Podcast Review #76: The Hidden Institute

Title: The Hidden Institute
Author: Brand Gamblin
Genre: Science Fiction/Alternate futuristic fantasy
Released: 6 March 2011 – 28 March 2011
Located: Author’s Site
Formats Available: podcast, ebook, dead tree
Rating: PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language

So after weeks of reviewing books that I don’t remember where or when I heard about them, I find Brand Gamblin’s The Hidden Institute has been completed and though I had all ready had it on my radar, I admit to bumping it way up due to the fact that Richard Green enthusiastically recommended it. Having enjoyed Tumbler by the same author, it didn’t take much persuading on Richard’s part.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Cliffy is a child born on the streets of a Neo-Victorian world. Witnesses to a murder, he blackmails a nobleman, receiving a unique bribe. In exchange for his silence, the nobleman introduces him to the Malcolm Rutherford Holden Institute of Regentrification. There, Cliffy learns to walk, talk, and act like a nobleman, so that he may infiltrate high society. But that type of fraud is punishable by death, and when Cliffy uncovers a plot to assassinate a head of state, he’s hunted by more than just the aristocracy.

Royal intrigue, daring escapes, sub-dermal machines, and bear polo. A grand adventure in a not-so-distant world. (Stolen from Amazon.com)

Production: Although this is the second book I’ve heard by Mr. Gamblin, it is the first that was a self read. This changes the production somewhat in my mind. The production is very well done. The episodes are very nicely timed and no obvious errors were made. The music Mr. Gamblin chose is entirely appropriate for this story. However, if there is one production area I would note being bothersome, that would be the length of the musical interlude between scenes. Though I enjoyed it, it seemed very long. Of course this could have been due to the fact that I mainlined all 15 episodes in a two day period.

Grade: A

Cast: Mr. Gamblin does an excellent job in not over-selling his characters. Each character is unique and breaths with a life of his/her own without an over effusive reading. Very nicely done.

Grade: A

Story: The Hidden Institute is a unique story that is really unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. In interviews, I’ve heard Mr. Gamblin refer to it as Harry Potter meets Henry Higgins (you know, My Fair Lady? The professor chap in charge of ladyfying Ms. Doolittle?). This is a fair elevator pitch, though it is a bit darker than either of the tones recalled by those stories (yes, I know Harry gets dark, but the series doesn’t feel that way). This story is still completely young adult (13+) friendly.

Grade: A

Verdict: I enjoyed The Hidden Institute very much and I really believe you will too. Mr. Gamblin has done a remarkable job of characterization and world building. I know I’ve mentioned it somewhere before, but it is worth mentioning here again. I’m not a big fan of world building when it is obvious that is the goal. World building completed within the guise of the story, however, when done well is quite enjoyable. The Hidden Institute is proof of that.

As a final thought, the paperback is available on Mr. Gamblin’s website. That’s where I ordered it from, and you should too.

Disclosure: I do follow Brand on Twitter and I do tweet with him on occasion. I was not offered a Bear Polo season pass or anything else in exchange for this review however. Darn.

Comment Pages

There are 14 Comments to "Podcast Review #76: The Hidden Institute"

  • I totally agree with everything Odin says in this review.

    I love this podcast and this book! As this podcast was coming out, I had to interview Brand about it ( a two part interview at http://gowmainframe.blogspot.com/search/label/Brand%20Gamblin ).

    As much as I REALLY like “Tumbler”, Brand really ups his game in this book. His fresh approach to steam punk, the layers he’s built into this book without it being confusing, his excellent handling of gray characters, making us really like a robot … oh and Bear Polo … all this and more make this an excellent story IMO.

    Readers, when Odin buys the book after listening to the podcast version, that is high praise. (I bought the book too)

    Now I’m just waiting for Brand’s next book (we discuss in part 2 of my interview) …. it sounds like an awesome premise, and Brand shows that he has the chops to pull it off 🙂

    • odin1eye says:

      Thanks Richard! I really enjoyed your interview with Brand and recommend everyone subscribe to GOWMainframe… truly a fun set of interviews.

