Audiobook Review: Greatshadow: James Maxey

Author: James Maxey

Narrator: Jake Urry

Series: Dragon Apocalypse, Book One

Length: 13h 20m

Publisher: James Maxey

Released: May 29, 2017

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Greatshadow is the primal dragon of fire, an elemental evil whose malign intelligence spies upon mankind through every candle flame, waiting to devour any careless victim he can claim.

The Church of the Book has assembled a team of twelve battle-hardened adventurers to slay the dragon once and for all. But tensions run high between the leaders of the team who view the mission as a holy duty and the super-powered mercenaries who add power to their ranks, who view the mission primarily as a chance to claim Greatshadow’s vast treasure trove. If the warriors fail to slay the beast, will they doom mankind to death by fire?

 

 

James Maxey’s mother warned him if he read too many comic books, they would warp his mind. She was right. Now an adult who can’t stop daydreaming, James is unsuited for decent work and ekes out a pittance writing down demented fantasies about masked women, fiery dragons, and monkeys. Oh god, so many monkeys.

In an effort to figure out how Superman could fly, James read a lot of science, books by Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking. Turns out, Superman probably wasn’t based on any factual information. Who would have guessed? Realizing it was possible to write science fiction without being constrained by the actual rules of science proved liberating for James, and led to the psuedo-science fiction of the Bitterwood series, superhero novels like Nobody Gets the Girl, and the steam-punk visions of Bad Wizard.

In 2015, James was honored as the Piedmont Laureate by the United Arts Councils representing Orange County, Durham County, and Wake County. This is almost certainly a sign of the ongoing cultural decay gripping the nation.

James lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with his lovely and patient wife Cheryl and too many cats.

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Narrator Bio

Jake Urry has been narrating and producing Audiobooks since February 2016, and in that time has released 17 titles, including The Cryptic Lines by Richard Storry, White is the Coldest Colour by John Nicholl, and the PI Harlan Ulrich series by Ambrose Ibsen. His narration work is often dark and suspenseful, and he developing a reputation for Mysteries, Thrillers and Horrors. In 2017 Jake will be working on more work by John Nicholl and Richard Storry, along with a sprinkling of Fantasy adventures.

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Elsie’s Rating – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Infidel is on a mission to find the treasure of Greatshadow the dragon. Helping is her companion Stagger who’s hopelessly in love with Infidel. Too bad he kicks the bucket before declaring his “undying” love and luckily his spirit becomes one with his knife which Infidel keeps with her.

Infidel is such an interesting character, she has a sharp wit, a wicked sense of humor and is a kick ass warrior. Author James Maxey pens a detailed epic fantasy with plenty of suspense, close calls and just the right amount of humor sprinkled in to keep things lively. The whole story is told from Stagger’s point of view as a ghost which adds an extra level of intrigue to this unique story. Occasionally the story loses momentum, but it never lasts too long and overall I found this audiobook highly entertaining.

Jake Urry narrates Greatshadow. The audiobook is just shy of 13 ½ hours and Jake does an amazing job. Reading fantasy is where he really shines and his narration is the reason I give this audiobook a five-star rating. Jake has so many voices in his arsenal and he uses them all expertly. He nails the emotion, energy, and pacing of the story and the sound production quality is excellent and we get a little bit of dramatization added in too.

Greatshadow is the first book in a four book series, but don’t worry the first book wraps up nicely and can definitely be read as a standalone. It just leaves you wanting more!

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jake Urry. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Q&A with Narrator Jake Urry
  • When did you know you wanted to be an audiobook narrator?

It was around the time I listened to Samuel West’s narration of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in my first year of University (2009). It wasn’t the first audiobook I’d listened to, but it was the first that made me think ‘I’d love to do that for a job!’ I never really thought I’d get the opportunity though, and even though I was training to be an actor I thought it would be a really difficult trade to get into for someone in their twenties!

  • How did you wind up narrating audiobooks? Was it always your goal or was it something you stumbled into by chance?

After leaving uni, and going through the typical ‘what do I do with my life now??’ phase, I decided to take a risk and get some recording equipment, then started auditioning for work. It was after a few months of mixed success and getting disheartened by endless corporate and cheesy advertising auditions that I stumbled upon ACX, Amazon’s platform for audiobook creation, and realised that they’d made a way for people like me to audition and get audiobook work in a really straightforward way.

  • Did you find it difficult to “break into” audiobook narration? What skill/tool helped you the most when getting started?

Not really once I’d figured out how ACX works, they make it really easy, and I chose books that I thought I could bring something to and be passionate about. A handful of authors trusted me with their work early on and it blossomed from there! Aside from ACX, the thing that helped me the most was that I’d been listening to all sorts of audiobooks for a long time, so had a bit of a head start because I knew first hand what makes people enjoy audiobooks.

  • A lot of narrators seem to have a background in theatre. Is that something you think is essential to a successful narration career?

