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Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Woods Out Back (Spearwielder’s Tale #1) (audiobook) by R.A. Salvatore

Read by Paul Boehmer
10 CDs
12 hours

Gary Leger lives Massachusetts and is forced to make do with a miserable job in a plastics factory with no real prospects of doing anything but making ends meet at a job that offers little for his very active imagination. A natural athlete with no interest in sports, Gary finds solace in long walks in the woods behind his house and in his dog-eared copy of The Hobbit.

While on one of these hikes, Gary sits for a bit of reading and finds himself staring at a real life pixie who shoots him with a tiny drugged arrow that causes him to faint. When he awakens he is no longer in Massachusetts – he is in the magic-filled world of Faerie. Gary finds that he has been kidnapped from his own world by a leprechaun named Mickey McMickey in order to wear the armor and carry the broken spear of a long dead human king named Cedric Donigarten in an epic quest led by a grumpy elf named Kelsenellenelvial Gil-Ravardy (but everyone refers to him by Kelsey, a fact that makes him even grumpier).

Kelsey is convinced that if he can kidnap the best Dwarven smithy, subdue a dragon in single combat and use them both to re-forge the broken spear (using the fire of a dragon’s breath), the mere fact that it has come back in existance will inspire the people of Faerie to live up to the forgotten standards of their ancestors and restore some of the lost lustre of Faerie. Gary has been chosen to wear the armor because he is the first human that they found in our world that could fit in it, a fact that makes Gary doubt the soundness of the plan quite often. It is not clear why a human from Faerie was not chosen except that all of the humans we meet in the book are physically wrecked by disease and famine or are not of high enough character to fulfill the quest.

Written as a light-hearted adventure, The Woods Out Back (Spearwielder’s Tale #1) works because the reader sees the world of Faerie through his eyes and Faerie is just as new to him as it is to the reader. The customs of the humans, dwarfs, leprochauns, evil witches, goblins, trolls, dragons, giants and elves that Gary encounters confound Gary throughout but, with the help of his companions, Gary and the reader mostly muddle through. One of the most amusing aspects of the book is Gary’s well worn copy of The Hobbit. Mickey McMickey, the leprechaun reads it as they travel and he makes comments throughout.

R.A. Salvatore
When I first began to listen to the book I was trying to imagine parrallels with the Wizard of Oz (Dorothy was taken unwillingly to a strange, magical land, she goes on a quest with strange companions, she wants to return home, etc.) but I soon enough realized that Salvatore’s true inspiration was actually The Hobbit. Like Gary Leger, Bilbo Baggins is forced out of his comfortable but very stale day-to-day life in order to go on a quest. Like Bilbo, Gary finds this quest to be eye-opening, fascinating, morally challenging and in the end he is a much better person than when he started.

This is not a perfect book – Gary is often guilty of just accepting the strange things that happen around him as they are rather than asking questions that would help the reader. The language is sometimes stilted with worn, overused phrases (“glowering eyes” was especially grating for this reviewer). The characters are straight from central casting of any Tolkien-inspired book. The audiobook format provides additional issues. Paul Boehmer is the reader and he does a truly great job of creating different voices for the characters. But, his reading of the actual narration of the book (all of the non-speaking parts) is quirky. Oftentimes, he emphasizes his sentences in an odd manner that was distracting for the first couple of hours.

Despite those issues, the book’s fast-paced, good-humored nature draws the reader in and makes the world of Faerie a fine place to visit – good thing there are two more installments!

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Woods Out Back (Spearwielder's Tale)

Reviewed on December 10, 2010.

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