Friday, 16 March 2018

Book #12

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Demetrius and Lysander both want Hermia but she only has eyes for Lysander. Bad news is, Hermia's father wants Demetrius for a son-in-law. On the outside is Helena, whose unreturned love burns hot for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander plan to flee from the city under cover of darkness but are pursued by an enraged Demetrius (who is himself pursued by an enraptured Helena). In the forest, unbeknownst to the mortals, Oberon and Titania (King and Queen of the faeries) are having a spat over a servant boy. The plot twists up when Oberon's head mischief-maker, Puck, runs loose with a flower which causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see upon waking. 

Nothing short of wonderful.

Shakespeare tangles with love in amazing ways throughout this play. Demetrius loves Hermia, Hermia loves Lysander, Lynsander loves Hermia back. Seems like your standard love-triangle until a fairy zooms along and spreads some flower dew on to Lysander’s eyes to make him fall in love with the first person he sees. Let the chaos ensue.

It’s nothing like the epic love story of Romeo and Juliet; Shakey makes a mockery of love here, highlighting its frailty and inconsonance. Not only are there problems in love with our foursome, but also between the fairy king and queen. The journey we go through to unravel these relationships into something acceptable is totally delectable.

I enjoyed his differentiation of the three different parties here; the royals and lords speaking directly and behaving fairly reasonably, the group of actors bumbling around trying to put together a show with little to no experience, and the fairies speaking harmoniously and lyrically of natural wonders. Their words really cast them apart, and it was clear to see the troupe of actors were the true comic value here, particularly poor Bottom and his ass’s head.

Always interesting in Shakespearean creations is the role of women. The play opens with Hermia’s father betrothing her to Demetrius much in the way of trading property. Should Hermia disagree to the ‘trade’, she can choose either death or a nunnery. I was also shocked by Helena’s desperation when pursuing Demetrius, asking him to treat her as he would a dog and she would continue to follow him. GIRL, you are better than that.

I very much doubt anyone can review Shakespeare with any amount of skill. I really loved this, though; the dreamlike quality, the comedy, and the skill with which the whole thing was structured. The only thing that could have made it better for me would be Hermia and Helena going “fuck this shit” and skipping off hand in hand into the woods. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Book #11

‘Tis: a Memoir by Frank McCourt

The sequel to Frank McCourt's memoir of his Irish Catholic boyhood, Angela's Ashes, picks up the story in October 1949, upon his arrival in America. Though he was born in New York, the family had returned to Ireland due to poor prospects in the United States. Now back on American soil, this awkward 19-year-old, with his "pimply face, sore eyes, and bad teeth," has little in common with the healthy, self-assured college students he sees on the subway and dreams of joining in the classroom.

I picked this up immediately after Angela’s Ashes as I wasn’t yet ready to end my relationship with Frank. He had crossed the Atlantic, fled a life of poverty, and I wanted to see him thrive, wanted to see the underdog win.

The contrast to life in Ireland is clear, but the heartbreak is that he doesn’t win. He leaves the hardships of Limerick only to meet new struggles in New York. He falls into drinking habits which mirror his father’s, he struggles to find a job, to fit into American social customs, he longs to become educated yet feels inadequate to the other students when he finally achieves a place. He’s self-deprecating, a fish out of water, and lost.

All of these factors contributed to a sharp decline in my loving feelings for Frank. He becomes bitter about his childhood, resents his family for either their past struggles or present success, creates tension between himself and others, all due to his desire to be better, to be a class above. Although all of these feelings are natural and understandable, there’s nothing redeeming about Frank in his words, and in his blame.

Although older here, Frank’s narrative is still styled in a similar way of the naïve boy living in Limerick. This makes him sound mostly idiotic rather than endearing, and was an irritation throughout the pages. The man sees horrendous things, experiences life-changing things, yet he still describes them as though he’s a young boy. There was something not quite right about this, and I almost felt as though he was trying to capitalise on the success of Angela’s Ashes, rather than giving a true, mature account.

