series was too dark and had stayed from the “feel” of Star Wars, and later Editorial Director of Del Ray expressed his regret over some of the grimmer aspects the series portrayed, and of the main villain, the Yuuzhan Vong.

For those with the “trust” of continuing the Star Wars universe in this format, it is only fair that they are seen to be taking the blame for something that some fans did not like. However it is a little sad that the backlash was such that they were forced into such a decision.

Being only three books in, I’ll admit that maybe the series deepens in its “grimness” and actually strays from the Star Wars ethos. But so far all I’m seeing is Star Wars characters dealing with a level of violence they had yet to encounter. This is not a bad thing, and helps deepen the characters out of the “good guy/bad guy” stereotypes that were originally conceived in the movies.

So stay tuned to Fantasy Book Reviews newest section focusing solely on the Star Wars universe for more NJO reviews as I get through the books. I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum except for three deaths which cannot be overlooked (I’ll make sure to warn before the review).

Books making up the NJO series;

–        Vector Prime by R.A. Salvatore (25 ABY)

–        Dark Tide I: Onslaught by Michael Stackpole (25 ABY)

–        Dark Tide II: Ruin by Michael Stackpole (25 ABY)

–        Agents of Chaos I: Hero’s Trial by James Luceno (25 ABY)

–        Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse by James Luceno (25 ABY)

–        Balance Point by Kathy Tyers (26 ABY)

–        Edge of Victory I: Conquest by Greg Keyes (26 ABY)

–        Edge of Victory II: Rebirth by Greg Keyes (27 ABY)

–        Star by Star by Troy Denning (27 ABY)

–        Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham (27 ABY)

–        Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston (27 ABY)

–        Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand by Aaron Allston (27 ABY)

–        Traitor by Matthew Stover (27 ABY)

–        Destiny’s Way by Walter Jon Williams (28 ABY)

–        Force Heretic I: Remnant by Sean Williams & Shane Dix (28 ABY)

–        Force Heretic II: Refugee by Sean Williams & Shane Dix (28 ABY)

–        Force Heretic III: Reunion by Sean Williams & Shane Dix (28 ABY)

–        The Final Prophecy by Greg Keyes (28 ABY)

–        The Unifying Force by James Luceno (29 ABY)

Other additions to NJO;

–        Boba Fett: A Practical Man by Karen Traviss – eBook Novella set after Vector Prime

–        Emissary of the Void by Greg Keyes – short story set after Balance Point

–        Recovery by Troy Denning – eBook Novella set prior to Edge of Victory I: Conquest

–        The Apprentice by Elaine Cunningham – short story set after Dark Journey

–        Ylesia by Walter Jon Williams – eBook Novella set after Destiny’s War

–        Equals and Opposites by Nathan Butler – comic book set after Force Heretic I: Remnant

–        Or Die Trying by Sean Williams and Shane Dix – short story set after Force Heretic II: Refuge

The New Rebellion by Kristine Kathryn Rusch reviewed

Set: 17 ABY

Somewhere in the galaxy, millions suddenly perish—a disruption of the Force so shocking it is felt by Luke at his Jedi academy and by Leia on Coruscant. While Leia must deal with an assassination attempt, a rumored plot against the New Republic, and allegations that Han Solo is involved, Luke seeks out a former Jedi student who may hold the key to the mass destruction. But Brakiss is only the bait in a deadly trap set by a master of the dark side who is determined to rule as emperor. He’s targeted Luke, Leia, and Leia’s children to die. Then billions will follow, in a holocaust unequaled in galactic history.

One of the things I love about the Star Wars universe is the concept of ‘the Force.’ It might seem overly spiritual to some or thoroughly tacky to others, but I really like the concept of everything being linked; everything being able to affect everything else.

That aspect of the force plays heavily in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s ‘The New Rebellion,’ published in 1996 and another New York Times bestseller. As the blurb above reads, the galaxy is yet again hit with another mass murder, similar to the one we saw in the beginning of the Star Wars universe, in the first movie Star Wars (A New Hope) when Obi Wan Kenobi feels the death of the planet Alderaan and its inhabitants. This time though it’s Luke – as well as Leia and her kids – who feel the death of millions.

The book naturally follows Luke’s hunt for the perpetrator of this crime, but isn’t left sitting in that idling hunt for justice.

Leia Organa Solo is in the Senate chambers when an explosion goes off. Many senators and aids are left dead, and the prime suspect soon becomes Han Solo, Leia’s husband. Leia is forced – as a result of a new group of senate members being allowed in – to allow investigations to continually prove her husband is at fault.

R2D2 and C-3PO are naturally involved, as are Leia and Han’s children; Jacen and Jaina, and their little brother Anakin. Though young, the children make for a really enjoyable addition to the cast.

I really enjoyed this book. It was well written and deeply set in the Star Wars universe. It is these well written books that really make the Star Wars novels a part of the universe in a way that other properties aren’t able to manage. The subplots with Lando, the children, the droids and a young plucky mechanic really enrich the story.

Star Wars: Republic Commando: Triple Zero by Karen Traviss reviewed

Set: 21 BBY

Following the eruption of the bloody Clone Wars at the battle of Geonosis, both sides remain deadlocked in a stalemate that can be broken only by elite warrior teams like Omega Squad, clone commandos with terrifying combat skills and a lethal arsenal….

For Omega Squad, deployed deep behind enemy lines, it’s the same old special ops grind: sabotage, espionage, ambush, and assassination. But when Omega Squad is rushed to Coruscant, the war’s most dangerous new hotspot, the commandos discover they’re not the only ones penetrating the heart of the enemy.

