Tag Archives: George R. R. Martin

Book Review: Rogues: The Good and the Bad of the Short Stories

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roguesA copy of Rogues, an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozios, recently followed me home from the library.

I had been introduced to one story from it—Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Lightning Tree”—by a friend during a delightful trip to the ocean. It is sometimes frustrating not to own a piece of fiction that I remember so fondly—both as a piece alone and for its association to those memories—by one of my favorite authors, to not have it readily accessible whenever I’d like its companionship. So first I reread “The Lightning Tree,” a story from the perspective of the Fae Bast, Kvothe’s often truant assistant innkeeper. This story gives us a better grasp on the inhabitants of the village around the Waystone Inn, particularly its younger residents, for whom Bast does favors in exchange for favors, and its women, who excite Bast and whom are excited by Bast. During The Kingkiller Chronicles so far there’s been little mention of children and entrances by only a few characters from the village. The helpful guardian Bast depicted in “The Lightning Tree” is one that I’d like to see more of, even though I recognize that there’s no room for him in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Kvothe may not even know about this side of Bast. I really enjoyed this story for its focus on the children, on their problems—big and little—and its depictions of their different personalities.

Rothfuss’ story is followed in the book by one by George R. R. Martin, “The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother,” an excerpt from a history of Prince Daemon Targaryen, whose misadventures along with those of his family lead up to the mysterious dance with dragons. This read like a history, and it was more difficult to get through for that, though the insertions of stories told by the jester Mushroom did help to lighten the tone and the intrigues and romantic trysts were plentiful even in these 32 pages. Pretending myself in Westeros and this book being forced on me by a maester did make it seem more fun. I mean, serious points for accurate tone since a history tome is what Martin claims to be translating here. But while it is really interesting history, I’m just not sure history is what I looked to read—especially since so much of “roguishness” is in a character’s attitude and performance. It’s difficult to make a character in a history textbook seem attractive—and most rogues are by connotation if not definition attractive—or else they are criminals or cads.

I’ve read too little of Neil Gaiman and really ought to rectify that, so I hopped backwards to his story, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” next. Gaiman presents a fantastical, underground London, where each neighborhood more accurately reflects its name, Elephant and Castle being ruled by an elephantine man—not just large, but possessing a trunk and huge elephant ears—and Shepherd’s Bush being ruled by shepherds who turn unwary travelers into mindless sheep whose only desire is to remain a part of the flock. A thief called the Marquis de Carabas loses his coat, he tries to follow it, has to do a favor for a man who has devoted himself to a Mushroom and has mushrooms growing on his moist skin, he is betrayed, his past catches up to him, and his coat ultimately saves him by being so forcefully his. I really enjoyed this world, especially knowing a bit about London, and I enjoyed the Marquis and his brother particularly.

Gwen suggested that I might enjoy Scott Lynch’s short stories even more than his novels and even sent me a link to “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” online without realizing I had my hands on a copy of Rogues. Like Gaiman, Lynch built an interesting fantasy world here. Theradane is ruled by feuding wizards. A thief frightened by the government into retirement gets drunk with retired gang, but their debauchery is interrupted by a monster falling through the ceiling. This thief, Amarelle, goes off and drunkenly rails at one of the wizard rulers, who records her threats, then uses that recording to blackmail Amarelle into stealing a rival wizard’s locus of power—which is an entire street. Three strong female characters, two of them lovers, an automaton, and a government paper-pusher are our protagonists. The story is broken up into chapters for easy reading, and leaves open the possibility of the group returning in more stories of thievery and government overthrow. This was by far the most lighthearted of the short stories I’d yet read in this collection because of its camaraderie, outlandish hijinks, and irreverence.

I’ve heard good things about Joe Abercrombie’s books and have wanted to read some of them, so I went back to the very beginning to read “Tough Times All Over,” with strong females abounding in many positions of power, including thieves and leaders of thieves’ gangs. The genders are actually fairly well balanced here. The story follows not a character but a package across the Venetian city of Sipani, the perspective changing every time the package changes hands. Like Lynch’s here are a pair of female lovers—or would-be lovers if the time and tide allowed. This story I really enjoyed. Short stories make a great canvas for form experimentation, and I think Abercrombie took good advantage of that canvas.

