Top Ten Tuesday – Books for a Holiday Road trip

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this latest Top Ten Tuesday, participants have a Holiday/Seasonal Freebie, meaning that we can do whatever topic we want, preferably with a seasonable twist to it.  Well, down here in Australia, summer has just rocked up and this usually means long drives to family homes for Christmas or to some magnificent stretch of beach for a well-deserved break.  While I myself do not have any upcoming travel planned, this topic did get me thinking about trips and I had the idea to try and help those people with upcoming road trips, or any form of extended travel, choose an audiobook to keep you and any potential passengers entertained.

People familiar with my blog will know that I am a big fan of audiobooks; in many ways, they are some of the best way to enjoy a book from a talented author.  However, not all good audiobooks make for great entertainment on a road trip.  With that in mind, I have scrolled through some of my favourite audiobooks to find the ones I think would be the best for anyone taking a long trip.  To make this list, the audiobooks I chose had to not only be amazing novels but also had to have an excellent narration and the ability to keep a driver or passengers’ attention on a long trip.  While I know that some people are going to be experiencing particularly long trips in the coming weeks, I tried to feature audiobooks with shorter runtimes so that those who are taking shorter excursions (say a roundtrip of eight or nine hours) can get through an entire book without trying to make time at home to finish it off.  That being said a few longer novels did end up making the cut, but all of these are great for longer trips.  I also tried to avoid any novels that would require a great deal of prior knowledge or hard-to-obtain background information so that everyone in the car could enjoy the book without any need for explanation or lectures from those people more familiar with the series.  To that end, I have tried to avoid any novels that are later entries in a series or which require some form of assumed knowledge about a franchise.  While I have included a couple of tie-in novels, I tried to use those books that require only a smidge of familiarity with their respective franchise to enjoy, and I am confident anyone can easily enjoy any book I ended up featuring.

While I did have quite a few criteria to meet, I was eventually able to come up with a good list for this topic, including several honourable mentions.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out and I have personally really enjoyed each of the below audiobooks.  I honestly believe that all of them would make for a great listen during an extended bit of travel or a road trip and each of them comes highly recommended.

Honourable Mentions:


The Black Hawks
, written by David Wragg and narrated by Colin Mace – 12 hours and 9 minutes

The Black Hawks Cover

Those in a mood for an exciting time of their road trip could do worse than check out this excellent and entertaining debut from last year, The Black Hawks by David Wragg.  The Black Hawks is a great read that takes several compelling characters on an action-packed adventure across a dangerous landscape.  Filled with betrayal, battle and clever twists, listeners will be well entertained with is book.

Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope, written by Una McCormack and narrated by Robert Petkoff – 11 hours and 40 minutes

Star Trek - Picard Cover

While there are several cool Star Trek novels that could make for great road-trip listening, I would personally suggest this fantastic tie-in to the recent Picard television show.  Serving as an introduction to the darker Star Trek world Picard encounters in his new television series, there is a lot to love about this book and it is well worth checking out.

Star Wars: Ahsoka, written by E. K. Johnston and narrated by Ashley Eckstein – 7 hours and 4 minutes

Ahsoka Cover

After recent developments in the phenomenon that is The Mandalorian, one of the Star Wars audiobooks I would strongly recommend is Star Wars: Ahsoka.  The Ahsoka audiobook helps to expand on the character and presents listeners with a compelling and personal adventure.  Narrated by Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka in the animated television series, this is a fantastic and timely audiobook to check out on the road this holiday.

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, written by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, and narrated by Kristen Bell – 8 hours and 43 minutes

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line Cover

Speaking of audiobooks that feature iconic characters being voiced by their actors, listeners will have an awesome time with this Veronica Mars tie-in novel, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.  Written by series creator Rob Thomas and narrated by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell, this is an outstanding tie-in to the clever television show that also contains a compelling crime fiction story and people will be able to quickly power through this on the way to their destination.

Top Ten List (maybe add listening times):


The Salvage Crew
, written by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and narrated by Nathan Fillion – 8 hours and 21 minutes

The Salvage Crew Cover

The first entry on this top ten list is The Salvage Crew, a very clever and intense science fiction novel that is guaranteed to keep everyone entertained on your trip.  Featuring the silky voice of the one and only Nathan Fillion, you will find yourself entranced with this audiobook, especially as the author backs up the awesome narration with a top-notch science fiction adventure story.

