I haven’t been insomniac enough to listen to a lot of audiobooks lately, but I’ve been making an effort with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and enjoying it. The books hold up well to being read out loud. Sanderson’s excellent pacing struck me even as I read The Final Empire to myself, and Michael Kramer reads smoothly and clearly. Some voices come more naturally to him than others, but none of them is distracting. The detail in the books isn’t overbearing, like, say, The Valley of Horses on tape, but if you drop a stitch or crunch an apple while you’re reading, you’re not going to get hopelessly lost. I even took the near-unprecedented step of starting to listen to The Well of Ascension without reading it first, and it was still easy to follow.
I would have liked to see Kramer share the stage with a female reader, though. He does the Wheel of Time with Kate Reading, switching off sections approximately according to the gender of the viewpoint character, and that technique would have worked well for these books. Vin is just about the only woman, but she’s also the main character. The gender imbalance bothered me while I was reading it, but it bothers me more to hear Vin speak in that slightly feathery men-doing-women voice. Kramer doesn’t take it overboard, and unlike Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter, he doesn’t have the luxury of caricature, but a woman reading Vin might have made me feel less like she was the lone intruder in a boys’ club. Right now, it definitely feels like it was more important to get their voices right than hers by sheer dint of numbers.
But, damn it, they’re right. Too many voices done by a reader of the other gender can be hard to distinguish from one another or can just get on my nerves, and there are ten male main characters and just one Vin. Even as far as minor characters go, Vin meets a few vicious, conniving noblewomen, but that’s about it. On page 34 of the first book, Sanderson writes of(f)the fair sex by saying, “There were relatively few women on thieving crews; generally, those women who got involved with the underworld ended up as whores.” That seems the easy way out, the easy way to isolate Vin, and why can’t prostitution be an opportunity for petty larceny, espionage and confidence schemes? I don’t know. It’s the first thing I thought of, so Sanderson was probably right not to do it, but Vin being a girl actually provides some excellent opportunities for the rebellious band of rogues. Is that the only reason Sanderson made her a girl? If not, why aren’t other women being useful to the thieves’ cause, not because of their femininity, but as smart people who happen to be women?
The process of going from book to audiobook unfortunately highlighted my biggest issue, but I am going to keep listening. And there’s a whole lot of Mistborn audiobook to love—more than three solid days, according to iTunes. Anyone else have thoughts on these audiobooks or on gender in audiobooks more generally? I tend to like the full cast approach.
EDIT: The audiobooks are available from iTunes and directly from Audible.com, at the following links: