Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pleasures of the Guilty

Wow, I've had better weekends...

...But last night I found a couple of quiet hours for myself, so just to indulge myself a little extra, I connected a laptop to a 46" screen to get some size and played a little Skyrim. I let all worries about the upcoming week of work, all the meetings, all family matters, things I need to write and do, I let it all go away for a while and allowed myself to immerse myself back into the land of the Nords for a while. And it really made a difference. When I went to bed I felt a lot more content, and after a few pages of Esslemont's Assail I slept soundly (I could've said "I slept like a baby" but as I have a youngling sleeping at my side these nights, I can assure you that sleeping like a baby is a weird, weird, proverb).

When looking through the eyes of my character, the Dark Elf Shadows (yes, he's shown up on this blog before) on a fairly big screen, I immediately fell back in love with the sense of adventure this game provides. Cause what I really was hankering for, was some roleplaying, and so I decided to really "be" Shadows last night. During last night's voyage (I try to skip fast travel for that immersion), I met a ferocious ice dragon harassing the townsfolk of Dawnstar, and later, an even more ferocious blood dragon somewhere out in the wild, attacking a bandit stronghold. Navigating an enraged dragon and angry bandits was a fun experience. That's what gives Skyrim its extra points - the potential for the unexpected. For all the linear quests, you can still strike out and do whatever you feel like, within the frames of the game obviously.

Shadows against a blood dragon, somewhere north and east of Falkreath (which I hadn't visited before last night)


Once again I also noted that the popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire must have had some influence on Skyrim, as it feels far grittier and medieval than the four previous The Elder Scrolls titles did. Love it.
I spent a good amount of time trying to defeat a heavily armored orc in a small dungeon, keeping a table between me and him so that I could survive; this fellow could smack me down with one stroke with that bigass sword of his. I wore him down with arrows and fire, until I finally succeeded. And it felt so good! After months with little to no gaming (aside from, say, nine hours in Divinity: Original Sin) it was nice to game away the evening and I didn't even feel guilty about it.

Yesterday, Skyrim was more therapy than guilty pleasure.

Friday, August 29, 2014

[Re-read] Tyrion IX: Ups and Downs


All right! Friday! My favorite day of the week. Not only is it currently the only day of the week where I have time to dip into a chapter of A Storm of Swords, it also heralds the coming of weekend, which in turn brings more smiles all around. Coupled with nice late-summer weather, one can only be grateful for living in a (relatively) quiet corner of the world, though the news likes to remind me just how beyond repair the human race seems to be. Sigh. Anyway; speaking of beyond repair; here's Tyrion's ninth chapter, the sixty-seventh of this magnificent volume of awesomeness. It's a chapter with a lot of characters and a lot of talk, so let's see if Martin can keep us interested and excited in spite of that.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Setting Sail for Assail

Back in late 2009, about the same time I started this blog actually, I gave Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon a third and final try. Something about the work appealed to me, but I just couldn't get a hang of it. Reading online that the best thing was to persevere and get through it, I managed to finish it and I was wondering what the heck I had just read - in the sense that while I could envision a lot of the scenes and understood most of it, I still found it difficult to come to grips with Erikson's obtuse, almost excluding style in this first novel. It was like watching a painting but some parts were smudged. Or something like that. 
Still, it left me with enough motivation to continue the ride with the second book, Deadhouse Gates, which right off the bat hooked me with a sinister, dramatic, twisted prologue that I still re-read now and then for the thrill of it. Erikson had improved dramatically between these two titles as well (there's a ten year or so gap in real time between them); and somewhere in the third book, Memories of Ice, the hooks were finally in me, and while I still didn't understand it all, it became more and more captivating. I am glad I listened to those who told me to continue. Ironically, the friend who recommended A Game of Thrones to me nine years earlier, and who in that sense is kind of responsible for me falling headlong into the exploration of fantasy literature, never finished Gardens of the Moon despite me trying to sell it to him. 

The best thing about it all was that I had found something to admire while waiting for George to finish A Dance with Dragons. Not just that, Erikson had at the time only one out of ten volumes left to complete, and the man was pushing out books so fast I could hardly believe it. So only a month later, The Crippled God was published (early in 2010 if I recall correctly) and I had a complete ten-volume series to indulge myself with; and for each volume I became more and more impressed with Erikson's mastery of the language, his quirky humor (which really came to the fore in book five, Midnight Tides), the deep themes and the harsh lessons learned, and eventually I knew I just had to get into the companion series as well. 