Race the Sands, written by Sarah Beth Durst and narrated by Emily Ellet – 15 hours and 45 minutes

Race the Sands Cover

Those readers with a particularly long drive in their future and who are in the mood for an excellent standalone fantasy novel would do well to check out Race the Sands by the always impressive Sarah Beth Durst.  Race the Sands is an extremely exciting and compelling novel that features great characters, political intrigue and clever worldbuilding, all set around people racing monsters in the desert.  This is a very easy book to listen to and the miles will fly away as you listen to Race the Sands.  Just don’t let the race scenes inspire you too much on the road; I don’t want to be responsible for you getting a speeding ticket!

Redshirts, written by John Scalzi and narrated by Wil Wheaton – 7 hours and 41 minutes

Redshirts Cover

If you want to laugh your way through an entire road trip you should definitely check out Redshirts by acclaimed science fiction author John Scalzi.  Redshirts is a very entertaining parody of Star Trek and is essentially one big sendup of all the tropes, bad writing and over-the-top characters The Original Series is known for.  Despite being a parody, Scalzi comes up with an incredibly clever story that gets extremely meta in places, while also introducing the listener to some very interesting characters who you become surprisingly attached to.  Top that off with the narration of Wil Wheaton (who else would you want narrating a Star Trek parody), and you have yourself an exceptionally fun audiobook to listen to.  My wife and I recently listened to this on a road trip ourselves and we were absolutely cracking up the entire time, and this comes highly recommended as a result.

The Holdout, written by Graham Moore and narrated by Abby Craden – 10 hours and 15 minutes

The Holdout Cover

Those drivers who would prefer a crime fiction novel should think about checking out The Holdout by Graham Moore.  The Holdout is a standalone crime fiction novel that follows an infamous jury who found a notorious murderer not guilty and who must now find out who killed one of their members years later at a reunion.  This is an extremely captivating book that features an amazing split-timeline narrative, showing the original trial and the murder investigation set in the present.  This is a great novel and listeners will be on the edge of their seat for the entire trip.

Legend, written by David Gemell and narrated by Sean Barrett – 13 hours and 13 minutes

Legend

Now if I had a particularly lengthy road-trip on the horizon one of the books I know I would be loading up Legend by David Gemell.  While this might not be too practical for shorter trips, I would gladly do a trip twice if it meant I could finish this epic book in one go.  Featuring an extended and desperate siege, Legend is one of the better fantasy novels I have had the pleasure of listening to and it does not take long for readers to get utterly enthralled with its impressive and thrilling story.

Star Wars: Scoundrels, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson – 13 hours and 57 minutes

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

While there are a number of awesome Star Wars tie-in novels I could have included on this list, I decided in the end to go with Star Wars: ScoundrelsScoundrels is an exceptional novel from one of the top authors of Star Wars fiction in the world today, Timothy Zahn.  This is an excellent book that features fan favourite characters Han Solo, Chewbacca and Lando engaging in an elaborate heist with a team of rogues and thieves.  This is a perfect read for a longer car trip, and it is filled with several fantastic characters engaged in some good-old fashioned thievery in the middle of the Star Wars universe.  Requiring very little knowledge about the Star Wars extended universe, this audiobook can be enjoyed by anyone even vaguely familiar with the series and is really worth a listen to.

Tomorrow, When the War Began, written by John Marsden and narrated by Suzi Dougherty – 7 hours and 20 minutes

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Those looking for a new series to get obsessed about should use any upcoming road trips as an opportunity to try out the first book in the acclaimed Tomorrow series, Tomorrow, When the war Began.  Essentially Australia’s answer to Red Dawn, this book follows a group of teenagers as they try to survive a sudden invasion of Australia by a foreign power.  This is one of my absolute favourite series of all times and is probably some of the best Australian young adult fiction ever written.  It is extremely easy to power through these audiobooks in a short amount of timer and they would be among some of my first choices if I had a long trip planned.

Any Discworld novel, by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic Cover

I am kind of cheating by including an entire series here, but I could honestly listen to any of these books again and would not hesitate to recommend the entire Discworld series to anyone in the mood for a book that is wacky, clever, compelling and wildly entertaining.  Practically any of these books would make for excellent entertainment during a car ride and I find it hard to believe that anyone would be bored while listening to them.  While I love each of these books, I would probably recommend either Moving Pictures or Guards! Guards! (both with a runtime of 10 hours and 8 minutes) as they are great entry points to the series for new readers.  An incredibly series to get into, you will not regret listening to them these holidays.

