Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

Part 2
The continuation of the Song of Fire and Ice reaches a kind of close. This is the end of the first half of the story, and as such shows a lot more finality than previous parts and, in general, feels like a more typical fantasy book for this conclusiveness.

I've decided that I might do this review a little differently. I've reviewed the first two books here and here (plus an intermittent half-way in this book here) and in general I feel much the same about most of what is happening. So I thought it might be more apt and easier if I list my likes and dislikes of this series, and end with a comment on anything new in this book. It saves me trying to make the same point a third time, but trying to put a different spin on it.

  • Plot- Say what you will about Martin, he weaves a fantastic story. He doesn't really have any sympathy for his characters and verges on cold about he is more than willing to put them in dire straits and make the outcome unlikely every single time. I've mentioned a few times how one does not simply 'expect' with George R. R. Martin (that's an accidental meme/LOTR reference) and it makes for much more gripping story and also a much more difficult one as a reader. You are telepathically begging him to spare your favourite characters. The nicest you can expect it some kind of hideous wound or thrown into an inescapable circumstance, and you'll take that in your despair.
  • Characters- Another typical story trope, but again excellently done. He crafts really well rounded characters, though in general I feel the Starks are all a bit too heroic sometimes, and Brienne too idealistic. But people like Jaime, Tyrion and Daenerys are effectively evil- or at least associated intimately with an evil faction- yet we learn about them as individuals and grow to like them. Those three are probably some of my favourites. Take Jaime: he's an oath-breaker and unbearably arrogant and rude, but he's more loyal than most and has a powerful sense of gratitude, familial love and duty.
  • Magic- His attitude to magic is refreshing in a fantasy book, and that's a lot coming from me. I usually like magic and lots of it, but here I enjoy how fleeting and mysterious it is rather than something which makes the users superior to their peers.
Part 1
  • Misogyny- Though I think Martin isn't a misogynist, the world he sets his books in is medieval. As such, women were expected to look pretty, get married then make babies until they died. They are completely and unrelentingly objectified by the men in the books. In general, the female POVs in the books are shown to be neither powerless nor accepting of this so it isn't all encompassing, but the nature of some of what happens is sickening.
  • Cursing- I'm not the kind of person who uses profanities or approves of them if used in excess, but, for whatever reason, the characters insist on using words I refuse to utter even in my own company. As such, Martin tests my patience sometimes with the male characters in the story who use two four letter words beginning with 'C' as often as they breathe and use others with other select changes in the weather.
  • Wanton Brutality- That's a phrase I used in another review which sums it up nicely. Be it violence, torture, rape or worse, GRRM does not pull punches. In fact, he packs them with iron and heats them such that they brand, even scar you. Seriously, sometimes I've felt physically sick reading some descriptions in these books.
  • Death- As I mentioned above, no one escapes the bloody pen of GRRM and he will happily kill, maim or otherwise make characters lives a misery in the course of his books. This is something I also appreciate since it makes the stories gripping, and better than some other novels I've read; but at the same time I wish it was a bit less desolate and hopeless sometimes.
In this book, there are two new things: Finality and Viewpoints. We're given some new people to see through the eyes of- purely because the little conflict in book one has escalated to a national schism and there are all sorts of inner problems of each of the factions. It's like that St. Ives riddle where the numbers just keep growing as algebraic powers until the number is larger that we imagine. I digress, because it is not that bad, the point I was making is that we get a viewpoint in basically every story there is to tell.

The finality, which I mentioned at the beginning, is also bizarre. GRRM tends to leave people mid-story and move on and its disconcerting to leave these books for too long. So much is going on all the time, and keeping it straight require you to be reading the novels in succession. The ending of this book felt more conclusive, because A Feast For Crows is a catalyst novel connecting this book to A Dance With Dragons. The idea was to give characters time to grow up so that the story could move on to where he wants it to be. I'll say this though: I have no idea where that is.

The novel is the usual stock for Martin, in my opinion, so take that as you will.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

A Storm of Swords Part 1 by George R. R. Martin


The next book in the song of Ice and Fire is only half of this supposed section of the series. So I won't take too much of your time; I'll do that once I've finished the second part. (EDIT: Apparently this is a UK exclusive choice, while France split it into four)

I think you should definitely have the other half of this book handy when you finish because, in my opinion, the ending comes very suddenly. And, even though I hardly thing of Martin as someone who ties of all stories by the end, there is much stronger feeling of this volume being unfinished and the stories indiscernible. Writing this a few days after finishing it, I can entirely remember what happened since everything felt unfinished. I guess in some ways I don't understand why they felt the need to split this book in two- besides its ungodly length.

