Tag Archives: A Song of Ice and Fire

A Dance with Dragons

So, yeah. That was a long time coming. And boy do the internets ever reflect it. But anyway, I have come to a realization (that I may have already mentioned recently? I’m not sure) about myself and long-form storytelling, and also about other people and long-form storytelling. It is this: if you make a checklist of what details you expect to be addressed or wrapped up in a book of a series, you are doomed to disappointment. Because unless you happen to be the equivalent of that one chimp out of the infinite typewriter owners out there, your brain and the author’s are not telling the same story. This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of valid criticisms of the form and especially of specific presentations of it, but “the story is too slow” or “it has gone off the rails” are somewhere between barely valid and not valid at all. I know this is true for me, at the least, because I can find that I am disappointed a lot less in books that I thought had gone wrong the first time through when I was measuring from my expectations than I am upon a reread.

So, I have a new measurement now, as of A Dance with Dragons. (Technically, as of my reread of A Feast for Crows, the first book in this series that I had been disappointed in. But this is when I got to actually use the measurement, so you see.) In step one, I turn my brain off, watch for foreshadowing and decide what I think is cool, sure, but like I said to start with: no checklist. In step two, I only concern myself with when viewpoint characters bore me, as opposed to how cool or horrible or off-rails they are being. By that measure, I liked this book quite a bit. There’s a character that never did a lot for me, another that I have never liked and probably will never like, even though towards the end he was at least doing interesting things maybe, and a character I have historically liked that I did not care for until her final chapter this time around. Everyone else was entertaining all along, whether I was cheering for them, yelling at them, laughing, or just along for the ride. And that’s my real point, it is a ride, and it’s not my ride, so as long as I’m still enjoying the ride itself, why would I possibly complain about choice of routes or the occasional pause to slow down and look at the scenery? That gets saved for when my ass is starting to hurt and the roadsigns indicate we’re on the outskirts of Gary, Indiana.

As for the plot itself, well, you didn’t actually think I was going to talk about it, did you? Or mention the climactic event of the previous book just as though nobody could be running behind? (Not that I’m bitter about a massive spoiler I read yesterday for an unrelated series or anything.) But I will say that the title is a good stand-in for half the book, and the same kind of metaphorical dance without dragons covers the rest of it. There is still a part of me that will be unsurprised if the series ends with everyone dead and the planet encased in a permanent block of ice. And I cannot say I will find that outcome unsatisfying, in a “Decline and Fall of the…” kind of way, as long as the ride to get there maintains its general B to B+ quality. One piece of ambivalence I should report, though, is that Martin has a problem with the pacing of the ends of his books, or at least this one. ‘Cause you know how in a lot of long series[1], the last hundred pages or so turn into a downhill race where you couldn’t stop if you wanted to? Martin has a thing (sometimes close to the end, sometimes far enough a way from it that you think maybe he pulled a fast one and it’s not really true) where he likes to build a brick wall across that particular part of the road. It’s effective as hell whenever it happens, but man does it make me want to stop reading for a while. And since I really like that mad downhill rush, it’s a little off-putting. Whether the trade-off is fair is left as an exercise to the reader, I suppose.

[1] Jordan was a master at this.

A Feast for Crows revisited

Geeze, this took too long. Do you know that by the time I opened the new book I’ve been pushing towards all this time while not reading anything else at all (I even stopped the comics at the end of 1975, this is serious business is all I’m saying), it had been out for a full week? All the discussions are nearly finished! But at least I’m in it now, so that’s pretty cool. Back to the topic at hand, I should note that I remembered almost nothing of this book[1] except that I hadn’t liked it all that well. It wasn’t bad, but it was disappointing for the gap, and that had loomed larger in my mind over the intervening years awaiting another new one.

