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 na├»ve 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.