Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Narrators Make or Break an Audiobook

If you listen to audiobooks, you know what I’m talking about. The quality of the narrator can lift a good book to new heights – or bury it.

We all have our personal favourites, I’m sure, and our own preferences. My pet hates include male narrators who attempt female voices and don’t pull it off. In one book, the main character, who was supposed to be the holder of a PhD, sounded like a whiny bimbo because of the narrator’s ill-advised voices. It made it incredibly difficult to take her at all seriously. Women who attempt male voices seem to have more success, even when not brilliantly done. 

My other peeve is (and I apologise in advance to my American friends) American accents in high/epic fantasy books. I’m sorry, but it interferes with my suspension of disbelief when I hear an American accent in a setting I subconsciously associate with medieval Europe. I’m sure I’d have similar issues if the narrator was Aussie!

My favourite narrators are Simon Vance (he narrates Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series) and Rupert Degas (who narrates Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles). If you are at all into epic fantasy, these are audiobooks worth checking out – the narrators do an incredible job of submersing you in the story.

Kate Reading has been an unexpected surprise. While I didn’t like her much in The Boneshaker (I found her reading clipped and containing an odd upward inflection) her accent is smoothed in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls, such that I became uncertain if she was American or British and which accent it was she was imitating (she’s American by the way). While not as good as Simon Vance or Rupert Degas, she does a good job on Paladin of Souls.

Sadly, I have developed a real dislike for her husband, and I apologise to him, for I am sure as a person he has much to recommend him. My dislike is based purely on his narration, which I think is ill-suited for epic fantasy, and perhaps personally on the fact I can’t abide what he’s done to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. While I have only listened to samples of those books, and some were better examples than others, I weep to think what beautiful audiobooks the series might have made in the hands of Degas or Vance.

Style of narrator will affect what you enjoy in an audiobook as much as the style of the author – but the fact a good marriage between two is required certainly complicates the matter.

Who are your favourite narrators and what books do they narrate?

This is an A to Z Challenge post. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it. 
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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Mercy: Dragon Bait (Part 6) - Free Fantasy Story

Welcome back to Part 6 of Dragon Bait. If you missed any of Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1), Dragonflame: Dragon Bait (Part 2), Guilt: Dragon Bait (Part 3), Ishafal: Dragon Bait (Part 4), Joust: Dragon Bait (Part 5) make sure you check them out first!

* * *

Varik stripped off his shirt, and wrapped it around the box. Although still warm through the cloth, it made the heat bearable.

A shadow fell over him as he adjusted the wrappings. His hands stilled, and he lifted his eyes.

The dragon clung to the cliff face, head down. Its tail coiled upwards out of sight, and into the rocks. Deep red scales covered the head. When the wings lifted for balance, the undersides shone a burnished gold, deepening to red at the edges. Baleful black eyes nailed him to the path.

The metal burned Varik’s hands through the fabric, and he took a step backwards, juggling the box. His foot kicked a stone, and it clattered over the edge. Varik froze. What now? If anyone had ever met a dragon face to face before, they’d not lived to tell the tale.

The dragon cocked its head. Why can I sense you in my mind, little man? 

Varik put a hand to his ears, mouth falling open. The deep voice rang inside his head, as clear as a struck bell. ‘You’re telepathic?’ And clearly intelligent, though he held his tongue on that point.

The dragon gave a horrific parody of a grin, revealing huge fangs Varik preferred not to have seen. A clawed foot, sizable enough to crush a human head, shifted its hold on the cliff face. Obviously.

‘Uh, yeah.’ A smile oozed onto Varik’s face. He switched the box to the other hand to ease the growing heat. 

You’re not Ishafal. What are you, little man? The dragon's grin, horrific though it was, turned into a frown that was worse. I can feel the shape of your mind. You are... sad. And... guilty? 

If anything, the frowned deepened, and Varik almost stepped back again, but there was nothing but open air behind him. 

Are you guilty, little man? A dangerous stillness gripped the dragon. Its tongue flickered out, like a snake tasting the air. I don't like guilty men. 

‘Of allowing my sister and nieces to die, yes.’ He made the admission boldly, not knowing the right answer, and so opting for the truth. What did it matter if the dragon decided to eat him anyway? ‘I was too busy hunting down treasure.’

The dragon cocked its head, but reading that scaly face was an impossibility. Treasure is important, though perhaps not so important as to abandon one's kin. 

‘I agree.’

The dragon's head slithered closer, the nostrils flaring. It nosed the cloth-wrapped box in his hands, apparently uncaring of, or insensitive to the heat. What is this? 

‘Treasure.’ Varik couldn't keep the bitterness from his voice. ‘And one that killed my family.’

The dragon's head reared back, the pupils of its eyes dilating and its wings flaring. The gust of disturbed air blew Varik's hair about his face. 

Cesium! That is not treasure, no treasure any man wants. No wonder your family died if you were taking that rubbish home to them. 

Varik stiffened, and blinked away tears. ‘I didn't! The Ishafal did that, after it stole this from Athelstone. I am taking it back, for safekeeping.

The dragon hesitated, half-folding its wings. For safekeeping? I do smell Siren and Fury magic... 

‘For safekeeping.’ 

Foolish man. You are no treasure hunter. What you do is a sacrifice for others. It is tragic that your family died while you fulfilled this great duty, but the blame is not on your shoulders. 

‘What? It is. I wasn't there to save them, to-’ To what, to stop an Ishafal? Did I have a dragon in my  pocket then, too? 

The dragon prodded him with its nose, and Varik clutched at a horn to keep his balance. Realising what he'd done, he let go again, but the dragon turned its head, lifting him away from the precipice. He fell back to the rocky path.  