Gillian Flynn’s “What Do You Do?” followed. A female sex worker who does only hand jobs turns aura reader then gets drawn into the employ and into a friendship with a woman whose husband is a regular customer. Though when Susan introduces herself to the narrator it is as the victim of a potential haunting—or the stepmother of a sociopathic son. Flynn leaves open to interpretation the truth of the situation at Carterhook Manor. I didn’t dislike Flynn’s style, but her subject matter—and she deals with the dead with the hurting often (the sole survivor of a ritualistic massacre, a missing woman from a crumbling marriage, a journalist investigating murders)—is raw enough for me to have left a free copy of her novel Dark Places behind. I’m glad to have sampled, but I’m not sure hers are dishes I would order for myself. If you like a bit of fictional darkness more than I do, though, I think I’m ready to recommend Flynn.

For “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” Matthew Hughes has created an interesting world where fantasy and religion meet science in the form of machines meant to leach power from captured minor gods and half-men created by experimentation gone wrong who hunt for ritualistic meals of human flesh. Raffalon did not overly appeal to my sense of feminism, capturing instead the sort of womanizing, self-idolizing rogue that, well, is typical of the fantasy trope. The woman he joins up with proves herself competent but he is desirous of her only because she is the only thing there until a goddess of sexual desire gets hold of them both, transforming her into a more classically sexy woman and him into a more endowed man. I would happily spend more time in the world, but I’m less certain that I’d want to spend that time with Raffalon.

Joe R. Lansdale wrote a short story as an addendum to a series with which I am otherwise unfamiliar. In “Bent Twig,” with his partner Leonard elsewhere, Hap helps a female friend find her missing daughter, a girl who has before fallen into drug abuse and prostitution. This contemporary, sort of rough-and-tumble vigilante detective adventure worked pretty well, I thought, as a standalone. The details in this story were dark too, but Lansdale painted clear black-and-whites where Flynn did not and the distance between myself and the characters was greater in Lansdale’s than Flynn’s. This was a tour down a gritty back alley. Flynn’s was a walk in someone else’s body.

Michael Swanwick’s “Tawny Petticoats” is a con job in a corrupt dystopian future where the U.S. seems to have become wilderness and city-states, but technology is more advanced than at present, which makes me hesitate to call it post-apocalyptic. Our three con artists try to swindle three wealthy marks out of silver and then out of payment for worthless black paper that they believe ready to be made into untraceable counterfeit bills. I was intrigued by the world where debtors and criminals are made zombies via puffer fish poison and humanoid canines are a possibility, but the characters for the most part seemed a bit caricature-ish.

David W. Ball’s “Provenance” took research. His is the story of an aging art dealer, unafraid of an under the table deal every now and again, who finds a missing Caravaggio and goes to sell it to a televangelist. He tells the televangelist the piece’s history, but then sells the same piece to the arms dealer from whom it was stolen. Neither of these though are the original and the art dealer’s story turns out to be the most fascinating of all. The unexpected revelations towards the end of this story are probably its highlight (and I just dropped a few spoilers and for that I apologize).

Carrie Vaughn sets her story “Roaring Twenties” in an underground bar and jazz club that can only be found if one possesses at least a little magic. I was reminded of Taki’s Diner in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, where Shadowhunters and Downworlders mingle and dine—though Gigi’s establishment in Vaughn’s story has much more class. Partners Madame M and the narrator, Pauline, go to the club to speak with the owner, but are left waiting, and while they wait, help a couple of star-crossed lovers escape their warring and dangerous bosses. Vaughn’s prose glitters a bit more than others’ in this anthology (at least than the last few mentioned above, which were all a bit more direct). The story itself is… a bit odd. The protagonists don’t do much but wait and pass the time. The ultimate goal seems to be to prevent a raid on Gigi’s place, which they cannot do, though by being late they are on hand to help minimize the damage. Particularly, the narrator, Pauline, seems to do little. Her job seems to be to keep Madame M safe through sharp observation and a quick mind, almost a Watson to Madame M’s Sherlock, though the metaphor does not hold very well beyond the partnership of the impossibly capable with a less capable but more human partner.

Bradley Denton’s “Bad Brass” is a contemporary piece about the theft and resale of band instruments, a love of music, tangled family histories, and love triangles that get in the way of rational thought. This was a well-executed story. I can appreciate it, but I don’t think I particularly enjoyed it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but the characters are varied and solid, the writing itself was good.