It’s a truthful and bleak sequel, though I was desperately disengaged by the narrative, non-specific vignettes, and a general distaste for Frank’s choices. Where Angela’s Ashes was a tribute to a mother who did everything she could so her children could survive, with love always, ’Tis is just an account of how each of them vilified her for it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Book #10

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

The Pulitzer Prize winning memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy-- exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling-- does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies. 

This must be the collection of memoirs I hold the most love for. As a blessed girl of ten years, I remember first reading this novel of poverty, hunger, dirt, and mortality, beside a pool somewhere in the sun. I had finished whichever book I had been bought in the airport’s WH Smith, and had decided to move on to my mum’s novel of choice. I was captivated, and it stuck with me.

Of course, being ten, a lot of the themes and issues would have washed over me entirely. Twenty years later, they have broken me. Born to Irish parents in New York, Frank was ripped away from the city of dreams after his father’s alcoholism plunged the family into poverty. Upon their return to Ireland, the McCourts stumble through life, living hand to mouth, with Frank’s father continuing to drink either his wages or the dole money. They suffer hunger and shame, they lose each other, bury each other, and become more and more despondent after every setback.

Written from the point of view of his younger self, McCourt shows us his family’s struggles from innocent eyes. We see him try to understand some of the things happening to them, and see him react childishly and recklessly. An alcoholic father and a despairing mother do not make for the best upbringing, so Frank learns his own lessons about life and morals mainly through making mistakes, then going to the priest to confess. 

Hearing this story from the mouth of a young boy makes the themes all the more painful, yet impossibly endearing. Where McCourt will fill one page with grim hopelessness, the next will give us witticisms only found in Ireland, young men having the time of their lives in clothes “hanging off their arses”, and a community banding together in kindness.

McCourt’s writing is so tangible and engaging that it’s difficult to believe it’s not fiction, but it’s very important to remember the truth of all this. The most heartbreaking thing is realising this all happened to one boy, in one family, but also to many many others.

A dark story of deprivation and delight in equal measures, McCourt has depicted his Depression-era childhood beautifully, and I only wish my words here could do him the tiniest justice. It’s a wonder. ‘Tis.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Book #09

Anna Undreaming by Thomas Welsh

Anna is a student surviving the city, and she lives by a simple credo, “Never play their game; their game is always rigged.” For every man she has ever known, it’s a saying that has served her well.

Especially when Anna becomes lost to the dark heart of the city. She finds herself hunted by Dreamers--artists, both good and evil, who construct new worlds--within a complex community that threatens to undermine reality itself. When Anna learns that she's an Undreamer with powers she cannot yet comprehend, she must travel through their strange and treacherous creations to discover that there's as much beauty in life as there is darkness. As her existence spirals into wonder and danger, Anna must look deep within herself and face the horrors of her own past, to save her old world as well as her new one.

I was absolutely delighted to receive an advance copy of this to read and review. After noticing promotion for the book on social media, I had already made the decision to buy it, so being allowed the opportunity to devour this before anyone else was nothing short of delectable. And devour I did.

You couldn’t call this sci-fi, and it doesn’t even fit fully into dystopian. This is like nothing else I have ever read. Welsh takes everything you know and twists it into a world where reality doesn’t follow the rules we’re used to. The people who are truly in charge aren’t government or business types – they’re artists, and they can easily craft and dismantle what we see and experience. Anything fatal which happens in their dreamworlds (or, to use the correct term, their Hazes) is quickly written off in reality as something we can wrap our heads around; because wrapping our heads around what happens in a Haze is no mean feat.

To combat these Dreamers, Welsh gives us Anna, a strong female protagonist (always a winner in my book) with some serious flaws. She’s headstrong, she’s badass, but she also has issues she’s working through, and demons in her past. Hey, don’t we all? Doesn’t mean we can’t beat the shit out of very real, yet dreamed up monsters. Anna is brilliant, yet the journey we experience with her is even greater. She struggles to come to terms with her abilities, and what’s now expected of her. What she’s capable of is destructive, cruel, and gorgeous.

