Why I Read It: Everything I have read by Carr, I have greatly enjoyed.
Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!).
Who I Recommend This To: Historical fiction fans will love sinking into this one.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2012)
Length: 35 hours 38 minutes
Any misspellings of names or places are completely my own (a common occurrence with reviewing an audiobook).
Let me start with: Wow! I know, that doesn’t completely cover it, but it should give you an idea right up front that I was mightily impressed with this work. Caleb Carr has given the bookish world another detailed, riveting fiction to be thoroughly enjoyed. The book starts with a foreword to give the reader a little background about how the book came about. Basically, legends have persisted for centuries of a lost and forgotten Germanic kingdom, the kingdom of Broken. Various documents have arisen here and there over time pointing to this forgotten kingdom, often thought to be hoaxes. From this arises the fantastic tale Carr has woven together for us (I think the foreword might also fall under the ‘fiction heading’ as well, in the same spirit of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride).
The small kingdom of Broken is comprised of several small cities and villages. The main city is ruled by the Merchants’ Guild and the religious group (all bow before beautiful Cafra). Drawing upon ancient Roman Empire roots, the kingdom has a well organized military and maintains trade both within and without the kingdom. However, the Cafra deity requires that all those who are not of sound body be exiled to the woods, Davenwood to be exact. Hence, a secondary society made up of the short of stature, or mentally deficient, or light of a limb or two has evolved over the decades alongside Broken. They are the Bane, and they must be fleet of foot and strong of heart to survive in the wilderness, let alone to form a society with their own religion and trade.
One Broken soldier, Sixt Arnum, will find himself at the center of a plot to not only destroy and remake part of Broken but to also eradicate the Bane. His lady wife, Isadora, and her children are left to tend home and hearth while he is ordered to march the army to some of the outlying districts. There, plague it discovered; and it has driven the populace mad first with pain, then with loss, and finally with a lack of sensation. Unfortunately, plague has also struck on the home front and luckily Lady Isadora, a healer in her own right, pieces the clues together in time. Alas, treachery is at the source and it not expected.
The plot is pretty huge, and I don’t want to give away too much of it, so now I will commence gushing about all the things I loved about this book. First, there are tons of thinking characters in this book – men, women, soldiers, servants, good guys, bad guys, short, tall, crippled, healthy. Next, nature plays a big, big role as these folks lived very close to it. In fact, spoiled grain leads to one of the overwhelming illnesses. Also, the ‘wizards’ are able to converse with wildlife. Caliphestros himself would simply tell you it is science and learning and patience that allows him to use birds to send messages and to communicate with Stasi, the beautiful white panther of Davenwood. There is also plenty of humor to break up the serious tone of treachery and deceit – most of it from the Bane Hildebrant. Next, you can tell Carr did some research, pulling in elements from a long ago and all but forgotten Roman Empire, medical knowledge available at the time, military hierarchy and formations. These aspects gave the tale that feeling that maybe, just maybe, this really did happen so long ago. All in all, a most excellent read.
Our primary narrator was Tim Gerard Reynolds, with George Guidall performing the introduction and the chapter notes (of which there are 2-3 hours). Reynolds provided a variety of voices, making it easy to keep the cast of characters separate. I especially loved his voice for Hildebrant, a most vociferous and often vexing character. He imbued the reading with the full spectrum of emotion, bringing to mind the proper facial expressions for each character depending on the situation.
I do have to say something about the format. I have the MP3 CD. All together, there are 3 CDs and each CD had 11+ hours on it. Each MP3 ranged from ~11 – ~30 minutes long. I tried this book in 3 different players and in each one, if I stopped in the middle of a track, my place was lost. So you can imagine being 25 minutes into a 30 minute track and then getting a very important phone call (why hello mom) and coming back to find you have to start the track over. So, honestly, I only got a third of my way through this book in that stop & repeat method over a period of 2 months (even tho it is an excellent book). Luckily, I have been recovering from ankle surgery these past 2 weeks and could devote hours at a time to listening.
What I Liked: The rich, historical feel to it; clever characters abound; Stasi my white panther goddess; brutality and beauty were both captured in this book; each character had a history and we got enough of those pasts to understand current motivations; the competing faiths; the dual plagues; the use of nature and animals in the story line.
What I Disliked: The foreword and detailed footnotes make me want to treat this book as based on fact, but I think those are part of the fiction too (if I’m mistaken, let me know!)