Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast (By Jonathan Winn) [Narrated by Kristina Rothe]

 

Jonathan Winn’s first book in the Eidolon series concerns itself with an apartment block, each room a tale in itself, beginning with Apartment 1A and ending at Apartment 1E.

Apartment 1A: Lucky

The longest tale, or at least it felt like the longest, was the first. A tale about a Chinese assassin, a dark spirit, and a lifetime of bad decisions, all that – I have to admit – ultimately left me cold. The story itself is a good one, a winding tale of a young woman born in a place and time where being born a woman was nothing less than a curse. A life of hardship led this woman to a place where hardship was all she could perceive from the world. She looked out over her future and saw nothing but toil, until an encounter finds her that offers a surprising choice.

Lucky, as this young woman is called, chooses poorly and begins a series of events that threatens to rob her of everything. Love becomes something to scoff at, raw power replaces it, and to gain this power she must embrace destruction and cruelty. At first her acts of violence are hidden in backstreets, her victims those who would not be missed, but slowly she rises in stature until she threatens those who can rob her of her abilities.

The story takes place over a long period of time, moving from simple communities in mainland China to the hustle and bustle of Toronto. Time is fluid in the tale, as is location, slipped back and forth as memory’s become ghosts in the small apartment on Eidolon Avenue.

This is a story that appealed to me, as I hope it appeals to you, but its execution left me far less engaged than I would have hoped, and a great deal of this may be due to Jonathan Winn’s writing style.

A lot of what makes entertainment entertaining is taste. Some people like Godzilla movies while others like Tarkovsky. Some – like myself – manage to like both, but are still mystified on how such a thing could be. Taste is a funny thing, and often doesn’t even make sense to the person who expresses it.

What I am saying here is that my thoughts concerning Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast, and – specifically in this part of the review – the story Apartment 1A: Lucky is almost solely based on taste, and I have to stress this because, in spite of me not liking the story, I instantly thought of Jonathan Winn as a good writer.

I know that sounds like a contradiction, but please bear with me.

Whether you like this first story or not will depend on what attracts you to an author. If you like detail, long passages of text with carefully constructed – almost poetic sentences – then Winn is a good choice. Some of his descriptions are very arresting, conjuring up almost microcosmic detail in a scene, some of which is sure to stay with you. If – on the other hand – you prefer writing which is more direct, then you may find this story more of a difficult read. It all depends on whether you prefer the author or your own imagination to do the heavy lifting of a tale.

If your tastes make you one of the former, then go read this story, you’ll like it a lot.

If you are of the latter, you may want to give it a miss, or give it a go – with reservation.

Ultimately I’m of the opinion that Apartment 1A: Lucky requires some editing to reduce what I see as verbosity. I think there’s a great story hidden away under a lack of verbal restraint. The literary moments of gymnastic detail would’ve, in my view, served the story better if it was used sparingly. Giving the story the peaks and furrows necessary to pick out those moments the author wanted to remain in the readers mind after the final page was turned.

This is my first audiobook narrated by Kristina Rothe, and at the time of writing I see she has about half a dozen books on Audible, two of which are in the Eidolon series.

At a guess I’d say this is one of the earliest ones she recorded, I may be wrong, but it feels that way. There’s a slight unevenness in this tale, here and there I get the impression I can hear where retakes have been dropped in the mix. It may be my imagination though, and it certainly didn’t distract from her performance, which was good. She has a nice voice, and her pronunciation was clear with only a hint of an accent here and there (to my English ears). I have to admit a good narrator can make all the difference, and I’m not sure I’d be so eager to start the next story in this book if it was a different narrator doing it.

Apartment 1B: Bullet

Bullet lives for tattoos, if living is the right word. Apartment 1B is not exactly the Ritz, water stains decorate the walls and excrement fills the toilet bowl, but Bullet doesn’t care. Nights flow together, the girls and the booze might change, but Bullet doesn’t notice because nothing important to him does. That is until he wakes with the tattoo, the one he didn’t remember getting. Then the memories, the girl with the blue lips, then his mother, and the track marks on her arms.

Though it uses many of the same techniques as the first tale, Apartment 1B: Bullet manages to pull everything together in a far more appealing package than the first. Well, if “appealing” is the right word. The amount of profanity in this story would make Joe Lansdale blush, and much of it would probably offend a sensitive reader. Usually I shy away from books with heavy profanity, not through any sensitivity, but rather because I often consider them to be wasted space that could be better filled. But with Apartment 1B: Bullet the use of profanity seemed the right choice, and it would’ve been strange without it. Bullet isn’t a nice character. In fact he was familiar to me, unfortunately I’d met men like Bullet in my youth, he’s quite well drawn and easily recognisable.

The story arc of Bullet is a smoother curve, the time slips more fluid, and the excessive description I felt marred the first story is absent here. It also worked better that I never felt like I’d left the apartment, those moments outside its walls felt like memories rather than shifts in location. This kept the Eidolon front and centre, making the apartment, and the block around it, far more of a character that oppressed Bullet, and through him the reader.

Kristina Rothe is wonderful in this story. Hearing a barrage of profanity from her made me smile rather than grimace, perhaps giving the story a darkly comic twist for me it may not have on the printed page. This isn’t to say its a funny tale, far from it, its pretty grotesque in places, but I do think it makes Bullet more palatable as a character than he might have been.

Apartment 1B: Bullet is a great combination of narrator and story. The editing, of both story and audio, seems spot on and the whole things flows very nicely.

