Audio-book: Ashes of the Unspeakable

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If you have not yet read The Borrowed World just a heads up: this review will contain light spoilers on the first book of the series.

In The Borrowed World we followed Jim and his group of coworkers as they desperately tried to get home after the nation was crippled by a terrorist attack. Jim, a serious prepper, had to use all his knowledge (and gear) to navigate the disintegrating world, where dangers lurked behind every corner and violence became the preferred method of communication. Not all of Jim’s colleagues were that impressed though and some chose to stay behind and hope that the government sorts things out. For Alice and Rebecca this translated into waiting to be transported to a FEMA camp.

While Jim’s trek is still very important, it leaves center stage and Ashes of the Unspeakable gives other strands of the story more room. The struggles of Jim’s wife Ellen and their kids and the sobering adventures of Alice and Rebecca get in-depth attention. A few new major characters are introduced. Fortunately these segments are just as engrossing and entertaining as Jim’s hike.

Most characters continue taking logical decisions and although luck plays a big role sometimes (just as in real life) everything stays relatively plausible. Real preppers may even get their notebook out, as there are a few genuinely useful tips and tricks to be found.

A criticism of the first book, the somewhat flat characters lacking detail and without much development still stands though. Some of the characters do develop a bit, but they only change into a light version of Jim. Perhaps this transformation is necessary to survive in the brutal post apocalyptic world, so in context it makes sense I guess. Even though the perspective switches during the story, it appears as if the book was written by prepper Jim, his world view projected on all characters and his obsession with gear, guns and being prepared permeating every dialogue and description.

Why the terrorist attack is so devastating and the collapse so complete, it is touched upon but the reasoning feels contrived. It is probably better to stick with the it-is-how-it-is approach of the first book and just focus on dealing with the given situation and keep the roller-coaster, eh rolling. The (not very original) argument that society is only held together by a very thin layer of veneer, under which tribal or even animal like behavior is hidden sounds true though and is scary enough. All that said, Ashes of the Unspeakable is an entertaining and action packed, sometimes horrific tale of survival against the odds. For preppers, written by a prepper (speculation on my part).

Finally, I found the narration by Kevin Pierce to be good, dry as it should be. In dialogues Pierce does not really do voices as such, but subtly changes the diction a bit. On Amazon you can always listen to a sample to see if you like it.

Amazon Audible version.

Listening time: 9 hours, 2 minutes.

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Audio-book: The Borrowed World

25470417The Borrowed World from Franklin Horton depicts a post apocalyptic scenario, where the USA is dealt a crippling blow by ISIS terrorists. Jim Powell and his co-workers were en route, on a business trip, and now find themselves stranded hundreds of miles from home. Their mission: to get back to their loved ones as soon as possible. That is the core of the book, the terrorist attack merely provides the necessary circumstances and is not dealt with in great detail, nor very original for that matter.

The disastrous change from fully functioning society (well, sort of) to rampant chaos is abrupt and condensed but understandable considering the focus of the book. The narrative alternates between Jim and his wife Ellen and their kids, who have their own problems to deal with. I would say, at least in this first book (yes, The Borrowed World is the first in a series), the trek Jim and his colleagues have to make gets center stage. Jim is a guy who takes his prepping seriously.

Paranoid, some of his co-workers are convinced at first. Jim prefers to call himself “prepared”. And of course the events that unfold will prove just that. Most of the time Jim is not very likable (and this may be a problem for some readers/listeners), a bit of a blunt hard-ass, with little apparent concern for those who do not share his world view. That said, if you found yourself in a survival situation you probably, no definitely want to be in Jim’s group.

After flipping the switch, from organised world to anarchic chaos, the story needs some time to gather momentum. Once gained it picks up pace significantly and escalates into scenes of ever increasing violence and horror. Amidst all this the group takes rational decisions (mostly) and deals with dangers in a coherent, logical and believable way. Jim works for a government agency and he and his colleagues seem to be fully aware of the governments helplessness in times of real crisis.

There is some social commentary to be found in The Borrowed World (gun control and other issues) but since I am not from the US, I know too little about these debates to fully appreciate the hints.

Apart from Jim, the characters are somewhat 2-dimensional and lack details. In this first book it helps to keep a tight focus and get things rolling, but it is a valid criticism. Perhaps this issue is addressed in the following parts of the series. Other than that The Borrowed World sometimes spends a good amount of time describing the gear: weapons, ammunition, gadgets, food, boots and so on. A preppers delight and from the perspective of Jim, understandable. You must be enjoying this whole situation, one of his colleagues mentions. Jim denies this, but i am not so sure.

Finally, I found the narration by Kevin Pierce to be good, dry as it should be. In dialogues Pierce does not really do voices as such, but subtly changes the diction a bit. On Amazon you can always listen to a sample to see if you like it.

Conclusion: A very entertaining ride, if you like post-apocalyptic tales. I am very much looking forward to listening to volume 2, Ashes of The Unspeakable.

Amazon Audible version.

Listening time: 7 hours, 54 minutes.

Audio-books

I jumped in a little bit skeptical, but consider me a convert. While commuting, doing chores around the house or just relaxing, audiobooks are an excellent way to enjoy a good book. For me getting immersed in a story is actually much easier when listening instead of reading. Also listening seems to require less focus and concentration (at least for me), so ideal if you had a tough day at work and do not have the energy to do much else. There are quite a few places on the net where you can get legit free audiobooks. These will be The Classics that entered the public domain, here you can find the works of Lovecraft or Poe for example. The quality of the narration will vary greatly, is sometimes done by “amateurs” and the format choice is probably limited. Other than that an excellent way to experience an audiobook and decide if you like it, as a concept and leisure activity.

After I established that I did, some research was in order. Where can I find the largest collection of Audiobooks? And at what price? There are a few service providers for example AudioBooks (60.000 books, iOs, Android, GooglePlay), Scribd (a subscription service, also offers e-books, comics and sheet music) and Audible, which I am using right now. As from 2008 Audible is a subsidiary of Amazon, which translates into a very large selection (nearly 200.000 audiobooks), top-notch narration and also premium prices. Audible offers a subscription plan, which may be worthwhile if you are really diving in, but is not required for using the service. There are listening apps for iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android, Windows Phone and Tablet, Kindle Touch, Fire Tablet, Amazon Echo and  iTunes plus a streaming service. When you do not subscribe the price of an audio-book ranges from high to frankly ridiculous.

As an example, let’s check the Amazon price for The Martian by Andy Weir. At the moment of writing: for Kindle $5.41, paperback $6.91, hardcover $14.88 and Audible $30.99…OK, I get that the production costs for an audio-book are probably higher but still, it is steep. If you plan to purchase audiobooks regularly a subscription may be a good idea. You can get the first book free, then 1 book a month for $14.95 and a significant discount on subsequent purchases.

Free Audio-books:

OpenCulture

Lit2Go

LibriVox