The world Welsh has created is mind-blowing. There’s a lot to learn, and it’s no easy ride, but by the time I was less than halfway through, I was fully engaged. I was only glad I already knew there was a sequel in the making, as I was loathe to reach the final page. We’re left considering Anna’s emotional journey, and the importance it’s had on the development of her abilities. I am ready for more.

Anna Undreaming will be released on 20 March, but the good news for you kids is that you can read the first three chapters
here. My gift to you.

An altogether wonderful experience; I would urge fans of sci-fi and dystopian novels to try this. Just remember it doesn’t actually fit into either of those categories, and probably deserves a new genre to be invented in its honour.

Never play their game, their game is always rigged.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Book #08

Murder in Little Shendon by A.H. Richardson

Picture, if you will, a picturesque village called Little Shendon, suddenly caught up in dealing with a murder of one of its citizens - not a particularly well-liked one at that. Which makes it all the more intriguing because the list of suspects becomes very long. This tantalizing tale unfolds with delightful twists and turns to find out whodunit to Mr. Bartholomew Fynche, the murdered shopkeeper. Fear grips the community as the investigation slowly progresses. Everyone is interviewed; everyone is suspect.

This is a charming, endearing, and classic whodunnit murder mystery. Set in a quaint English village, a local owner of a second-hand shop is bopped over the head in the first chapter. Enter the stiff upper lip investigators who quickly whittle the list of subjects down to pretty much everyone in the village. 

As we’re introduced to each character, it becomes clear that each of them held some sort of grudge against the victim. It’s impossible to discern at first glance which of them it could possibly be, and it really takes someone with their wits about them to work it out before the finale. You’ll be pleased to know your faithful narrator actually did have the acumen to solve this one ahead of time.

Although each of the characters were well-defined, and beautifully typical of this little post-war community, I found it difficult to keep track of their grievances against the deceased. Most of the reasons were financial, and with so many in the frame it became quite a task to remember how they had been wronged.

Richardson skilfully uses alternating points of view in order to hone our detective skills and create a bit of tension. There are many secrets, many unknown relationships, and a good few clues and red herrings littered throughout the pages that you truly feel empowered to make the call.

I found this to be lovely quick read, not too mentally jarring, and the setting was gorgeously depicted. Should this become a series, I would be more than interested in reading the successors. 

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Book #07

A Dance With Dragons II: After the Feast by George R.R. Martin

The future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance.

In King’s Landing the Queen Regent, Cersei Lannister, awaits trial, abandoned by all those she trusted; while in the eastern city of Yunkai her brother Tyrion has been sold as a slave. From the Wall, having left his wife and the Red Priestess Melisandre under the protection of Jon Snow, Stannis Baratheon marches south to confront the Boltons at Winterfell. But beyond the Wall the wildling armies are massing for an assault…

On all sides bitter conflicts are reigniting, played out by a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves. The tides of destiny will inevitably lead to the greatest dance of all. 

I thought this series was going to take me months to conquer, but rattling through seven mammoth novels in seven weeks is just testament to Martin’s skill. His pace, his tension, and his maddening plotlines have quickened my reading speed and my heart, and have led me to forego less important elements in my life, such as family, friends, and keeping my house clean. Maybe now I can return to some shadow of normality.

In the beginning, I was completely overwhelmed by this complex saga; now, I find myself an expert on hundreds of characters, main players or otherwise, their motivations, their relationships to each other, their vendettas, their love. It’s still overwhelming, but I feel so close to it, so fidgety to know the rest of their stories.

The final volume was far more engaging than some of its wandering predecessors; I smashed it in mere days. Some sections involved deliciously murderous, knuckle-biting, badass types of shockery, and I was living for it all.