Cherie Priest’s “Heavy Metal” was more poorly executed (though I am struggling to identify what exactly I found offensive in the prose), but I was more on-board for the low fantasy monster-hunter adventure. It took me about two pages to get sucked into this story, but once I was in it, I really enjoyed it. It was almost exactly my cup of tea: monsters plaguing nature activists who are outsiders in a tiny town, monsters fought by old or new gods or both….

By this point in the book (I’d read more than 500 pages of the anthology), I was frankly getting pretty tired of the rogue trope and of short stories too, and Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love” was not doing much to inspire my patience, one protagonist being a melodramatic flop and exiled prince in ridiculous and childish Romeo love/lust. (That being said, “killing” someone to help them is always interesting, and the Sovereign North Bank is an interesting setting, a sort of riverside Tortuga built like an early 19th century city slum and treehouse.)

The rogue is definitely likeable; that is almost implied in the title “rogue” which could easily be replaced by a title with less pleasant connotations like “thief” or “idiot,” “crime lord” or “arrogant snot.” But often the rogue comes too with less likeable personality traits, the type associated with those alternate titles, and often adding “condescending” and “womanizing.” I can only have so much patience for such a character especially when the format in which he is presented doesn’t allow for much character growth or often the portrayal of a broader range of human feeling or action.

Short stories have their place, but I am a novelist and read novels almost exclusively. I like novels because they allow for a broader canvas, a broader range of human experience and a more sweeping plot. Some writers are very good at condensing all of that experience and story into a smaller illustration, but it is a rarer talent. I think a lot of the challenge is in picking a broad enough topic to be interesting and a small enough topic to fit the piece. Alternately, some good short stories read like scenes of a broader piece with the rest of the story being provided by the readers’ imaginations instead of the writer’s, but these scenes have to have an arc, have to have an end and have to have enough of a beginning so as to not throw the reader too jarringly into action. These are thoughts of mine. I am no expert on short stories.

I still had a few days left on my library loan, though, and maybe I’d stumble onto another gem, so I kept reading.

Paul Cornell’s “A Better Way to Die” was next, a science fiction where parallel worlds have been discovered and transportation between the parallels made possible. Some people are harvesting the bodies of younger selves and transplanting their older minds into these younger selves. Some worry that they’ll be replaced by newer models. One person of the latter mindset meets his younger self at a party and they play a card game for the highest stakes—enough to bankrupt their purses and, though neither has spoken it, the chance to survive in this world. The loser storms away and steals the money—or so it seems. In a parallel “heaven” it is revealed that they’ve been set the one to try to kill the other. This is an interesting look at the meaning of self, the influences of time and of circumstance. It’s an interesting warning to future generations who might discover parallel worlds. The science of the story is not very clear, but I don’t think that it really has to be. It’s focus is not on the science, but on the implications and the questions.

Steven Saylor’s “Ill Seen in Tyre” reads like a not particularly well-researched historical fiction—but maybe that’s not fair; I’ve not done the research, but a few details jarred against what I thought I’d remembered from various classes, and that kept me from really investing in this story. A student from the city of Rome—but before Rome becomes an empire, maybe?—is travelling with his teacher, Antipater, a man from Tyre. The story is set in Tyre, described as an old city even now, but a bit of a cultural backwater, taken with folk heroes, whose stories seem chronologically impossible, suggesting that these heroes did not age in 200 years. But these are Antipater’s childhood heroes, and he seeks a book of magic from their adventures. He thinks he has found someone willing to sell him that book. The folk heroes are rogues themselves, but so too are the protagonists tricked by a rogue, and maybe they are rogues themselves. This story taps against the 4th wall, the characters questioning the narrative form and the definition of rogues, so it seemed a decent ending place.

Though I started in on Garth Nix’s “A Cargo of Ivories” too and got enough of a taste to decide that, after a break from rogues, I may want to return to this anthology.

