Audiobook Review: The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

A tale of intrigue and murder from the perspective of an 8-year old hostage. 4.75/5.0

(Tiny disclaimer: any Amazon links on this site go through my affiliate account, to pay for the maintenance of this site and to help me read and review more books.)

A word of warning, fair traveler: by reading Jeff Wheeler’s “The Queen’s Poisoner,” you are embarking on an adventure spanning six main novels and even a tie-in or two. That said, they’re totally worth it. Over the next several weeks I’ll review all of them, but it makes sense to start with the first.

Set in a world where the source of magical and divine power – the Fountain – resides among and amidst its many peoples, young Owen Kiskaddon finds himself at the center of a power struggle in the kingdom. During a battle in the opening chapter, Owen’s father, Duke Kiskaddon, fails to protect his liege, King Severn, at a critical moment. The Duke thought the King would fall, but the King did not. As a result, Owen’s oldest brother was killed and he was taken as a hostage back to the court at Kingfountain, to insure Duke Kiskaddon’s continued loyalty. The story follows Owen’s adventures and misadventures while at the King’s court, and of attempts to pull him deeper into a conspiracy involving many influential members of the land.

The story flows very well, and we’re introduced to many different characters in the process. There was a time in the very beginning that I was worried Owen was going to be some sort of a Mary Sue, with the way everyone but the King and one of his attendants seemed to be glomming on to him, but looking back it made a sort of sense why certain characters fell for him the way they did. A young, scared boy all alone, and the characters who attached themselves to him were all parents. And Owen definitely has his faults that land him in a lot of trouble. His arc is well developed throughout, and the pacing is such that I had a hard time turning it off.

If you enjoy exploring fantasy universes and don’t mind a younger protagonist, you can’t go wrong with “The Queen’s Poisoner.”  Oh, and spoiler alert: Owen does get older as the books progress. He’s only eight in the first one. The second one is more coming-of-age, and the third… Well, I’ll leave that for future reviews. Or you could pick it up and find out!

I realize with my last review I forgot to mention anything about the narrator, so I’m making doubly sure to do that here.

Kate Rudd narrates all of the Kingfountain books, and her performance is exceptional. I don’t know how she manages a different voice for every character the way she does, but I never had a problem telling who was who, either because she spoke with a different accent or pitch to her voice, or because she changed up the cadence in such a way that it brought the character to life. I was first introduced to her in Melissa F. Olson’s “Boundary Crossed,” and I’ve got a bunch of Kate’s narrations singled out for future listens. If I indie-publish anything and there’s demand for an audio version, she’s one of the ones I want to call.

All in all, loved it! I plan to listen to it again, maybe with my wife. I think she’d enjoy the series, especially a couple of the characters who get added a bit later.



Audiobook Review: “Son of the Black Sword”

A bloody, action-filled coming-of-age story. 4.75/5.0

“Coming-of-age” isn’t something you typically think of when you learn that the protagonist of a tale is in his 30’s, but that’s the conclusion I came to by the time I finished Larry Correia’s Son of the Black Sword by Baen Books. This is a coming-of-age tale or, if that term doesn’t sit right, a tale of awakening, where the hero must come to terms with his true destiny. And it is anything but what he wants for himself

Our hero, the badass warrior known as BlackHearted Ashok is the strongest of a small order of battle-hardened, magically enhanced warrior monks in a fantasy world that takes a lot of cues from India, China, and even the United States gets an appreciative nod when the concept of freedom and the bearing of arms is brought in rather early, and only reinforced with additional characters much later in the story. He has come a long way by the time the book opens, having spent two decades fighting in service of the law that rules over all that’s left of mankind, or most of what’s left (We quickly learn that some resist and that some are above the law). He’s at the top of his profession, a fantasy equivalent of the judges in the Judge Dredd series. He wields an ancient and rare Ancestor Blade, a sentient weapon that will only respond to its wielder and no other. After several scenes and flashbacks of Ashok’s life and deeds, he learns of a grave truth about his heritage that will change everything, for himself, for his Ancestor Blade, and for the nation that he serves.

Along the way we meet several very interesting characters, from a brother warrior whose family lost its own Ancestor Blade to a house warrior-turned-prison-warden who takes a keen interest in besting Ashok to restore his fallen reputation, to a librarian woman in the capital city’s famed archives. If anything, I wished the book had spent more time following some of these side characters more, as many of the story threads involving them weren’t pursued fully. Now, I know that’s because there’s going to be a book two, but still! No, that silly complaint aside, the book was very well paced and did a good job of bouncing back and forth between the cast at appropriate points. We also get some glimpses into the main villain(s) every now and then, and I can’t wait for both to get theirs.

I only listened to it a couple weeks ago, and already I can’t wait for the sequel. I knew this was going to happen, which is why I waited so long before finally giving it a read. Larry, you can’t get this done soon enough! 4.75/5.0

If you own the Kindle version of Son of the Black Sword, it greatly cuts down on the price of the Audiobook. That is what I did. If you’d like to purchase it or other books from Amazon, I’d appreciate if you used the affiliate link here or in the image above: Son of the Black Sword. It helps keep the site running, and it keeps me stocked in audiobooks for more reviews. It is appreciated!