Fire and blood, snow and swords, corpses, sorcerers, traitors, turncloaks – I have relished them throughout this journey. The foreshadowing, the symbols; so delectable that I believe I’m shock it’s all over (for now).  The best of all in this series is that there is no battle between good and evil. Everyone we meet is twisted, everyone is out to achieve their own gain, and the most delicious part is understanding why. Honour, vengeance, coin, faith, pride – whichever it was, Martin made us both love and hate his characters in equal measure. It seemed no one was above slicing a few guts out to advance – and it was gorgeous.

One complaint: if someone said “as useless as nipples on a breastplate” one more time, I was going to scream. How can everyone in this novel, no matter where they originate from, or which demographic they represent, have the same patter?

Now I join the other fans in waiting for Winds of Winter. Sources suggest this has been in the making for eight years already, so I can only hope I don’t have too long to wonder what’s happening in Westeros. Eight years, though – GRRM, get off your arse.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Book #06

A Dance with Dragons I: Dreams and Dust by George R.R. Martin

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, new threats are emerging from every direction.
Tyrion Lannister, having killed his father, and wrongfully accused of killing his nephew, King Joffrey, has escaped from King’s Landing with a price on his head.
To the north lies the great Wall of ice and stone – a structure only as strong as those guarding it. Eddard Stark's bastard son Jon Snow has been elected 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. But Jon has enemies both inside and beyond the Wall.
And in the east Daenerys Targaryen struggles to hold a city built on dreams and dust. 

After finishing A Feast for Crows, I was looking forward to seeing all of the characters that volume missed out. Jon, Tyrion, and Dany featured once more, and it was great to see how they have developed and matured after some of the situations they found themselves in when we last saw them.

Despite this, and although I understood Martin’s reasons for splitting the books geographically, I wouldn’t say it worked well for me. It felt like there was something lacking the whole time, both here and in A Feast for Crows, and I believe the missing element to be the full-rounded view I was used to in previous volumes. To hold back certain characters’ viewpoints created repetition, a sickening for certain characters, and a dulled sense of excitement. Although I was still engaged with the plot, I certainly wasn’t engaged as much as I had been before this strange piece of editing affected me.

I enjoyed the contrast in setting here between places in Westeros and places in the east. Martin shows us, for examples, the coldness of the Wall and its surrounding areas, before transporting us over the sea to warmer climates, like Dorne and Meereen. This felt almost jarring to me, where in once place we have wildlings dying in the snow, and in another we have residents of eastern cities dying of flux in the baking heat. I could almost feel the change in temperate on my skin, it was cleverly done.

Again, Martin implements flash chapters from characters whose viewpoints don’t recur in the same way as our main players. In A Feast for Crows, I found this to be quite distancing, but it seems he has found his feet with this device here. We meet some new competitors in the game of thrones in this way, and the tiny sprinklings of information given did well to create the proper level of tension and suspense. Much and more are weighing in here, too many actually, and I think someone is due a bloody death very soon.

Once more, Martin is moving his pieces around his cyvasse table without making any deadly strikes. Although it was intense in places, it’s clear to see he’s preparing something, and I can only hope whatever he’s brewing should happen very soon. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Book #05

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

The Lannisters are in power on the Iron Throne.

The war in the Seven Kingdoms has burned itself out, but in its bitter aftermath new conflicts spark to life. The Martells of Dorne and the Starks of Winterfell see vengeance for their dead. Euron Crow's Eye, as black a pirate as ever raised a sail, returns from the smoking ruins of Valyria to claim the Iron Isles.
From the icy north, where Others threaten the Wall, apprentice Maester Samwell Tarly brings a mysterious babe in arms to the Citadel. As plots, intrigue and battle threaten to engulf Westeros, victory will go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel and the coldest hearts.

I found it difficult to motivate myself with this one, and there are a number of reasons for this. The first, and quite possibly the main, is that I have been ploughing through these since the beginning of the year, spending every spare second in Westeros. Something was going to have to give; I had read 2,500 pages of Martin, and I was beginning to weary.

Secondly, I had increasingly mixed feelings about the ad hoc chapters from new viewpoints. Subtly named in ways such as The Soiled Knight, or The Princess in the Castle, these perspectives only occurred once per character. Although they contributed to a more rounded understanding of goings on, I would have much preferred them to recur, and I found it tiresome having to spend the first few paragraphs to understand which character was narrating.

