This is an audio review of Delvers LLC. That means I’m not going to talk about the book, I’m going to talk about Jeff Hays performance. He asked me if I’d give him my opinion, because he’s apparently a masochist.
Disclosure: I already own most of the books he’s narrated, and I’m a fan of his work with MR Forbes. I also really like the guy, but I’m going to be critical and as impartial as I can. This is spoiler free content.
The book review will be done after I get through reading it, as I tend to be more critical of books than audio narrations because I can flip back to passages and make sure everything makes sense. A good audio narration can slide right past these sorts of problems, particularly if the narrator is good. And Jeff Hays is a good narrator.
My review criterion for books isn’t unique or particularly interesting, but I look at 3 qualities.
A book that has bad characters and plot, but still delivers emotional appeal is “pulp” or cult appeal. A book with great characters and plot that lacks emotional appeal is the type of story Mark Twain defined as a classic, “A book everyone wants to say they’ve read and no one wants to actually read.” Have you read Moby Dick? Come back and talk to me after you have.
But, I don’t have a criterion list for audio books. I don’t really think there is one, since widescale audiobook reading has only existed recently with the advent of on-demand payments, lossless audio formats, high speed download speeds, etc.
So, I have to invent my own. To do that, I looked at the worst audio narration I’ve ever heard, which is Dick Hill’s reading of Repairman Jack. Repairman Jack is one of my favorite series, and the two narrators who do most of the series, Christopher Price and Alexander Cendese, do a masterful job. Then Dick Hill takes over for two of the books. From there, we get auditory butchery.
I have to use Dick Hill as an example because I normally will not listen to a bad narrator. I simply stop the book, I’m not going to torture myself. But because of my love of the series, I powered through. If you are planning on reading the Repairman Jack series, the two books that Dick Hill does are two of the worst, making me wonder if Christopher Price simply decided not to read them.
- Modulation. A good narrator should hold a consistent volume. It should not vary between a whisper and a scream. I guess this must be a sore spot for some narrators as they can’t figure out whether they should do a real scream or the “indoor voice” scream, but I prefer the latter. I don’t need to hear a narrator screaming into my earphones when I’m working out, thank you. Hill’s reading was all over the place in terms of sheer volume.As another point on this, it requires some editing skill since a narrator will have to re-read lines multiple times to get it right and the edit needs to sound contiguous with the other lines.
- Intonation and Inflection. I only picked these words because they go with modulation. This means if the narrator is speaking clearly and I can understand what’s going on in the scene. This is harder to do in fantasy worlds that often use foreign words and mythologies. It’s not a problem in Delver’s LLC since all monsters are referred to literal names instead of mythological ones, except for names of creatures and things that are made up.
I think these two are the “objective” criterion for a narrator. If you can’t read clearly and if you can’t maintain a consistent volume, you aren’t going to be a good narrator. The next three push a narrator from serviceable to great.
- Voice Profile. This is incredibly subjective, but a narrator’s voice should match the character they are attempting to portray. Someone who has a gentle disposition should have a gentle voice. Someone who is young should sound youthful. Someone who is world-weary should sound bitter. Repairman Jack is an athletic man in his 30s, able to deal with supernatural bad guys through mental acumen. Dick Hill sounded like an old, tired man, not a vibrant 30-something year old.You win bonus points here if you listen to Ice T doing a female elf.
- Voice Range. A good narrator should be able to do a range of voices, (old, young, male, female), and at least have a passable range of accents. I would put voice actor Peter Kenny as the best vocal talent for having a range of accents and voices. Dick Hill always sounds like a tired old man, and there’s a scene where he has to do Japanese voices that sounds like the worst yellow-face impersonation I have ever heard. Do your most stereotypical Japanese accent and that’s the voice he used. It’s so… bad.
- Voice Effects. The use of subtle voice effects like echo, reverb, and distortion can lend believability to the reading.
- Iconicism. This is when a voice actor becomes the representation for their character. MacLeod Andrews is Sandman Slim. James Marsters is Harry Dresden. Jennifer Hale is FemShep. Jeff Hays achieves an iconic status with Connor Night in Ghosts and Magic.
So, for Jeff Hays’ performance:
- Modulation. Excellent. I never had to fiddle with any electronic devices to constantly change volume to be louder or quieter, even when he switched characters. There is only one line where it appears Jeff misread something and had to record over it, but in a 15+ hour long read, that’s incredibly good editing skills.
- Intonation and Inflection. I never had to rewind the book to try to understand what was going on or what words were being used.
- Voice Profile. All of the characters have voices that match the profile build up through the story and actions. It’s the unique characters like Bezzi-ibbi and Dolos that really shine through as the highlights of the performance.
- Voice Range. There is some room for improvement here. The two leads don’t stand out enough from each other, at a listen, you wouldn’t know who was speaking without carefully listening. I would point out MacLeod Andrews performance of the brothers Cal and Niko Leandros in the Cal Leandros series of how to get this subtle magic correct. They have to sound similar enough to be recognizable as the same basic age/ethnicity/region, but distinct enough they can be recognized.There are also some female voices he reuses from previous books. Minor quibbles aside, the rest of the large ensemble cast is distinct and unique, each sounding memorable and identifiable enough that you know who is speaking when they come up without authorial cues.
- Voice Effects. I suspect that Jeff spends a lot of time editing, because he uses various voice effects to achieve heightened drama effectively. Like spices and cooking, this can be overdone, but Jeff knows when to use it and when not to effectively.
- Iconicism. The voices for Dolos and Bezzi-ibbi are iconic, you will know them as soon as you hear them. This is probably where you Jeff got to have the most fun, and it shows through in the performance.
I don’t know if it’s appropriate to give a rating to an audio performance, but it’s a solid 4.5 stars. There are some minor things that can be improved upon, but they don’t really remove anything from an outstanding performance. I will buy any other books he narrates and already have.
Jeff has admitted that Ice-T was the initial choice for this novel. It does give a more brutal upbringing to Bezzi-ibbi and foreshadows the introduction of firearms later in the novel.