Saturday, April 18, 2015

Audio Book Review: Strange Maid

 I received this from my library through the Overdrive program/app and holy cow that was the least intuitive app I have ever used and I cannot believe that people actually think this is a good program. I had to use a separate app for my computer and phone, unsure if they synced since I didn't want to even try it out after all the hassle it had already taken, and the program didn't even save my place when I stopped for the day. A third of the time I would open it up and it would start playing where I left off but I couldn't figure out the rhyme or reason for why it saved my place sometimes and not others (it's not because of the bookmark function). The book was also split up into ten sections for downloading/accessing but these sections didn't necessarily line up with chapter breaks, as would be logical and there seemed to be enough free space in the last section to allow for shuffling, left me wondering why this app was even designed this way if it wasn't either logical or elegant, one or the other I could understand but not neither! 

The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton, narrated by Cynthia Holloway 

Signy Valborn was selected by Odin to become a valkyrie when she was very young but has been dishonored when she could not answer a riddle set forth by him and has been constantly searching for the answer ever since. Enter Ned the Spiritless, a bard who thinks he knows the answer and they travel to Vinland to hunt a troll but when Baldur the Beautiful vanishes it seems as if her troll might be hunting her instead.

I feel as though The Lost Sun was a stronger book than this one since I was left feeling a little disappointed as I finished this book. Lost Sun had the advantage of being the first book in a series so it was able to not only set up an on-going mystery but to also tell a stand-alone story focusing on Soren which didn't quite happen here. In some ways Strange Maid is also a stand alone story since the main part of it is about Signy's Beowulf-esque hero's journey but the story is hampered by the fact that it has to wait for Baldur to vanish and reappear before the plot can truly get rolling which I believe was around the half-way point.  I'm a bit worried about the overarching story that's emerging for the series, involving Freya's manipulations of fate, since it's not very compelling so far since it's rather confusing. We still have no idea why she's doing moving these characters around and I can't even find out how long this series is so it could be a long time before that finally makes itself clear (I do expect the answer to be "Ragnarok" but that alone isn't a motivation). While it worked well with the first book, here it just seemed to hamper the flow of the book and made Signy's journey seem oddly, not realistically, paced. I will admit that the fact that I remember next to nothing about Beowulf did not help me here, thank goodness for characters who explicitly point out their strange similarities, but while I didn't dislike this book I did walk away from it feeling like it could have been done better.

And, despite how much I enjoy listening to audio books, I feel as if I don't appreciate the world-building and other small details as much. I remember really liking the cultural differences between our world and the United States of Asgard in the first book but here I almost didn't notice them or felt like they were making the book take too long*. I did like this book as an audio book, Holloway had a nice voice which seemed to work well for Signy but I did feel like she overused an inauthentic-sounding Southern accent for some of the characters and did struggle to tell some of them apart in the later part of the book when there were simply tons of characters being constantly introduced.

It's a little hard to tell but it looks like the next book in the series is out already (Gratton's own site doesn't mention it or how many books this series is contracted for) and that there's a collection of short stories with some connecting characters I should probably pick up first so I plan to get to those as soon as my library gets them. In the meantime, if anyone here is a fan of this book I will also recommend The Story of Owen and vice versa, both of them take a decidedly old-fashioned approach to troll and dragon hunting and the importance of bards when doing so.

*for comparison's sake, this book clocked in at 10 or 12 hours of narration and I finished reading The Lost Sun in about five or six, which was fast for me but is a significant difference none the less.

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