I honestly don’t know how I used to survive long drives without audiobooks.
I used to worry about listening to audiobooks on those long drives, primarily out of worry that I would get so absorbed in what I was listening to that I would lose track of what I was doing (when one is easily distracted–hello, ADHD! how’s the wife and kids?–one tends to avoid things that might be distracting) and that isn’t good when you are hurtling along a highway at speeds between sixty and eighty miles-per-hour. This is why I have massively long playlists on my phone (both in iTunes and Spotify); they were created so I would have music to entertain me on these lengthy drives. But while music can make the time pass more quickly, audiobooks make it seem to fly past. It doesn’t distract me to listen to a book being read (I’ve always hated being read to, another reason I avoided them for as long as I have); if anything, sometimes I miss things in the book when I am having to pay attention to something on the road (like construction or heavy traffic) but have found I don’t lose the thread of what I am listening to; my subconscious is still listening and and so I don’t lose my place–which does happen with an actual book, and I have to sometimes go back and reread parts when I get lost.
But…never happens when I am reading Donna Andrews.
“I think they’re plotting to bump off Terence today,” Michael said.
“Bump him off?” I echoed. “Not for real, I assume.”
“Don’t get your hopes up. Bump off his character. In the Game.”
“I could love with them bumping him off for real,” I said. “Just as long as they pick a time when we both have alibis.”
Michael chuckled. No doubt he thought I was kidding. Of the two dozen actors, musicians, and acrobats my husband had recruited to perform at the Riverton Renaissance Faire, Terence was my least favorite by a mile. He was rude, selfish, greedy, lecherous, and just plain obnoxious. Unfortunately, he was also an intergral part of what we’d come to call “the Game”–the ongoing semi-improvisational entertainment that had become so popular with visitors to the Faire.
“Most Renaissance fairs just replay the story of Henry the Eighth and one or another of his wives,” MIchael had said when he’d explained the idea to my grandmother Cordelia, the Riverton Faire’ss owner and organizer. “Or Queen Elizabeth beheading Essex. What I have in mind is something much more exciting. We have this fictitious kingdom, and all the actors belong to one or another of the factions fighting to control it, and they plot and scheme and duel and seduce and betray each other. And they do it loudly and publicly at regularly intervals all day long, in period costume and elegant Shakespearean prose.”
As I have undoubtedly made very clear on this blog over the years, I love Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series. It’s one of my happy places; revisiting Caerphilly (or wherever she has sent the cast of this delightful series) is like watching Ted Lasso or Schitt’s Creek; I know I am going to put the book down with a satisfied smile upon completion, be in a very good mood, and just be happy and content with life in general. That’s a real gift, as a reader, and one I am very grateful to receive. I do worry, however, as I get closer to being caught up with this marvelous series that once I am, that there will be a tinge of sadness when I finish the most recent release, akin to when I get to the end of a season of Ted Lasso–sad that there’s not another one to read, but happy to know that there will inevitably be two dropping within months of each other. (While I can completely understand the stress and hard work involved in producing two such lovely and intricately plotted novels per year–those subplots! All the regular supporting cast! The history of a series going on so long!–I am quite happy that Ms. Andrews has such a dedicated work ethic.)
When I saw this was set at a Renaissance Fair, my heart leapt with joy. Andrews positively excels at writing books set at events and/or conferences (the one set at a fan convention for the fantasy series Meg’s husband starred in is a particular favorite, as is the one set at a Battle of Yorktown reenactment), and the fact that the RenFair is being held at, and hosted by, Meg’s grandmother Cordelia (who first turned up in another favorite, The Good the Bad and the Emus–well, they’re all favorites, really) made it even more joyous for me. I love the relationship between Cordelia and Meg’s grandfather, Dr. Blake–as well as their relationship with their joint son, Meg’s father. The ins-and-outs of a RenFair are of particular interest, particularly since this one has a story running through it, known by participants as ‘The Game’; hired actors playing parts, acting out the struggle over who will succeed Good Queen Cordelia (played by Meg’s grandmother, natch) on the throne of Albion? Costumes and swords, duels and jousting, crafts and mead and underhanded skullduggery!
And the skullduggery doesn’t stop at the Game, either.
The book, as all Andrews novels, is an absolute delight. Her wit makes me laugh out loud–I am sure any number of highway drivers on I-75 or I-59, glancing over at me as we drove along, were curious (or concerned) as I occasionally would burst out laughing as I listened. I resented having to stop for gas or a bathroom break, or to get something to eat–scarfing down food as quickly as I could so I could get back to the car and get the audio going yet again. (I am certain the pleasure of listening to this book had something to do with the trip home being an hour shorter than the trip up) The only complaint I could possibly have with this book (any of hers, really) is that I want more of it, more of the regular cast…I would absolutely read a book about them even if there were no mystery involved at all. But Andrews always delivers a solid mystery to go along with the delightful characters she creates–and she also often slips in some social commentary so slyly and sneakily that unless you’re attuned to looking for it, you might miss it.
The afore-mentioned Terence is the villain of this piece, as one might well expect from that witty opening quoted above. An egomaniacal actor in the grips of a severe case of narcissism, he’s not nearly as witty and talented and attractive as he thinks he is, and his constant practical jokes on other cast members–or attempts to add new subplots to the Game, naturally involving his own character–are looked at askance by the others; fortunately, Meg and her grandmother are quick-witted enough, along with Michael, to improvise on the spot and divert the story back to where it should be.
A particularly funny bit involves Dr. Blake, her grandfather, and why he shows up at the RenFair: a noted ornithologist and environmentalist (with a particular liking for birds of prey), he shows up with a cage of wrens…thinking it’s WrenFest (a throwback to the previous book in the series, which featured OwlFest). They find him a wizard’s costume and staff, and he takes to the role with relish, which leads to even funnier scenes.
But one an early morning owling expedition, our intrepid cast stumbles over a dead body in the woods…but no worries. Meg is on the case, and manages, with wit, style and verve, to untangle the various subplots and motives and machinations of the various suspects to eventually unmask the killer…which leads to a hilarious, if dangerous, confrontation in which she saves the day.
And resolve all the various problems of everyone in the book.
I actually had about five minutes of the book left when I pulled up in front of my house–and despite being incredibly glad and grateful to finally be home after eleven hours in the car…I stayed in the car to finish listening.
I cannot think of any higher praise than that.