My passion for audio books is overflowing right now. Today on my usual semi-torturous hour-long commute to work (each way) I finished Bernard Cornwell's The Lords of the North. My God, if that wasn't the most enjoyable commute I've had in years, I don't know what was.
The Lords of the North and the rest of The Saxon Stories are amazingly entertaining tales on their own. But couple them with an amazing voice-over performance by UK actor Tom Sellwood, and, well, you've got yourself a hell of a fun car ride. I happened to glance around on Interstate 95 this morning (tearing myself away from the bloody tale of Danes and Saxons battling for control of 9th century England) to glance at the faces of the commuters around me. Some were pinched and angry, but most simply looked distracted or bored. Given what they were likely listening to--the wasteland that is AM/FM radio--I can't say I blame them.
To hell with radio. Give me a good audio book any day. While the sap in his gas-guzzling SUV next to me had NPR droning away on the dial, I was listening in on the conversation of Uhtred Ragnarson, true Lord of Bebbanburg, and Danish warlord Ragnar Ragnarsson, as they shouted the joys of "Women and War!" while riding on horseback through Northern England circa 881. While the 20-something chick to my front in her Honda was rotting her brain listening to the vapid Destiny's Child, I was "seeing" the clash of shield walls, bloodied axes and swords, and screaming men. In my mind's eye I was watching viking longships under sail in the open sea, the bright light of morning gleaming off shield bosses and helmets, and smelling and hearing great feasting halls flowing with ale and bursting with loud song and the poems of skalds.
And best of all this experience is "free" of charge. Audio books are expensive and the only ones I actually own are The Lord of the Rings (unabridged), as read by Rob Inglis. But you don't have to spend money: I get my audio books from my public library, which is part of a 10-town consortium from which I'm free to interlibrary loan a large number of audio titles. It's a great use of my tax dollars and I've certainly derived a lot of pleasure these last few years on my drive to work. I only wish I had discovered them sooner.
Hey, let's keep the blatant advertising to a minimum, m'kay? Unless you want to pay me...
All of Cornwell's series are amazing, in my book. I only had a passing interest in the Napoleonic Era until I dove head-first into the Sharpe books, and his Grail series covers a fascinating period of military history. I haven't gotten around to reading his Arthurian novels, but I have been reading the Uhtred novels and I'm waiting for the latest to hit paperback before picking it up.
With regards to a gaming perspective, good historical fiction like this is often worth it's weight in gold when you have players who aren't really able to "get into" non-fiction works that cover your time period of interest. The same thing works with movies, but they are often either so focused or of such dubious quality that going that round can do as much harm as good.
Hey Badelaire, I haven't picked up any of the Sharpe series yet, although many claim that they're Cornwell's best. Like you I currently don't have much interest in the Napoleonic wars, although I'm sure that Cornwell could make me a fan.
You absolutely MUST read his Arthurian novels. While I really enjoyed the Grail books and the Saxon series, his Arthurian trilogy remains my favorite. In fact, if you poke around Cornwell's website you will find that they are favorite of the author as well.
Re: Gaming, yes, Cornwell's books leave me with the overwhelming urge to launch a grim-and-gritty game set in the dark ages, preferably using the BRP (Runequest) system with all its glorious beheadings and impalings.
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