There’s a lesson in that, and the lesson is this: don’t read long doorstop series until they are completed! I know people say that a lot anyway, but my reasoning is potentially different? At the least, I’m definitely not talking about the fact that the author may suddenly die and you don’t get to find out what happened. It’s more that I have found that books I disliked in the middle of a series read a lot better when there’s no pressure on them to be “oh thank god, the new book”. This isn’t a panacaea by any means, but it’s happened often enough for me to take the hint. I mean, no, I won’t change my habits, but I’ll at least have a better idea of what just happened. The point is this: the parts that bored me were less bring than before, the parts that I liked okay were almost universally really good. But what was A Feast for Crows about, you ask? Memory, I think. Nearly every character in every arc spent some huge portion of their time considering the past and its influence on the present, to a really strong degree. Much moreso than in any other book (excepting Ned’s memories of Robert’s Rebellion and his intertwined personal stakes in the first book, which, well, I suppose there were good reasons to not save that part ’til this volume). Pity it wasn’t a feast for ravens, lest I should have been able to make a pretty cool Norse reference here.

And, that’s all I got.

[1] That review, I should warn you, is shockingly spoiler-laden if you have not read the rest of the series up to it.

A Storm of Swords revisited

Last time, I said this book maybe didn’t have much of a theme. I’m not sure if that’s true, though it still seems possible. I certainly noticed a lot of music, where there was not so much of any in the previous books, and not any in the next one too, at least to my entirely faulty memory. (On the bright side, it won’t be terribly long until I correct that impression, if needed.) That said, I can’t really attach anything to the fact of this being the most musical book in the series. Well, that’s not entirely true, as there is certainly an air of fiddling while Rome burns to the whole affair.

And that’s the truth of the matter, because there cannot possibly be another book in the series that so casually disposes of so many resources, lest Westeros be well and truly emptied before the Others (the Other? I’m starting to wonder just how accurate Melisandre might be about all this; it’s not like being a terrible person stopped anyone else from winning in this series) make their way into full-blown war against the world of life.

I can’t think of anything to add that wouldn’t be a massive spoiler, but I still cannot get over just how very much I ended up liking… well, probably you know exactly who I mean if you’ve read it, and if not, ask me and I’ll answer.

A Clash of Kings revisited

The truth of the matter is, good reasons or not, I really didn’t review the book very well last time. So I guess this isn’t so much a revisitation as an actual, um, visitation. (But with less ghosts/aliens than that.) So, here’s the thing about A Clash of Kings: the series no longer has shock value. Okay, that is almost certainly not true, but it no longer has shock value based on the paradigm-shattering events of the type seen in the first book of the series. Not to say that shock value is necessarily a benefit in the first place, I just find it impossible to think of the opening salvo to the series without the issue of expectations rearing its head. But in the second book, expectations have finally been set, and it’s time to see what will happen.

And what does happen? War. I suppose the title implies as much? But for my money, it’s some of the truest, grittiest war out there. I don’t mean the battle scenes, although I loved them, particularly the climactic battle of [spoiler elided]. I mean war and its effects on a pre-industrial society. Sure, we are seeing everything that happens through the viewpoints of lord, ladies, knights, or the children of the above, but that doesn’t mean they cannot see and be affected by (physically as well as emotionally) the devastation to the peasantry going on around them. If I had to pick a theme for the book, it would be simply that. War is hell.

I should add that I’m shocked by how very little happened. With very few exceptions, every character arc was advanced incrementally in terms of both geography and growth. None of it was the least bit unimportant, don’t mistake me, I just thought I’d see more. All of this tells me that the third book will be an even bigger deal than I had remembered, so that’s cool. (But seriously, this is a good book; I know it sounds like I’m describing the chess-positioning of some middle/late Wheel of Time books, and that’s not it at all.)

Incidentally, protected spoilers in the comments.

A Game of Thrones revisited

thrones22I know it looks like I decided to read a book because a TV show about it was on.[1] And, okay, that turns out to be minimally, tangentially accurate. Really, I was just going to start three or four books in to get myself more or less ready for the new book in July. But it turns out that it’s been five to six years since I’ve ready any of these, and after one of my friends started reading and discussing with me based on the strength of the show and I realized I had forgotten quite a lot, I decided to enh, screw it, and go ahead and pick up the whole thing. (Sadly, at this rate I will be a few weeks late for book five.)