An anthology like this really has its merit in its ability to provide a sampling of authors that a reader might not otherwise encounter or might not follow so easily into a whole novel.  Already, reading his story in this anthology has prompted me to snatch Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King into my hands when I saw it at the local used bookstore.  Only a few of these authors had I read prior to this anthology.  Several other authors here are ones whose works I was familiar with prior to reading this anthology–in at least so far as having handed copies of their books to customers.  Now when a customer asks me about one of these authors I can give a more informed opinion.  Not only will I know whether the author sells, but I’ll have some idea of her style and her subject–and I did not have to devote much time to reading a whole novel by the author to be able to do so.

Rogues.  Ed. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.  New York: Bantam-Penguin Random, 2014.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Bantam Books, Penguin Random House, any of the contributing authors, or anyone involved in its production. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: A Dance with Dragons: The Plot is Dark and Full of Terrors

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I’d forgotten how involved I become in George R. R. Martin’s very vast and deep world of Westeros and its surrounding countries. When I picked up A Dance with Dragons, fifth and latest in A Song of Ice and Fire, it had been almost a year and a half since I’d finished Book 4: A Feast for Crows. I fell right back into the world, if I was glad to have the dramatis personae with brief descriptions of each character in the back of the book—especially for minor characters who’d died or only been seen several books back.

The main story threads are these: [If it needs to be said: SPOILERS!] Tyrion Lannister is on the run across the Narrow Sea. Daenerys Targaryen is queen of Mereen, and Mereen is at war and under siege. A bunch of characters (Tyrion, Victarion Greyjoy, Quentyn Martell) are racing to her side. Jon Snow is Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and his radical decisions are destroying his men’s trust in him. Bran Stark finds his three-eyed raven, but he is neither what Bran expected nor are the raven’s powers what he expected. Cersei Lannister is a prisoner of the High Septon, Asha Greyjoy of Stannis Baratheon, and Theon Greyjoy of the Bastard of Bolton, who has been named trueborn and is on the road for lordship. Another long-lost Targaryen, with a better claim to the throne than Dany, moves on Southeastern Westeros. Arya Stark is still in Braavos, on the path to becoming a servant of the Many-Faced God (Death). Jamie Lannister has nearly finished negotiating the surrender of the Riverlands to the Iron Throne. Westeros is still embattled. The king on the Iron Throne is still the young Tommen, but the tales in this story concern him very little. [END SPOILERS]

I include all the last names because one of my friends helped me recognize that this series is not a series about characters in the way that most series are about characters. Even Lord of the Rings, perhaps the most epic of the series that I’ve ever read, tells the story of the Fellowship, the defenders of all that is good in this world, more than it does the story of Ring or of the world, I would argue. Perhaps I have this sense because the Fellowship feels safer and more protected than any character in A Song of Ice and Fire. The focal point of A Song of Ice and Fire is the Iron Throne of Westeros, and the characters are only the hustle and bustle around this one stationary point, the only seemingly sure thing being that at the end of this all the Iron Throne will be there, the world will be there (though I really wouldn’t put it past Martin to tear down both before this story reaches its conclusion, to have this story end in true apocalypse, the destruction of mankind or of the sun or some such). The story actually really does look a lot as Sesame Street depicts it, the chair not moving and everyone else circling.

Having this revelation early in my read-through put a perhaps different spin on the story for me, and while I was upset by the surprises that Martin left for me, I was not as upset as I might have been because I realized that characters—however much I care for them—and I do care about some of them quite a lot—are not Martin’s story, that they weren’t what I am supposed to be watching most closely as I read the book series. It gave me some distance—and by distance, I mean emotional padding.

This story more than any of the others, I think, is dark. Each book has been dark, but in this, more primary characters than not have been imprisoned or besieged. The one character who through the book is at no time either imprisoned or besieged—Jon—feels enslaved to the Wall and to the vows that he took as a Night’s Watchman, and so he remains stationary. Schemes in prior books have been towards a goal, and much of that scheming has been on some level successful. Much of the scheming in this book has been away from failure instead, desperate grasping to hold onto past successes at best. Jon, again the outlier, moves towards a goal—peace in the North—but his peace is upset by the schemes of others. Bran Stark actually reaches his goal, but doing so grounds him, makes him stationary, and prevents him from yet intervening in others’ plots.

I realize that I said that the wider story is not the characters’ but the Throne’s and that I’ve yet said very little about the Iron Throne in my discussion of the book’s plot. The Throne is the goal of almost all of the characters in the book, whether it’s sitting on the Throne him- or herself or seeing the right person or the right family sitting on the Throne.

