Category: Books

Spoilers of Ice and Fire, Part I

A Week of Ice and Fire, Bonus Round I!

 

The rest of the Week of Ice and Fire has been dedicated to writing generally spoiler free impressions of A Song of Ice and Fire to date, carefully dancing around ruining anything for anyone. The final entries, however, are devoted to something else entirely: my thoughts on specific and sometimes horrific things that happened within the first four books.

 

If you don’t want to know stuff that happens in the books, you’ll want to avoid this. If you’re already familiar with the books, or you don’t care if you find out things ahead of time … step right in!

 

Spoiler city! So many spoilers for A Game of Thrones to A Feast For Crows you won’t know what to do with yourself!

 

A Feast For Crows

A Week of Ice and Fire, Day Four!

Ah, here is where it all ended six years ago. And this is only half the story – George R.R. Martin chose to split this book geographically, with only the southrons getting any attention in this volume. For news of those in the north and the east, we have to wait until A Dance With Dragons. This means two things: A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons are both sequels to A Storm of Swords, and we won’t get a follow up on the events of A Feast For Crows until The Winds of Winter is published … whenever that may be.

 

This isn’t all bad, because A Feast For Crows is a pretty dang good book. Yet, even more than A Feast For Crows, Martin has truly cultivated his taste for insane cliffhangers. I understand now why people have been so upset for the last six years (particularly as this volume has Martin “devoutly hoping” to release A Dance With Dragons within a year – signed June 2005), but … they’re not going to get any answers. Nothing but questions await us next week, but I don’t plan on devoting my life to cursing Martin’s name for taking his own sweet time.

 

Contains the risk of spoilers for the three books that came before it!

A Storm of Swords

A Week of Ice and Fire, Day Three!

 

I couldn’t find the laughably terrible cover that I have at home at a suitable resolution online, and the new “classy CG” covers are just awful so I’ve declined the opportunity to put them up. Just imagine a book with a really cool cover, because damn fantasy gets poorly treated in the cover stakes.

A Storm of Swords is the most exciting entry in A Song of Ice and Fire of the first three. It’s interesting to say this because it’s essentially an exercise in sadism for Martin from start to finish. Gelling in a way that A Clash of Kings never quite managed, the sheer dynamism on display makes for an incredibly entertaining book. Certainly, the entertainment value falls within the bounds of believability, but … truly, nothing is sacred to Martin, and that is amazing.

 

Contains spoilers for A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings

A Week of Ice and Fire, Day Two!

Of Kings!

 

A Clash of Kings is a good book, and, while it delivers on most of the promises of A Game of Thrones’ explosive ending, it makes a point of emphasising the fantasy roots of the series and is significantly less pleasant all around in its developments.

 

Contains spoilers for A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones

A Week of Ice and Fire, Day One!

I've made a huge mistake.

 

It’s all happening for George R.R. Martin this year. With the long awaited A Dance With Dragons due next week and Game of Thrones now a hit HBO series, he’s probably selling more books than he has since 2005. I come to praise Martin, not to bury him beneath the detritus of the last fifteen years.

 

Now I’m going to take you back to ancient times: 1996. Robert Jordan was alive and good for pull-quotes, Terry Pratchett was putting out both Feet of Clay and Hogfather in the golden age of Discworld, and Neil Gaiman was finishing up Sandman and producing Neverwhere. They were good times.

Then came George R.R. Martin with Game of Thrones, first in the projected trilogy (now a septet) that comprises A Song of Ice and Fire. Without any of the baggage of the rest of the series I must say: this is a pretty damned good book. Certainly, it has some elements of the territory of genre: incest, rape, general unpleasantness, but the thing is that Martin presents these instances impartially, without eroticising them. Where another author might think that rape is the coolest thing going and will take every opportunity to insert it into their narrative, Martin uses it as what it is: a bad act committed by bad men. There are no heroes for him to debase with his fetishes … thus far.

Norwegian Wood

 

When people see that you’re reading Norwegian Wood, there are two possible responses: “What’s that?” and, of course, “Isn’t it good?”

Ah, the sixties. They were a time. I think, despite my constant exposure to Japanese film, that this is my first time reading Japanese literature. I would like to think that, while this novel is apparently part of a larger canon of sixties student reminiscences, it has been heavily influential in the field of Japan’s romantic drama film industry. That’s precisely what it is: a heavily evocative mood piece about a guy who finds it very difficult to strike any kind of mood at all.

While this is my first foray into reading Japanese literature, it is exceedingly clear that Murakami’s work has been influential in the now common cinematic genre of “sixties student romance”. While a lot of those films have more of the melodrama about them than anything else, they have been touched in some small way by Murakami’s words.

