“Wheel of Fire” is the first and only book currently released in audiobook format of newly released “Jasmine Wars” series. It is written by Daniel Jeffries and the audiobook is narrated by Leanne Yau. Let me say early in this review that I wanted and expected to enjoy this book based on its author notes and overall premise; there was great potential. But, I have to say that I cannot recommend the book do to the many issues I had with the audiobook edition outlined below. The story may be better suited or experienced in another format; such as kindle or physical.
Let me start with some of the things that I really liked about the book and then I will dive into a few of the issues in the following paragraph. The book gives the impression that it is a blending of a Chinese dystopian, dictatorship with some steampunk elements. It mixes in some of the more science fiction components by including a vast amount of technology including: a technological Singularity (superintelligence), laser weapons, flying cars and space craft, a universal basic income (UIB), androids, and other artificial intelligence systems. It seems like a lot, and at times it is difficult keeping track of all the events and activity with the often technology overshadowing the storyline. This is why I had such hope and wanted the author to be able to pull off this new and exciting world, but it did not happen for me.
Let me move to a few of the issues I had with the book. Firstly, the book takes place in China and the author uses many name, foods, locations, and references that may be common to someone who lives in or has knowledge of the country, but I found it difficult to follow at times. I’m not sure if this was because of the names themselves being foreign to me, or the author was not as descriptive with these items helping me to understand them. The second issue I had was with the narrator’s reading speed compounded with the many non-American terms, I found myself having to play back portions of the book to fully comprehend what was happening. Even when I listened at 0.75x normal speed (slowest Audible allows), it was hard to follow. I usually listen to audiobooks at 1.5x or 2.0x normal speed, and this book required me to listen at even less than normal just to keep pace. When I compared the number of book pages to audiobook length, I found this book to be nearly double the number of pages per minute than others in my library; not a scientific study just some simple math. Couple all the above with the narrator having a distinct speaking accent and it created a listening perfect storm for me.
For parents or younger readers thinking about picking up this book, be aware that is contains multiple places where modern vulgar language is used (seems odd for such a futuristic time and place). There is also a fair amount of discussions involving sex or sexual humor. Lastly there were aspects of alcohol and drug usage throughout the story. If any of these items offend you, I would not recommend you read or listen to this book.
The issues I had with the audio narration were discussed above. Other than those, I thought the audio quality (apart from the speed) was professionally executed. The quality of the recording was consistent and the narrator added a few extra audio elements making it more interesting at times.
In summary, I struggled to finish the book and for the number of books I listen too on a yearly basis, I think I could count on one hand the number of books that fit into this category. I’m not sure I would be comfortable recommending the book, at least not in its audiobook format. It may be better in another edition. Again, the premise and world setup was strong out of the gate, but if you got lost anywhere and tried to regain the storyline, it was very difficult to accomplish without having to go back and listen again.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.