A surge in Separatist attacks has been traced to a network of Sep terror cells in the Republic’s capital, masterminded by a mole in Command Headquarters. To identify and destroy a Separatist spy and terror network in a city full of civilians will require special talents and skills. Not even the leadership of Jedi generals, along with the assistance of Delta squad and a certain notorious ARC trooper, can even the odds against the Republic Commandos. And while success may not bring victory in the Clone Wars, failure means certain defeat.

The second book in Karen Traviss’s Republic Commando series took the whole idea into a very different world. Triple Zero is set one year after the Battle of Geonosis, and thus almost a year after the first book. The commandos are brought to Coruscant where they’re to deal with terrorists who are working on the capital planet of the Republic.

But this book expands the idea that was presented in Hard Contact of four commandos working in the Clone Wars, and takes it to a whole new level. We get flashbacks to their training, their mentor is introduced as a major player, and the brotherhood of clones is evolved well beyond what Hard Contact hinted at.

In fact, beyond the attempt to take out the terrorists working on Coruscant is the beginnings of a huge plot arc that will see the clones’ mentor attempt to acquire a measure of peace and a future for them. Differences in training between various squads are brought into play, rivalries are explained and set up, and Jedi are introduced into the story and given the chance to be something other than the heroic Obi-Wan or the petulant Anakin.

This book was really a great read. I loved the growing relationship between Etain and Darmin, and was fascinated by the lives of the clones; both the flashbacks and their current lives. The minds and personalities of the clones are a brilliant juxtaposition to the almost invisible-cannon-fodder idea we had of them before. They are all different from one another with their own quirks and foibles.

Traviss really knows how to write a great story, and though it might not be in the same league as Zahn, Stackpole or Allston, the Republic Commando stories create and set up characters every bit as vivid and mesmerizing as Thrawn and Fel and Horn.

JRR Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham read by Sir Derek Jacobi

Farmer Giles of Ham audio-book cover.Many may be forgiven for thinking that JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, then after taking a breath The Lord of the Rings, and then called it a day. These two works are known in every corner of the world and overshadowed everything that Tolkien penned both before and after. It is easy to forget that the great Professor also wrote other delightful stories, not least Leaf by Niggle and the book that we are reviewing here, Farmer Giles of Ham.

This was not my first experience of Farmer Giles of Ham in the audio format as, many moons ago, I had a copy on tape with the unmistakable voice of Brian Blessed voicing the lead. Sadly, both tape and the means of playing it are no longer open to me so I downloaded another version, this time narrated by Fantasy Book Review favourite, Derek Jacobi.

Farmer Giles of Ham is full of wit and humour, set in the days when giants and dragons walked the earth. However, Giles did not look like a hero, he was fat and red-bearded and enjoyed a slow, comfortable life. Then one day a rather deaf and short-sighted giant blundered on to his land. More by luck than skill, Farmer Giles managed to scare him away. The people of the village cheered: Farmer Giles was a hero. His reputation spread far and wide across the kingdom. So it was natural that when the dragon Chrysophylax visited the area it was Farmer Giles who was expected to do battle with it!

This is a simple medieval fable of unexpected heroism told with great aplomb by Derek Jacobi. The farmer and the dragon may be those around whom the story unfolds but it is Giles’s cowardly dog Garm that steals the show with his wheedling ways and the touching devotion and pride he shows for his master.


Farmer Giles of Ham (unabridged) by J. R. R. Tolkien
Narrated by Derek Jacobi
Length: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Audio-book review: The Runes of the Earth read by Anton Lesser

In 1977, Stephen Donaldson changed the face of epic fantasy with the publication of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Thomas Covenant is struck down with a disease believed eradicated; he is abandoned by his wife and son and becomes a pariah. Alone and despairing, Covenant falls, and is drawn into a mysterious new world, where gentle people work magic and the earth itself brings healing. He is welcomed as the reincarnation of a legendary saviour, but Covenant refuses to believe. At the end of the sixth book, as Covenant battles to save the world, he is killed, in both worlds, as Dr. Linden Avery, his horrified companion, looks on.

It’s 10 years later, and Linden Avery thought she would never see the Land, or Covenant, again. But Lord Foul has stolen her adopted son, and is unmaking the very laws of nature. And though she believes Covenant dead, he keeps sending Linden messages: "Find me", and "Don’t trust me". The Land is in turmoil, and Lord Foul has plans for them all.

This audio-book proved to be tough-going. Reading the original books was also tough-going but they had the redemptive quality of being ultimately highly rewarding. I am afraid The Runes of the Earth is simply tough-going.

If pushed to name the one thing that I found most annoying about this audio-book I would have to go with the overly dramatic moments that plagued it. You could almost visualise an exclamation mark ever paragraph – Foul, you bastard! How could he! The Land is dying! I’ve forgotten to brush my teeth! etc… etc…

Added to this, Linden Avery cuts a rather unsympathetic and annoying lead, and Anele is a nerve-grating addition to the cast.

Anton Lesser struggles manfully, his stock narrative voice excellent but his portrayal of individual characters not quite as strong. I’m afraid that this audio-book and The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are just not for me, which is a shame considering that the original six books are works that I will always remember fondly.

There is, however, an excellent and fascinating interview with Stephen Donaldson after the reading has finished.

We Rate It5-stars

About the author and narrator
Stephen R. Donaldson came to prominence in 1977 with the The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, a story that centred around a leper shunned by society and his trials and tribulations as his destiny unfolds. These books established Stephen Donaldson as one of the most important figures in modern fantasy fiction.

British actor Anton Lesser has played many of the principal Shakespearian roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Petruchio, Romeo and Richard III. He is also very active in radio and spoken word audio and is particularly known for the major novels of Charles Dickens, with Great Expectations winning the Talkie Award.