You probably already know Joanna Penn from her entrepreneurial-author advice at The Creative Penn. I’ve idolized Joanna for awhile now because of her successful writing platform and prolific output of dark thrillers.
Today I’m excited to review her new audiobook Desecration.
Disclosure: I listened to a complimentary copy of this audiobook in exchange for my honest review.
Desecration by J.F. Penn
For some context, here’s a three-sentence summary:
Desecration is the story of Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke, who is busy balancing her personal life (as a single mom taking care of a terminally-ill daughter) and her career (as a kickass London detective).
To investigate the murder of a pharmaceutical-company-heiress, she needs the help of clairvoyant (and sexy) Blake.
Soon the investigation gets personal, and as “Jamie and Blake delve into a macabre world of grave robbery, body modification, and the genetic engineering of monsters, they must fight to keep their sanity, and their lives.”
One of the coolest things about Desecration is that it’s proof that Indies can do audiobooks too! I downloaded Desecration from Audible, and the quality was great: both the actual recording and the reading itself. You can listen to a sample at the bottom of this post.
Joanna has been very open with the process of self-publishing an audiobook. Check out her articles, How Audiobook Narration and Production Works with Rosalind Ashford, Audible Approved Narrator and Voice Talent and Audiobooks: Tips for Distribution With ACX and Marketing Ideas for more information.
Here are three things I learned from reading Desecration.
Lesson 1: Ground fantasy in fact
In Desecration, when Blake has visions, he doesn’t see unicorns playing ukuleles. He sees actual, historical events from the Holocaust. This sends an alarm bell off in our minds as readers and we think, “Hey, I know about that. This must be real.”
Desecration showed me that realistic fantasy scenes are all about the details: I loved how Blake had to touch an object to “read” it, and how the images went from fuzzy to sharp in his mind. The fact that he was fighting off the visions by wearing gloves and by drinking to numb his mind made it all the more real.
We’ve looked out how our YA novels ground fantasy in traditional myth, but I really like the effect of historical details even better.
Lesson 2: Use the “Bubba Gump” rule for exploring themes
. . . Shrimp cocktail, shrimp salad, shrimp sandwich. . .
Desecration explores our beliefs about the limitations of life and our bodies– from tattoos and body modification, genetic disorders, anatomical medical drawings, corpse art, genetic engineering, and scientific experimenting on humans. Desecration even takes us out of the body through Blake’s clairvoyant visions of the past.
This idea of examining a theme from every possible angle makes for a richer novel. (We’ve seen how effective this is when we deconstructed the death theme in Harry Potter, which covers immortality, survival, and sacrifice.)
Lesson 3: Make it weird
There are plenty of uncomfortable scenes in Desecration– there were even moments when the descriptions of the corpse art or the laboratories were just so intense that I almost turned off the the audiobook. The key word there is almost. I always wanted to see what would happen next.
Desecration pushed me to the very edge of what I could handle but never past it. It’s a delicate balance, but if you pull it off, it’s anything but boring.
Making the reader uncomfortable means that you are getting through to them– you are making them feel. Before forcing a “Greatness of Human Spirit” theme down their throats, start on the other end of the spectrum.
For example, maybe you got squeamish in The Hunger Games when Katniss releases the pus from Peeta’s injured leg. But, this was extremely effective in showing Katniss’s tough-but-caring nature.
Desecration started off as a standard mystery: there’s a murder, interrogations, and a even a little tango dancing.
But, the book rises to a whole different level when the the case investigation gets intertwined with Jamie’s personal life in a complete mid-story twist. (I won’t spoil it here). The merging of the two storylines answers the big question, “Who cares?” and nails it.
You never doubt why Jamie is risking her life to solve this murder, and that gives Desecration the liberty to throw bigger and weirder obstacles at Jamie to tackle.
The is a fast paced story, moving quickly along the investigation process. But, the story alters its pace when something is really worth describing– My absolute favorite scene is the description of Jamie watching a woman named “O” dance at the goth club. O’s body is totally covered with a tattoo of an octopus. As she dances naked, the tattooed tentacles and her body move together.
It’s a gorgeous passage and totally mesmerizing. (Hence today’s doodle.)
Joanna warned me that Desecration is a dark novel, and she wasn’t kidding. Even if that’s not your usual genre, I think this one is worth a listen to get out of your comfort zone and learn from a true professional.
P.S. Tell me what you think: Will you try self-publishing an audiobook?