Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fool for love

Well, it wasn't until Maxwell Caulfield starting narrating them, that I realized how much I enjoy a good jester story. Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools is the second novel featuring a jester that he has narrated; the first being one of last-year's favorites, Mimus. Alas, this year's entry comes a far second to Mimus, but I can't deny the good time I had listening to Caulfield's sexy, husky voice in my ears for eight hours.

In this book -- the first in a trilogy by Philip Caveney -- Sebastian has inherited the jester business from his late father, and he has left his home and his elf mother (Sebastian is a "breed:" half human/half elf) to seek his fortune in the neighboring kingdom of Keladon. He is accompanied by the family's smartass speaking buffalope, Max, who tells him that he is not a very good jester. Along their journey, they encounter Cornelius Drummel, an extremely small adult soldier whose size belies his courage and his skills. In short order, they rescue a damsel in distress, who turns out to be Princess Kerin of Keladon. How handy! Things are looking up for Sebastian.

Kerin's uncle is King of Keladon, but he is just holding the position until Kerin turns 18, in one year's time. But Uncle Septimus doesn't want to give up the throne, and has committed a number of dastardly crimes in order to stay there. The latest is the foiled attack on Princess Kerin. Her traveling companions soon learn of the plot and -- after some danger -- well, I don't want to give it away! Suffice to say that those who practice evil are punished.

I'm sure that Listening Library hired Maxwell Caulfield to narrate this book because they liked his work on Mimus as much as I did. With the exception of the jester theme, Sebastian Darke is very different from Mimus: The former is kind of jokey and predictable, with a lot of gratuitous violence. There's none of the character development that got you so invested in Mimus and Prince Florin -- their fates were genuinely tragic. Frankly, I just didn't like this book much.

But Caulfield more than fulfills the promise that he demonstrated in reading Mimus. He is really a terrific narrator -- the kind you'll pretty much listen to whatever he reads. In Sebastian Darke, Caulfield creates a humorous, distinctive cast of characters: naive Sebastian, the martial and deep-voiced Cornelius, evil King Septimus (every once in awhile I heard a hint of the evil king in Mimus), sweet yet strong Kerin, the witchy Magda (Septimus' partner-in-crime), and various soldiers and townspeople. In this audiobook, Caulfield's skills don't end with humans: He reads Max the buffalope with a dopey charm, and even voices non-speaking buffalopes and the creatures called equines.

He keeps the pace going -- providing plenty of exciting (well, sort of exciting) battle sequences as well as a few tender love scenes. Overall, though, it's his "regular" voice -- the one he uses to read the narrative as well as Sebastian -- that is so very pleasant to listen to. It's slightly husky and warm ... well, it's kind of like syrup in your ears (in a good way). I hope that his next narrative outing will be something completely different.

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