Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Chasing the Bard

You've just read an absolutely great book. It had all the right elements, had great characters and the author did a wonderful job in painting the back story that the story rested upon. And then you discover the book was a sequel.

A sequel? You mean I started in the middle? The horror! The frustration! I can't take it anymore, I'll just have to end it all… Okay so the last might be a little too far. Still for those of you like me, there is nothing more annoying than coming into the middle of the story. I'll skip watching a TV show if I missed the intro , just because I don't want to miss any nuances of the story.

So when I discovered that Digital Magic, by Phillipa Ballantine, was a sequel, I was torn as to what to do. I'd completed Digital Magic, so I was already well familiar with the characters and the world. Would Chasing the Bard be too much review and not enough new? Would knowing the outcome of Digital Magic make it like reading the mystery novel knowing the butler did it, in the dinning room, with a candlestick?

Absolutely not.

My other trepidation to listening to Chasing the Bard was the setting. A book that had William Shakespeare as one of the main characters would be trodding in one of my favorite periods of history.  I've read books on Elizabethan history for fun and going to most so called "Renaissance Faires" makes me twitch as I see what most people interpret 1500s England as. Would a Kiwi from down under be qualified to bring one of my most beloved time periods to life, as the backdrop to her bardic tale?

Absolutely yes.

As I did with Digital Magic, I listened to PJ Ballantine's podcast novel  version of Chasing the Bard. Pip's voice work and the work of her esteemed guests was wonderful. Her characterization of the immortal trickster's voice, Puck, was positively brilliant and Tee Morris' portrayal of Shakespeare  was one of the best I've heard (and I've heard a lot of Will Shakespeare's in my time).

The story itself was a classic battle of good vs. nihilistic nothingness. I don't think you can truly call the Unmaker evil, given what he ultimately desires is the total nothing of all (Who let this guy out of the script of Neverending Story?). While the story might be a classic Trope it is the implementation and the weaving of history and classic fairie lore together that makes it a truly engaging story. Oh sure I knew the outcome. Even without reading Digital Magic, I could guess the eventual outcome. But the journey! Every time that Sive stuck her size zero fairie foot in her mouth I nearly cried out in frustration. For a female fairie she could be as dense as your typical redneck male.

Her characters were excellent, I would say even better than those of Digital Magic. Puck, Brigit and Warrick practically steal the show and the one scene with all three of them is positively explosive. And how Pip weaves the Bard's own interpretations of Oberon, from a Midsummer Nights Dream, into her own characterization of the fairie king make for an interesting mind twist as one ponders how the Bard's experiences in the story affected his writing of future plays (Yes, I was caught thinking of how the never happened story might have affected the real plays Shakespeare wrote. The story was that good).

And the end of the book not only elegantly sets you up for the next book, it also leaves you wondering.

Just what is "home" for William Shakespeare? Where did his spirit go?

An excellent "read", well worth the listen. And as an added bonus, it's all released. Listen to all twenty chapters as quick as you can, or spread them out to keep the story going for longer.

Until next time,
Writer, Explorer, Learner

Caveat Emptor- These blogs are written without the protection of an editor. I do proofread them, but I know I'm far from perfect. The ideas are sound and I'm still learning the foundational techniques. Thank you.

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