All of that said, I don’t know how much I have to add to A Game of Thrones over my previous review. What has mainly struck me about this book is that in the midst of so much impending doom and so many horrible acts, there is really a lot of nobility. Any scene that contains the intersection of Jon Snow and a sword, for example. That, and that it’s well-written. My complaint about the prose from last time really does vanish the moment I’m not reading it aloud. Which is fine; not everything can be created solely for its rhythms. And contrary to previous unreviewed complaints I and others have made, each reread brings me more and more to terms with the fact that there just aren’t really any frozen zombies in this book, at least not relative to the promise of the prologue. I would recommend it unreservedly if there was nothing but wildlings and mammoths beyond the Wall, which just makes any zombie sightings delicious desserts atop an excellent meal.

Oh, and one other things that cannot be said often enough: fuck Gregor Clegane, right in the ear. Preferably, with Ice.

[1] Not incidentally, said TV show, widely not known as Article-less Game of Thrones, is really quite good. I think they are poised to make one very large mistake in the midst of a host of brilliant casting and editing choices, and even though said mistake is large if it happens[2], the fact that there’s only one is pretty impressive.
[2] It’s not too late!

A Feast for Crows

Way back toward the end of last year, I got the fourth Song of Ice and Fire book. I was nowhere near ready to read it yet, even by my piles of to-read books standards, but on the other hand, sometimes books will be more discounted in the first few weeks than later on in the first few months, and it was anyone’s guess when I would be ready to read it. Thusly, action! In the form of buying a book from a bookstore, I mean, which some people might fail to characterize as an action-laden event. Nuts to them!

Let’s fast forward to a few months later, when I am in fact ready to read A Feast for Crows, fresh as I am from my rereading the rest of the series. Actually, though, that would be useless. ‘Cause, hey, look, there’s a book I haven’t read yet. How am I supposed to say anything meaningful about it? Answer: By going just slightly further ahead into the future, which is to say my recent past, when I finished the book. I’m a problem solver, you know. That’s how I got re-employed and all. Well, sort of. That is the field into which I got re-employed, though it’s possible that the talent also played a role in resolving the joblessness, too. Post-event analysis is a job for people who are not me, though.

Anyhow. Good book. I was wrong in my prediction of it being Sansa’s, though I certainly feel the girl has improved to a tolerable character. Considering that other people who improved to merely tolerable in previous volumes are now downright likable and interesting, I choose to take this as a good sign. Really, though, the book is Cersei’s. Despite certain unrelated characters and events, the bulk of the story is about the way she handles rulership of a kingdom shattered by war, famine, and soon the winter of endless zombies (perpetual motto: We’re going to be huge in the next book, honest!) Without going into spoiler-laden details, allow me to just say that I found her arc (and all of the arcs that whirled around hers, most notably Jaime’s) entertaining from start to finish.

Thematically, it’s every bit as dire as the title proclaims. Our continent of Westeros is teetering on the brink of eternal night, and even now, basically nobody realizes anything is particularly wrong. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed the blindness theme immensely. On the other, the duration of it, despite being reasonable from a plot perspective, is starting to grow to Jordanian proportions. You can only have so much anticipation sans payoff before it starts to become burden instead of a delicious tease.

The next book, due out sometime in the next 6 months or so? Maybe? contains most of the characters I enjoy the most (although there are certainly a couple I enjoy in this one, lest you think this is actually a complaint), so I’m pretty excited for it to come out. On the downside, if I understood the structure of this pair of books correctly, not enough time is passing in the world for the amount of time that’s passing out here in real life between books. To cover what was supposed to be an unreferenced five year gap in events, Martin is going to have spent six or seven years in writing between the two books. Although the pace appeared to have picked up by the end of this one, that is still very much not an efficient timeline, and what with the rash of mysterious soap opera diseases that have been striking authors down lately, well, that makes me all the more concerned.