Ian C. Esslemont, then, is Erikson's long-time friend and he is as much a power behind the Malazan epic as Steven himself, and his complementary series, The Malazan Empire, fit into the Book of the Fallen cycle and both series feed on/off each other. So as I came close to the end with The Crippled God, I knew I had even more goodies to devour: and like Steven, Ian is a pretty fast writer too (I guess the excruciating wait for Martin to deliver made everyone seem like Speedy Gonzales), and so I spent a long time not having to wait for more Malazan adventures - all the way until last year actually. By then, I had devoured everything, including the absolutely insanely brilliant Bauchelain & Korbal Broach novellas - do yourself a favor and read Crack'd Pot Trail - if not for the setting, for the beautiful and sinister writing. Such a gem. Anyway - Erikson published Forge of Darkness, a prequel to the Books of the Fallen, and Ian Blood & Bone, his fifth, and then, all of a sudden, I was without a Malazan fix. Until now, and Assail.

Starting the novel has been a bit rough, with constant interruptions, but now I'm into it, back in the world of the Malazan Empire, and I love being there. The prologue of this book is such a visual pleaser (in the sense that it feels cinematic, and I can imagine how great it would look on the screen, with a character being hunted through pine forests covering mountainous slopes, the pursuers...well I won't spoil anything). The same prologue also highlights why I rate Esslemont lower than Erikson, even though they share the world: The writing just isn't as excellent as Erikson's can be. While the "visuals" of the prologue are fantastic, the way Esslemont narrates leaves something to be desired. 

I noticed while reading how staccato the text was (it improves by the first chapter, though). Every sentence of the chase. In the mountains. Is written something. Like this. Lots of stop-start-stops. What I guess I am trying to say, then, is that Esslemont's prose is far from the superb quality Erikson began to deliver about halfway through his 3-million-word cycle. But now, after what, sixteen? seventeen? fat volumes of Malazan Empire, the setting itself draws me in, and the writing becomes but the window into this fascinating, continually mysterious and wildly epic setting. Now, I am looking forward to that quiet half hour I have before sleeping, just to get back there and see what Assail will be all about. 

Looks like I'm going to push out another A Storm of Swords post tomorrow, if luck holds. Until then, I'll leave you with this little piece from Steven Erikson, from aforementioned novella Crack'd Pot Trail. 

My tales, let it be known, sweep the breadth of the world.
I have sat with the Toblai in their mountain fastnesses, with the snows drifitng to bury the peeks of the longhouses.
I have stood on the high broken shores of the Perish, watching as a floundering ship struggled to reach shelter.
I have walked the streets of Malaz City, beneath Mock's brooding shadow, and set eyes upon the Deadhouse itself.
Years alone assail a mortal wanderer, for the world is round and to witness it all is to journey without end.
But now see me in this refuge, cooled by the trickling fountain, and the tales I recount upon these crackling sheets of papyrus, they are the heavy fruits awaiting the weary traveler in yonder oasis. 
Feed then or perish.
Life is but a search for gardens and gentle refuge, and here I sit waging the sweetest war, for I shall not die while a single tale remains to be told.
Even the gods must wait spellbound.

Oh man, now I realize there's one Steven Erikson novella I still have to read. The Wurms of Blearmouth. I had all forgotten about that one. TOR published an excerpt, even. *Smacks head, says d'oh*

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Emperor of Thorns & Breaking Down Fantasy into Six Tiers



Being the third in the Broken Empire Trilogy (shouldn't that be Borken Empire), by Mark Lawrence, EMPEROR OF THORNS continues the story from 'Prince of Thorns' and 'King of Thorns', following Jorg Ancrath toward an ending that was...well. I really want to tell you what I think of how Mark wrapped up this fascinating and probably divisive (in terms of love/hate from readers I mean), but I feel like this is the kind of wrap-up that you want to experience yourself, completely spoiler-free. Not saying there's a massive migraine-inducing plot twist or anything - all I'm going to say is that I liked it and I didn't like it. That helped, I guess. But I liked it more than I didn't like it. And it's an ending that I am still thinking about a day later.

So, the trilogy is done and I know Lawrence has already begun a new tale, starting with Prince of Fools, and I have to admit I am anxious to get back to the setting, which is Lawrence's second best achievement with his story. I really don't want to comment too much on the setting either, as it is another part of the story that I suppose is very satisfying to figure out on your own, but it works wonderfully well and with a little more detail and expansion (possibly in Prince of Fools, which features the same setting) it could very well be the next big role-playing game setting license. Lots of fun ways to be creative with this setting as a game master, I suppose.

