Friday, December 25, 2015

Review: Strange Magic

Strange Magic: A Yancy Lazarus Novel, Volume 1 by James A. Hunter

Audio version

Here's another case of wanting to like a book more than I did.  I'm in the mood for the anti-hero-ish paranormal mystery/fantasy with a noir tone and a hard edge.  This book had all the markers of that very particular niche.  It should have been a satisfying listen/read.

I'm not really satisfied.  Let's get down to why.

First, I have lay some blame on the reader, or the director and sound editor.  I listen to a lot of audio books, and I do mean a lot.  I listen to many of them multiple times. On occasion I've bought multiple versions of a particular book because the voicing didn't work for me and I hoped for a better one.  So, yeah, that's important.  Charlie Kevin did a good job voicing the novel, but in many places the reading was rushed, sentences stumbling over each other, thoughts that should have had a beat between them crammed together.  Now, this could have been an attempt by the director or editor or someone else to keep the book under 7 hours (why?  I don't know.  Many of the books I love best run to 10 hours or more.)  That sense of being rushed really clashed hard against the character idea of a blues man, a gambler, someone who just wants to play cards, smoke a cigarette, and ease through his rather long life.  It especially ran rough against the idea of this man being a Southerner.  I was fine without the exaggeration of a drawl or any imitation of dialect (I'm familiar with such and work carefully to scrub my own speech as free of my Southern roots as I can).  But the breakneck speed of the narration just blew that particular illusion away.

Also, mispronounced words were distracting.  I'm not exactly sure how voicing an audiobook works, but I would think that the pronunciation of words would be marked before recording, and mispronunciations would be easily corrected.  Since this is a reading of a written work, it doesn't make sense to interpret those blunders as characteristic misspellings or typos.  I'm not sure.  I just know that there were several such and each time I had to pause, figure out what was meant, and then climb back into the story.

As for the story itself, it's a competent story that hits all the proper tropes for the genre.  In fact, I think it hit all the tropes.  Hard.  Well, no, we didn't have a fem fatale in this one, but the author seeded in lots of hints that there was one around somewhere.  In truth, there were nearly no female characters in the story except the one who had to be rescued.  So, yeah, tropes were laid in like bricks in a pathway.

Yancy also never really became alive for me.  He should have.  He had all kinds of little quirks, including a very cliche ridden manner of speaking.  I could deal with that.  At the same time, he could turn around and spiel out paragraphs of magical jargon full of all manner of words and phrases a man who just barely made it through high school (as the background given indicates) would not be so likely to use. Since the whole story is narrated by Yancy, he comes across sounding almost like two different people, which pushes me away from the character.  He's a little too constructed, too much like a list of character traits instead of the image of a person with quirks and traits, little gestures and habits.  Yancy is supposed to be unique, but I felt more told than he was unusual than I was allowed to discover this for myself.

Still, there's a lot of good stuff in here.  The relationship and the banter between Yancy and his friends Greg was some of the best stuff in the book.  Hunter has some interesting ideas he's playing with, some twists and angles on his version of the universe.  He also worked hard to control the power level of his main character -- Yancy saves the world, which is a pretty high mark for a first book, but he doesn't do it alone and in fact needs his ass hauled out of trouble while someone else actually finishes up.  I liked that.   The stakes might have been a bit too high for the first book, but he dialed that back so that he has somewhere to go in the next book.

So, I didn't hate this.  I would even say I liked it, in a mild, genial, wishing-no-one-harm and not grudging the money or time spent sort of way. It was a step or two above mediocre.  I'm not sure about following up on the next book in the series, because while Hunter could easily hit his stride as he gets more comfortable with his characters and their world, waiting until the second book to make things click is not the way things usually go.   Then again, I didn't toss the book in disgust or anger or just frustration, so there's that.  I did finish it, and I don't finish a book that doesn't fulfill the promises made in the beginning.

Like I said at the start, I wanted to like this book more.   I'd like to recommend it more highly.  At this point, I'll say this is a good way to ignore air travel or to endure having a cold.  I guess I'll have to read the next one to see if Hunter and Yancy keep playing the same song or if they step it up.

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