Quite a different direction from his previous audiobooks, “The Origin of F.O.R.C.E.” and “Dawn of Chrysalis”, which I have previously reviewed, Mr. Miller instead takes us on an Earthly adventure to the regions of Israel. Our main character (Jake) is growing up in this part of the world because his father is an archeologist and researcher. The book “SMITH” is a rather short contemporary science fiction coming of age story about a boy who finds a mysterious ring granting him near super hero powers. The audiobook edition is exceptionally well narrated by John Pirhalla who has also narrated the author’s other books. There is action, there is adventure, and there is even a bit of romance all packed into this novelette. Even though it is not the space-based science fiction I have grown to like from author, it is a well written tale consisting of both mystery, action, suspense, and deceit. In just under four hours of audio, the author takes the listener on a path watching Jake grow from a boy into a man. If you like well written mysterious adventures, I recommend you give “Smith” by Sam B. Miller II a listen.
Although the book at times opened like your standard coming of age story, there were times where the author surprised me with the direction he went with the story. You have a boy who has some major relationship issues with his workaholic father. His mother died when he was younger, so he only has himself to trust; apart from a close friend. Because his is an outsider in this country, he is often bullied and considered the one people stay away from talking with. This often forces our main character to go out and discover the world, mostly on his own, and here is where is finds a surprising treasure. The author does a good job of building a level of tension between Jake and his father where one wonders if it will ever be resolved. For the most part, the main characters felt like they had depth and complexity, and each person seemed to stay consistent to their defined character. A few of the minor characters felt less defined meaning that I found myself not connecting with them as deeply.
As some may not be aware from the book’s title, I wanted listeners to know there is quite a bit of material dealing with religious overtones around the ring, along with its location near the conflict between Palestine and Israel. The book is in no way preachy, but it does use references from Biblical and non-biblical sources and weaves them into the story quite a bit. As with Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code”, I would not take the author’s theological stance as truth, it is clear that it is a piece of fiction. If you are aware of this from the start, you can better understand why the author uses such in his book. Even Jake’s father talks about his ability to separate, yet struggles as times, between both science and his religion.
Even though the book is rather serious most of the time, there are bits of pieces of humor thrown in helping to reduce some of the built-up tension. The ring is often humorous when it speaks with the main character as it has not been privy to our world and language over the past few thousand years. One of my favorite humorous parts is when the main character realizes that it is never a good idea to argue with an armed woman who also knows krav maga; Israel’s defense forces fighting style. She is the same one who is his romantic interest. There are also times where the author blends in some more conventional conversations between characters making the book feel more realistic. In some cases, I would have like to have had a few more periods of backstory or downtime chatter because much of the book moved from one action sequence to the next without giving me time to come up for a breath of air. As condensed as the book is, the author could have added some more to the story without greatly expending on its overall size. The book does a good job of also adding aspects of mystery and suspense to the story. Often the listener is left wondering who the good guys are and who are the bad ones.
Let me turn my attention to the audiobook’s narration. I have enjoyed the other works I have listened to performed by John Pirhalla. He has a rich, deep, and engaging voice that worked quite well for this story. He does a really good job of voicing the many different characters, and even those who had some difficult accents. I liked his use of inflection and each of the characters felt individual and unique. The book did not contain any audio artifacts or background noises. The only thing I will say is my finding of one missed edit near the end of the book where a word was repeated twice. Most will not even notice it, but I have to include it as many listeners like their audiobooks to be near perfect; and this one us is. I do not mind an issue here or there, but as a whole the piece is executed quite professionally.
For parents and younger readers, I can say that the author does not use any vulgar language in the book that I can recall. The elements containing romance are light and not a primary focus of the story. However, I will say the book does contain a fair amount of rather graphic and violent scenes of death. Smith is a killing machine and often the deaths occur so quickly that one begins to forget just how big the number of people die. Because of this, I would only recommend the book to older or more mature listeners that do not mind this level of violence.
In summary, if you liked “The Mummy”, “The Da Vinci Code”, or you like coming of age stories with a snarky talking ring, I would recommend you give “SMITH” a try. Mr. Miller weaves a tale that is mysterious, suspenseful, and feels a bit like a super hero story. Although it is shorter, the book does not feel incomplete. Could there have been some added pieces giving the story more depth, sure but I was glad to know this is a self-contained stand-alone audiobook that at this time I do not think there are plans for the sequel. I guess we will have to wait and see. Any comments Mr. SMITH?