Planetside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray – 8 hours and 38 minutes

Planetside Cover 2

Another great read with a shorter runtime is Planetside by Michael Mammay.  Planetside is an incredible novel and it is probably one of my favourite debut novels of all time.  Mammay packs an intense and addictive story into this shorter audiobook, and listeners are treated to an outstanding and clever science fiction mystery novel, which sees an old veteran attempt to find a missing soldier on an occupied alien planet and instead uncovers a massive conspiracy.  Listeners are guaranteed to be transfixed from start to epic finish with Planetside and it would be an exceptional novel to listen to while on a long drive.

The Anomaly, written by Michael Rutger and narrated by Brandon Williams – 9 hours and 41 minutes

The Anomaly Cover

For the final entry on my list, I have included The Anomaly by Michael Rutger.  The Anomaly is a great horror novel that follows the makers of a web series as they explore an ancient cave in the Grand Canyon, only to find it filled with ancient terrors.  This is a great novel for those who are in the mood for a scary book to listen to on their way home and readers will really love this amazing audiobook.  I was particularly impressed with the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere that this audiobook produced and horror buffs will have an amazing time listening to this.  That being said, maybe turn it off if you have to drive at night.

Well that’s my latest Top Ten Tuesday list.  I think it turned out extremely well, and if you have some upcoming travel planned (or even just some time to kill in lockdown), you would do well to try any of the above books.  Let me know which of the featured novels you enjoyed the most, as well as what audiobooks you would recommend for a car trip in the comments below and makes sure you drive safe these holidays.

Throwback Thursday – Legend by David Gemmell

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Publisher: Hachette Audio (22 June 2017) – originally published by Century (April 1984)

Series: Drenai – Book 1

Length: 13 hours and 13 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday, I try out a fantasy book that has been on my mind for many years, the 1984 classic fantasy novel, Legend, by the late, great David Gemmell.

Legend was the debut novel from Gemmell, an impressive author who wrote over 30 novels between 1984 and his death in 2006, most of which fell within the fantasy genre. Some of his works included the Rigante, Stones of Power, Jon Shannow and Hawk Queen fantasy series, as well as the Troy and Greek historical fiction series. However, his most famous body of work has to be the Drenai series. Featuring 11 books, the Drenai series were a collection of loosely connected novels set within the same fantasy universe. While the storylines are all linked in some way or another, especially books like the three Waylander novels, the series can pretty much be read in any order, which is kind of what I did.

I actually have a bit of a random history with the Drenai series, as I happened to listen to the 10th book in the series, White Wolf, some years ago. For the life of me I cannot think why I would have grabbed this fantasy book off the shelf. Whatever the reason, the story of White Wolf stuck with me, and I would find myself occasionally remembering details of the plot, while completely forgetting the book’s title or the author’s name. I was eventually able to figure out what book it was thanks to the one clear detail I could remember (the names of the protagonist’s famous swords) and tracked down another audiobook copy of White Wolf to listen to a few years ago. I also really enjoyed White Wolf the second time around and was eager to find out more about the rest of the books in the series.

Out of all of the books in the Drenai series that I looked at, the one that appealed to me the most was the very first one in the series, Legend. Legend tells the story of an epic and desperate siege that sets up the entire Drenai universe and contains the defining story of Gemmell’s most iconic character, Druss the Legend, who also appeared in White Wolf. Many of the story elements of Legend deeply appealed to me, and it also made practical sense to start at the beginning of the series, especially as it serves as a significant point in the series’ chronology. Unfortunately, due to a combination of a lack of time, problems finding a copy of Legend, and a requirement to focus on more recent books, I never got a chance to read Legend or dive deeper into the Drenai series. However, it always remained high on my to-read list, and I am so happy that I finally got a chance to read it.

Legend is the story of the siege of Dros Delnoch, the fortress city that acts as a gateway to the declining Drenai Empire. Dros Delnoch is the greatest fortress in the world. Sitting in the middle of a narrow pass and guarded by six high walls and a great keep, the city should be able to withstand any attack. However, the charismatic Nadir warlord Ulric has forged together a mighty host of 500,000 Nadir tribesmen, which he plans to sweep over the walls of Dros Delnoch.

