Audiobook Review: ROUGH MAGICK by Kenny Soward (Narr. Scott Aiello)

Dragons of Autumn TwilightMy life was changed when, at the age of thirteen, a friend showed me Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. My first adventure into living dragons, half-elven heroes, knights, princesses, and more captivated my imagination with the joy of discovery and wonder. Some of the characters, like the mage, Raistlin, had dark pasts, but the overall feeling was hopeful. Sad things happened, but you never gave up hope.

Somewhere along the years my love of Fantasy has been usurped for that of high-tech battles or survival tales against monsters. I’ve also become more busy than I seem able to handle.

And then I won a book giveaway for Rough Magick (GnomeSaga #1) by Kenny Soward. I was immediately impressed by the care with which he’d wrapped his book, followed by the exquisite cover art and even some goodies in a poster of the same and a key chain mockup of a silver sprocket used for currency in their world.

The layout of the print edition is beautiful and evocative of the kind of atmosphere my thirteen-year-old past dreams of reliving.

Sadly, I’m no longer on that week-long vacation where I could sit and read Dragons for as long as I cared for. I’m a father and husband, writing fiction on top of my job and all the in-between that steals my time in fantasyland.

Rough Magick’s first chapter blew me away with potential for a phenomenal story to come. The combination of rock monsters, living ships, and the magick thriving all around as two powerful forces collide awed me with Soward’s abilities to weave a frantic and colorful first chapter. Jontuk’s, the battle’s stonekin leader, motivations turned out different than we thought, and he had to slip away into an interdimensional portal. Yes, more please. Enter our heroine, Niksabella, a uniquely gifted tinkerer whose recursive mirror is more than just a power device, it can deliver Jontuk from the oppressive Baron. The tone changes from Jontuk’s point of view to Niksabella’s, switching from an intense battle to another day in the life of an outcast engineer who’d rather play with her devices than shower or socialize.

Rough MagickWhile I admired Niksabella in her passion to create at the expense of relationships and social standing, the time spent showing this dragged the story down at times. This could have been lessened had I more time to spend to reading chapters consecutively. Chapters fourteen and fifteen, where she visits the festival, are an example of times where I wasn’t feeling the sing song joviality of the book’s pacing. I didn’t get the point of some of the chapters and eventually, unfortunately, I put the book down.

After a few months, I was still stewing over wanting more story like Rough Magick provided in the battle scenes and where we saw the damaged relationship between Niksabella and her brother, Nikselpik, a mage in his own right, but with a dark addiction.

Then I discovered the audio version narrated by Scott Aiello, and I finally got the story Soward was trying to tell. Scott delivers a masterful performance, maybe in my top three for audiobooks. His voices and enthusiasm nail the sing-song joviality in a way that made me eager to enjoy every second. I restarted from the beginning, and Aiello’s performance transformed the story from reading into an immersive experience strongly similar to the one I had as a young teenager. I laughed at the songs and phrases, by “tick and tock” and for “fluttering sake,” Soward made up to color his world. I marveled at voices that convinced me I was living with magick wielding gnomes. A possible obstruction from my busy life was removed, and I was able to see parts of the story worth praising. My favorite scene is a strongly emotional one where an old father is eager to sit on his porch and enjoy the blessings of his years, his family, his food, and his zonk, when a deadly power shows up at his door.

I didn’t need Aiello’s vocal performance to appreciate Soward’s deft skill at describing magick and battles, but Aiello didn’t let up on that aspect of the experience one tick. By tick and tock, Soward’s magickal battle scenes are some of my favorite among any genre. I want to read a book cowritten by him and Jeff Salyards. That would blow me away, not that either needs work, but because they are top among their field and would present a championship level display.

The pacing through the second half of the book held my interest better. At first, I was curious about the direction of Bella’s imprisonment, and thought it dragged a little in the early parts, but the actual trial and thereafter picked up the pace in a very enjoyable conclusion. Again, Soward’s description of the destruction of the amorphs and the focus on Nikselpik’s fight against their powers was thrilling and just the kind of wonder I want from my Fantasy. The ending was well done and left me wanting to remain in Soward’s world.

I’m very glad to see Soward has completed his GnomeSaga trilogy. It’s no wonder Ragnarok Publications has teamed up with him. They are both outstanding additions to our community of Fantasy readers. If you’re looking for fun Fantasy with awesome battles, definitely pick up Rough Magick, in whatever format you prefer, but especially in the audiobook if you can.

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a former Executive Producer for AISFP. His debut novel, Scavenger: Evolution, blends Dune with Alien in a thriller where sand divers uncover death and evolution within America's buried fortresses. Sign up to his author newsletter for updates on new releases.

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