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I enjoyed Ian McDonald's Turkish-flavored sci-fi novel, The Dervish House, and was pleased to see this foray into Young Adult sci-fi come out in audio form. After 14-year-old Everett Singh's Punjabi-British quantum physicist dad is kidnapped, Everett receives a file containing what his father had discovered: a map of parallel universes dubbed the Infundibulum (I wish more authors would come up with such fun-to-say words). Currently, there are only ten that can be reached (or can reach each other), since connection requires the same technology on the other side, but the elder Singh's discovery may change that, and someone sinister wants the map. So, Everett must use his own capable intellect to escape into another plane, where a coal-driven world called E3 and a steampunky version of London await him.
The format here is good-old-fashioned juvenile adventure (compared to McDonald's more sophisticated adult books), but if you or a young family member enjoy those, there's plenty to recommend Planesrunner. It features female and non-white primary characters without making a big deal of it. There's a healthy sense of humor (I had a laugh at the website where kids share the pathetic behaviors of recently-divorced parents) and an awareness of things young people are interested in, from Facebook to Doctor Who. While none of McDonald's ideas are particularly original (steampunk and airships have been done to death by now), he combines them in an intelligent, creative way, and young readers won't notice the borrowings. The supporting characters, such the feisty, alterna-Cockney girl, Sen, and her strong-willed airship captain guardian, Anastasia Sixsmyth, who join Everett on his adventure in E3, are a lot of fun, though this book really only introduces them for the future.
The storytelling isn’t without a few stumbles, though. My main issue is that Everett's abilities stretch the limits of believability. A 14-year-old prodigy who does normal preteen stuff, but can also think in more than three dimensions and solve quantum field equations? That might have been pushing the "it's okay to be a nerd" message into implausibility. There’s a bit of filler as well, such as an airship battle in the second half that seems unnecessary to the main plot (and is the sort of thing handled more excitingly in Scott Westerfeld's steampunk adventure, Leviathan)
But, not huge flaws. The many-worlds concept is interesting, and there are intriguing hints at where the series might go in the future. I’m sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed Planesrunner at age 14. Speaking of, there wasn't anything that I'd consider inappropriate for young people, just some cheeky humor, some non-lethal fighting, and one or two minor swear words. However, the science references might go over the heads of pre-adolescent kids.
Audible narrator Tom Lawrence does a solid job, switching over to a credible American (and other) accents as the dialogue calls for. A good B/B+ YA novel.
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It took me a long time to get into this book, even with the convenience of the audiobook and ebook formats. However once I crossed the halfway mark it did pick up. Tom Lawrence is so obviously British (other than his accent, of course) that he pronounces "Mall" as "mal" as opposed to "mawl". Little things like that makes me smile. That, on top of his good reading, good diction and clear words, made him an excellent narrator for this book. I believe that any other accent other than British wouldn't suit this book at all!
The audiobook cover art has a dirigible as center piece and I like it! It is not only apropos to the story but pleasing to my fantasy geek's eyes. Something that would ping my book-buying radar. The old versions of the cover of this book though are quite ugly. I am so glad I did not see them before I started reading/listening to this book or I would never ever start reading it to begin with. It was that awesomely unappealing.
The plot wasn't too bad. But it was kind of quite straight forward. So that kind of didn't help the rating of this book. My guess is, the author is more concerned about laying out the fundamentals of this book rather than the plot. Setting up the stage, so to speak. This is book one in a series, after all.
The premise of the world building sounds good. But for some reason I could not wrap my head around millions and millions versions of Earth. The scientific explanation seems logically convincing. But somehow I am not convinced. Why is that? I reckon it is tied to the way the story is told. The story telling quality is not bad. In fact, I kinda like it. But, it is just not doing a good job of convincing my subconscious to suspend disbelief about parallel worlds in this case. I also reckon that maybe I need to read further into this series to fully appreciate the world building. Some series has that effect on me sometimes. The further down the line I read, the more it grows on me. Like wine, it tastes better as it matures.
I have issues with some little things in the book but in the bigger scheme of things, are tolerable. And despite the slow start, I did enjoy this book and am looking forward to listening to Be My Enemy.
Story telling quality = 3.5
Character development = 4.5
Story itself = 4
Writing Style = 4
Ending = 4
World building = 4
Cover art = 5
Pace = 3
Plot = 3
Narration = 5
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
1 of 1 people found this review helpful