Neal Stephenson is one of those authors that I have been meaning to read for years.  When I had my Indy bookstore we stocked his books and I was always intrigued but somehow never got around to it.  Perhaps it was the size of the weighty tomes  (I’ve been waiting for an excuse to say “weighty tomes” for some time now, so thanks Neal!) that kept me away.  After all, so much to read, so little time.  But now I can finally check Neal Stephenson off my list.  Or can I?  I started with his newest, REAMDE, and I have to admit I felt a little unsure about not starting with one of his earlier works.  If you’re a Neal Stephenson fan, feel free to school me.  Anyway, now…having read (okay listened to REAMDE) I gotta admit I’m a little hooked.  So instead of being able to check Neal off my list, I’m going to have to go back and read some more of his stuff.  Kinda glad I weighted until I had an eReader so I don’t have tote those giant bricks around with me!

So – on to the review:  REAMDE is a story that in many ways takes place in two worlds, the real world and the world of T’Rain, an online game that has become more popular than World of Warcraft.  As someone who is not a gamer, it felt a little bit like historical fiction for me, in that I was getting to learn about a world I know very little about.  It also felt like the “real world” in the case of this story became very much like the game world… with characters moving around the world, picking up and losing weapons and money, and battling and killing each other that would not be normal in the REAL real world.  If you’re not a gamer, don’t let that turn you off because I can also compare REAMDE to a season (or three) of your favorite action TV drama.  In other words, there was plenty of action, mixed with characters you can’t help care about and an overarching plot line that will keep you turning pages and have you wishing it would never end.

The main characters are many, but the standouts are Richard Forthrast, a former drug-runner and the owner of the company that created T’Rain and his adopted niece Zula who is resourceful and plucky (yes, I have been waiting to use that word too!).  Good thing she is too, because due to the scheming of her no-good boyfriend Peter, she is kidnapped by some Russian mobsters and dragged to China where she inadvertently lands in the hands of one of the world’s most notorious terrorists.  See… told you it sounds like a video game, or a season of 24!  The characters Zula encounters along the way, from the terrorist himself, who in a lovely British accent politely threatens to kill, maim and torture Zula if she does not behave, to the Chinese guide Yuxia, who learned English from movies and is seemingly not afraid of anything, are what kept the book moving along for me.

I’ve read some mixed reviews of this book.  But it seems the people who gave REAMDE bad or weak reviews tend to be those who have read Stephenson before and came into this one with certain expectations.  Having none of that, and just looking for a good read, I was not disappointed in the least.

I’d say REAMDE is the perfect escape for the upcoming family holiday visits, long airport layovers and crowded flights.

Oh – and since I called this an Audio Book Review, I should add that narrator Malcom Hillgartner did an excellent job of reading the book.  Good pacing, clear distinction of characters voices without being distracting, and all around pleasant to listen to.  So if you’re an audio book fan, or have a long drive coming up to go visit relatives, the audio version of REAMDE is a winner!

— Dana Barrett, Managing Editor