Friday, November 23, 2007

Wintering in Scandinavia (Skandia)

Fortunately, while I am slogging through the bloodbath that is the John Saul novel, I am also listening to the most recent installment of a favorite series of mine: The Ranger's Apprentice. The US version of the series is only up to Book 3, even though Australian readers are awaiting Book 7. Why is the US publisher dragging this out? Book 3 is The Icebound Land, and -- while it makes for extremely enjoyable listening (particularly in relief from the horror) -- it definitely can only be described as one of those let's-get-the-pieces-in-place-so-we-can-tell-the-rest-of-the-story installments. I'm not sure this title will stand alone very well: It starts immediately at the conclusion of the previous book, and, I understand, ends in a cliffhanging way. This makes it a problematic nomination, I think. We did put the earlier books on our list last year, so I wonder if we select it this year, if we will need to make some reference to the earlier titles.

At the end of The Burning Bridge, apprentice Will and princess-in-disguise Evanlyn had been captured by the mercenary Skandians. They will be sold as slaves once the Skandian Wolfship arrives home. Back in Araluen, Ranger Halt gets himself banished from the kingdom so he can head off to rescue them. Will's best friend, the warrior apprentice Horace, makes the journey with him. Currently, they are trekking across Gallica (a thinly disguised France -- Horace and Halt just enjoyed a baguette) at what seems to be a leisurely pace, but I'm sure they are moving as fast as they can.

What I enjoy about these books is the completely sympathetic characters the author has created. What young readers like (I think), in addition to the characters, is there's plenty of action and adventures. And, I have to say that this book is somewhat lacking in the latter. But, if you have read Will's adventures from the beginning, you feel deeply invested in the characters to want to power through this episode. And, according to Amazon, you'll only have to wait four months to get to the next one! Look, though -- they changed the title from the Australian version. Plus, I kinda like those photographic covers that come from Down Under.

[Here's what inquiring minds really want to know: Is there an Aussie version of the audiobooks, published -- perhaps -- by Bolinda? I'm checking right now ... No!]

Listening to this story, though, isn't a problem. And I think that's because John Keating is as attached to the characters as I am. He reads so warmly and compassionately that it almost feels like you're sitting around the fire and listening to him relate the tales of the Ranger's apprentice. Perhaps he is the Ranger's apprentice and he's telling his story to his grandchildren. Keating knows these people, and he wants you to know them too. He knows how to build tension (although there isn't a whole lot of that so far in The Icebound Land), and he creates nicely delineated characters. And while he does have a few reader tics (audible intakes of breath, a tendency to get a little sing-songy), I find I just don't mind them in these books.

But what is going on between chapters here? The recordings have l-o-n-g pauses (as many as 10 seconds which can seem like forever if you think your batteries are running low) between chapters. Could it be because the form of the novel alternates chapters: first we're with Will and Evanlyn, then with Halt and Horace and the publisher wanted us to be VERY clear that we were relocating? It doesn't work, and in fact, it's somewhat detrimental.

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