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.