I loved Gathering Blue! I think I liked it even more than The Giver, the first book in this quartet! (This is the second book.) I listened to it on CD, and I liked the narration ok too.
Gathering Blue takes place in a future dystopian world where physically flawed people are shunned and discarded. Kira, the main character, has a disfigured leg but has been allowed to live because her mother and grandfather fought for her, and because as she grows and trains in the weavers' hut it is discovered that she has great talent for dying threads and creating intricate, beautiful weaving patterns. Sadly, Kira's mother passes away while she is still rather young, and she finds herself in court, fighting once more for her right to live. Once again, her talent for dying and weaving and embroidering saves her. As the story progresses, Kira struggles with an ever-increasing knowledge of how her society is held together, and what that means for her future.
As I was listening to this audiobook I kept wanting to somehow help rescue Kira! The poor girl; my heart was ripped out for her. She is literally the only physically imperfect person she knows. In her society, even something as small as a broken wrist that isn't set right means that you take a trip to The Field. Yup. You just go sit in a field until you die. They do this to physically imperfect babies too. How HORRIFIC is that?!? So Kira, living with a twisted/disfigured leg, is already feeling like the odd man out and then her mom dies. (Her dad died before she was born.) One of the other adults in the community actually tries to get the government officials to condemn Kira to The Field. Kira is a young teen... an adult is essentially trying to kill off a kid.
So that's where the story starts. But Gathering Blue isn't 100% super depressing, thank goodness. Kira is tough as nails! She stands strong in front of the court (literally; she literally forces herself to stand and ignore pain for hours on end in the courtroom) and the court has mercy on her. She is taken in as a sort of ward of the state. She gets to live in a pretty nice place with indoor plumbing (no one outside of the government officials lives in anything more than a hut) and learn even more about the art of dying threads and work on embroidering a special robe.
However, not all is peaches and cream. As Kira learns her new place in society and tries to figure out how to achieve a blue dye, she also learns about the dark side of her society's government and rules. What will she do with this knowledge? What does it mean for future?
The narration: the narration was pretty good. I didn't have any trouble staying focused, and I feel like the tempo was right on. However, I spent the entire first two CDs wondering why on earth the one character, a young kid named Matty, was speaking with an Irish accent. I had just made up my mind that the narrator was crazy and that he was just supposed to sound young when it was finally explained that people from the Fen (like Matty) spoke with a different accent. So I don't know... maybe other people wouldn't find that distracting but I found it quite distracting. After that simple observation that people from that area had a different accent it was all smooth sailing.
Oh! And one last final observation: even though Gathering Blue is listed most places as "The Giver Quartet Book 2," it is totally doable as a standalone. There are no character cross-overs and the setting is different. I'm going to guess that "The Giver Quartet" simply refers to all of Lois Lowry's dystopian novels.