THE STONE SONG / WRITER: TOM BALE / NARRATOR: RAZA JAFFREY / PUBLISHER: AUDIBLE ORIGINAL / RELEASE: OUT NOW
Thriller writer Tom Bale’s latest work, sci-fi fantasy The Stone Song, adds another impressive and well-crafted entry to the growing range of Audible Original genre audio titles.
The story follows the adventures of sixteen-year-old Jack and his younger sister Lilly, who sneak out of their family home in the Sussex village of Stenhurst for a late-night bike ride. When the pair come across a helicopter crash site, they can scarcely believe what they witness. The military figures guarding the wreckage are prepared to kill to prevent anyone learning the truth about the vessel’s cargo; a strange imprisoned creature en route to a secret facility. After Stenhurst is put under lockdown, on the spurious pretext of a terrorist threat, the youngsters and their friends realise that something must have breached the cordon around the downed craft. When the group is the first to find the escapee, they must decide how far they are prepared to defy their parents, the authorities and the army to defend a mysterious lifeform they know precious little about.
Bale’s storyline is filled with many contemporary references and topical themes. But the framing of The Stone Song makes the drama feel like something drawn from an earlier era: which is all to the good, in this case. The atmosphere of the piece invites comparisons with literature like John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), the Wally K. Daly audio trilogy that began in 1978 with Before the Screaming Begins or, in the TV realm, with Bob Baker’s and Dave Martin’s Sky (1975), or Jeremy Burnham’s and Trevor Ray’s Children of the Stones (1977).
With Stenhurst isolated from the outside world, the digital and online realms are beyond the reach of the group of the teenage protagonists now forced to rely on the tools and techniques of an earlier analogue age. It’s a juxtaposition that serves both plot and characterisation well. These ‘pesky kids’ (a relatable mix of believable youngsters) find ways to subvert and bypass the efforts of the ‘powers that be’ to manipulate the public. Behind the scenes, US and British spooks clash as they fight to assert their control of events, revealing themselves as far more ruthless than any of the alien interlopers they are tracking.
Mellifluous vocalisation by Raza Jaffrey (Spooks, Code Black) finds the distinctive voices of a large ensemble of characters and delivers Bale’s prose with the kind of measured pacing that this thoughtful, multi-strand story requires.
With a running time of more than 11 hours, Bale is in no rush to reach the final showdown of the conflict over the aliens’ fate. This does mean that those in search of frenetic, heart-pumping audio might find the narrative tempo too languid. But there’s enough going on here in terms of characterisation, plot and world-building to satisfy fans of intelligent, immersive audio fantasy drama. Especially a battle between the forces of tyranny and of liberty which unfolds in the seemingly timeless environs of the British village: a setting that continues to serve the genre so well.