The best thing about this series is, as I have mentioned before, of course, the main character Jorg. Throughout the story you will feel all kinds of things about this guy, from loathing to curiosity to fascination and everything inbetween. If you find the Prince of Thorns a despicable fellow while reading the first novel, don't give up - this is a character that needed three volumes of text to be seen from a variety of angles and perspectives. I've seen (on Amazon) people quitting the series because Jorg is such a prick (closest comparison in some ways is Joffrey, but where Joffrey is fairly one-dimensional, Jorg is anything but). 

I think A Game of Thrones: Light is a fair way of describing the Broken Empire trilogy. It is not light in its exploration of themes or anything; it is light in the sense that the focus is mainly on one character, Jorg, who is properly explored, and the rest of the cast are not given very deep characterizations (whereas George RR Martin gives so many characters the full treatment); it is lighter in the sense that we don't get intricate/complex plots and there isn't as much reading between the lines; and the plot itself is fairly straightforward (though with a few neat little twists) whereas Ice & Fire sprawls. The pace is quicker; Jorg travels from the far north to the deep south in the time it takes Jon Snow to take stock of the Night's Watch inventory. Another thing that makes comparisons to Martin almost required is the grit, with dialogue and unflinching brutality being similar. There's this same sense of dark humor, also shared by Joe Abercrombie. It is certainly edgier than, say, Rothfuss. 

Having finished, I feel I have a new series to add to my top ten list of fantasy series/novels, though I am not sure where I would rank it among my other favorites. It is not as good as the very best - Martin, Erikson - it almost reaches that second tier - Rothfuss, Abercrombie - and it is better than other recent good tales like Blood Song  so I think I'm wedging Lawrence onto Tier 3 (along with Richard K. Morgan, who perhaps is another good comparison to Lawrence's work), and then on Tier 4 we have the more recent novels in the genre like Blood Song and The Emperor's Blades. Yeah. Something like that. 

So here's what my ranking of fantasy novels looks like right now. I haven't added everything I've read yet, let's call this a preliminary sketch. By putting these tales in tiers, I don't have to decide which ones are the absolutely best, which feels all right. I know I placed The Stormlight Archive on Tier 4, which is probably too low, but it still not grabbing me. Technically, it is a very impressive work (I'm talking about the first book now) and so perhaps should be moved up the tiers. But for now, I am placing them just by personal taste and not evaluating other aspects).

TIER 1:
George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Steven Erikson, The Malazan Book of the Fallen

TIER 2:
Joe Abercrombie, The First Law Trilogy, Best Served Cold, The Heroes, Red Country
Patrik Rothfuss, The Kingkiller Chronicles

TIER 3:
Mark Lawrence, The Broken Empire Trilogy
Richard K. Morgan, A Land Fit for Heroes
Saladin Ahmed, Crescent Moon Kingdoms
Ian C. Esslemont, The Malazan Empire

TIER 4:
Anthony Ryan, Raven's Shadow
Peter Staveley, The Emperor's Blades
Scott Lynch, The Gentlemen Bastards
Brandon Sanderson, The Stormlight Archive
Grey Keyes, The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone

TIER 5:
Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time (I admit I stopped during book four)
R.A. Salvatore's Forgotten Realms books & other Dungeons & Dragons novels

TIER 6 (almost, and in some cases, actually unreadable):
Robert Newcomb, The Fifth Sorceress


Agree? Disagree? Any obvious titles I should've read? Feel free to recommend me something!
(I have Glen Cook, Robin Hobb, and Guy Gavriel Kay on my to-read list already)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Emperors, Emmys, Endgame

Almost done with Emperor of Thorns (Mark Lawrence), it feels good to find time to read more often, though it has stolen time from other hobbies. With the end of the summer holiday, massive loads of work await as well, impeding further on precious geek-time. Once again I find myself wishing one could get paid for just geeking out in the comfort of one own's home.  After Emperor, it is time for Assail, which I have to admit kind of drives me a little harder to finish Lawrence's trilogy; which, even as I am coming to the end of it, still continues to come up with these baffling surprises, dark and twisted scenes, and the humor that permeates Lawrence's writing (although I feel the humor is somewhat downplayed in the third book).

I have to say I am surprised Game of Thrones got only four Emmys. Surprised, and disappointed that once again a fantasy production is given the short shrift when it clearly deserves all the praise in the world. Not that it really matters - the viewing numbers says it much better than an Emmy anyway. 