The possible exception is the Night’s Watchmen, who have sworn to take no sides. The Night’s Watch has problems in the North that drive their attention away from King’s Landing and the Iron Throne, but even so they are drawn in this book deeply into alliance with Stannis Baratheon, a claimant of the Throne, and into the struggle for Northern dominance among the Northmen of Westeros.

I spoke of a true apocalypse. If that apocalypse comes, it will come from the North, Beyond the Wall, and that is why the Night’s Watch’s story is still relevant to the story of the Iron Throne. The threats that they face are the only ones that could interrupt the game of thrones. And if no one defends the Throne from those threats, then apocalypse will come unheralded. And that may be the threat of the next book, The Winds of Winter. But let’s leave supposition there. I’ve done enough of it in this post.

****

Martin, George R. R. A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5: A Dance with Dragons. New York: Bantam-Random-Penguin Random, 2013. First published in 2011.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House Publishing Group, or Penguin Random House, LLC.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book and Film Reviews: Of Ice Princesses in Disney’s and Martin’s Worlds: Frozen and The Ice Dragon

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I found George R. R. Martin’s The Ice Dragon at a shop called Too Many Books and had to take it home with me because I was having a difficult time deciding whether or not Martin would be able to write children’s literature.  This high fantasy novella is probably meant for middle-grade readers.  It gets into none of the depth that A Song of Ice and Fire does, but the story remains a wartime story, with the battle not coming to the protagonist’s doorstep till the climax, but always with the growing threat of approaching armies and increasing numbers of soldiers passing through the village where the protagonist lives.  Its protagonist is young, seven at the novel’s climax, and Martin as he does within A Song of Ice and Fire remains relatively true to the childlike perceptions of his protagonist.

Martin handles this children’s book with the same flowery and abstracted prose with which he writes A Song of Ice and Fire.

It was impossible to watch Disney’s Frozen without thinking about this book (which is a good way to give this review a jumpstart: turn it into a paired book and film review).  Like Adara, Elsa is winter’s child, though she seems to have been born in summer (seeming to come of age and have her coronation in summer), which I find an interesting choice.  Like Adara, she is cold to touch and can interact with ice and snow in ways that others cannot.  Yet, while Adara is cold and removed, Elsa feels too strongly.  This seems to me to be a difference in the writer’s visions of winter.  Martin seems to see—or at least to write about—the winter of the medieval farmland, when plows are stilled and harvests are no more and all that can be done is to huddle by a fire and hope to survive to the spring and the planting while consuming the year’s harvest.  Disney saw the blizzard and the biting wind.

Martin’s ideal reader seems to be a younger child who feels like an outsider among peers for being too into his or her books and too reserved.  Such children undoubtedly exist and need literature that caters to them, so yes, I guess I would say that this is successful children’s literature, but I’m not sure it’s what I expected.  It’s more message than it is adventure.  I think I wanted an adventure, especially as I am used to expecting A Song of Ice and Fire from Martin, and it is difficult to draw any moral direction from A Song of Ice and Fire.

Adara loses her power when she begins to feel love, but in losing her power, she gains the love and acceptance of her family and her village.  The Ice Dragon‘s message is that you can be loved despite your distance from the world and that that which makes you different from others can be used to save others but also that you will be better loved if you do interact with the world at large and lose the chill of your power.

With love, Elsa learns to control her power and gains the acceptance of her family and kingdom as well as a crown and power of another kind, making Elsa seem at first the more empowered heroine.  However, Elsa’s power must be curbed to make her safe, while Adara is never a danger to others, just a puzzle.  I still think Disney’s is the better message to send to young girls because Martin’s story says that you will be loved better if powerless and Disney’s allows a heroine to keep her power and to wield it openly so long as she wields it with prudence and control, and prudence and control really ought to be used with power regardless of gender.

Before I close, a few brief notes about the illustrations of Yvonne Gilbert’s in Martin’s The Ice Dragon:  At first I was miffed to see that each chapter with the same illustration of dragonback battle, but I grew to really like the repetition of that image as an illustration of the constant but distant war that pervades Adara’s life.  Otherwise her illustrations are wonderfully detailed and expressive.

