Narrated by Anna Parker-Naples
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Stacy Reid’s The Royal Conquest is far and away the front runner for the title of “Worst Audiobook I Have Listened to This Year”. I’ve listened to mediocre stories performed by excellent narrators and excellent stories ruined by poor narrators, but this one has it all – a mediocre story performed by an inept narrator. It rarely gets worse than this.
But such is the reviewer’s lot. Sometimes when looking for titles to review, I think – “oh, I’ve not listened to that author/narrator before, so let’s give it a go”, and sometimes I’m lucky – like when I thought “oh yes, Alex Wyndham – I’ve seen him on the telly, so let’s see what he does with an audiobook” – and sometimes I’m not. This is one of those times.
Normally when I write a review of an audiobook, I spend a bit of time talking about the plot and characterisation and leave the discussion of the narration until the end. This time, however, I am going to reverse that, because even if this book had been the best ever written – and that isn’t the case by a long chalk, I assure you – the narration is so dreadful it would have rendered it completely un-listenable-to. (I may have made that term up – put it down to my still being traumatised!)
I’ve listened to Anna Parker-Naples just once before – in Deanna Raybourn’s Night of a Thousand Stars (when I gave her performance a C-) – but that was two years ago, and I had hopes that someone who continues to work as a narrator would have improved over that space of time. Yeah, just call me Ms. Over-Optimistic. In that review, I referred to her “incredibly girlish, overly bright” tone and called her American accent execrable, and nothing has changed; her voice is still girlish and her American accent is still execrable. Strangely enough, however, those aren’t the worst things about her performance. No, the hero, who is a Russian prince in disguise, sounds like a Nazi from an old black-and-white B movie, and any moment I was expecting him to say “Ve haf vays off mekking you tok!” Ms. Parker Naples can’t lower the pitch of her voice very much at all, so she resorts to some weird cross between a vocal fry and a croak in order to try to make him sound masculine and sexy, but instead he sounds about as sexy as a pair of baggy Y-fronts and every time he spoke, I cringed.
Feisty American heroine Peyton Peppiwell (oh, good grief!) is an unconventional, breath-of-fresh-air (yawn) heroine who doesn’t want to be bound by convention or to marry the sort of man she is expected to marry, especially as she had her heart broken by one such gentleman who jilted her when he learned of a scandal in her family. The hero is Mikhail Konstantinovich, aka Prince Alexander Konstantinovich Dashkova, Duke of Avondale and Count of Montgomery, who is hiding in plain sight as a mere horsebreeder because he has recently inherited an English dukedom and wants to enjoy a few weeks of blissful anonymity before he is flung into the social whirl. (The fact that he’s presumably leaving behind the responsibilities associated with his being a Prince in his homeland in order to take up the reins of this dukedom is never addressed.) The pair meet when Peyton steals his horse late one night and ends up falling off in the midst a storm; unwilling to let her make off with his prize stallion, he has (luckily for her) followed her and takes her unconscious form to a conveniently located cottage in the forest. When she comes round, she is concerned at the impropriety of his having undressed her in order to keep her warm, but is not at all bothered by the impropriety of having, in effect, stolen his horse.
And here, I can’t resist letting you sample some of the choice writing at the beginning. At just over two minutes in, Peyton comes out with this doozy:
You beautiful, magnificent beast; I want to ride you so desperately… I want to feel your power and strength between my thighs. Will you allow me to mount you?
My friends, that doesn’t even qualify as a SINGLE entendre, let alone a double one. And by the way, in case you were wondering, she’s talking to A HORSE. (Also, Ms. Parker Naples pronounces strength as “strenth”, and talks about Mikhail’s hardening “lenth”, both of which are profoundly irritating).
We already know that Mikhail is in the shadows listening, and of course, overhearing that renders him more fired up with lust than he has ever been before – we’re told this a LOT – even though for the past ten years, his heart has been encased by ice, and he pretty much makes his bed-partners fill out a questionnaire to make sure they don’t want more than he’s prepared to offer. Oh, and he only does it doggy-style. Following an abduction by a notorious courtesan some ten years earlier (because Reasons) and the sexual abuse that ensued, Mikhail cannot bear to be touched. I had to roll my eyes at the idea of a kidnapping courtesan, but the real problem is that the narrator makes Mikhail sound so utterly ridiculous that it’s impossible to have any sympathy for his situation or to take him at all seriously. I want to say here that I am absolutely not making a joke about sexual abuse, which is a terrible thing. It’s the narrator’s interpretation of the character that’s the problem – for all I know the author has written about a tricky subject in a sensitive manner; but I don’t know because it was nigh on impossible to pay attention to the words. I just wanted that stupid, squeaky-door voice to stop droning on.
Basically then, we have a heroine who doesn’t want to marry a man with a title and a prince with intimacy issues in disguise as a commoner who can’t possibly court Peyton because (almost) everyone thinks he’s a nobody. No problem – all Mikhail has to do is reveal his real identity. But wait! Peyton won’t want him if he’s nobility, and her parents won’t accept him if he’s untitled, so he’s stuffed on both counts.
It’s hard to divorce the story from the terrible narration, but The Royal Conquest offers nothing new plotwise, the dialogue is clichéd and often downright cheesy, (“though your kisses are sublimely wonderful, I yearn for a life without the glitter of high society.”) Peyton is naïve and intent on cutting off her nose to spite her face – she could truly not tolerate the idea that the man she was falling hopelessly in love with may forever be taken from her grasp if he proved to be a lord – and I couldn’t get a handle on Mikhail because I wanted to scream every time he opened his mouth. The Duke of Calydon (Mikhail’s close friend) makes a few appearances in the story and he is portrayed … decently, although of course, given what he’s up against, it may just be that I was relieved to hear a voice that sounded vaguely normal and missing the crappy accents.
I listen to rubbish like this so you don’t have to – do yourself a favour and go and watch some paint dry.
TITLE: The Royal Conquest
AUTHOR: Stacy Reid
NARRATED BY: Anna Parker-Naples
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: CazBuy The Royal Conquest by Stacy Reid on Amazon