I wouldn’t say it was essential, but it definitely helps, especially when it comes to coming up with character voices. When I started I already had a backlog of different characters I’d played and some of them ended up in my narrations, or I could just tweak them to suit the new character. It’s not cheating, honest!

  • What type of training have you undergone?

I did a BA course in Acting, which involved a lot of theatre and some voiceover work, so it was really good preparation for narrating and coming up with voices.

  1. How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for narrating?

It can be difficult, because like any self-employment there’s no one there to keep you on track and manage your time for you. But I keep the energy up by choosing books that I really love the sound of, and finding characters that I love voicing. And I set myself really obscure targets, like after my next title comes out, I’ll have over a million words of audio that I’ve produced! It doesn’t really mean anything but it gives me a kind of ‘psychological high five’.

  • Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?

Yes, I got hooked on audiobooks with Harry Potter (the US Jim Dale versions, not that the Stephen Fry one’s aren’t amazing!) and was completely blown away by how Jim Dale brought to life the story and characters in a different way than when I sat and read the books. I got hooked on audiobooks because it’s a format that let me take in the story more fully that when I read physical books. I see them as two completely different experiences and today I listen to as many audiobooks as I can!

  • What are your favorite and least favorite parts of narrating an audiobook?

My favourite moments are voicing characters that I particularly enjoy, and coming up with interesting things to do with characters that bring them to life. I particularly love voicing villains, it’s a common thing actors say but villains are really fun! The thing I enjoy the least isn’t actually the narrating but the editing. I edit all my audiobooks and it can be a real chore, getting the pacing right and weeding out mistakes, agonizing over it for hours when I really just want to be narrating! But in the end it’s all worth it when I wrap up a project, especially if it’s a big one like Greatshadow!

  • What would you say are your strongest narration abilities?

One thing I love when reading is when a tense moment is approaching, and I can slow down and really build up the tension. I love it when this happens in audiobooks and it makes me just stop whatever I’m doing and pay full attention to the story, and to think that I could have this effect on listeners is really rewarding.

  • Is there a particular genre you feel unsuited for? Have you ever declined a project because you didn’t think you were right for it?

I’ve had a few requests to do romance novels, but I haven’t taken any on because I personally don’t really enjoy the genre. I think it’s important that a narrator is passionate about the books they narrate, and if I did romance it would just be for the money and probably wouldn’t have great results because I wouldn’t feel connected to the story. Also I wouldn’t want to narrate anything I’d have to tell my mum not to listen to!

  • What about this title compelled you to audition as narrator?

Greatshadow appealed to me because although it’s an epic fantasy, it has lots of humour in it and every chapter is a rollercoaster of action, tension, and drama with moments of reflection and vivid world-building in between. The characters are so strong that coming up with their voices was a joy, and I found the fantasy setting fascinating. Also, it’s told in first person by a character who dies in the first chapter, so although I’ve done a few ghost stories, this was my first story actually told by a ghost!

  • How closely do you prefer to work with authors?

It varies, I know some writer’s like to have more input into the audiobook than others, and I’m happy with whatever level of interaction they want. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great authors like Richard Storry (a lovely gent who I’ve met in person while I was in a show in London), John Nicholl, and Ambrose Ibsen, all of which I’ve recorded multiple titles for and who have all trusted me with their words. I’ve had a few occasions where authors have asked me to change pronunciations, but no one’s asked me to change a whole character’s voice yet!

  • Who are your “accent inspirations”?

Oooh there are a lot to choose from! There are so many unique voices that I’ve admired over the years, and they’re usually older British actors like Ian McKellen, John Hurt, Richard Burton, Tim Curry, Christopher Lee, Anthony Hopkins and John Cleese – that’s probably why I ‘age up’ in my narrative voice and when listeners see a photo of me they usually let me know they were expecting me to be at least 60! When it comes to finding accents for characters I sometimes think about my favourite films and steal or alter accents from them, particularly if they’re American characters. Bagheera from Jungle Book, Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs and Frank N Furter from Rocky Horror are just a few of the character’s I’ve ‘borrowed’ from!

  • How did you decide how each character should sound in this title?

Luckily with Greatshadow, the author, James Maxey provided me with a list of characters and their descriptions. The descriptions were so vivid that I came up with the voices fairly quickly. They are mostly ‘big’ characters, so I could feel comfortable going over the top and creating a really diverse cast.

  • What types of things are harmful to your voice?

Being a fairly quiet person in my everyday life I’d say that the worst thing you can do to your voice is not use it. The saying ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ really applies here – I’ve noticed that if I have a few days off narrating, it can take an hour or so before I feel comfortable recording. If I take a few weeks off (usually if I’ve got something huge to edit), it can take longer. Basically the more I talk, the more rounded, deep and gravelly my voice becomes, which is what a lot of people enjoy in a narrator, particularly in the genres I work in.

  • Has anyone ever recognized you from your voice?

