Audiobook Review: Transformation (Rai-Kirah Book 1 of 3)

Transformation - Carol Berg

A minor miracle has just occurred.  I’ve actually listened to an entire, full-length, 16.5-hour audiobook.  Some of my followers may have seen me rant and rave about this at one point or another: I’m not a good audiobook listener.  My attention drifts and, even when I’m paying complete attention, I feel like I don’t absorb things as well as I do through the written word.  On a more bizarre note, I get really annoyed when somebody talks non-stop for a lengthy period of time.  I’ve actually become irrationally annoyed at narrators of audiobooks because they just won’t shut up, never mind the fact that they’re only doing what they’re supposed to be doing and I'm the one who turned them on in the first place!  Then I remember that I have the power to make them stop talking and I turn them off.


To add perspective, I only made it a few hours into Neverwhere, narrated by Neil Gaiman.  I’d read it several years ago, I liked the story, and Gaiman is a great narrator, but I reached a point where I just couldn’t listen to him anymore.  I tried listening to The Android's Dream by John Scalzi during a road trip.  After an hour, I was in genuine danger of falling asleep and I had to turn it off.  (I’ll have to try it again in print sometime.)  I tried listening to the Wool Omnibus, a book I really enjoyed a couple years ago.  I can’t remember if I even made it through the first 50-page part.  I tried listening to The Way of Shadows, and I did make it several hours into that one, but eventually the melodramatic narration got on my last nerve.  Ok, I guess you believe me now, I’m not good at audiobooks. :)


This book, Transformation, is the first book in Carol Berg’s Rai-Kirah series.  I’d read the series in print five and a half years ago and really loved it.  I had also read a couple duologies by the author earlier this year and I would now rank them among my all-time favorite books.  Reading those made me want to re-read this series, but I hated to take precious reading time away from the many new-to-me books I want to read, so I thought I’d make yet another attempt at an audiobook.  It completely absorbed me; I was hooked on the story all over again.  I started listening to it on a road trip, and then I continued listening during my normal commutes.  For the first time since I moved to Atlanta, I found myself actually wanting to get stuck in traffic. :)


The story is told from the first-person perspective of a slave named Seyonne.  His people have been decimated by a war, most of them killed or captured by a race known as the Derzhi.  Unknown to most of the world, Seyonne’s people have devoted their lives to fighting demons so that the rest of the world can live free.  Needless to say, the decimation of Seyonne’s people does not bode well for the fate of the world.  At the beginning of the story, Seyonne, who has already been in slavery for sixteen years, is sold to the Prince of the Derzhi people.  Prince Aleksander is arrogant and selfish, and Seyonne is treated very poorly.  However, when Aleksander falls prey to a demon enchantment, Seyonne is the only one who sees what’s happening and has any idea what to do.  It soon becomes clear that there is a deeper demon plot that goes far beyond this one incident.  The story is absorbing, and the author really made me care about the main characters.  The friendship that develops between Seyonne and Aleksander is one of the best parts of the book, and there are some other good relationships as well. 


The narrator, Kevin Stillwell, had a narration style that worked well for me.  He distinguished between character voices well, but I think what helped the most was that he read the story in a more understated manner.  I’m starting to suspect that the more dramatic narrators are the ones most likely to get on my nerves, even the good ones like Neil Gaiman.  That doesn’t mean my listening was frustration-free.  Listening to the story felt sort of like walking around without my contact lenses in: I can still see pretty well, but everything is just a bit hazy and I miss the greater sharpness I’m accustomed to.  Sometimes I just really wanted to see the words with my eyes, either to understand them better or to stare at my favorite passages and bask in the words a bit.  Other times, I was too distracted to listen well and I would end up rewinding an entire commute’s worth of listening so I could listen to that part again when I had better focus. 


In any case, I’m really happy at how well this audiobook worked for me, and I’m hopeful that the next two books in the series will work equally well.  The commute is so much more pleasant when I can spend it wrapped up in a story, and it’s also a nice way to re-read old favorites.  Maybe I’ll eventually build up a better tolerance for the narrators I find more grating and get better at focusing on the stories that don’t hold my attention as completely as this one did.