I am not one who enjoys writing negative reviews of audiobooks because I understand how long and hard both author and narrator work to release a piece. Yet, it is harder for me when one element of the team brings the other one down. However, this is exactly what much of this review will cover from my listening of “Free Drive”, a new deep sea contemporary science fiction story. The book is written by C. F. Waller with the audiobook narration performed by Austin Freeman. Let me say that it has been some time last I heard an audiobook with such poor audio recording. I am able to forgive a few swallows being picked up, a page turning sound here or there, but when the entire recording sounds like it was performed in a hollow tin can using a USB microphone plugged into a cassette recorder, it is hard to not point out the many flaws. I will admit there were many times I was going to simply mark the book “Did Not Finish” and move on, yet I have enjoyed and reviewed other book by Mr. Waller and knew I would be in for a fun ride. If you are one who cannot put up with poorly produced audiobooks even though there is a strong story behind it, I would recommend you skip this audiobook and pick up the physical or digital print edition instead.
As usual, Mr. Waller pulls all the pieces of the story together making for quite a complex and deep world and characters. I found the book had quite a bit of mystery and suspense, and because of this, I was able to get past the narration and focus on the story itself. As with many of Mr. Waller’s other works, this one had a strong use of technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and autonomous mini-subs. What could go wrong when you have the technology to pirate the various treasures lost at sea; including many of the artifacts from the famous Titanic vessel? Additionally, what can happen when a mysterious group of people commandeer the technology for their own purposes? This is what you will find out in “Free Dive”. Much like “The Abyss” or “The Sphere” movies, one really gets a feel for how unforgiving the sea can be. Just like with space flight, the world under the sea is unforgiving and unkind. It felt to me that the author did a good job of researching his topic, or he is already one who is skilled in underwater exploration. The machinery, environmental descriptions, and the science all was quite believable and painted with a very colorful brush.
I will say that a few of the conversations between characters felt forced at times, but it was easy to dismiss. It just seemed like a few characters acted or spoke outside of my understanding or expectations of them. Without giving anything away, I would say that you will want to ensure you listen to the book’s epilogue. There are a few things that get brought up that you will not want to miss. The book did end with a few open-ended plot lines, but overall it really is a stand-alone novel with the potential of becoming a series if the author so chooses.
I’m not going to spend much time here talking about the book’s narration as I believe I addressed most of that in the opening part of the review. Because the narrator only has four total book, at the time of this review, on Audible, I am unsure if this poor recording is more a fluke or not. I know it is difficult for an audiobook to be re-uploaded to Audible, but it really should not have been rushed prior to proper editing and validation by others. It is not unusual for a male author to have difficulty with female characters, yet the tinny sound and the narrator’s voice just made it harder for me to listen to female characters. There were quite a few places where I observed the narrator duplicated his lines and did not go back and clean up the mistakes which often take me out of the story for a second. There were noticeable volume consistency issues along with some background noise at times.
For parents and younger readers, be aware that there is some light romance along with a few scenes of quite graphic violence. I will say that of the many Waller books I have listened too, there is usually very little to no profanity. It is harder and harder to find solid stories, strong characters, and interesting worlds with such little use of vulgar language. If you can get past the very poor narration, I would suggest this as a book for teenagers or older.
In summary, I can best describe this book as being a great story that is ruined by very poor narration. The world we are dropped into is unforgiving, the characters are well-developed, and the events all believable and suspenseful. If the audiobook gets re-recorded, I would say this is a good book to pick up. If not, go and get the digital or physical print versions and enjoy.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.