Friday, January 2, 2009

Where did the magic go?

I have a friend who says that if you don't want the world to know what you're thinking, you can keep your thoughts in Word. When I think about what happened to me (however small in the big, big world) over my blog about a year ago, I wondered if perhaps I should be keeping up that document instead of this blog. But part of the fun of this blog is doing a little online research about the books, the authors, and the odd little things that pop up whilst one is listening. (Of course, I could make all those links in Word, but it wouldn't look as cool ... this all might be moot anyway in a few weeks when I stop listening for Amazing Audiobooks and start listening for the Odyssey. Look! More links! I may have to switch to a private method of tracking my opinions.)

Anyway, that pontification is because while I was searching for some online links about The Magic Thief, I discovered that the author, Sarah Prineas, lives in my home town of Iowa City, Iowa. What fun! (Here's where one hopes the author does a little ego-surfing and finds my insignificant little blog ....) The Magic Thief introduces us to young pickpocket and street kid Conn, who -- one winter evening in the town of Wellmet -- steals the locus magicalicus of one Nevery Flinglas. If Conn was a normal boy, having the stone in his possession would likely kill him, but it seemingly does no damage. Intrigued, Nevery takes Conn in and eventually Conn becomes his apprentice. Nevery has returned to Wellmet after a long absence (he was banished from the town and its wizarding community for an experiment that went badly awry), because he senses that Wellmet is losing its essential magic. Between them, Conn and Nevery attempt to solve the mystery of that loss.

The adventure is fairly slight in this novel -- it's the first of a trilogy, so a considerable amount of time is spent in creating the world -- but the characters are delightful. Conn is a clever and appealing young hero and Nevery is cantankerous but affectionate. Nearly every chapter concludes with an entry from Nevery's journal -- which fills in the parts of the story that Conn can't tell us. Wellmet is populated with other individuals as well -- most notably Nevery's "muscle" Benet (pronounced Bennett in the audio version) who knits and cooks as well as offering protection, a smart girl named Rowan and her mother, the Duchess, and assorted villains of the mustache-twirling variety.

The reader, Greg Steinbruner, takes the various characters as his cue in interpreting this novel and gives us a series of enjoyable portrayals: Conn as a curious explorer of his world, Nevery is gruff and pompous, Benet quiet but formidable, the villains exaggerated in their vocal mannerisms. In conversation you always know who is speaking and the characters are consistent through the course of the novel.

There is a big problem, though, with Steinbruner's reading pace. As you begin listening to this story, there is a long (at least a couple seconds) pause between each and every sentence. [pause pause pause] It doesn't take very long for your ear to anticipate it. [pause pause pause] Which means that all too quickly you are listening for the pauses, [pause pause pause] and not for the story. However, I found after about one disc, an hour or so, I stopped hearing them (or they stopped bothering me), and let the novel take over. I enjoyed it. So I went back to Disc 1 just to see if the pauses were longer, or more frequent at the beginning; and I listened right through that disc without hearing them (unless I really concentrated on them). I guess your ears get used to anything.

At the beginning of 2007, I listened to another novel read by Steinbruner, Larklight, which I enjoyed tremendously. I nominated it for the 2008 list, but it didn't make it on because other listeners heard the same thing that I heard in The Magic Thief, those repetitive pauses. Let's let Steinbruner listen to one of his audiobooks so he can hear how just speeding up his reading pace even slightly would make a dramatic difference.

Also, when reviewing my thoughts about Larklight, I read that his unnatural sounding English accent also bothered me (although not enough in the end to eliminate it). (Notice that I enjoyed his characterizations in that novel as well.) While I'm offering suggestions, Greg, lose the English accent as well. It's not a very good one. I think that's why I was semi-surprised to learn that Prineas is a Yankee ... I just assumed that Steinbruner had opted for the English accent because the author was English. Since Conn's story takes place in a fantasy world, any accent (as long as it's consistent) would work just fine.

I'm up in the air on this title. Several committee listeners think it might be too young for our age range, but I think that 12- and 13-year-olds would enjoy this story.


Sarah Prineas said...


Can I confess to a little egosurfing?

Or maybe "google alerting"...

Interesting about the pauses and their effect on you as a listener. I had exactly the same experience listening to the audio version of the book. My ear wasn't tuned at all--I'd never listened to an audio book before--and as the SLJ review pointed out recently, the voice in this version feels a little forced at the beginning, plus the pauses seem obtrusive. I have to say, though, that the audio version really grew on me, and I ended up completely loving it, and found Steinbruner's voice worked perfectly for the various characters.

Thanks for taking the time to listen to it!!

And yes, I'm here in Iowa City. I haunt coffeeshops and love talking about kids books, so I'd love to do coffee if you're ever in town.


leecat said...

Sarah! I'm so glad to hear from you ... and apologize for the crack about egosurfing! I'll let you know the next time I'm in Iowa City visiting the old folks ... I know I'd love a break from the follies at Oaknoll! I'm looking forward to Conn's next installment.

Sarah Prineas said...

Oh, all us writers are shameless egosurfers...

Oaknoll follies--I can just imagine!