What might you expect from a story about an engineer who is afraid of space travel assigned to a maiden voyage of a starship and some new technology? Well, let me say, this is only the first of many things that can and does go wrong for Charlie as his luck goes from bad to worse. “Bad Luck Charlie” is the first book in “The Dragon Maze” series and appears to be the premiere work published on Audible by author Scott Baron. The audiobook edition is delightfully narrated by Gary Bennett. Even though the audiobook has a slower and bumpy start getting going, it does not take much time to wonderfully blossoms in to a very deep and compelling science fiction adventure. The listener is taken from one wonderfully awful place to the next, but each experience is like a gem for the listener. If you are a person who likes exploration, adventure, life and humor, let me say that this first in a series has started off very well and I look forward to the future audiobooks to come.
Although the story is action packed from the start to the finish. In some ways it was like a pressure cooker that takes a little while to reach its full potential. Once the momentum is achieved, the audiobook is like a rollercoaster cresting its first drop, and what a fun and exciting trip it takes the listener on when it happens. In many ways the story feels like a tragic survival tale, but the many twists and turns have you always wondering what comes next. How much bad luck can Charlie have? A lot. Don’t get me wrong, at first, I thought the book was going to be more slap-stick or satirical, but the author weaves a tale including emotions of love, loss, and life while keeping it light-hearted and fun along the way. The main character felt complex, likeable, and you begin to truly care for his well-being and next steps. At times you want to reach out and just give him a hug; he needs them. The use of flashbacks and other backstory details helped fill in Charlie’s life and how he became a great engineer who really does not enjoy what he does, yet he uses all his experiences to keep himself alive.
I very much enjoyed that we are able to observe and follow Charlie as he experiences and discovers the many different and unique things during his adventures. The various lands, people, relationships, etc. Much like with a role-playing game (RPG), the listener is able to see the main character grow and increase from his experiences. Later, he would use these new lessons to his own advantage, or to the benefit of his close friends. The worlds Charlie experiences felt vastly different and unique from our own. There is a blending of both technology and “magic” making things operate in these strange places. At times it had a feeling of Steampunk, Underworld and Starship Troopers blended with bits of humor to lighten the tension. The author did a wonderful job of showing us the tight bonds and friendship he makes along the way. Often these overshadow all his bad luck because apart from his situations, he always has his friends at his side.
All of this is made even better with the mystery, suspense, and adventure Charlie faces along his journey. Much like the famous trek to the land of Mordor to dispatch the magical ring, Charlie as well has a journey that is fraught with pain and loss along the way. He learns, grows, and experiences life in what many would consider the worst of the worst conditions. Yes, his luck was bad, but his pain is what made him grow into the loving and carrying person he becomes. I do like that the author as well admits to his love of off-kilter humor as the book has many one liners and snarky comments that had me laughing out loud a few times. One character stated that both bravery and stupidity are the same thing, it only depends on the outcome and one’s perspective; insightful. We also see that this man is not afraid of failure as this is what he uses to grow and mature into who he becomes.
At the end of the story, I did not feel cheated, but I can say that I wanted more. I want to know about this magic, some of the alien weapons, the various people (alien) groups, etc. I want to see Charlie grow and experience more. This is a sign of a well-written and narrated audiobook. In some ways the story reminded me of the movie “The Truman” show where we are given a front row seat to observe the many thoughts, deeds and actions of Charlie. I enjoyed it very much and the audiobook really was more than I first thought it would be. The chapters are short and easily consumable, but the writing is descriptive and easy to picture.
The audiobook’s narrator did a wonderful job of setting the tone and pace of the story. There was an overarching sense of dread or weightiness which the narrator was able to maintain throughout the book. But, also a true sense of relief when the author uses humor, we can hear it in the narration. The narrator did a good job of expressing and brings the main character, and all the others, to life for the listener. For a relative newcomer to the Audible narration scene, with seventeen total books at the time of this review, the audio was clean, crisp, and free of any noticeable audio artifacts.
For parents and younger readers, be aware that the author uses vulgar language which seems to become more frequent as the book progresses or in times of heated action. There is some use of mature content involving innuendoes along with references to specific body parts. There are also some light aspects of antireligious overtones by the main character, but these are rarely portrayed. Because of the nature of the more mature material covered in the book along with some violence, I would not recommend the book to younger readers.
In summary, the book has a veneer of being only a humorous tale of Charlie and his many episodes of bad luck. It is much more than that and well worth a credit for the listen. The author gives us a glimpse into what may be future elements to come, but we are also left waiting for the next in the series to be released. Charlie, we are sorry that you had to experience all the bad luck you did, but we are glad you brought us along for the ride.