Podcast Review #139: The Shadow of Black Wings

the-shadow-third-cover-2502Title: The Shadow of Black Wings
Author: James Calbraith
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy
Released: 13 February, 2013
Located: Podiobooks, iTunes
Formats Available: podcast, ebook
Rating: PG – 13 for violence

Occasionally, it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know. Such is the case with The Shadow of Black Wings. I don’t know the author, Mr. Calbraith. Shocking, I know. The truth is, I was minding my own business a couple of weeks ago when I caught a tweet mentioning someone in my twitter circle had narrated a story. Again, shocking. I know. However, this was a bit different, because although this person does podcast, to my knowledge, she has never narrated a story before. She is also from my homestate and knows people I know. So yes, sometimes, you get a review by choosing the right narrator.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: It is the sixteenth year of Queen Victoria’s enlightened rule and the world trembles before the might of her ironclad navy and the dreaded Dragon Corps. The largest ship ever built sails from the Brigstow Harbour on a journey to the mysterious lands of Orient. Its load – a regiment of the Royal Marines and one Bran ap Dylan – freshly graduate in Dracology at the Llambed Academy of Mystic Arts.

In the empire of Yamato, sealed from the rest of the world for the last two centuries, a wizard’s daughter Sato witnesses her father joining an anti-government conspiracy. Her friend Nagomi, training to be a priestess, is haunted by dark visions that she must keep secret. Neither of them is aware that a change is coming to Yamato… on the wings of a dragon.

A detailed and fast-paced historical fantasy based around the turbulent opening of Japan to the West in the middle of the 19th century, “The Shadow of the Black Wings” is the first volume in “The Year of the Dragon” saga.
(Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: The production of The Shadow of Black Wings is far from the best I’ve heard. It is also far from the worst. There are many reasons for bad production. Low quality source recordings. Poor production skills. Numerous other reasons. I have no idea what the issue was here. I will say that the production improved as it went along. My main complaint was the amount of compression or noise reduction used during the first episodes. It left the narrators voice sounding a bit electronic. As I said, this was less noticeable as the podcast went along. Perhaps I became accustomed to it, but I don’t believe so. The production was average and thus I graded it accordingly.

Grade: C

Cast: The narrator is Kate Sherrod. Kate is an acquaintance on Twitter and she and I grew up 70 miles from each other in a somewhat remote area of the country. She is the reason I initially listened.

Interestingly, I’ve never actually met Kate, and I also have never listened to her podcast (sorry Kate, my time is taken up with fiction), so I had no idea what her voice would sound like or if I would find her reading enjoyable.

I am happy to say Ms. Sherrod did a great job. I’m happy because I hate to give poor grades to people I know when they’re deserved. And I DO give poor grades to ANYONE that earns them. Ms. Sherrod does the reading without tons of character voices, but the vocal inflection and tone serve her well.

Grade: A

Story: The Shadow of Black Wings combines elements of traditional fantasy and steampunk quite well while also falling in line with being an alternative history. The dragons and their role in this world is different than those I’ve encountered before and I hope to hear more of them in books two and three (yes, it’s a series).

Grade: A

Verdict: Rule 1 for making Odin happy: DON’T use book one of your series as an overblown preface. Tie up SOMETHING! If all you’re doing in the first book is setting up the rest of the series, it makes me angry. Angry enough not to buy the rest of the series? Yes. (And yes people, I often buy the print version of the podcasts I review. If you can, so should you.) Now authors, you might disagree with me. That’s okay. I stick with this, and in the end, this is my venue, but feel free to send me a comment explaining why I’m wrong. I’ll continue to disagree with you, but I’m happy to let others express their opinions here. Okay, the rant is finished.

I liked The Shadow of Black Wings. Quite a bit actually. So much in fact, that I’ll probably go ahead and buy the next two books in the series. I felt the elements of this story were fresh and told a story that hasn’t been told before, which in and of itself is refreshing. So, while I don’t like providing spoilers of any type, as long as you don’t mind being left with no answers and many questions, I do recommend The Shadow of Black Wings. Enjoy!

Disclosure: All of my connections with anyone involved in this production, I opened with.

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