I’ve followed this series from the beginning, and have been one of it’s biggest fans. For a series whose readership is dominated by audiobook listeners (due, in no small part, to the insanely awesome performances of R.C. Bray), I am somewhat of a rarity: an actual book reader. I’m not sure how much that changes my perspective of the work. I’m reminded of one of my other fanboy weaknesses, Game of Thrones, where I am among the rare book readers surrounded by the vast multitude of show watchers.
In the case of Game of Thrones, the source material has been altered significantly in its transition to the screen. When even eight seasons of episodic television are still not enough to envelope the entirety of George R.R. Martin’s sweeping fantasy saga (the final two books of which have not even been released yet), these alterations are inevitable. Certain characters are combined, or eliminated outright. Whole subplots are rearranged or deleted. Timelines are compressed (sometimes absurdly so). While some of this leaves us bookies screaming in protest, the depth and visual richness that the on-screen version brings to the Song of Ice and Fire world are undeniable.
With audiobooks, thankfully, the source material is typically left intact. Word for word. But the narrator’s performance of the material can still bring dimension and depth beyond what is already there in the written words. Of course, for books its up to the reader to form these pictures and sounds in their own mind. In that way, the same great work of fiction may be enjoyed in uncountable ways by different people. No two are likely to interpret it exactly the same. Even a re-read by the same person may take on different nuances. This variability of interpretation is somewhat lessened with audiobooks, as the narrator has filled in much of those blanks for us. In some cases, this can be to the detriment of the author’s work–or for the reader, missed opportunities to interpret the book their own way. But in the case of R.C. Bray’s performance of the Commune series (and anything else he applies his golden vocal chords to), the result is pure magic.
I’ve read each of Joshua Gayou’s Commune books before the audiobook was released. And I’ve enjoyed each of them immensely, during my initial read-through. Gayou writes with a clarity of purpose, and depth to his characters, that is simply extraordinary. And each of the books has only gotten better, as the series progresses. And then, some time later, as each one has been released in audiobook form, I’ve listened to them too. And enjoyed each episode all over again. And while I’ve loved each of the books in text form, listening to each of them is like a whole ‘nother experience. That said, I can not bring myself to recommending that readers only experience these books one way, and not the other. You owe it to yourself to read them first. Absorb them in whatever way your mind interprets them. Savor each bite. And then get the audiobook and do it all over again. While the audiobooks are awesome, I can’t help feeling just a little bit sorry for those who have denied themselves the opportunity to enjoy the books in both formats. But I digress (as I’m wont to do)…this review is supposed to be for Commune 4 specifically, so let’s get on with it!
So if you haven’t read the first three books in the Commune series yet, stop. Close this window. Go directly to Amazon and grab the books, and tell your family you’re taking the next few weeks off. Come back here when you’re done. Because here there (might) be spoilers.
Commune 4 is where everything comes to its final, spectacular conslusion. As is typical of Mr. Gayou’s writing, it does take some time to get there. But as we sense the end coming, that is OK. Because we don’t want to leave this world. Not yet. We’re still living in it, still getting to know all of these interesting people. Still rooting for things to happen, both in the main storyline and all of the little interpersonal subplots. And we’re just enjoying the view, drinking in the world that Gayou has painted for us.
I recently played Red Dead Redemption 2, which is, in my opinion now, the single greatest video game ever produced. Visually stunning, with a depth of character and storytelling that is above and beyond anything else I’ve ever played. Not to mention a vast, open world that seems endlessly explorable. Even as the action and tension ratcheted up as the story approached its end game, I found myself wanting to slow down, almost saddened by the impending end. I felt that way reading Commune 4. As the pace quickened as the end game drew near, I found myself trying to resist it. Wanting to slow down, savor it more before it was over. I was mourning the end way before I even reached it. This, from a reviewer whose only complaint throughout this series was that it sometimes seemed a bit slow. Now we were hurtling toward the end, and I wanted to take back everything I ever said about the pace.
If you’re reading this, unless you’ve ignored my warning above, you have already read Commune 1 through 3. So I won’t re-hash everything in those books. But just to set the table, Commune is a post-apocalyptic tale of a group of survivors who face, and have to figure out ways to overcome, whatever problems come their way. While this is a rather overdone premise in literature and movies today, here it serves only as the canvas on which Gayou paints his masterpiece. The real meat of this story isn’t in the struggle to find food, or the technicalities of how they will deal with civilization winding down (though Gayou does perhaps a better job with those than any other post-apoc writers I’ve read). No, the real gems here are the personal stories. Who these people are, where they’ve come from, how they interact with each other. And how they might reflect on us, as the reader, and those around us. Gayou probably could have done this with just about any other literary genre as his backdrop. Sci-Fi? Fantasy? Western? Regency romance? Probably any of those. And I suspect that he could have done as good a job of it against any genre backdrop.
In book 3 we got a taste of two groups that would come to figure heavily in the story of the main group we’ve been reading about, the inhabitants of the namesake Commune. A group of U.S. military stragglers, who are benevolent if a bit overbearing, and a more sinister group of marauders, who are painted as the ultimate evil that will provide the final test of survival for our heroes. Here again, in these groups, we have even more people, with their fascinating personal storeis, to further deepen the experience.
And while, at first, some of these characters might seem like they were ordered up from Central Casting, most of them have depth and nuance to them that will eventually make us reconsider our intial assessments. Indeed, even some the characters we thought we knew all along continue to evolve and change right up until the end. More like people in real life than typical fictional characters. As the story comes to it’s conclusion, we find ourselves questioning our earlier judgements. Are the good guys really that good? Are the bad guys really that bad? Or is everyone really more alike than different, separated only by matters of degree, on the same scale of good versus bad. For sure, there are examples of extremes on either end, but most of the central characters are somewhere in that muddy middle. Not unlike real life.
I can’t say whether I think Commune 4 is better than the other books. For me, Commune 3 was hard to beat. But the fourth book is special simply in that it is the final chapter in this series, and thus has special significance. I’m more apt to judge the series as a whole, now that it has come to its conclusion. And my judgement is that the Commune series is awesome. A rare piece of literary excellence, made even more extraordinary when considering that these are Joshua Gayou’s first books. Oh, and by the way, as of writing this I have not yet listened to C4 on audio, as it is not yet released. But you can bet I’m looking forward to it.
My rating for Commune 4: 5 out of 5 stars.
See my reviews for each of the books in the Commune Series:
NOTE: Joshua Gayou’s work was recently picked up by publisher Aethon Books (congrats Josh!), who have been revamping and re-releasing each of them. As of this writing, the Commune 4 re-release is in pre-order. Aethon Books has done a great job with the re-worked covers. I especially love the new cover for Commune 4, as it uses the very same stock photo in the background that I used for my book, No Time To Bleed 🙂