***                                    ****

Martin, George R. R.  The Ice Dragon.  Illus. Yvonne Gilbert.  New York: Starscrape-Tom Doherty, 2007.  First published 1980.  Tom Doherty Associates, LLC is now an imprint of Macmillan.

Frozen.  Dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.  Walt Disney.  2013.

These reviews are not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Yvonne Gilbert, Starscrape Books, Tor Doherty Associates, LLC, Macmillan Publishers, or Walt Disney Animation Studios.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader and viewer.

Book Review: A Feast for Crows is Rations for a Reader

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I read George R. R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows, fourth in A Song of Ice and Fire, for half a year, starting it in June and not finishing it till late December.  Granted, it is 976 pages, but that is still a relatively slow pace of some 160 pages per month on average, less than 5 pages a day—and I know that there were months where I read less and months where I read more.  This is the first of Martin’s books that I have read in absence of fans.  The other three I had read with coworkers there to rant to and whom would commiserate with me, and I was in an unspoken competition with one to see who could finish the series first (I lost that race miserably).  This is—and I was thankfully warned by these same fans—a bridge book between the stories of most of our more beloved and enjoyed heroes and heroines—which is not to say that all of them were absent, and I made some new friends—or characters with whom I expect to be friends until their likely untimely deaths.

For all that we—that is to say the Internet—prod Martin for killing all of our friends, death within A Song of Ice and Fire is becoming as uncertain an end as it is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, or Doctor Who.  That had begun in A Storm of Swords—if we call the White Walkers alive and not reanimated, then even within the first prologue of A Game of Thrones—you tricky man, Martin, with your foreshadowing and early reassurance that we neglected to notice while we thought you were shredding our hearts with your character deaths.  I had been almost pleased to read a series, however, with the author killed characters with so little regard for the hearts of his readers, with the realism and senselessness of war, and I find myself almost disappointed with this new development—more so because of all of the gods to have power to resurrect, the god that seems to have power to do so is not the one I would follow, nor the one that I would most entrust with the ruling of Westeros.  All this being said, I still feel a prickle of fear for one of the heroines I had most liked in Westeros, even despite the Internet-researched assurances of friends.

This book sailed a ship for me, and with the assurances that A Dance with Dragons would return me to my favorite characters, kept me sloughing through the pages.  My ships have slowly been destroyed by canon, and I have but one left standing and that only if those Internet-researched assurances are not red herrings put onto the Internet by fans.

The book started out very well by introducing me to a new hero that I quickly liked.  [SPOILER] I should have known better because the prologue ended with his death. [END SPOILER]  What slowed me after that, I cannot rightly say, though as I have said, it likely had something to do with the absence of Dany, Jon, and Tyrion, and I know too that I was slowed because there are times that I just want to read something lighter than A Song of Ice and Fire, something that involves less death, less darkness, less explicit sex and violence.

Overall, this will never be my favorite of Martin’s books, though I did enjoy early in the book learning about the culture of the Iron Islands and the Sand Snakes have potential to skyrocket to being my favorite of Martin’s characters.

**3/4

Martin, George R. R.  A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4: A Feast for Crows.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: PerNoEdMo: Days 21-22: “The Rains of Castamere” Is Playing

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Well, you know, I could have worked on my PerNoEdMo project on November 21, but I wrote a legal theft piece and chose to go see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire instead.  I am comfortable in my choices.  I still don’t really know how old these minions are and have moved on to puzzling where my antagonist will be able to set a fire in this room (Is there a grate for a fire?  Are there torches and torch brackets?  Would you just a light a fire in the middle of the room?  Is there a brazier or coal pit for torture purposes?), and puzzling over the room’s dimensions, etc.  I will probably just need to draw myself a map.  The room has, I think, since it was first conceived, moved to a much lower level of the fortress, shrunk, and become much less opulent.  This is not a chamber designated for an important ceremony anymore; it is cell, maybe a holding cell.  A cell with room for the… seven people I am asking it to accommodate at once.

We were overstaffed at work, so I was sent home.  More time to edit!  I began by just trashing what I had written for the beginning of this climax and writing some of it fresh.  I don’t know if I want to thank George R. R. Martin for all that he’s taught me about violence or if I want to scowl at him for giving me this ability (and I am comparing this ability to Harry’s Parseltongue in my mind), but I will say that it reads better.  I always thought that my villain seemed a little… lackluster when it came to this climax.  I still  have more editing to do, but I made some good progress.  I am on page 367 of 407, and have 139,654 words.  40 pages to go and 8 more days in which to edit them.

