The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan, Narrated by Kate Reading & Michael Kramer

The Fires of Heaven picks up where The Shadow Rising left off, largely leaving behind the events in the Two Rivers where Perrin has become the de facto ruler of a small kingdom. There are references to what’s going on there, but that’s not the focus of this book.
Rand’s expansion into the world beyond the Aiel Wastes is the primary focus of this novel, as he walks a delicate balance between the diverse and often dissenting factions he’s ruling over as both The Dragon Reborn and Car’a’carn. Wanting nothing to do with the trappings of fate, Mat attempts to escape on multiple occasions, only to find himself more firmly entrenched in the wheel’s design and–much like Rand–dizzied by memories not his own.
At the same time, Nynaeve and Elayne are on a collision course with the remnants of the White Tower in hiding, where Siuan, Leane, and Min are also heading. Little do Nynaeve, Elayne, Thom, and Juilin realize that they’ll soon be sharing their journey with an unexpected face from the past.
Robert Jordan spends a large portion of this book familiarizing readers with the politics of the various kingdoms, as well as the machinations between individual Forsaken. We also learn more about the world of dreams and the dangers associated with that realm, and we discover some of the previously unknown danger of magic when Rand uses Balefire.
This installment in the series provides readers with a lot of action and warfare, both close-up and distant, which keeps the story flowing. Additionally, it showcases the stakes, and reveals that even those we consider pivotal to the narrative are not shielded by plot armor, at least not permanently.
As with the previous four volumes in the series, the narration provided by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer is fantastic, fully bringing the narrative to life and fleshing out the characters in the way the best audiobooks do.

Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due, Narrated by Tananarive Due, Robin Miles, and Janina Edwards

The fifteen stories collected in Ghost Summer are some of the most engaging short stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. That pleasure was in no small part because these stories often provide a vastly different perspective from much of the horror and speculative fiction on the market, informed by the author’s experiences as a black woman, both socially conscious and attuned to history. It’s a perspective and worldview that readers should actively seek out because Tananarive Due successfully displays both the ways we are all the same and the stark differences that haunt many people to this day.
There’s nothing not to love in this collection, but it’s the Gracetown stories kicking everything off that stuck with me the most. This strange, haunted place in northern Florida arrests the reader just as it seems to capture residents and visitors, sometimes in horrifying ways. Gracetown is a place of transformation and possession. It’s a town where the ghosts of a torturous, hateful past reveal uncomfortable truths.
Due provides us with glimpses of the past, of places where myth and legend overlap with the real world, where cultures collide with sometimes beautiful but often horrific results. We experience sadness and loss, sickness, and terror as the author paints all-too-real portraits of people, from those struggling to escape their circumstances to those hoping to find the peaceful embrace of death.
It isn’t all about the past or present, as she also takes us to the end of the world, displaying a keen understanding of human nature that proved almost prescient when compared to the pandemic conditions that ushered us into the current decade.
Narration provided by Tananarive Due herself, as well as Robin Miles and Janina Edwards makes for a different experience from story to story, each individual breathing life into the narratives in slightly different ways, but never in an unsatisfactory manner.

Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry, Narrated by Ray Porter

Jonathan Maberry brings his fast-paced, high-intensity blend of grit, well-drawn characters, action, and wry humor to the realm of fantasy literature with one hell of a splash. Kagen the Damned is everything readers have loved about the Joe Ledger and Pine Deep novels but transferred to a world of swords and sorcery, complete with an homage to Chambers, Lovecraft, Bloch, and Derleth.
Kagen Vale is a broken man, devastated and demoralized by his failure to protect the imperial family he’d been charged with protecting. Possibly the last surviving member of the Vale family, Kagen is driven solely by his need for revenge, forced to wander alone as the gods he’d worshipped have abandoned him. Walking a tightrope between drunkenness and violence, Kagen is hunted by those he hunts, and unless he can find some allies in his quest for vengeance, he’s doomed to fail.
As long-forbidden magic and old gods return to the realm of the Silver Empire, the world Kagen was familiar with becomes increasingly strange and threatening, as an unexpected enemy with enigmatic and sinister plans seeks to take a throne that Kagen will die to defend.
Fans of Richard K. Morgan and George R.R. Martin are sure to love Maberry’s foray into horror-tinged fantasy, but there’s nothing not to love about this introduction to a must-read trilogy.
Ray Porter perfectly captures the character of Kagen in his narration, while bringing the cast of additional characters to life with a blend of accents that are at times both familiar and alien to the listener. Porter was quite likely the best possible choice for the audiobook narration of this novel, and I trust that he’s contracted to provide his services for the remaining two books as well.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, Narrated by Rob Inglis

I’d never finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle when I was growing up. I’d somehow just never gotten around to it. Waiting for the final novel of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy got me in the mood to revisit this series–and hopefully finish it–as it was one of Rothfuss’s major influences when he began writing The Name of the Wind.
I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Le Guin’s capacity to blend minimalism with exquisite prose, crafting a streamlined narrative that never bogs itself down with minutiae and long-winded deviations from the main story. In that and her sheer imaginative quality, Le Guin remains an iconoclast in the realm of fantasy literature.
We join Ged on his journey from childhood through young adulthood as he finds his place in the larger world of Earthsea. We experience his mistakes and misplaced pride as if they’re our own, and we feel both his terror and exultation as he travels to lands familiar and far distant in his quest to evade and subdue the shadow he set loose on the world.
The narration provided by Rob Inglis made the audiobook a vastly different experience from simply reading the book decades ago, and I’m pleased to see that he continues as narrator for the subsequent volumes in this epic series.

Bone Cider by Lucas Mangum

Lucas Mangum listed Bradbury and Laymon as his inspirations when writing Bone Cider, but he didn’t need to tell us that. Reading this story made me want to pick up my worn out copies of Bradbury’s The October Country or The Illustrated Man or Laymon’s Night In the Lonesome October.
Mangum’s descriptions of the sights, sounds, and experiences shared by our young protagonist evoke reminiscence of the Octobers of childhood. Reading these words, we can’t help but feel the chill in the air, the fallen leaves blowing with a light rattle across the sidewalk as we trespass in the gloom of dusk or full night, and the tingling deep inside that remained only so long as we still believed in the magic of those nights. Some of us hold on to that tingling sensation well into adulthood, and Mangum is clearly one of those people.
Bone Cider is a story of loss, of family, and of the way the world seems–or is–different when the nights are long and the world is only thinly separated from other worlds we glimpse only in our dreams. Lucas Mangum brings all of that to life in the tale he tells.

Bone Cider was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for the month of October, 2021. You can grab a copy for yourself by going to the website or using the app on your preferred mobile device. The link is below:

Bone Cider by Lucas Mangum