One of the more interesting things, for me, is Brienne and Jamie. I think they are both different one another: the only similarity being that they have this intense idea of loyalty, though the loyalties themselves are very much different. I have the sneaking suspicion that these two will have some sort of romance- even if its just a singular, unrequited one. And I'm not saying it would just be on Brienne's part, which is the conclusion I imagine people would jump to. I think it is just as likely that Jaime would like her and be not liked back. Okay, the former is more likely, but I'm learning never to expect things with Martin: it only leads to disappointment.

The only other thing I noticed (and the biggest giveaway this is part one of two) is that there isn't a great deal of death! If you've read Martin or are aware of the story, you'll know what I mean by that. He's almost blood-thirsty the way he will kill some characters who we've come to love so much. He says its purposeful: that by caring about a character we'll care about their death and it should bring home the horror of war. But to read like that- knowing that he could kill anyone at any time- can be soul-destroying at sometimes.

I'm at the point now where I know not to expect a happy ending to this entire story and I honestly expect most of the point-of-view characters to be dead by the very end, though it seems unlikely. The first part of this isn't happy by any stretch of imagination and if there haven't been any notable deaths, I expect part two to be quite a blood bath.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

Possible spoilers for book one but not this book, but they will be highlighted such that one can avoid them!

This book two in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and is an extremely long read (though I hear A Dance With Dragons is longer still). It is continuation of every and all events from book one and is just as hard-hitting and, in some ways, wonderfully deplorable. In my opinion, it is the better of the two since I was much more interested in events than in book one.

The plot in this series, for anyone who hasn't read the books, is a sprawling mess of utter chaos. The best analogy is to imagine a plate of spaghetti, and each string of spaghetti is a plot line and reading it is like trying to find the other end of the spaghetti WITHOUT yanking it out. It is utter madness sometimes. You seem to have your main plot and about 4 other sub-plots, per viewpoint. And then there are around 6 view points. So you have a grand total of around 30 plots which you have to try, in vain to keep straight. Early on in the book, it's even worse. I commend Martin for not just tying off the old plots and moving on, but the start of the book holds onto about half of the plots for about a third of the book, but still insists on bringing in more. What I'm saying is that these are highly confusing books a lot of the time, and sometimes you'd be reading something and only realise about 3 pages in which plot it pertains to.

This same issue is with the characters, though it is less pronounced. The back of the book lists every major and minor character of the major factions on the book, and I seriously believe that every one of them is important in some way. Finishing the book, I astounded myself with how many characters I managed to keep straight in my head. Admittedly, I just had to keep reading blind sometimes and hope this character wasn't too important.

It's a credit to Martin, I have to say, that despite being occasionally muddled I managed to know what was going on. How I think he does it is by defining everything with certain events of names. Practically all the characters have a defining a feature- some are "the Knight of X", they may be named "The [noun]" or they were involved in some conquest- and they will be the only ones associated with this. It's fantastically done when I think about it.

Anyway, down to specifics.

Once again, one of the things is disliked was the wanton brutality of the books, and the banalisation of rape and prostitution. I read some response Martin gave on these fronts (I'm not the only one who is disturbed by it) and he defends it by saying that it is historical and medieval England was like this. He doesn't like it any more than we do, but he has to right a realistic, truthful story. If that means it must be gritty and disturbing, so be it. I can accept that since he's right to be honest in his story, but I'm retaining the right to dislike it. It is too often brought up, in my opinion, and hate that the men are often so flippant about it. It doesn't usually detract from the story, but I think that if anyone has particular sensibilities or particular revulsion to these things, stop while you're ahead; since I expect it to get worse as the book continues and fighting grows. I wonder if I would have ever opted to read these books had I known they were like this.


I actually got more invested in various stories this time around. Last time, stories such as Jon Snow's, Sansa's or Arya's were just not at all interesting. However, at the end of book one, Arya has fled the castle, Sansa dislikes Joffrey (and, forgive me, has finally gotten some sense) while Jon has learnt that the Night's Watch are to go beyond the wall. In book one, I could read Jon's chapters easily enough for the same reasons I could read Catelyn's and Bran's: because despite not being terribly interesting, they were written and I liked the voice's. Also, they both had points were they were actually interesting. With Jon, I felt his story had so much potential to be interesting, but it just wasn't. I understand they had to train, set up loyalties and what not but there was wasted opportunity, in my opinion. There was always the feeling of a growing threat and it infuriated me that it was never realised story-wise.

Tyrion and Daenerys are both just as good though, if not better. Tyrion is whimsical and despite being a Lannister, I'm actually going to accuse him of having a great deal of sense and even a few morals. In some ways, he often strikes me as the most human of the characters and even though he has his weaknesses and short-comings (no pun intended), he is probably the only Lannister I would want to be King. I think he has the good sense to look past his own life and desires and do what is right for the kingdom as a whole.