Audiobook Review: “A Man in the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts”

If you’re the least bit interested in the space program – especially NASA’s early years – then you’ll love “A Man in the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts” by Andrew Chaikin. The audio book comes in at exactly 23 hours, and covers the Apollo program from the Apollo 1 disaster all the way through the final Apollo 17 mission

Part biography, part debriefing, Mr. Chaikin skillfully weaves interesting character portraits and anecdotes of the astronauts with the missions themselves. I loved getting to know more about each astronaut and his reasons for joining the space program. Some wanted a challenge, something even more exciting than being a test pilot, which most of the early astronauts were. Some like Jim Lovell had always dreamed of exploring space and landing on the Moon, and that makes his Apollo 13 mission all the more tragic. Twice he got to fly around the Moon – first on 8 and then on 13 – but he never got to set foot on it. And there was at least one who just thought it sounded like a decent job and he was going to be the best astronaut he could be, though I forget which one that was.

While all of it is worth listening to, the first half is by far the most exciting. Book-ended by two disasters – Apollo 1 and 13 – the meat of the first half is a triumph of firsts. The first Lunar orbit, Apollo 8, was a race against the Soviets. Apollo 9 was the first time a Saturn V rocket carried both the Command Module and the Lunar Module, and this was the first time the docking procedure would be performed. And the main event, the first landing with Apollo 11, was a near disaster when Neil Armstrong missed his landing zone and had to improvise to avoid boulders and craters with his delicate lander.

The latter half of the book has more of a focus on the scientific achievements of the Apollo program, and they are quite extensive, especially from a geological standpoint. Apollo 15’s discovery of the Genesis Rock is one such achievement that stands out in my mind, along with the many health and mechanical challenges faced on that mission, the first of the J-Missions (The longer stays on the Lunar surface). The book doesn’t delve into too much of the nitty-gritty details of the science, which may or may not be a turn-off for some. As someone who is more interested in the people, it was a relief for me. There’s a reason I don’t really enjoy techno-thrillers, except in rare cases.

The narrator, Bronson Pinchot, does an excellent job of bringing the story and people in it to life. I don’t know if Bronson himself is much into NASA’s history and space travel, but he could’ve fooled me with his performance. Some of the astronauts – from Buzz Aldrin’s awe-inspired description of the Moon as “Magnificent desolation” to Pete Conrad’s lighthearted first words as he followed in Neil and Buzz’s footsteps onto the surface – are delivered with quite the range of emotions. I’ve listened to him read David B. Coe’s “His Father’s Eyes” and he did a great job there, too, so it’s no surprise he’d deliver well here.

In all, I loved this book and can’t wait to read more about the space program. Between this and the Jim Baen Memorial Award book from Baen, I haven’t been this interested in space travel since Space Camp back in 5th grade, and that’s saying a lot!

I bought this with my own, hard-earned Audible Credits. If you’d like to purchase it or other books from Amazon, I’d appreciate if you used the affiliate link here or in the image above: “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts.” It helps keep the site running, and it keeps me stocked in audio books for more reviews. It is appreciated!

The Writer’s Lexicon: A Treasure Trove for the Editing Writer

I received a copy of Kathy Steinemann’s The Writer’s Lexicon last month in order to provide an unbiased review for it. Kathy must’ve broken into my schedule planner, because she offered it up right at the time I needed it most. I had four short story deadlines to try and meet by the end of September, and that meant a lot of editing.

For anyone looking for a cheat sheet when editing or for those who want to improve their overall writing during any phase of work, The Writer’s Lexicon is an asset worth having. The book is broken up into a few sections: overused words and phrases (Let’s nod, smile, and laugh our way through life), overused punctuation (Exclamation points!!!11!!), taboos, and even a section on sensory words and touching on all the senses can really add depth to the writing and better ground the reader.

While editing these four stories, the two areas that helped me most were the sections on overused words and phrases and the use of sensory words. Before I got my hands on this particular book, I’d already had editors who wanted to publish a story of mine point out how often my characters nodded, smiled, shrugged, and laughed. Way too much, but in my defense: one of my favorite trilogies is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Go back and flip through that first book and tell me how many times Kelsier does all four of those things in a single conversation, let alone the rest of the crew. He ain’t hurtin’! Then again, I’m not Brandon Sanderson and you aren’t, either, so it probably pays to adhere to at least some rules to better touch up your prose. I also haven’t read much of his more recent stuff just because I’ve been too busy, so it’s possible he’s changed his style since Mistborn came out many years ago.

With that said, this book isn’t just a collection of proverbs like “Hey, try to keep your characters from shrugging so much” or “You know, it’s probably a good idea to have your character smell something wafting through the air every once in awhile.” That’s in there, but the coolest part of The Writer’s Lexicon is the substitutes for some of those overused words and lists of the many ways one can touch the senses.

For example, have a character who clears his throat way too much? Is it as annoying to read as it is to hear over and over again in real life? There’s a way around it, but we need to figure out his motivation first. Does he do it because he’s agitated or anxious? Is it because he’s embarrassed or afraid? Maybe he feels a level of guilt over something? Depending on what his motivation is, there are other physical tells you can use to show that off aside from just clearing the throat or coughing out of turn, such as nail biting when agitated or grinding teeth when anxious, shuffling feet when embarrassed, or staring at the floor when guilty.

No matter what the word, phrase, or taboo is, Kathy has several substitutes for them, each dependent on the emotion or state of mind trying to be conveyed. It’s helped me quite a bit, and I plan to go back to this book every time I sit down to edit.

Overall, The Writer’s Lexicon is a 5.0/5.0 for me. For a reference book, it’s top-notch. My only wish is that I had a paperback version of it, as well. Guess I know what’s on my Christmas list this year.