Mostly unrelatedly, I bet the new yearly Erikson is out. I ought to look into that.

A Storm of Swords

And so, my third and final reread of the recent era, A Storm of Swords. As previously, I read this over a little too broad of a time- and bookspan to really dig deep into it, but over a lesser span than before, so I’ll see what I can do.

Certainly, as the name implies, it was a bloodier and more dire book than its predecessors. The scattered hints of doom have coalesced into a thing that, though still rarely seen, is now believably dire enough to plunge the entire world into shadow; if only there were enough people who knew it was coming to stop with all the other stuff and, y’know, fix it. For the most part, though, it felt like a plot-driven book with just a few good character studies again. I don’t mind that, really, as I am really enjoying the chock-full-of-politicky-goodness plot. But it’s light on theme, and the book reviewer in me has little to catch hold of. As it is, though, the people to watch for are Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, and Stannis Baratheon, and in that order. There’s a lot going on there. I could name plenty of other people I liked, but for character growth, there’s your fun. (Prediction: the next one is going to be Sansa’s book.)

I have a feeling that my review of my first time reading of A Feast for Crows is going to suffer from this timespan thing. Hrmm. I might have to cheat and read ahead as I go, much as I hate the idea of it. Unclear. Maybe I’ll take notes? Hard, when I always wait for a whole picture to start coalescing my thoughts. Problematic, this.

A Clash of Kings

It’s like this. I read (well, reread) A Clash of Kings over such a long period of time (3, 4 months?) and with so many books in between that I can’t really put together any thematic opinions. I know I liked it, still. I know some characters were more annoying this time (Sansa, Catelyn) while others were more sympathetic (Theon). I know I begrudge the lack of frozen zombies.

For the most part, though, I remain in awe of several excellent character studies, and of how Martin really captures the ‘world will burn while mankind fiddles’ feeling that Jordan grasps for, even though Jordan has lots of overt doom and all of Martin’s doom is naught yet but whispers on the wind.

A Game of Thrones

thrones22To my very great surprise, my most recent book has been the opening entry in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones. What with my dad so much out of it via his time in the hospital, we needed something to do while visiting. I eventually started reading the series to him, figuring that he’d like it and also that it would give me a chance to catch up in time (well, okay, not exactly, but sort of) for the most recent volume.

But, the unexpected part is where I finished it so quickly. In fact, it read fast, and the politicking is sufficiently pleasant that I didn’t very much mind the relative lack of frozen zombies. (They are, after all, both the point and the pay-off.) But I get ahead of myself. What we’ve got here is a story about the end of the world, not by fire but by ice. Specifically, the undead Others from the polar north are on the verge of emerging for the first time in 8000 years to destroy the world of men. Only, nobody in the world of men is particularly aware or concerned; after all, there is power to be won, and money, and most importantly, a crown.

Westeros is a brutal land, but also an honest one. All too rarely do people get what they deserve; instead, they get what they can grasp and hold onto with their own two hands, and the penalty for a reach which exceeds that grasp can be dire indeed. And so the question becomes, can the honorable old Stark family of the North, the gold- and power-hungry Lannisters, the last daughter of a usurped throne, and all the men of Westeros settle vast gulfs of difference before Winter has come?

Thematically, it shares a lot with Jordan’s series. The goal appears to be to demonstrate exactly how divided man can be from man, and still manage to pull together in time to save the world. He outpaces Jordan in that mistakes have real consequences to actual characters in the storyline, not merely to the faceless masses. Prosewise, his errors are less glaring but nearly as annoying as Jordan’s can be. Or maybe it’s my own peeve, but quite frequently I’ll see the same word twice in a sentence or consecutive ones. Repetitive word choice drives me crazy. On the whole, though, excellent start to a series that appears to be over halfway through right now, and that continues to show a great deal of promise.