Friday, February 26, 2010

Listening to the magic

I'm waiting for a Dion Graham book to come in via Interlibrary Loan, so I've been casting about for some short-ish audiobooks and discovered that I had set aside Lost (second book of The Magic Thief); it didn't go into the great garage storage space where audiobook giveaways live. I liked the first one -- despite some reservations about the narrator -- so I went back to the intelligent and witty Connwaer and the deepening mystery of the disappearing magic.

In the first book by Sarah Prineas, we met the young pickpocket Conn as he attempted to steal the locus magicalicus of Nevery Flinglas. Nevery recognizes some magical capabilities in young Conn and takes him on as an apprentice. Together they uncover the mystery of why the magic in the the town of Wellmet is slowly ebbing away. Unfortunately, in the process, Conn's own magicalicus is destroyed, and he finds himself -- at the beginning of Lost -- seeking other ways of allowing the magic to communicate with him.

Since this involves pyrotechnics, Conn quickly finds himself in very hot water. Nevery banishes him, and he runs to join his friend Lady Rowan who is on a diplomatic mission to a nearby town, called Desh. Lady Rowan and her mother -- the ruler of Wellmet -- wish to learn if the sinister shadows that have been attacking and killing Wellmettians by turning them to stone are afflicting Desh as well. What Conn and Rowan discover is far more horrific: The shadows are being controlled by someone in Desh, someone very powerful indeed -- intent, naturally, on destroying all good magic. Just Conn -- shunned by nearly everyone, except for the blackbirds that share his name -- stands in the way. It's a good thing he's a resourceful thief, even if he can't speak with the magic.

It's the characters that I enjoy most in these books, and I think I enjoy the narrator's interpretations of those characters especially. Greg Steinbruner is snarkily innocent as Conn, pompous but affectionate as Nevery, and suitably dark and menacing when called for in the story. He does a fairly good job with female characters who sound like they are speaking naturally for the most part: I particularly liked the exasperated bodyguard, Kerrn.

But where he continues to be weak -- and I've mentioned this several times in these pages when I've listened to him -- is that English accent. It just sounds too fake -- the vowels are too rounded and he comes across as affected rather than British. In this book, he gives Kerrn a vaguely Scots accent that doesn't sound comfortable either. Considering that he is so very good at creating and sustaining characters, I'm disappointed at his persistence with the bad accent. (Except, of course, that he started out with the accent and he'll want to keep it through all the books. Oh well.) He's made tremendous strides with his other narrator tic: that of the long pause between sentences. In Lost, the sentences flow naturally and the pace is varied. I was speeding through the last of this book as Steinbruner carefully built the tension and excitement.

I came across this entry (from Ashland, Oregon!) where blogger interviewed Steinbruner about his narrator career (she likes his accent more than I do). I love these inside stories: I didn't realize that the audiobook engineering booth was so full of frustrated actors!

No comments: