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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Podcast Novel Review: "Call of the Herald" by Brian Rathbone

To get the housekeeping out of the way first, if you haven't already voted in the poll, please take a moment to do so. At the time of writing this, it's still too close to call. It's not like I'll feel bound by any result either way - I have to decide if I have the time and energy to maintain a second site, after all - but it's interesting to get a gauge on how you all feel.

Call of the Herald is the first part in Brian Rathbone's Dawning of Power Trilogy. The complete trilogy is available as a trade paperback; so far, only the first part is in audio format, and this available free from of the Herald tells the tale of Catrin, a young girl thrust into a life of legend and prophecy when the quiet world she knew is changed forever.

Rathbone builds a haunting, immersive land of fog and mystery, meticulously building towards the unraveling of that world as the chapters unfold. He writes with care and attention to the finer details of Godsland, his fantasy world, and the characters that inhabit it. Listening to this audiobook, I was hungry for a bit more pace, but when Rathbone does bring on the action, he does so with the same refined skill and grace with which he has constructed his world. Without the methodical buildup, the climactic sequences would have seemed hollow. This is the fine art of world-building at its best.

The audio production is clean and clear. Rathbone never misses a beat in his crisp narration, and lets the prose carry the flow of his characters' voices. He has also chosen, for this recording, not to use any effects, music, or ambience, so the work relies very much on both his delivery and the weight of the writing for its effect. On this subject, Rathbone has a very soothing voice, which may at times be more relaxing than is good for the listener's focus. More than once I found I had to skip back because I had been lulled away from the story by the gentle timbre of Rathbone's voice rumbling away in my ear.

Call of the Herald took a bit of time to get into, but I was rewarded for sticking with it. The story finds its pace about halfway, and is unputdownable once it really gets going.

Overall, this is a fine effort in the fantasy genre, and I would have to give it a confident 3 1/2 Stars out of 5. I'll be looking forward to hearing future installments of the trilogy, and if the books were to cross my path I'd probably get my hands on them, if only to see if they read differently in my head without Rathbone's crooning voice to carry the words.

One thing I will say is that, unlike almost every podcast novel I've listened to, Rathbone doesn't plug his own site at all, which, while refreshing, is a shame. It is only tonight, as I skim over his site, that I see there are maps of Godsland for readers to look at, which would have made the listening experience a lot clearer. Maps are a critical part of the fantasy genre, and it is a skilled writer indeed who can write fantasy without recourse to a map in the front of the book - it's also one of the things we fantasy fans gobble up hungrily. It is a credit to Rathbone's writing that I made it right through Call of the Herald without ever seeing these maps, and never felt lost. Maybe a quick word in the intro or sign-off to check out the website for maps and artwork would have enhanced my experience of the audiobook.

Well done, Brian, on a great book and a fine audio production. Looking forward to your next offering.

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