Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's gonna blow!

I am schizophrenic about Tamora Pierce (whose name I always want to pronounce Ta-MORE-a): I admire her long career and the beloved place her fictional heroines hold in many young readers' hearts, but I really don't like her books very much. I've listened to three; Melting Stones makes the fourth. Despite my previous encounter with the character named Evvy, I was kind of looking forward to this novel, as it was written by Pierce to be read out loud -- the Full Cast Audio production was published a year before the print version (although I like the print cover better).

Evvy, a street urchin whose magic derives from rocks, has been undergoing training with her mentor, Rosethorn, at the school for mages known as The Winding Circle. Her past history of abandonment, war and abuse make it difficult for her to get along with the other students, so Rosethorn brings her along on a mission to the Battle Island of Starns to investigate the mysterious die-off of plants (Rosethorn being a plant mage). Evvy discovers that the island is a long-dormant volcano getting ready to explode and she works her own magic deep within the mountain to head off the disaster.

Full Cast Audio always uses music and sound effects to augment the novel's text, and here there is vaguely Asian-sounding music (loud gongs and that plink, plink, plink that instantly evokes an old-timey China) between chapters. The composer, Todd Hobin, has also created a soundscape that illustrates the rumblings and shakings of the baby volcano that is very effective (once I figured out that it wasn't ambient street noise seeping through my earphones!).

The large cast is led by the young (aged 14?) Grace Kelly who narrates the story in Evvy's first person. I really hated Kelly when I heard her read Street Magic three years ago -- I found her emotive screeching to be extremely annoying. So I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed her in this audiobook. Here, she handles the chief narrator duties with confidence; she expresses emotion naturally and moves the story along quickly. She does have that awful upstate New York short "a" which sounds more like "ehh," but so do a number of the other performers. (If you'll scroll down to Buffalo at this website, you can find out that -- I think -- this sound is a "tense short a." Who knew?) It's a quibble, and it ceased to bother me sooner than I had anticipated.

The other performers are fairly natural-sounding in their dialog, and the younger readers avoid the "adorable" label. I enjoyed the voices of Moe Harrington (playing the occasionally short-tempered Rosethorn), Tim Liebe (the hardworking Oswin), and Liam Fitzpatick (the lovelorn Jayatin). But, truth be told, most of them are unable to bring this story to life.

But I think this lifelessness lies in the story ... the story. So dull (way too much info about geology). So repetitive (Evvy's many trips to visit the nascent volcano spirits run all together in my head). So ridiculous -- a pet rock? Really? The voice actor playing this rock called Luvo, David Baker, adopts a booming, stolid delivery that must have been intended to sound rock-like, but really just brings the story to a dead halt. (Luvo is the Gumby-looking creature that Evvy is carrying on her hip on the cover of the audiobook.)

Can any of these faults be attributed to the novel's audio origins? I'm thinking not. I'm thinking that it's just Tamora Pierce and the fact that I really don't like her books. I think I'm consistent: I said the same thing here and here.

Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce
Narrated by Grace Kelly and a full cast
Full Cast Audio, 2007. 8:30 (unabridged)

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