Book Review: A Storm of Swords’ Charged Questions

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Click to visit the publisher's site, for links to purchase, synopsis, excerpt, author info, and reviews.

Though A Storm of Swords, where finally some of the unanswered queries of A Game of Thrones are answered, is the longest book of George R. R. Martin’s that I’ve yet read, I feel like this book more than it predecessors in A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, was missing important scenes.  Martin would show me what had happened somewhere then have someone explain it after the fact.  I’m not sure if I appreciate this tactic.  While it’s nice to be surprised, the questions like “What did you say to get him to agree to this?” go unanswered.

But none characters were caught in limbo, biding their time.  We have crossed the bridge (A Clash of Kings) to the new board—and the game has gotten deadlier.

The teams in this game are almost constantly evolving.  My list of the major teams and players consists of at least six different remaining claims to a throne in Westeros, with a vigilante group that will only cause carnage, a wild card who might greatly improve the chances of another team, and a would-be-king that is in training and cannot rejoin the game till he has leveled up.  Some of these characters I enjoy and I respect the majority of them for being fully formed, but I think that it’s the intrigue and world-building that holds me enthralled.  There is a definite element of whodunit, though perhaps because I am beginning to understand Martin’s style, I was able to guess more of the major events and “turns” of this book than I have been of others.

I finally believe that Martin will kill everyone I love—and I hope that will prevent me from establishing any more attachments, but it’s not looking good on that score.  I have a new ship and though they’re separated for now, I’m holding on.  Maybe they can be reunited when this is over—except for all those pesky vows of celibacy (why is it that the best ships in this series involve the supposed-to-be-celibate?).

My growing belief that the one monotheistic religion in the book worships a deity whose powers seem very sinister makes me somewhat uncomfortable.  I cannot decide if Martin is intending to imply anything about the Abrahamic God with R’hllor.  The preaching of R’hllor’s followers seems somewhat Christian at times—till Melisandre births a demon shadow.  Parallels between those who worship R’hllor and Christians certainly exist; they both follow religions from the East, monotheistic with a good/light versus evil/dark theology, and both burn the occasional “pagan” church or nonbeliever (ignoring the darker deeds of our past won’t erase them).  I am currently taking this series as one written from the Druidic perspective.  Westeros becomes a place where all English history and legends can exist at once:  The War of the Roses coexists with Robin Hood and the coming of Christians to the shores of England, and these “Christians” are inflamed with this deadly fervor of the Crusaders.  Westeros’ legends include parallels to Greek and Roman myths.

I am willing to continue, taking this as a work of fantasy and assigning the misdeeds of R’hllor and his followers to the characters themselves while accepting that Martin may be asking me to examine the history of Christianity.

****

Martin, George R. R.  Song of Fire and Ice, Book Three: A Storm of Swords.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2000.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A “Shipping” Song of Ice and Fire and A Clash of Kings

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When one “ships” a couple in a fandom, it usually means that the reader/viewer wants that couple to fall madly, deeply in love and remain together forever.  When I “ship” characters in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I do not do this, so I don’t really want to dub it shipping.  I want to call it matchmaking.  I don’t dream about a couple together forever.  I dream about a couple wedded and ruling the kingdom with love to follow or maybe not.  By the end of A Game of Thrones, I was matchmaking Robb/Dany because Robb seems to be making a decent leader and I like Dany and don’t think that she’ll let anyone but her husband or progeny sit comfortably on the Iron Throne so long as she’s alive.  By 100 pages into A Clash of Kings, I was considering a Gendry/Arya match, because Gendry is at least of Robert Baratheon’s blood and—actually, that might be a ship.  The circumstances of their meeting might just scream “future romantic coupling probable!” and even if Gendry can’t be crowned, I think I would still ship he and Arya—except that Arya is supposed to be wedded to a Frey—but maybe that would just make their ship more romantic, since it would be forbidden or impossible love.

