Aranya by Marc Secchia

Narrator: Shiromi Arserio

Publisher: Marc Secchia (2015)

Length: 14 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 1 Shapeshifter Dragons

Author’s Page

Aranya, princess of the island kingdom of Immadia, is given up as hostage to the invading Sylakian Empire. Chained aboard a Sylakian dragonship (dirigible), she manages to save the commanding officer, a Warhammer, from a windroc. She has a bit of freedom once imprisoned with all the other hostages of subjugated nations but that doesn’t prevent the hostages from forming cliques and taunting one another. Matters get out of hand and Aranya is sentenced to die. She is shackled to a stone and tossed off a high escarpment. That’s when her life changes forever as she shapeshifts into a dragon. This might just be the turning point in the war with Sylakia.

There’s much to be enjoyed in this book. I liked Aranya as a character even though she didn’t wow me. She’s not perfect but she has a good heart. She has her strengths and weaknesses but she also has some good companions to help her along the way. My one quibble would be that she’s a little too good, only having minor flaws. She was rather bland and this made her a little boring.

Meanwhile, her best friend and dragonrider is Zip (short for Zuziana), another princess hostage. They don’t start off as friends but they eventually find merit in each other and bond over shared experiences. Zip has a mouth on her short frame and isn’t afraid to use it, like her archery skills.

The plot was in two pieces for me. In fact, it felt like this was two books pressed into one. First, Aranya must discover who and what she is. That whole bit about being tossed off a cliff that’s mentioned in the book’s description doesn’t happen until several hours into the book. The second half of the book is Aranya and Zip running some guerrilla tactics on the Sylakian air navy and eventually having a really big battle to determine the fate of the island kingdoms.

Let’s talk a little about the male characters. Mostly, they are either there for comfort (like Aranya’s dad) or are of a romantic interest (like Yolathian and the formerly nameless monk). Occasionally they get to do stuff and have a few meaningful lines. That said, most of their plot-related actions happen off the page and the reader only hears about it after the fact. It is both refreshing and odd to have a book that wouldn’t pass a reverse-Bechdel test.

Nak and Odya, an older couple who have experience with both natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters, get to play teachers and stand-in grandparents to Aranya. Sometimes this was very sweet and sometimes Nak was outright creepy with all his lecherous comments to and about Aranya and later Zip. Odya and Nak know something about Aranya’s parentage but are reluctant to give up all their secrets. Aranya’s mom is something of a mystery throughout the book and that’s one of the things I liked.

There’s also warrior pygmies on some of the isles and Zip and Aranya have to trade with them. Then there’s the dragonets, which are small dragons with limited intelligence and speech. This last bit really reminded me of some of Anne McCaffrey’s books. As a biologist, I got a kick out of the info about dragon anatomy – 3 hearts, 7 stomachs, etc. After so many mentions about dragon digestion I did start to wonder about dragon poo. For a good chunk of the book, Aryana in dragon form is being tracked by the Sylakians and spoor is a useful find when tracking anything. Alas, no dragon dung.

As the story goes on, Aryana’s powers grow. At first, this seemed natural and I was interested. Later on though, she has so many powers that she’s getting close to be invincible and I found this a bit boring. I like my heroes to have limited abilities and therefore, they sometimes have to rely either on others or on their wits to get them out of a jam.

All told, it’s a good solid start to an epic dragon fantasy series. The two main characters are pretty interesting and the world they inhabit has a lot left to explore.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobook Worm.

The Narration: Shiromi Arserio makes a really good Aranya, both princess and dragon. I enjoyed the quick banter between Aranya and Zip throughout the book. For the most part, she usually had distinct character voices but sometimes there were a few conversations where the distinctions became muddled. The male character voices really needed some masculinity. She was great at imbuing characters with the correct emotions. 

What I Liked: A world made up of islands; natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters; Zip and Aranya make a great team; pygmies; little dragons; dirigibles; Odya playing grandmother.

What I Disliked: Could use some gender balancing; Nak is creepy; Aranya’s power grow so numerous and powerful during the book that she becoems a little boring; male characters don’t sound particularly masculine.

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Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

ButcherFoolMoonWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia Publishing (2009)

Length: 10 hours 6 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it works fine as a stand alone.

 

Werewolves! Chicago has enough problems without werewolves and PI wizard Harry Dresden has enough problems without the FBI being involved. Harry put some serious strain on his friendship with Lt. Karin Murphy in Book 1 (Storm Front) and he’s been suffering because of it, and not just because a solid chunk of his monthly income comes from Murphy’s Special Investigations unit at Chicago PD where Harry used to do a fair amount of consultant work. Reluctantly, Karin Murphy asks for his professional opinion on a death and Harry isn’t too pleased at what he finds.

This is my second time reading this book, but I last read it years ago and had forgotten many of the details. Right up front we know the story is dealing with werewolves, but as Bob the skull points out, there are several types of werewolves. Harry has to figure out what type he’s dealing with before he can work out how to stop the killings. Also, there’s this tricky thing called motivation that he also has to figure out. But in this fast-paced urban fantasy, there is no time for Harry to simply sit and contemplate.

The end of the previous book left with things strained between Karin and Harry. They each have trust issues and hence they have trust issues within their friendship and working relationship. Luckily, they do have a few brief moments where they can clear the air. However, there’s still a big, big mistake in trust that costs the police force dearly. At the end of the book, there is this intense scene that does an excellent job of illustrating how far, or not, their mutual trust has come.

Susan Rodriguez, a reporter for The Arcane, is also a part of this tale. She, of course, wants to get some footage of some real werewolves but she’s not really listening to Harry when he tells her how dangerous they are. I’m still luke warm on Susan’s character. She can be fun and even a bit sassy, and she definitely has chemistry with Harry, but she also strikes me as a but of an idiot at times. Put on some body armor and get some weapons training if you’re going to go werewolf hunting, even if it’s just with a camera! With that said, I do become a fan of Susan later in the series.

Then there is Tara West. She’s the fiance of this multi-millionaire/environmental activist who is missing. Tara has some of the best lines for the entire book. She’s not like anyone Harry has dealt with before and it takes him a long time to figure her out. The first time I read this book, I didn’t get Tara either until the very end.

Since we are dealing with werewolves, there’s a fair amount of nudity as they shapeshift. However, it is practical nudity. So, don’t let the naked body count for this book turn you off. Not that it would turn me off anyway.

The FBI crew was a pain in the arse in more ways than one. Of course, they start off as a hindrance and it takes Harry some time to figure out how to either get them out of the way or get them on his side. Crime lord John Marcone also returns to cause Harry some grief. However, the man does have some interesting knife skills that a person has to respect. Yep, I do believe I enjoyed this book just a smidge more than Book 1.

The Narration: James Marsters continues to make an excellent Harry Dresden. He does a really great job of getting Harry’s emotions (an his occasional nausea) across to the listeners. His gravelly, tense voices (both male and female) for the werewolves were great. I love Bob’s proper accent and Gentleman John Marcone’s stiff replies to Harry’s snark. 

What I Liked: Harry tries hard to repair his friendship with Murphy; the mistake that costs the Chicago PD dearly; different types of werewolves, and their various motivations; the FBI crew; Tara West and her practicality; intense ending.

What I Disliked: Susan Rodriguez is a little bit of a ditz.

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