Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Source: Librivox
Length: 7 hr, 49 min
Reader: Karen Savage

The book: The passions of Revolution have taken hold of France, leading to the bloody purges of the Reign of Terror. Noblemen, even those innocent of the excesses of Louis XVI's court, are being rounded up and executed, along with their wives and children. Amid all this bloodshed, one man is foiling the Jacobeans and helping the nobility escape to England. This mysterious figure, hunted by the Republic's soldiers, is known by his symbol: a small red flower called The Scarlet Pimpernel.

This novel, though entertaining, failed to live up to my expectations. Part of the problem, I think, is that the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is given away by the short description in the Librivox catalog. The identity may be obvious even without this spoiler, but it's more fun to guess correctly at even an easy mystery than to be told the answer before you've even considered the question. Still, the story has plenty of action and adventure even without the suspense of this intrigue.

Rating: 7/10

The reader: In the hands of an extremely gifted reader, this novel could have been read with great narrative flourishes, enhansing the action and suspense of the plot while giving the characters expressive voices. On the other hand, an unskilled reader could have ruined the book by trying the same thing, but overshooting his mark and burdening the already melodramatic plot with silly voices and overwrought drama. Librivox reader Karen Savage plays it safe by giving a fairly straight reading. Her voice is plesant and slow, allowing the listener to fill in the action from Orczy's prose. After the first few minutes of listening, Savage's voice goes unnoticed as the words of the story take over for the listener.

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