Thirdly, and least importantly, was the noticeable lack of some of our more prominent characters, namely Tyrion, Dany, and Jon. The focus here was on King’s Landing and its surrounding areas; the Wall and Mereen were omitted entirely, creating a constant curiosity for these characters and their situations. I couldn’t say this was all bad, however – I yearned for news which didn’t come, but the suspense that Martin creates with his complete lack of commentary on these characters is tense and anticipating.

This is an important volume, though, despite my three complaints. Martin is building again, and wonderfully so. His character building of Cersei was second to none; I love her as much as I loathe her, and truly believe he has created something complex and brilliant with her. She’s a true villain, and whilst Martin doesn’t readily explain the reasons for this, we are helped to understand her motivations, her scheming, and ultimately see her box herself into a trap of her own making. Martin is also clear in his commentary on her position as a female leader; she’s unable to command respect entirely, with many believing her inadequate due to her gender. She consistently compares herself to her father, a similarly cold character, and that prompts us to compare her to her twin brother, who has surprisingly redeeming qualities. It’s all a character study, with these two being the most interesting, and I relished it completely.

The depictions of battle-ravaged Westeros are wonders to behold. There’s a serious lack of fighting in this novel, yet we’re shown the spoils. Abandoned, burnt-out villages, decaying bodies hung from trees, orphans running inns, and kingless outlaws terrorising the roads, all were unsettling consequences of men playing the game of thrones. It's a dismal setting, and leads us to wonder whether the Seven Kingdoms will ever return to peace.

As a latecomer to the wonder of Game of Thrones, I’m nothing but grateful to name myself such. Reading these together is an absolute joy to me still, and I can’t imagine how I would fare waiting years between instalments. With that in mind, as I move onto the penultimate addition to this world, I’m trying to remove from my mind the idea I’ve adopted that everything will be resolved in the seventh novel. That will be the moment when I join the legions of others in the waiting game for our next taste of Westeros. It will kill me, I’m sure. 

Monday, 29 January 2018

Book #04

A Storm of Swords Part II: Blood and Gold by George R.R. Martin

The Starks are scattered.

Robb Stark may be King in the North, but he must bend to the will of the old tyrant Walder Frey if he is to hold his crown. And while his youngest sister, Arya, has escaped the clutches of the depraved Cersei Lannister and her son, the capricious boy-king Joffrey, Sansa Stark remains their captive.
Meanwhile, across the ocean, Daenerys Stormborn, the last heir of the Dragon King, delivers death to the slave-trading cities of Astapor and Yunkai as she approaches Westeros with vengeance in her heart. 

Well, fan my brow.

In my review of A Storm of Swords I: Steel and Snow, I mulled over the fact that it seemed to be a calmer, reflective instalment, with some foreshadowing undertones. My words were ”We are advancing into something terrible, I can tell.”. Gods be good, I have never understated something so much in my life. Something terrible? Some thing? Try a great many things; a great many shocking, disgusting, awful and disturbing things that would make me frightened to open the book again in case someone else had their throat opened for them. I’m surprised there’s anyone left after this injection of grief and violence.

We are coming to the stage in the series where my reviews have praised Martin’s techniques, his multiple voice narrative, his foreshadowing, his tension building – his everything; I am wary of repeating myself each time, and yet it’s difficult to download my thoughts without throwing us all into spoiler territory. I will say this volume has changed everything; no one is safe, and when I’m reading now I am on high alert like some sort of bookworm meerkat. It’s uncomfortably delicious. I can’t remember the last time I read something that made my pulse quicken dangerously – particularly when faced with that infernal Moon Door. I thought I was going to be sick.

This addition feels different not only for the multitude of bodies littering the pages, but for the conclusions. Martin has spent three books introducing characters, grudges, and intricate plot lines, barely resolving anything or giving us any sort of justice. Here, by ending lives, he ends certain subplots or potential subplots, and gives us both justice and a thirst for vengeance. It’s high stakes give and take with Martin, always.