Apartment 1C: Click

Women fall at Colton Carryage’s feet, drawn in by his handsome face and easy smile, oblivious to his history, unaware of the trail of destruction he leaves. Colton can no longer rely on the handouts from his powerful father, an ex-senator, and has fallen on hard times, but hard times can’t tame the darkness he feels whenever he sees women. Especially a certain type of women, one that he finds alone, and one he finds vulnerable.

The third tale from the apartments on Eidolon Avenue sits somewhere between the first two in quality, but its easily the nastiest tale so far in the collection as Colton rapes and murders his way through a collection of victims. As the tale unfolds and we learn of Colton’s past, and his current behaviour, it grows more and more of an unlikely tale, bordering on absurd. After a while I wondered if there would be any man in this collection who wasn’t an unredeemable monster. What is worse is that at least one woman in this tale shows a remarkable lack of common sense when she actually voluntarily walks into Colton’s lair after knowing a surprising amount about his activities.

Ultimately Colton himself sums up my feelings towards Apartment 1C: Click, when he says, “I wanted a better end, one not so predictable.” I have to admit I agreed with him a lot on that one. The story is simplistic and somewhat obvious, the end telegraphed by a rather clumsy conversation halfway through its length. It does move though, roaring through its two hour or so length with little to no dead air.

Kristina Rothe didn’t have a lot to work with in this story, that was apart from relating a series of rapes and general depravity. Again the presentation is top-notch, with smooth narration and fine editing.

Apartment 1D: Anniversary

Marta and Benji needs Mr. Peabody. They just can’t do it alone. They are at an age where the little things are hard enough, much less those things that take strong hands and firm backs. Things like repairing the plumbing, or clearing out the trash that accumulates in the garage, or committing a murder/suicide. They didn’t even have a good track record for that even in their younger years. She lost her leg on one try, another put him in a wheelchair, and try as they might it didn’t get any better even with practice. So enter Mr. Peabody, handsome – and useful – Mr. Peabody.

Apartment 1D: Anniversary begins with the audience believing they know it all, told the story from the lips of Marta herself, but Marta isn’t quite the person she portrays. She is the quintessential unreliable narrator, but that’s okay, because everyone else seems just as unreliable in this tale. You may suspect the end before it comes, but that’s okay, the journey here is worth the effort regardless. Slow reveal stories are dangerous ones, the author relying on a good understanding of how quickly an average reader will put together the pieces they present. They can’t put it all together too quickly, but they also have to manage to do it well enough that when the author presents the answers the audience is only the barest step behind.

Jonathan Winn does a good job with this tale, even if you put together the clues faster than most it is still a good enough story to be a fulfilling read. Anniversary is a well constructed tale, as good – maybe better – than Bullet because it is a tale of just desserts that could have almost graced the pages of Tales From The Crypt.

Kristina Rothe seemed to have s good understanding of Marta, she managed to get under her skin a little, and through her under the audience members skin in the process. She managed the character very well, presenting us with a woman who always manages to say more than she intends to, much of it in not what she says but how she says it. So far – when you include Rothes performance – this is easily the stand out story of the book.

Apartment 1E: Umbra

Little Umbra wouldn’t choose to live on Eidolon Avenue, she wouldn’t choose to live with her grandmother either. She didn’t like the way her grandmother looked at her, and the strange things she said sometimes. Little Umbra wouldn’t make any of those choices, but Little Umbra didn’t have any choices, not after her father had been crushed under a car and her mother had made a lunch of a drinking glass.

Thankfully Little Umbra had a friend she could rely on to listen. Listen was all it could do because stains couldn’t talk, and the wall beneath the stains couldn’t talk.

Could it?

Remember how only a few moments ago (by your time, it was a few hours ago in my time) I said that Anniversary was this books stand out tale? Well, I was wrong on that one, Apartment 1E: Umbra is this books stand out tale. The bulk of over description is gone, allowing the main character just to speak for herself, detailing a life of neglect that perfectly isolates her, setting her up for what comes.

The story is written as an explanation of sorts, a framing device in which the other stories gather greater depth. In this I wonder if its placement was correct in the book, whether it should have come first, or if the other stories should have emphasised certain elements more. In many ways this story (alongside Anniversary and Bullet) only goes to show how missed an opportunity the remaining tales were in this collection.

Kristina Rothe was made for this particular story, her warm voice perfectly portrays this delicate girl who has only barely dodged some true horrors in her life, while burying others so deep they might only influence her nightmares, if she is lucky. It might be fair to say that the greatest addition to this collection was the selection of Rothe as its voice.

You know what they sometimes say, it is the teller not the tale, and a narrated book is the result of the mixed parentage of author and narrator. Sometimes the narrator only manages to present the story, other times they transform it. It might be a little much to suggest Kristina Rothe does the latter, this I cannot say, I would have to read the written word to ascertain that, but she certainly does far more than just lend it her voice.

Last Thoughts

I found Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast a mixed bag, mostly this mix leaned towards the positive, with only a couple of true negatives. In my view it started with its second weakest tale, and a long one at that. But it was worth persevering with as it kept its strongest tales until the end.

There is a second book, Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast. Will I read it?

I think I will, though my opinion of the first book may not be as glowing as some (I seem to be a tiny minority, which may indicate how much attention you should pay my opinions), I didn’t once consider putting the book aside and reading something else, and as the book continued I did become far more engaged and began to enjoy the later tales a great deal more.

Jonathan Winn I’ll read more of in the future, I’m sure, but whether I’ll seek out his work is yet to be seen. Kristina Rothe on the other hand is a bit of a find, I’m certain she’ll be a name I’ll pay more attention to in the future.

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