As I admitted during my review of The Sandman Act I, I am aware that these productions are really pushing the limits of what an audiobook is. But since they are such close adaptions of the original graphic novels, and are tied together with heavy use of a narrator (Gaiman himself), I think it is fair to say that they still count.
I loved Act I very much, but I really didn’t get around to listening to Act II until earlier this year, as part of the lead up for the soon-to-be released TV series. I had had every intention of getting to it sooner, but it did have the misfortune to be released in the ten days I had last year between getting my US visa and making a trans-continental move. Whoops. The timing did end up being fortuitous after all though—not too long after I finished it, Act III was dropped with virtually no prior announcement. I opened my Audible app, and boom!—there it was! This is the main reason I am reviewing the two Acts together. The other reason is that with regards to things like production values, the magnificent score, and the work of the voice cast, I found that they were mostly consistent throughout.
One of the (very minor) quibbles I had with Act I was that the first instalment of the story was a bit of a crawl, with a very heavy reliance on the narrator. This was a hard-to-escape flaw, as it was pure carry-over from the the graphic novel, which spans a number of decades in one volume (I noted this in the TV show as well). Thankfully, this less of an issue in Act II or III. The main narrative has now hit its stride, but I still question the heavy use of the narrator.
Act 2 starts with The Season of Mists and Dream’s return to Hell on unfinished business; followed by Fables and Reflections, A Game of You, and a number of shorter stories. Most of these are quite easy to follow until we hit A Game of You, which is very involved. This leads me to another thing I was thinking with regards to the first instalment—whether or not these Audiobooks can be followed without exposure to the original graphic novels first. I hit A Game of You and finally decided that no, as well acted and directed as these adaptions are, they probably serve better as a complement to the series, rather than someones’s first introduction. These were complex graphic novels, and the different threads and one-offs are not always easy to navigate in their original form. But at least you could easily flick the pages back-and-forth with the comics—you can’t do that here!
Despite this, A Game of You is one of my favourite arcs from he original. And I think the production team was spot on in adapting it. It is also probably the one arc where the usually-light hand of Dick Maggs makes some changes. Some of this is due to narrative consistency, as much of the narration initially given by Barbie is instead given to Gaiman-as-narrator. This works to bring it more in line with the other story arcs. Gaiman is a good narrator, so it’s not as bad as it could have been, but sometimes the over reliance of the narrator was a bit stiff. I know, this also flies in the face of what I said about the audiobooks being better as a complement than a stand alone—you might expect more narration to keep things clear—but perhaps they should have leaned in to the radio play elements slightly more. But still, didn’t stop this from being one of the best arcs.
The other noticeable change is the the modernisation (shall we say) of the language used surrounding Wanda and how other characters interact with her. It’s not a change that massively affects the story, but it is still a welcome one.
While there are a lot (no really, a lot) I think many listeners will get a kick out of the casting of the Norse. I won’t spoil who pops up, but I was more than delighted!
In Act III, Morpheus has to follow up on some very tragic family business involving his son. While Orpheus was introduced in Act II, his role here is much more prominent. And it’s here that his voice actor, Regé-Jean Page, really shines. Not only does he nail most of his line delivery, but he sings! And it’s a tough sell too: this is meant to be the song that melted the hearts of Hades and Persephone.
After the tragedy of Orpheus, we follow up with Brief Lives. While A Game of You may have been one of my favourite arcs in the original, Brief Lives has overtaken it here in the audiobook. And part of this has to do with the next most standout voice actor: Kristen Schaal Both space-y and poignantly emotional at the same time, she is perfect as Delirium. The events of Brief Lives have some serious knock on events for the rest of the series, so she’ll have to carry a lot of weight into part IV was well
The last segment adapted in Act III is World’s End, which is more of a collection of vaguely unnerving fantasy stories loosely tied together. Like Geoffrey Chaucer gone off-kilter. It’s still very enjoyable but its does not carry the emotional heft of the previous two arcs. Nor is it has horrifying as John Dees’ diner in Act I. What it does have, however, is the darkly grim story of Prez Rickard, and an appearance by Wil Weaton cast in the role of Brant Tucker. Which now that I’ve listened to it—Brant is a very, very Wil Weaton-ish kind of character. Perfect casting there.
I am still amazed that these adaptions work so well. I think a lot of credit has to go to Dick Maggs for making the magic happen. And to their composer, James Hannigan, for consistently knocking it out of the park. While I would love to hear more audio adaptions of different works done in this fashion, I’m still of the opinion that this should not be someone’s very first introduction tot he Sandman series; it’s a little too dense. But I loved it all the same, and will be counting down the days until we get some news on Act IV.
For Bingo, this was very tricky, because you could pick almost anything. But. I am picking Snake, because of what happened to Eurydice. And without that event, nothing else in The Sandman likely would have eventuated.
Also, that gives me a left hand bingo.