Monday, August 4, 2008

Perambulating

I just added a nomination this morning for this great book, InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, bringing us to 23 for the year. It's my third nomination. There are nine of us on the committee, so that means we're averaging 2+ per person. I guess that puts me right on track. A few members are a bit more enthusiastic (I might say a bit too), but most of us are hovering around that one-to-three figure. I muse on this because I don’t count myself excited by very much so far this year (six of the 23 titles have my unqualified support), but I sure did enjoy InterWorld.

Joey Harker finds out he’s a Walker when – trying to impress a girl on a class field trip – he walks right out of his own world and into another. This is a place where his mother doesn’t recognize him and he bears a slight resemblance to a daughter of the family named Josephine (a sister who doesn’t exist in the family he knows). This freaks him out a little, so he heads to his teacher for some advice. His teacher is more than a little shocked to see him; he tells Joey he drowned in an accident. Wholly freaked now, he blunders into a sort of empty space where he is soon entranced by one Lady Indigo who spirits him onto the Hex ship the Lacrimae Mundi (which translates to 'the world's tears,' I believe), where he will be boiled down to his Walker essence. Walker essence, evidently, is the best power source for these ships.

Fortunately, Joey is rescued from Lady Indigo's clutches by a guy in a silver suit. This guy, Jay, explains a little bit more about Walking and all the different worlds that Joey can visit, and how the Hex are the bad guys -- intent on destroying as many worlds as they can. Jay intends to bring Joey to InterWorld Base, where the good guys (all Walkers, and all variations of Joey Harker) are trained to fight the Hex to keep the worlds -- known as the Altiverse (or Multiverse, I can't quite remember) -- safe. Alas, Jay dies before they reach InterWorld, but Joey makes it there. After five weeks of training, Joey and his team are sent out on a training mission, when something goes horribly wrong.

This sounds like a massive, 16-hour fantasy doesn't it? InterWorld clocks in at just five and a half hours, and it's all utterly enjoyable. It doesn't spend too long giving you background info (I really don't care much about how those alternative dimensions work), and -- at the same time -- it's not all action scenes. Joey's an extremely interesting and pleasant young man, and the adventure filtered through his smart, self-deprecating worldview is highly entertaining.

Narrator Christopher Evan Welch (a fave reader from The Last Apprentice series) does a fine job here. He has a number of different characters for which he has to produce different voices, and he does this beautifully -- creating unique characters that aren't cariacatures. Interestingly, nearly all the characters are variations of hero (and first-person narrator) Joey Harker, and I appreciated how he maintained the Joey-ness of each individual through inflection and pacing.

He's a skilled narrator who knows how to build tension and excitement -- he doesn't spend it all on the battle scenes. Every once in a while (actually more rarely than I expected), I would hear a hint of Tom Ward or the Spook in his characterizations, but it certainly didn't sound like I was hearing Tom Ward in an interdimensional adventure. I admire how Welch managed to take another naive boy, undergoing training to help him cope with a new world, and make him demonstrably different from the earlier boy he had created.

Finally, in the novel Jay gives Joey directions to InterWorld that must have been a series of symbols in the print version, because publisher HarperAudio used a series of electronic sounds to indicate these directions for your ears. The sound strikes precisely the right note of difference without being intrusive. An excellent editorial choice, and the sign of an exceptional audiobook.

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