If the city is able to hold for a few months, a new Drenai army will be able to reinforce the battlements. But with only a small force of 10,000 soldiers within the city, many of them raw recruits, this seems to be an impossible task. However, help soon arrives from the most unlikely of places. Former solider Regnak follows his newfound love to the city, despite his apparent cowardice and dark secrets. A gentleman bandit leads his band of outlaws to man the walls, partly for money and partly to make up for his past sins. The mysterious band of mystical warrior priests, known as The Thirty, also arrives to fulfil their destiny to die in battle. Each group has a role to play in the defence of the city, but only one of the new defenders will give the Nadir pause and raise the defenders’ hopes, the greatest hero of the age, Druss the Legend.

For decades, Druss has fought and defeated every enemy he has come across, but there is one thing even he cannot overcome: time. Now a grizzled veteran of 60 years, Druss has come to the city for one final battle, but first he needs to come to terms with his status as a living legend. Even as an old man Druss is still a dangerous person, and there is a reason that he is known as Deathwalker by the Nadir. As the siege begins, heroes will rise, tragedy will stalk the defenders and a legend will end, but will anything be enough to withstand the Nadir horde?

Well damn, that was a pretty epic book and one that was well worth the wait it took for me to get around to reading this. Legend was an incredible and enthralling read that had me hooked from the very beginning all the way to the very last word. It is a classic piece of fantasy action and adventure. Gemmell loaded his story with some truly compelling and flawed characters to create an outstanding read. Featuring a ton of amazing, pulse pounding action, heartbreaking tragedy and an epic siege, this book was absolutely fantastic, and I am really glad I read it.

Probably the main thing that I liked about the book was Gemmell’s outstanding portrayal of a massive fantasy siege. I have always loved the classic siege storyline, and there is something about a huge army attacking a castle that I cannot turn away from. The siege of Dros Delnoch within Legend is easily one of the best sieges that I have ever read, as Gemmell produces a magnificent battle around the city that lasts nearly the entire book. The whole setup for the siege is pretty insane, with 500,000 Nadir tribesmen (who bear a lot of similarities to the historical Huns) attacking a Drenai (essentially Roman) city with six massive walls. The author does an amazing job properly pacing out this siege throughout the novel, including appropriating enough time to really showcase all the pre-siege activities, including training, preparation of the defences and initial sabotages before the first battle even happens. Once the battle begins, though, it is a non-stop barrage of action as the defenders fight off multiple assaults each day.

Due to the author’s excellent storytelling and character work, the reader becomes extremely invested in the fate of the defenders, and each time a wall falls, or the attackers gain an inch, you are mentally rooting for them to fight back. There are a number of discussions and plans that take place throughout the book, and it is quite fascinating to see the thought and planning that the author put into the defence of his city. I especially liked how the city’s six walls played into the battle, as the defenders’ decisions on how and when to hold these battlements provided some great moments and debates for the reader to appreciate. The siege lasts the entire book and features a huge number of epic fight sequences, all of which will get your adrenaline racing and your heart pounding. I loved every second of the siege that was featured in this book, and I hope to see it brought to life on screen one day (provided they do it right).

In addition to its first-rate siege, Legend also features a large number of complex and well-written characters. The first is Regnak, who turns into one of the book’s main characters. Regnak is a former soldier who is first presented as a coward, looking to flee all personal responsibility, although this is quickly revealed to be a side effect of being a natural ‘baresark’. However, when he meets Virae, the daughter of the Earl of Dros Delnoch, he falls in love and follows her back to the siege. Regnak has a great storyline about finding one’s inner courage and overcoming one’s issues, and while his romance with Virae is a bit weird at times, it does result in some tragic scenes throughout the book. Next you have the members of The Thirty, an order of 30 warrior priests who enter the fight knowing that 29 of their members are going to die. Not only do the priests represent most of the fantasy elements of this book thanks to their physic abilities but their ability to see into the future results in some interesting debates about destiny and fate. Quite a few members of The Thirty are introduced, although most of their story is focused on their youngest member, Serbitar, and his mentor, Abbot Vintar, as Serbitar has the hardest time accepting the future and wants to change it to help the defenders.

Without a doubt, the best character in the entire book is Druss the Legend. Druss is Gemmell’s most iconic character and has appeared in several other books in the Drenai series, all of which occur before the events of Legend. These include The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, which details the rise of Druss and the events that made him a legend, The Legend of Deathwalker, which features an earlier encounter with Ulric and the Nadir, and White Wolf, where I first encountered the character of Druss. However, Legend is definitely the character’s defining book, as it features the conclusion of his epic life and his final stand.