Nonetheless, new ties are forged as we are introduced to the Dornishmen, who just may be my new favourites. With their own laws and customs, they descend upon the Seven Kingdoms with the most wonderful don’t give a fuck attitude, and although I didn’t see as much of them as I’d like, I know they are here to stir things up; I’m living for it.  

I honestly have no idea where we’re going with this, but my wish is for some different perspectives in the next volume. Give me some fresh voices, and a new pair of eyes; let me see more. I wouldn’t mind some more death and destruction either, but I suppose I don’t need to ask twice for that. Bring it on, Georgie boy.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Book #03

A Storm of Swords I: Steel and Snow by George R.R. Martin

Winter approaches Westeros like an angry beast.

The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud. In the northern wastes, a horde of hungry, savage people steeped in the dark magic of the wilderness is poised to invade the Kingdom of the North where Robb Stark wears his new-forged crown. And Robb's defences are ranged against the South, the land of the cunning and cruel Lannisters, who have his young sisters in their power.
Throughout Westeros, the war for the Iron Throne rages more fiercely than ever, but if the wall is breached, no king will live to claim it. 

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to review these books; reading them back to back is giving me the impression that I’m just reading one long, big-ass book, and I struggle to differentiate between volumes. Starting the next novel immediately after I read the last word of its predecessor won’t help either, but this behaviour cannot be helped in a tale as deeply addictive as Martin’s.

This volume is a lot less exciting than the first two. There’s a serious decrease in violence, betrayal, shock value, and chapter cliffhangers. Yet, there’s some serious groundwork being laid here; foreshadowing is quite potent, the symbols are slowly emerging from the fog, and my tiny brain is finally starting to comprehend ties and allegiances. I’m by no means saying it’s dull, but it’s far more of a ponderous, reflective, and woolly instalment than an overly active one (but only in comparison to what we’ve already been given). We are advancing into something terrible, I can tell.

Again, I’m finding myself being led down a path of loving the characters I am not supposed to love, and becoming tired of those we are to view as heroes. The introduction of chapters from Jaime Lannister’s perspective were a welcome addition for me; I’m unsure why I have grown to like this misogynistic, self-assured prick of a man, yet I do. In contrast, our beloved Starks are becoming dull to me – Catelyn and Bran in particular for their constant whining (on this theme, I’ll throw Samwell into the same category), and Jon for his insistent self-deprecation. Am I just someone who is drawn and attracted to confidence, sharp tongues, and sadism? Probably. I’m hopeful book four will introduce another perspective for me to devour – someone nasty would be nice.

An important plot mover here is, regardless of the many kings (self-crowned or otherwise) staking their claim on Westeros, two other bands of players are descending on the Seven Kingdoms. The King-Beyond-the-Wall scales his ice perimeter, hell-bent on taking Castle Black, whilst the Mother of Dragons comes ever closer to her wildest desire of crossing the sea, avenging the deaths of her family, and taking what rightfully belongs to her, with dragons as a fearsome added bonus. The Westeros kings’ planning of battles and attacks on each other rang futile for me as danger creeps upon the kingdoms in the form of north and east. It was delicious, and I’m looking forward to seeing how both groups will behave in book four.

Martin has been slowly twisting supernatural elements into the tale, and these are something I completely relish. That Westeros wasn’t a place of fantasy until we reach this point is important; Martin is creating extra tension and uncertainty in introducing shapeshifters, birthing shadow demons, and lords coming back from the dead. I have no doubt more unnatural entities will crawl out from somewhere, and I am living for it.

Another utter triumph from Martin. Swords out for Blood and Gold.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Book #02

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over and age of enforced peace are dead...victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. 

Well, I was naïve to think things couldn’t get more deep, bleak, intricate, and confusing. Martin makes book one look like a fairy tale here; blood and guts are flying, allegiances are being won and lost, people are dying, and it just keeps going. It’s astounding that the somewhat peaceful and stable land we encountered in book one has turned into such a melee of hatred; things are moving quickly.