A Clash of Kings, second in A Song of Ice and Fire, complicates the wars waged over Westeros by adding new would-be-kings of half or more of the island and new gods and cultures besides.  The world is expanding, and that I greatly appreciated.  Martin captures well the diversity of religious beliefs and rituals.

Martin’s writing seems both more advanced and less polished in this second novel.  Twists were more sudden and sharp.  Martin makes use of his multiple narrators to offer the reader foreshadowing and herrings, such that I second-guessed my initial and correct guess at least once.  Yet, the wealth of narrators has here become overwhelming.  In particular, the introduction of the narrator Davos, a once-smuggler now lord and always sea captain with a good heart, who questions more devious methods of war, left me floundering.  Each time he appeared as a narrator, I had to read half a page before I could remember who he was and for whom he fought, and this broke the spell of Martin’s narrative for me, however much I liked Davos when I did remember him and however much I understand why he needed to be given a narrative role.

My interest waned more so in the middle than it had in A Game of Thrones.

Sections of this story (Jon’s, Dany’s, maybe even Arya’s) may have been bridge sections, used purely to get the characters into the positions that he wants them for the third book.  Great swaths of untold story seemed to separate the narrative chapters of these characters, though post-read, I think that I can see where nothing of importance likely happened to these narrators between those chapters.  Other perspectives seemed to be missing, and I hope that their stories will be flushed out in future novels.  The end of A Clash of Kings leaves me with almost more questions than it does answers.  The end felt like no resolution, only another beginning.

***1/2

Martin, George R. R.  Song of Fire and Ice, Book 2: A Clash of Kings.  New York: Spectra-Bantam-Random, 1999.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Spectra, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: You Can’t Stop Playing A Game of Thrones

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Coming late as usual to the party, I’ve just finished the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones.  You may have noticed if you’ve been following this blog, or if you scan down the entries, that I don’t frequent adult fantasy.  I have just not found myself as drawn to adult heroes as I have to those working beneath the noses of adults and on a curfew or those just coming of age and discovering themselves while saving the world.  Perhaps that makes A Game of Thrones a great introduction to adult fantasy for me and others who usually don’t read above teen level.  Many of the heroes of A Game of Thrones are not adults.

Rickon Stark, the youngest of his siblings, is only three, and his next oldest brother, Bran, [SPOILER] now heir to Winterfell, [END SPOILER] is younger than nine.  Danaerys (Dany) Targaryen, whom I expect to be a major player in this deadly game, is in her early teens, just developing the curves of womanhood.  Robb Stark, [SPOILER] Lord of Winterfell, [END SPOILER] and another major player in the game, is only fourteen.  These last two easily fall into the age range of heroes about whom I usually read; the other two are actually younger, though Bran, who is one of several third person limited narrators, is very well-spoken, maybe too well-spoken to accurately portray his age, actually, even allowing for a culture at which one comes of age around fifteen.

Though sexual relationships are perhaps more key to the plot in this book than in many teen novels, in truth, I think there are probably more graphic and more blunt sex scenes in some teen literature (generally not in what I read, but I avoid most teen romance and most teen issue books).  What truly marks A Game of Thrones as adult literature is its length.  This book would not be publishable as a teen book on the merits of word count alone.  The greatest maximum word count for a teen fantasy manuscript that agents will consider that I have found is 120,000; the Internet claims that A Game of Thrones nears a hefty 298,000 words.  Teens who love to read and aren’t daunted by page count shouldn’t be discouraged from reading this book.

A Game of Thrones further deviates from the majority of books that I read in that is so very plot- rather than character-driven.  When I realized that with the wealth of characters, I was shipping no one, I began to suspect such was the case.  Now, if I’m planning marriages, they are marriages of position and peace-brokering not love.

Many of the necessary trope characters are here, but on many of them, Martin has put a new spin, and he has created several atypical characters to balance the tropes. Martin has not neglected creating likeable characters.  There are those that I hope to see live and those that I hope die.

Martin’s political intrigues are exceedingly twisted and leave the reader guessing and second-guessing whom to trust and what is best for the kingdom.  His world itself is vast, though not exceedingly well-mapped (though Martin just published a book of maps to complement the text).

I’ve just bought book 2.

****

Martin, George R. R.  A Song of Ice and Fire, Book One: A Game of Thrones.  New York: Spectra-Bantam-Random, 1996.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Spectra, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.