There is a lot of great character work involved with Druss, and the man is a pretty epic character. He is an older man, many years past his prime, who was faced with a choice: die in glory at Dros Delnoch or decline into obscurity. Choosing to die in battle (mainly to spite Death), Druss arrives in Dros Delnoch ready to fulfil his destiny. Gemmell does an outstanding job portraying Druss as an old and wise warrior who is weakened by age but is still a far more capable warrior than many of the others involved with the siege. While readers will enjoy the action sequences featuring Druss, the main thing about the character is the way that he attempts to come to terms with his status as a living legend whose body can no longer keep up with his myth. Druss knows that his reputation as a man who always wins is one of the main things that keeps the soldiers going, and he is constantly working to inspire the soldiers and show that he is still the super human many of them think he is. However, at the same time he must deal with the tangible impacts of age and must try to overcome them in order to survive and inspire on the battlefield. This examination of a man uncertain about his continuing place in the world and who knows he is going to die very soon is extremely well done, and readers cannot help but fall in love with the character and get very invested in his storyline, even though you know how it is going to end. The Druss that is featured in Legend is probably one of the finest fantasy characters that I have read, and I look forward to reading some additional books featuring him in the future.

The book also features an amazing cast of secondary characters, each of whom adds so much to the story featured within Legend. These characters include:

  • Orrin – the commander of the forces defending Dros Delnoch. Orrin is a nobleman who is inexperienced and ill-suited for command. However, once Druss arrives, he works hard to change his ways and become a worthy leader of his troops. He has an amazing redemption arc and turns into quite a likeable character.
  • Bowman – a forest bandit who Druss convinces to join the defence of the city. Initially pretending he is there for money; it is eventually revealed that he is searching for some sort of redemption as well. Bowman’s sarcastic wit adds some necessary humour to the story and he proves to be quite a likeable character.
  • Gilad and Bregan – two farmers who sign up to the army and find themselves becoming heroes of Dros Delnoch. These two characters allow Gemmell to show the story of the common defender of the city. Together they have quite a surprisingly compelling storyline, and the readers actually get quite invested in their survival.
  • Hogun – one of the few professional soldiers in the city. Hogun serves as a great secondary observer for most of the book, and his growing respect and camaraderie with the other defenders mirrors the reader’s growing attachment to all those people featured within Legend.
  • Ulric – leader of the Nadir horde attacking the city. Ulric is presented as a visionary like Atilla the Hun or Genghis Khan, who has united his people against a common threat and now seeks to create a mighty empire. I quite liked how Ulric, despite being the antagonist, is only partially presented as an evil man. Instead, he sees all the violence he does as necessary and he even grows to respect the defenders of the city, especially Druss. Ulric turns out to be quite a complex and well-written antagonist that reader ends up respecting to a degree.
  • Caessa – a female member of Bowman’s band, who harbours a deep secret. She’s not my favourite character, but her storyline has a few intriguing twists, and it is interesting to see her growing attachment to Druss.

In addition to all the characters mentioned above, there are also a huge bevy of other minor characters from both sides of the conflict whose point of view and feelings are examined throughout the book. Not only does this allow for a number of short and, in some cases, tragic stories for the reader to enjoy; it also increases the scope of the battle. Overall the character work is pretty impressive, and pretty much every character allowed for a richer and more captivating tale to be told. If I had one criticism of Legend’s characters, it would be that the female characters are mostly portrayed as over-emotional, irrational or downright catty in most of their interactions, which makes the book feel a bit socially dated at times.

I ended up listening to an audiobook version of Legend narrated by Sean Barrett. At only 13 hours and 13 minutes, Legend represents a fairly quick listen, especially when you get stuck into the story. I had a fantastic time listening to the audiobook version of this book, and I felt that it really helped me sink into the story and appreciate all the amazing action and drama going on in the city. Barrett has an excellent voice for an older fantasy like Legend, and I really felt he got to the heart of most of the book’s characters. I strongly recommend the audiobook version of Legend, and I will probably check out the other books in the series on audiobook as well.

Legend really did not disappoint, as it easily met every single one of my high expectations. I enjoyed every minute of this exceptional book and it gets an easy five stars for me. I cannot overstate how epic in scale and writing the siege featured in this book was, and all of the characters within this story are just sensational, especially the Legend himself, Druss. I fully intend to check out some additional books in Gemmell’s Drenai series in the future, although there are so many interesting choices that I’m not too sure where to start. Be sure to check out future instalments of Throwback Thursday to see which other Gemmell books I look at.