Upon hearing the Beatles tune “Norwegian Wood”, Toru Watanabe remembers his student days and the women he knew, how they affected his life. One in particular, Naoko, may well have been the woman for him … But we know from the first page that it was not to be.

Murakami’s voice, in the translation at least, comes across as strongly evocative of the era it describes. Large swathes of Japan look the same today as they did in the sixties and one could likely do a Norwegian Wood tour of Japan if they so desired, but they don’t need to; Murakami’s is skilled enough to make the reader believe that they’re remembering their own late teens, albeit at a cold remove.

For all his lyricism, Toru is undoubtedly a blank cypher of a character. Not particularly talented in any field, he’s defined by his relationships with the women around him: he is a sponge with no self-esteem, equipped to absorb stories and carry on without an idea of his own self worth. He has no stories of his own to tell people, so he either discusses The Great Gatsby (to minimal success) or his hard-done-by roommate (whose departure he mourns because he now lacks the inspiration to generate new funny stories).

So Toru is at his best when the women in his life are relating their own journeys to him. They have done things, they feel things, that Toru has never allowed himself to engage with. It is with them he is able to relax, but also with them he gets too uptight to manage. He’s not as functioning a member of society as he would have you believe.

Where the book deals sensitively with mental illness, it is merciless on the subject of narcissism. We realise that we don’t have to like Toru because, despite his self-loathing, he is completely oblivious to anything that doesn’t directly involve him. Midori, one of the book’s four women, has a different brand of self-regard that both complements and conflicts with Toru’s own.

Were it not for the constantly looming spectre of suicide, Norwegian Wood could likely represent the sixties student life of just about anywhere. There is a unique Japanese nature to the experience but, despite some very specific situations, it does feel that it contains a universality, albeit one that took 14 years to be dispersed universally. Due to Toru’s detached nature it’s difficult to have an emotional response to the material; it’s like reading through a fine gauze curtain, occasionally taking pause at a particularly impressive passage.

Murakami has ultimately produced an artfully rendered work of slightly broken humanity. Isn’t it good?

Mistborn: The Final Empire

 

When it comes to fantasy, “accessibility” is a watchword. So often, good ideas are buried so far beneath dry prose and leaden world building that they are scarcely given a chance to surface.

It’s not so much a problem of an impatient reader as it is the impenetrable density that some authors thrive on.

 

Brandon Sanderson does not believe in making the reader wrestle with his prose until the story gets interesting or until the bitter, bitter end; instead, he presents something readily palatable and understandable. I will admit that my knowledge of the fantasy canon remains minuscule, but I would suggest that Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first in a trilogy, is a good book for beginners and veterans alike.

Maybe the Moon

Maybe The Moon is Armistead Maupin’s biggest deviation from type in his career. The first non-Tales book he wrote, it’s a paean to a departed friend and gives Maupin a chance to reveal a different voice. This voice can be charming, but it eventually gives way to a second hand anger that belongs to an entirely different book. It’s hard for me to know what to make of it, even a week later.

 

Cadence Roth, at 30 years old, stands 31 inches tall and the best years of her acting career are already behind her. Maybe The Moon is presented in the form of a diary documenting her attempts to revitalise her career, find love and reconnect with old friends.

I Am Number Four (novel)

Young adults! Why do we write fiction for and about them? All they care about is pretty girls and punching bullies! Or pretty boys and standing up to bullies, possibly through punches, as the case may be.

The point stands: your average teenage boy or girl is easily the worst candidate for saviour of the universe, yet we place the burden on them all the time. When someone who isn’t a slave to their hormones could more easily save the day, children burdened with “destiny” have to take on the elements and win.

So too is the case with I Am Number Four, a cynical exercise in teen pandering and film tie-ins: the worst possible person is charged with the most important task. We identify with him because we too go to school and have overwrought feelings for girls! Dive in!

I Shall Wear Midnight

I’ve finally done it. I’ve run out of unread Discworld books. No more Discworlds until the next one. This used to be the case with me all the time from 1998 to 2006, but the flavour of “no more Discworld for now” is different in 2011.

I Shall Wear Midnight is not the final Discworld book, and nor should it be read as such. It is possibly not even the final Tiffany Aching book, but it certainly brings this part of her story to a close.

A lot of people don’t like Pratchett’s “Discworld books for Younger Readers”, because they don’t consider themselves “younger readers”. As it is a long established fact that the only people who read Discworld books are eleven year olds named Kevin (“I am an eleven year old named Kevin and so is my wife”), these people need to stop cutting off their noses to spite their faces.