Fantasy, steam punk and boy’s own stories

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver is a free podcast from The Guardian. It’s a coming-of-age tale set in an unspecified prehistorical period. Young Torak’s father is viciously killed by a bear possessed by a demon. The boy is left alone in the ancient forest and sets out on perilous journey to a mystical mountain to ask the World Spirit for help. He encounters an orphaned wolf cub on the way and discovers he can communicate with it. The two of them encounter many perils and near-death experiences, including a narrow escape from the Raven Clan. Read superbly by Ian McKellen, the story (the first in Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series) is a stirring YA tale full of adventure, magic, and excitement. Paver’s beautiful, crisp, and highly-visual style is well suited to being read aloud. Listeners are immediately transported into Torak’s world, and the device of switching the point of view between boy and wolf cub is a delight. Don’t miss this one.

I’ve just started listening to Natania Barron’s The Aldersgate Cycle, a gripping steampunk tale. I am very fond of the genre but, as Natania says herself in one episode of her podcast, in which she muses about fantasy writing in general and steampunk in particular, it’s not a big seller in the publishing industry. Instead there is a plethora of standard sword-and-sorcery, motley crews setting out on long (painfully long, sometimes) odysseys. But Natania is doing something quite different here. Romance, adventure and – cogs, gears and steam! From her intro: “It has been four hundred years since the Great Collision changed the face of Earena. Bards still tell tales of how the sky was split asunder, how the one moon became two, and how, after, the gods fell silent. Forests turned to deserts, deserts submerged into the seas… But one thing still endured: the Aldersgate, the long line of curiously hardy alder trees growing from the northermost reaches of the Isles, to the southern tip of Soderon. Bards once told of the Aldersgate’s powers, that the trees healed a rift in the earth itself, that without it, not only would the sky and moons have split, but all of Earena, too. But now, the world has changed. Songs of the old world have been forgotten and such stories of trees, of gods, and of magic, hold little clout in the age of steam, politics, and philosophy.”

Finally, I was whisked back to my young teenage years with JJ Campanella’s podcast of the Doc Savage novel, The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent). Before Indiana Jones, or even Superman, Dent wrote a pulpy, fast-moving series about scientis-as-hero, Clark Savage and his eccentric sidekicks. JJ is also a science writer, and his column on the latest developments in science for StarShip Sofa is also worth your time. JJ is also a pretty good reader, with a broad range of suitably tongue-in-cheek character voices at his disposal.

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