Sadly not. Hopefully one day they’ll let me do the London Tube announcements and I can freak people out by repeating them in person on the platforms, but at the moment it’s just a dream!

  • Have there been any characters that you really connected with?

The character that I felt for the most was Kathy in Bully Boy Blue by John Nicholl. The character was in an abusive relationship with her policeman husband, and the story focused on her escape from her suffocating life after she found out she was pregnant. It’s a short novella but you really get a sense of the horrific situation she is in, and it was important for me to portray her in a realistic and sensitive way. A lot of male narrators tend to portray women with high pitched shrill voices, but I get really peeved when I hear that happening, so when a strong female character comes along I jump at the opportunity to find a realistic voice for them.

  • If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?

I definitely would, but as I found out when I listened to Stephen King’s 11.22.63 it could be risky! Aside from saving president’s lives, I’d use it to go and see life in Dickens time. The world changed a lot in the early 20th century, and I think it would be fascinating to see Europe before it was ripped apart by two huge wars. I’d also love to see Shakespeare’s company performing for Queen Elizabeth I, that’d be an acting lesson I wouldn’t want to miss.

  • How does audiobook narration differ from other types of voiceover work you’ve done?

I’ve not done a huge amount of voiceover work aside from audiobooks, but I like the fact that I can set how much pressure I put on myself, instead of going into a studio for a strict amount of time and having to get things perfect straight away. It’s also a lot more rewarding telling stories than recording corporate videos!

  • Do you read reviews for your audiobooks?

I do, often because I send out review copies and want to see how people have taken what I’ve produced.

  • If so, which ones stand out to you most, positive or negative?

Honestly, whatever any actor might say, the negative ones always stand out more. It can be hard not to take it personally, but over time you accept that you can’t please everyone’s tastes, and if you have to search through pages of positives to find the odd negative review then something is going well.

  • What type of the review comments do you find most constructive?

Generally ones with really specific criticisms that point out things I can improve on. To get a perspective on the audiobook as a whole I look at the performance rating on Audible, so for instance if it’s had 100 ratings and is averaging 4.5/5 then I’m pleased with it, but then I go through and look for criticisms and stuff to work on.

  • Who is your “dream author” that you would like to record for?

I’d love to narrate anything by Orwell or Dickens, but they’ve all been done! Thinking more contemporary I love a lot of books by Robert Harris, and would have loved to have worked on something like Conclave or Ghost – they’re both amazing audiobooks.

  • If you could narrate one book from your youth what would it be and why?

It would have to be The Hobbit, it’s just full of memories for me and characters that would be so fun to voice! I love the Rob Inglis version but I think they could use an update, so I won’t give up hope!

  • What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?

I would say ‘stick to books then’. Honestly I think they’re missing the point, which is that you get the exact same information listening as you do reading, it’s just easier and more enjoyable to absorb for a lot of people in audio form. When this comes up I also like to point out that stories were told verbally for thousands of years before Gutenberg invented the printing press, so really audiobooks are closer to ‘the real thing’. Books are great, I love them too, but most people who argue this point haven’t even tried listening to an audiobook, or have had one bad experience, so it can be hard to reason with them.

  • What bits of advice would you give to aspiring audiobook narrators?

I would say firstly, before you try to narrate anything, listen to at least 100 audiobooks from all sorts of genres. This might sound like a lot, but think about how much theatre, film and TV you watch to help prepare for other forms acting, the worst thing you can do is think “it’s easy, the words are right in front of you, all I have to do is read them.” And the second thing I would say is a bit more cheesy, but I’ve found it to be true – if you really want to do it for a living, then keep going until it works!

  • What’s next for you?

I’ve got a lot of work on at the moment, two more titles by Ambrose Ibsen in the pipeline, one more by John Nicholl and another by Richard Storry. Then a two week break in Switzerland before I carry on trying to get up to 30 titles in total on Audible by the new year.

  • Bonus question: Any funny anecdotes from inside the recording studio?

Unfortunately most of the funny occurrences are unrepeatable, where I’ll misread something and accidently replace it with an obscenity, which I then have to triple check is edited out! I think the most embarrassing thing I’ve done was last year, while I was uploading the chapters of a book for the author to approve, it was getting late and I accidently uploaded the song Tiny Dancer by Elton John instead of one of the chapters. I had to explain I just clicked on the wrong thing, but it was pretty embarrassing!

 

Greatshadow Giveaway: $10 Amazon Gift Card

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Reading for the Stars and Moon

Aug. 21st:
Dab of Darkness

Aug. 22nd:
Shh I Am Reading
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Notes From ‘Round the Bend
Adventures Thru Wonderland

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Jazzy Book Reviews

Aug. 25th:
The Book Addict’s Reviews
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The Page Unbound

Aug. 26th:
WTF Are You Reading?
My World in Words and Pages
Book Lover’s Life
Elsie’s Audiobook Digest

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