You are not to blame. I will not eat you. Which is fortunate, as you look rather stringy. 

Varik laughed, hysteria edging the grim mirth. A deep rumbling came from the dragon. A growl? No, the dragon laughed as well, scaly lips peeling back from great teeth. Varik laughed harder, until the hysteria turned into actual amusement. A dragon - a dragon - had actually absolved him of guilt, and then made a joke about eating him!

The dragon lowered its head, extending one leg. I will carry you to Athelstone, though. This returning the cesium to its guardians is noble indeed. I would be pleased to ensure you suffer no further interruptions. 

Varik looked at the inviting leg, his stomach in knots. Could he really trust the creature not to make a snack of him? He swallowed hard. Then again, it was more than clear that the dragon would have cooked him up for a treat if it hadn't liked his intentions for the cesium.

Staring up into night-black eyes, Varik sketched a deep bow. ‘I would be honoured.’

Grief still nestled in the back of his mind, a fragile egg waiting to crack open, but the guilt, like the need for revenge, had been laid to rest. Hitching the hot box uncomfortably in the crook of his arm, Varik reached up and began to climb. 

* * *
**AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fiction piece is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge and has not been to an editor.**

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it. 

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Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Monday Morsel: Lies, Loathing and Last Moments - An Excerpt from ‘In the Company of the Dead’

Welcome to the Monday Morsel feature, where I share short extracts from the first draft of my adult epic fantasy/fantasy romance, In the Company of the Dead.

* * *

Standing from the last of the sick, she jerked her head, and retreated to the bench where Leinahre had set up her apothecary’s tools. Lyram joined her, leaning against the wall with his arms folded as if he could drive the chill of self-loathing from his body.
‘This is right,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing else to do.’
‘Sometimes what’s right, and what must be done, are not the same thing.’
Her hand rested on the bench next to her hip. Lyram looked at it for a long moment, listening to the rasping breath of the dying slow and rattle in their throats. Unable to endure, he took her hand in his. Her gaze flicked to meet his, and she squeezed his hand. Tears pricked his eyes, and he blinked before they could fall.
‘How do you bear it without crying?’ he whispered.
‘Because otherwise I would never stop.’
They stood there, hands clasped, as the infected slipped into a deep sleep. Lyram studied their faces, relaxed now as the hemlock took its course, and tried to memorise their features. Badden, with his broad face and squashed nose. The two serving women, one old enough to be a grandmother, the other middle-aged. Two soldiers of the castellan. 
Eventually they slipped from sleep into unconsciousness. From within her robe, Ellaeva produced a needle-pointed poniard. She went about the gruesome work with quick efficiency, rolling each man or woman to slide the blade into the soft spot at the back of the neck where it joined the skull.
‘Can’t you just…’ Lyram waved his hands, trying without words to indicate the man she had killed with a touch.
‘No. It is something I may only call upon in defence of my own life, and then it is at Ahura’s discretion to grant it.’ Her jaw tightened as she laid the last of the lifeless heads on the ground. ‘At least two of the five Battle Priestesses preceding me died because the touch failed them – whether because they abused the privilege or because Ahura was done with their service and called them home.’
Two out of five. She must wonder if she was destined to bring it to an even one out of two. ‘Poor reward for faithful service.’
‘Such is the life of a Battle Priestess.’ She thrust the poniard back inside her robes.
She was good at keeping her thoughts and feelings from her face, but he was getting better at reading her anyway. These deaths weighed on her, despite her attempt at matter-of-factness. How many other lives burdened her shoulders? What other truths of the life of a Battle Priestess preyed on her in the smallest hours of the long nights? Words failed him, and in desperation he reached out and her caught her hand again.
She met his eyes for a brief moment. Hers were as dark as night, like Alharne’s had been, but bitter with a depth of pain that left him weak at the knees. How could one woman – one girl – carry such weight? She squeezed his hand in acknowledgement, and they stood there, hands entwined, contemplating the remainder of the gruesome task ahead. For this little time, at least, the burden need not be hers alone.
A sharp rap on the barred door broke the moment, and Ellaeva pulled her hand away.
‘What is it?’ Lyram called.
‘Sir.’ The thick wood muffled Everard’s voice. ‘There’s an emissary, sir. From the enemy camp.’

Thanks for dropping by! Don't forget, this is a first draft, and as such won't be perfect. If you like what you read, and are so inclined, show your support by leaving a comment. I am currently 65% of the way through the first draft of In the Company of the Dead. If you'd like to sample more of my writing, check out my novella, Confronting the Demon, or the free fiction I am posting during the A to Z Challenge, starting with Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1).

If this is your first visit to Monday Morsels, find others in the series by clicking on the ‘Monday morsel’ tag, or go to the first installment.

More about In the Company of the Dead:

Lyram already crossed a prince, and now he finds himself on the brink of crossing a god.

Son of a duke and second in line for the throne, Lyram is exiled to a lonely castle after assaulting the crown prince. When a hostile army arrives to besiege the castle, he believes the prince wants him removed – permanently.

As though answering their prayers, Ellaeva, the Battle Priestess of the death goddess, arrives unexpectedly. But she has not come to break the siege. Instead, she is in pursuit of a necromancer of the evil god of decay. When misfortune after misfortune befalls the beleaguered defenders, Lyram realises the necromancer is hidden within the walls, sabotaging the very defence.

Against the backdrop of clashing gods, Lyram must fight to save himself from the political machinations of his prince, and the dread plans of a necromancer. But as the siege lengthens, he realises the greatest threat may come from another quarter — a woman sworn body and soul to a god tempts him to pay a terrible price.
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