Daenerys disappointed me a little since very little happened in her story besides a lot of wandering around, hopeless, and sitting about dreaming about her future. I think she had fewer chapters than last time as well so we didn't see her as much. But the, do I love them! I squirm with happiness whenever they do anything and, at one point, it says how she was reclining in cushions with her dragons around her. Bliss, utter bliss.

There are two new views as well: Ser Davos, a Knight of Stannis, and Theon Greyjoy. Davos had a nice voice, and I did like him, but I was more interested in him because Melisandre and the magic (?) she suggested she had.  Theon is more interesting, but only because I hate him from the bottom of my heart. I feel sorry for him since he feels abandoned by his own family, but does he need to be such a debased and detestable individual? He has no value for women or anyone less than himself. In so many ways, he is just like a Lannister in his overwhelming idea of self worth and importance. And the things he does- the way he is- just disgusts me. The bit with Bran and Rickon...I just had to stop reading for a short while. I felt my heart stop; I stopped breathing in shock. I was just blown away at how much I could hate a character.


Overall, I was impressed with this book. If you read book one and were a bit dubious, I think this book will set your mind at ease that this is likely to be an enjoyable series and that you should definitely keep reading. I only warn you to expect to be reading this for a while; my copy was around 900 pages.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I read this as part of a read-along with Julie from My 5 Monkeys and Karen at For What It's Worth and those both link to their great reviews. The ideas here are my own, but they are wonderfully tempered (or emphasised!) by the fact we did weekly discussions of the book, at 10 chapter intervals. This was also done in March. 

I'm also the last to post the review...Oh well.

Jane Eyre is the story of (you guessed it) Jane Eyre, an orphan born low and seemingly destined to be treated as such for the entirety of her life. Like any good classic, the opportunity to discuss social differences and prejudices is by no means avoided and even when the story could be considered dated or bizarre, it all comes together at the end.

In terms of the beginning, there isn't a great deal of import, in many ways. Sure it sets up character, background and all that, but  failing (I think) in many classics is that they often feel the need to tell you everything about a person growing up rather than significant events. Maybe it's a period thing; in that people in the past preferred seeing events for themselves and making their own conclusions. Things get better (and more interesting) just before she leaves Gateshead. In some ways, it gets better when she's 18 and her voice starts to sound like her own and the story starts being believable in terms of her being reliable as a narrator.

Something that becomes clear at Gateshead is an idea of feminism. The feeling I got from the institution was that it was set up to make women and girls perfect wives: meek and quiet but educated. They should be practically subservient: inferior, on might say. It drove me insane and, thankfully, annoyed Jane too! One thing mentioned in the discussion was that even the self-assured women in classics want to be seen as conforming to what society expects of them. Jane, on two notable occasions I can think of, demonstrates this anger and fierce pride she has of being herself and being a women. There's this line in A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen where Christine says that she has important duties, not only to family and marriage, but to herself. For me, it was the same idea. She may be a servant/governess, and she may be socially inferior; but she is still a human- with feelings, hopes and ambitions- and should be treated as such, even by herself. On the occasions I'm thinking of: one concerning Mrs. Reed, the other with Rochester, she asserts such. She transforms from an inferior to position to one of being an equal- which is practically scandalous. Aristocracy, for Victorians, was the idea that the uppers classes were born to rule; and as such should be treated with great respect. In standing for herself, Jane goes against this. However, there is a voice telling me that this is not completely the case since her mother was, formerly, an aristocrat so she has some of  that "right".

The romance is key to this book, since her relationship with Rochester (referred to as R. from now on) underlines the most important elements of the story and cause the main conflicts; asks the most important questions. I was of two minds about R. since he seemed like a great guy half the time, and other times he seemed like a completely different person. Ultimately, the impression I got was that I he couldn't trusted until his physical condition made it necessary for him to rely on people such that he needed their trust in its entirety.

The romance itself was nice though. It wasn't blindly amorous and Jane and R. were fairly vocal about one another with their faults. But the fact they couldn't get together straight away underlines the huge problem in the relationship (in my opinion) that Brontë gave us: R. did not need Jane. That sounds particularly harsh on him, but it's true. He didn't love her any less, not do I think he devalued her, but I think that he would have stifled her with how independent he was and how, in some ways, he was quite selfish. As he says himself, he tries hard to do the good thing, but I think it is in his nature to be somewhat self-centred- which is how Jane was (arguably) until she embraced religion.

