In a little more than a week, I've had two reminders that necro- is the Greek for dead. This time, it's not a speaker with the dead, but a city of the dead: Necropolis. In Book 4 in Anthony Horowitz's series The Gatekeepers, the necropolis is the city of Hong Kong. The Gatekeepers are five 15-year-olds with the power to defeat the Old Ones (the gates being the things that have kept the Old Ones from wreaking their particular kind of havoc on the world), but they can only do it by working together.
In the series so far, four of them (an English boy, a Peruvian descended from the Incas, and twin American boys) have found each other. In Necropolis, the fifth is revealed: Scarlett Adams, an English girl adopted from China. But the Old Ones know about Scarlett as well, and they have whisked her off to Hong Kong -- where they are slowly killing off the populace with some noxious pollutants and replacing them with shape-shifting entities. Two of the Gatekeepers hie off to Hong Kong to rescue her. Without giving anything away, at the end of the novel, the Gatekeepers are scattered, the Old Ones nearly triumphant -- and the final book from Horowitz won't be appearing anytime soon, evidently. Here's what he says in his blog: "Even I have no idea when the book will be finished but as it will probably be about 200,000 words long and will include a series of fairly epic battles, it could be a few years." A few years!?!?!?!
The master narrator Simon Prebble owns the Horowitz oeuvre, as he reads both this series and Alex Rider. I've listened to him read both. He's so very good. He can create a vast cast of characters -- each with a unique voice that he sustains throughout the story. I can still hear some of the characters from Necropolis. Heck, I can still hear characters from the Alex Rider novel I listened to a year ago. I've got some quibbles: he doesn't sound comfortable speaking as an American or a Peruvian; and he also sounds a little off as Chinese. On the other hand, his British creations are excellent.
But where I find him particularly skilled is how he tells the whole story -- including the dialog. Prebble is a master of pacing, a critical part of any good reading; where he varies the speed, timing, volume and the sense of drama that he gives to the text. He can infuse some serious schlock with true emotion: I suffer listening to Prebble read Horowitz. Horowitz puts his young people in violent and terrifying situations -- ridiculous ones -- but I feel for those kids when Prebble reads those sections to me. I am anxious at the book's moments of high tension: Will Scarlett's escape succeed? What do the other Gatekeepers do when their safe compound is invaded by shape-shifters? I keep listening, because I've got to know now! I credit Prebble with this feeling -- simply reading it wouldn't be the same.
When my listening time becomes my own again, I might try one of Prebble's adult narrations. Not the romances (the ick factor is so high when listening), but perhaps a mystery ...