An Epic Adventure with Jenelle Schmidt
Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenelle Schmidt. You can click on the video to watch our whole rambling conversation. We talk about our collaboration on King's Warrior, Tolkien, The Hobbit movie, Discworld, Charles Dickens, Timothy Zahn and much more. I recommend watching at double speed because its more fun that way. :)
We’re doing an audiobook tour for book 1 this week & I’m almost done recording book 2. I wanted to give you some more insight into our partnership & a review of my own personal experience with this brilliant book. Going back to January 31st, 2020 – I was looking for new material to narrate & came across this:
This is the first book in a complete 4-book series. I hope to eventually release all four books in audio format. As an author, I plan to promote any audio versions of this book [etc. etc.] The story is in 3rd person omniscient and the cast is fairly large. I have been told that my style flows well when read out loud (that it's easy to read aloud). My characters vary in age and experience. Kamarie - 18 year old feisty, headstrong princess, sarcastic streak, but also compassionate and kind. Oraeyn - 19 year old squire, on the cusp of becoming a knight, responsible, frustrated with the job he has been given, but determined to see it through. Yole - 10 year old orphan, cautious, shy, life has dealt him a rough hand. Brant - 45 year old warrior, quiet, stoic. There are some more difficult names and words to pronounce in the book, but I have a full pronunciation guide available.
Jenelle also mentioned that the book had a cast of 67 characters.
Some would tell me I’m nuts to go for something like this, but I saw it, read the audition script & thought, "Wow. This looks epic." I went to her website & read her story of how she started writing & I thought – this could be one of my kids in 10 years. So I recorded an audition & decided to give it a go.
When I got the deal, I was excited already. Then – I read the book. And I was frustrated! Frustrated that I had so many other books that I had to get done first! I still enjoyed narrating all of them too, but this was the book I’d been waiting for & looking for since I started narrating. So I worked & waited.
Then I finally got to start narrating it. I loved it enough that after a couple of chapters of narrating it, I insisted my wife read it too. So she read it. And she loved it. And when I was about half through narrating it, my turn came up to pick our family read aloud book. So I picked it to read again (It sometimes got a little confusing reading one chapter to my kids in the evening, narrating further along in the story at night, and usually editing a chapter I had recorded a couple days before in the daytime. I was fully immersed in the story.
I still loved it!
Here’s why: First - Jenelle’s writing is just as she said – easy to read aloud (Even with proper nouns like Cruithaor Elchiyl and Tellurae Aquaous – once you get their pronunciation down). Second – Her characters are delightful, well rounded, and with EPIC arcs. Her prose is descriptive without being dull. As someone who loves Tolkien, Lewis, Alexander and other similar authors, her style and skill is on parr with them. There are elements in this book that are apparent to the reader long before the characters spill the beans, but its done in such a way that you’re excited for the other characters to learn the truth about who they are, who their friends are, and who the true enemy is and the truth about their enemy. She gives us a wide array of beings and ages, ranging from a 10 year old orphan boy who is far more than he knows, to wizards and wizardesses and dragons that are centuries old. And as tragedy strikes the people in the book, their reactions are genuine. I loved the insights into humanity that she brings to the forefront through the plot and how the characters learn and grow. As I read the book to my kids, everyone from my 17 year old daughter down to my 6 year old son thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so, that while we did read 2 books in between, my 16 year old picked Second Son for our nightly read aloud earlier this week. So now I’m going through the same routine I did with book 1! Each of our kids have a name from a book we love… If we weren’t done, I’m pretty sure our next kid would bear the name of Oraeyn or Kamarie. I still think there’s a pretty good chance I might end up with a grandkid named from this series. My 6 year old paid more attention to my reading of this series than any book I’ve read them before. He says he wants to name a son Brant. 😊
I also adore Jenelle’s very strong female characters from all three books that I’ve read so far (still have to get to The Minstrel’s Call). Kamarie, Zara, Dylanna, Calyssia, Leila, Rena, Calla, Llewana. All strong characters & every bit as important as heroines in this series as the male characters in this series. And I also love her treatment of Dragons. Having now narrated 6 books in Jane Austen’s Dragons by Maria Grace, I’ve discovered its my favorite part about narrating fantasy. I get to be the dragon voices too. And just like that series, it’s not just A dragon, but Dragons.
Which brings me to another thing I love about her writing: Her world building is delightful. Through interviewing her, I know she didn’t have the world completely fleshed out to begin with in her mind, or even by the time she wrote book 3, but the flavor of the world is consistent & beautiful. The mythology of this world is deep & rich. Her invented names for places, people, and different terms for some things (such as Dragon’s Eye instead of the Sun) draw you into a fantastical world. As I read book 2, I found her description of one particular mythical beast so intriguing – and I had never heard of it before – that I googled it. Solely her creation. Courtesy one keysmash for a name of the creatures – seheowks. But I don’t want to get ahead of King’s Warrior too much in this review & introduction.
The only weaknesses I really find aren’t even weaknesses in my mind. From the audition script, I was pretty sure she was at least taking some inspiration from Lloyd Alexander. And you can see some similarities here and there to the Prydain series. But that’s about as far as comparison to it goes. It is a broader world than Prydain and the series is much more epic in its scope. Her characters are richer & much more three dimensional. The end of book one already had elements that made me think of the end of Return of the King.
Multiple times in producing these books, I’ve been moved to near tears in performance, as well as goose bumps. I'd share some of my favorite scenes here, but I don't want to spoil them for you! If you like fantasy, if you like epic adventure, if you like books that are safe to read to anyone from childhood to however old you like, this book should fit the bill. If you don’t listen to my performance of it, check out the book on Kindle or a physical copy. This now holds a special place on my shelf. I think it belongs right up there with Tolkien & Lewis. Though now that I think about it… The 8-year-old has it in her bed reading it again now, so the shelf has an open spot where it belongs. 😊
The other fun thing about narrating this book was I was able to get some of my family involved as well. My wife sings as a woman much better than I sing as a woman (imagine that!) - So she sings Dylanna's song. She also wrote & performed the mandolin music in the credits. There's another song that calls for multiple characters singing it & I was able to have my 3 oldest kids join me & my wife to perform that one. I hope you enjoy it.
If you’ve read the book or the series, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Let me know what you think! I'd also love to hear back from you about my performance.
p.s. - If you watch the whole video - We DID watch The Man Who Invented Christmas on Saturday and loved it too. Coming next month - I'll be doing a live reading of A Christmas Carol.