Religion, I should say, is also important. There's a use of contrast in this sense since Jane has a very moderate, stereotypically liberal protestant kind of faith. She believes in the grace of God and such things, but she still believes that life is not merely spiritual and know that she can't live her life for a reward at the end of it. To use a recent internet meme, by whose use I feel I'm sullying everything I stand for, YOLO (You Only Live Once). She wants to enjoy her life and live it according to how she wants to live it. If that coincides with a very religious life, so be it. If not, she won't sacrifice herself and what she believes; she truly believes that who she is as a person is the most powerful and important thing about life. At least, that's the feeling I get.

Skipping a whole bunch, I'll give my opinion on the ending. You can basically sum up chapters 20-30 with what the hell just happened? and Who are and what have you done with and to my protagonists? It's weird, though the ending balances it somewhat.

The ending was great, in general. I had a few niggly nuances with the haste of it all, and it was a tad predictable but only in the sense that it is a classic with a happy ending, and Victorian novelists had a very specific idea of what defined happiness. I think what won the ending for me was that Jane seemed to truly be herself. Her life of being a servant in one way or another always seemed to hinder her somewhat. Her position was precarious enough that she had to maintain her manners and be a certain way since society demanded it, lest she be outcast to die. But in her situation at the end, she doesn't have these restraints. She's still polite and humble as a person, but she is free. If she is silent now, it is because she chooses to be, not because she must. She grew up and though she isn't blindly innocent, she is optimistic.

So it's a great book, and- since it need be said- Karen read it as her first (optional) classic so it might be a gateway classic for others who want to read it! Just make sure you read past the first ten chapters!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Book Blogger Confessions- Spoilers

The idea of this is to recount, perhaps even vent in order to ward off violent outbursts, about the nuances of life as a book blogger.

Spoilers in reviews: Do you read them, do you include them? How to you describe (or avoid describing) spoilery parts of a book?

In a nutshell, I think spoilers are necessary a lot of the time, but please warn me (a) when they're coming and (b) how important they are as part of the overall plot i.e. Major or minor.

In general, I'm not too fussy about spoilers. I hat when the ending is ruined or a major plot twist is told, but the minor spoilers about who dies or little revelations don't matter too much to me because until I read the book, I won't see them as overly important and I might still be surprised and awed when I do read them. I've only ever been exposed to one spoilers against my will. The scene was:

[Alex is sitting in a classroom with friends, one of whom is reading. The room is noisy with many people conversing at once.]

Alex: Are you not reading # anymore?

Friend: No, I finished it last night.

Alex: And what did you think?

Friend: It was good, but I didn't understand the bit when (person) dies towards the end.

Alex: ...

Friend: You have read it right?

Alex: No...

Friend: GOD, I'M SO SORRY! HE DOESN'T ACTUALLY DIE- I WAS JUST TESTING! [Puts head in hands, ashamed.]

Alex: ...

[Alex bursts into tears because spoilers of that magnitude make him feel like the who world has spontaneously imploded.]

That was nice. I like interludes!

The only other spoiler was the last Harry Potter book because I couldn't bear to read it if, 7 hours later, something terrible happened and the 7 years I had dedicated to these books ended in heart-wrenching despair.

When it comes to spoilers in reviews, I only like to include them (and, admittedly, see them included) when a book is in a series. I figure that in order to review a book properly you have to be consider everything and if that means revealing something from book 1, then you have to do it to have the honest review. Often, said spoiler will be a huge thing and it can be annoying if its importance is diminished or even ignored in the next book. Other times, it just has too much of an impact and to ignore it would be like not reviewing the majority of the book. You should review a book as if it's the first in the series or a standalone: so if knowledge is given which you are expected to know, you should write your review in the same vein.

I think you should always warn someone you're going to be putting a spoiler in because some people are more sensitive about them than others.

That was great question though!

Can I ask whether anyone else has ever had a story like mine: with someone spoiling something completely by accident?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Magical March Challenge Wrap-Up

And so the readalong comes to an end!

I'm really happy with the reading I've done this month, since I've read more than I would usually and have managed to clear an entire shelf of books (in terms of reading...I haven't thrown them away or otherwise). The books that I've read as part of the challenge where:

For me, the books got better later on, but that may have been partly to do with the fact that I got into the groove of things and was reading more eagerly and enjoying it because my desire to read was so powerful. I think you probably understand, as readers yourselves!!!

It also means that I come under the Wizard's Class. In some ways I'm annoyed since I just missed getting into the Grand Merlin Class but I read more than I anticipated so I'm pleased in that respect.

To find every single review from this event, click here! There's a lot (131 last time I looked) and even I haven't read them all. But I found it nice, as a fantasy reader, to just look through and pick out the ones liked the sound of or already want to read myself. So you're welcome!

But in case I've missed any, please feel free to post other fantasy books you adore underneath.

Okay, that's me done. C'est tout. Alex out.