Kings are crowning themselves all over the place, the imp is damage controlling King’s Landing, a girl disguised as an orphan boy is desperately trying to survive, supernatural demons are used as war weapons, battles are even taking place beyond the Wall, a hostage becomes a woman and desperately tries to hide it, a ward becomes a prince and his true colours are revealed to us horribly, dragons are alive and well.

I’m impressed at how fully realised Martin’s world is. Book two introduces more characters, lords, knights, and feuds, and although I found it slightly more difficult to keep track, Martin is skilful in bringing everything together and reminding us who fits where. With so many historical and current connections, so many houses married off to one another, either now or in the past, and so many backstories for them all, allegiances are more than a bit wooly.

My favourite aspect of Martin’s writing, which I’m sure will continue throughout the series, is this gorgeous skill he has of planting a tiny little idea in your head which you almost forget about, until some hundred or so pages later when he hits you with the full answer to the hint. And when Martin hits you, he fucking hits you. The lord giveth and the lord taketh away.

Another great thing was the fleshing out of the main characters. I have begun to understand them, begun to anticipate and revel in their actions and reactions, and sometimes even to question what I already know of them when they behave unexpectedly. Hell, I’ve even begun to love some of them (most of whom I have no business loving, but that’s the evil queen in me).

Five books to go and I can’t imagine being as absorbed in anything ever again. For one mind to hold all of this and then put it into words astounds me. Gods wonder what has taken me so long.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Book #01

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Here I am: the last girl to board the Game of Thrones train. I’ve heard the hype and haven’t responded; I’ve listened to people talk about both the books and the television show and haven’t been tempted in the slightest. My slowness can be blamed on my strong moral belief that books are always better than any film or television show, and for that reason should be read before any screen viewing behaviour is attempted. Problem is, there are seven books in the Game of Thrones series, each of them containing upwards of 800 pages; that’s a monumental and overwhelming task, particularly when you have 300ish other books clawing for your attention. 

Neither did I believe the hype. I’ve been burnt before with novels which seemed to be taking over the planet, and which I read in confusion, not quite understanding their greatness. I’ve become wary of these types, preferring instead to stick to my TBR list strictly, and let the kids have their fun with the latest crazes. I’ve learned now, after plunging into this particular storm, that I was completely wrong in doing so. The kids and their crazes clearly can sometimes hit on something wonderful.

My first surprise was how easy Martin’s prose is to read. I expected something similar to Tolkien; long, rambling, irrelevant sentences, and lots of names and I’d struggle to keep grip of. This had nothing of Tolkien’s banality – although there are plenty of names, places, grudges and vengeances to keep hold of, Martin somehow contains it all into an endlessly relevant plot without allowing us to lose track. This was impressive, and I hadn’t expected him to grip me so tightly that I’d power easily through 800 pages in a short week.

Martin employs my favourite narrative style – that of multiple voice – with each chapter giving us the different viewpoints, opinions, and desires, of various characters. This worked incredibly well in showing us both sides of the battles, and the reasoning behind the long-held grudges, allowing a complete understanding of situations and histories, and lending an omnipresent feel as the reader in Westeros. Giving us information to help us pick our own side, yet showing clearly that there really aren’t any good or bad guys here – only the draw of achieving power, desire, and gain – Martin gives us all of the cards, just doesn’t explain properly what to do with them.

In fact, the best part here is not knowing who to trust; we know the main characters are out to achieve their own ends, but it’s mostly the sub-characters whose loyalties can and will shift. These betrayals of trust are too delicious for me to describe; just when we think we understand where the plot is going, some form of corruption will take place and change the direction. It makes for an uncomfortable, yet totally delectable experience, and enforces a trust no one mentality, keeping us guessing consistently throughout the pages.
Rather than a story in its own right, this first instalment feels very much like the beginning. I’ve taken the decision to read each of these back to back. Winter is coming late for me, but I’m here for it.