      Thanks again!

  • Thomas says:

    all i can say is, It’s got BEAR POLO!! Ok it has more than that. It is a totally enjoyable romp into a steampunk future without the overbearing steampunk overtones a lot of steampunk stories can have (how many times can i say steampunk?). Brand knows how to tell a story with a richness that does not overpower the characters. The ending I did not expect, caught me by surprise and made the story all the better. I hope to hear more of this world from Brand. (BEAR POLO!! I want a shirt…..)

  • Scott Roche says:

    You should totally get a bear polo season pass.

  • Jeffrey Hite says:

    “However, if there is one production area I would note being bothersome, that would be the length of the musical interlude between scenes. Though I enjoyed it, it seemed very long. Of course this could have been due to the fact that I mainlined all 15 episodes in a two day period.”

    I have to say that this is one of my two complaints about the book. Funny that I would have used the same words since I also mainlined to all in a two day period.

    Before I get to other thought, I want to say how much I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to me, and I loved watching Cliffy learn and grow. At one point, because I knew my commute was coming to and end, I tried to listen to it at 2x, but found that the story was two intense and had to just be late.

    [editors note: spoiler alert] The only other thing that I didn’t like about the story was the ending. In less than one chapter, it went from, fighting for his life to living comfortably and a member of the kinghthood with the girl he had only meet twice. It totally jarred me out of the story. I went back and listened again to make sure I hadn’t missed something, but that was all there was and I found myself wanting more. I mean really wanting more. Maybe that is for book 2, who knows.

  • I agree with just about everything that was said in the comments above. I didn’t notice the music being too long between scenes – but then I listen to everything at 1.4 – 2 x speed so that may have made the transitions seem a bit quicker 🙂 I really enjoy Brand’s narration – he has an excellent voice for narrating a book. I loved the story and the world, and especially the robot valet Whister. Whister is awesome. I have to agree the ending left me wanting. It’s like the story just jumped ahead, and that was very jarring. That said, this is a podiobook that I enjoyed so much, I know I’ll be listening to it again sometime.

    • odin1eye says:

      Thanks Dan! I know you and Jeff both expressed a bit of dissatisfaction with the end, but truthfully, I don’t know how else Brand could have got there. If you want to show the (spoiler alert) “happily ever after” and still keep the former associates in the picture, there is no way to get there from the second to the last chapter that wouldn’t have bored your audience.

      Again, thanks for the comment!

      • Jeffrey Hite says:

        I am kind of torn about this. I mean you are right, there is that, what else would he do in the middle, but it really feels like there was something missing. Don’t get me wrong on this, I loved the book but there did seem to be something, I don’t know what, missing.

  • Brand says:

    This may surprise you guys, but I completely agree with you on the issues. I love the music by the Bros. Burn, and near the end of the podcast, I realized that I was probably over emphasizing it. That’s why the last few episodes have a “short stinger” which I created just for that purpose.

    Also, the pacing does ramp up dramatically near the halfway point. Part of that was the fact that I was emulating Cliffy’s moments of concern. He worried about joining the school, he worried about fitting in, he worried about his classes and escape. However, once he was in the groove, there was no real need to follow him through each class. At that point, we jumped ahead to new concerns (the silks, the Legion of the knife, etc.). We see how he graduates and takes on his new life, but we see that as almost a flashback, because we don’t need to watch him every day to see that he is qualified. Instead, we catch up with Cliffy many months later, when his next major concern appears.

    I think I’m rambling now, but basically, the first half is meant to introduce the pieces in the game, while the second half is where we truly set them in motion. At least, that was the intent.

    Thank you all for your comments and for listening.

  • Okay, even with the spoiler or because of it because now I am curious…. LOL… I am going to go download this one! Thanks to all of you who have read and commented.

    Oh yes, I was going to download anyway because of the interviews by @mainframe :0) but this review moved it up my list….

  • @Arlene : Oh, dear. Did I spoiler the book? I’m sorry if I did. . . I’m really bad about that.

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