A new A Storm of Swords post coming up, hopefully by Friday, which seems to be my new window for my re-read posts this fall. I have to work it in between everything else, so I don't expect to be able to do more than one re-read post a week for the foreseeable future, but that still means I'll wrap up Storm and get cracking on those two last books - which in my mind still feel like the two new kids on the block who don't feel as if they really belong; in other words, fresh - before the year is over at least.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Assailed!

Wow!! I had completely forgotten the release of Assail, Ian C. Esslemont's sixth Malazan Empire novel which also serves to backend Erikson's main cycle.
Weird how I kind of just forgot about the most interesting book of the year (for me personally).
I bought it before giving myself the chance to even consider waiting until I have finished my other books.  Which is dumb because it will probably be half the price soon enough, but I really need a Malazan fix and I am quite curious about how Esslemont will wrap it all up.
Oh joy.
But four days. Why haven't I seen or heard anything? This is big!

[Re-read] Arya XII: Riders of Doom


Hello and welcome to the latest re-read of A Storm of Swords! This time I'm tackling chapter 66, Arya's twelfth, which means I have fifteen chapters and an epilogue left. I am still amazed today, fourteen years after my first read, by the scope and complexity, the characterizations and, of course, the shocks, that this massive tome provides. And even though I have previously called A Clash of Kings my favorite book in the series, I think I must now retract that statement and properly announce Storm as the best book in the series, even though it takes a little dive after the Red Wedding, but that is more due to my expectations for where the story could go and not having those expectations met. This is the main reason why I look forward to re-read A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, hoping that now that I know where and how the story-lines move, I can read the story without being too bothered how Martin kind of did a massive perspective shift from King's Landing, the North, and the Riverlands to encompass a much larger world, with the Iron Islands, Dorne, and Essos becoming so much more prominent backgrounds.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

But still.

With all the Star Wars: Episode VII (give us a proper title already!) rumors coming out fairly frequently this day it's hard to keep my head elsewhere. I love the original movies so hard, that all the speculation and rumors and back-and-forths surrounding the next trilogy has me checking a host of websites (all relaying the same rumors and reports to be honest), discussing here and there, and trying to imagine what the next movie in this beloved franchise will be like, all the while knowing I probably will be disappointed somehow. Even better news, then, is that the latest rumors suggest Disney will (finally!) release the original movies - the way they were watched for twenty years before the appalling Special Editions - with a proper transfer. If this turns out to be true, then Episode VII and beyond can be crap for all I care - the originals will always be an amazing story with amazing visual designs that I have loved since I was a youngling kid.

But still. BUT STILL. But still the wait for The Winds of Winter is harder. Maybe because the production of Star Wars has been on a roll since they started shooting back in May, there's this seemingly unceasing work being done to reach completion at a set date - December, 2015. With Winter (and the two books before it), we know nothing - well, except for a few teaser chapters and the endless dissecting of existing books in the search for clues and foreshadowing. Now I wish there was a way for people to have a peek at Martin at work, so they could relay spy reports to us. Some tantalizing rumors that may turn out to be false, but which would have us all discussing. Imagine a website reporting that "Jon is not going to be warging Ghost!" That rumor alone - false or not - would give us all something to debate and have fun with, speculating what else Martin could choose to do with Jon than the most obvious prediction, and the wait for the next novel in the series would be all the more fun.

Oh well. I'll be reading another chapter of A Storm of Swords later this week, all the while secretly hoping for an update on The Winds of Winter but also knowing there probably won't be any. Until then, may it rain a little less on your house than it does on mine.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

In the jury

I participated in The Nerdstream Era's "Supreme Court of Westeros" this week. Quite a fun little project Stefan Sasse has going on there, check it out right here (and the thirty-nine (!) preceding court rulings can of course also be found on that website). It was fun to be called to the stand and be part of the jury. But I noticed there was no headsman there.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Addendum Explanatis

I don't know how that last re-read post could go so wrong, but if you click on it so you get to its own separate page, it is at least readable. I also added a "Read more..." link to get you straight to the good stuff without all the crap overlays. I believe something went wrong when I copied Martin's post. Serves me well, I suppose.


[Re-read] Jon VIII: I've Always Wanted a Wall. No seriously.


Boy, I'm so glad Martin decided not to write an episode of Game of Thrones season five, in order to get some writing done on The Winds of Winter.
Spain
I haven't even found time to post about all the cool stuff that went down at Comicon, or in France and Switzerland before that, but in a few hours we'll be off again... for Scotland and the Edinburgh Book Festival first, then London for worldcon, then straight to LA for the Emmys.

I am exhausted just thinking about it.

Oh.....
***
It's time to get back into A Storm of Swords! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

[Review] Guardians of the Galaxy

...That was awesome.

No, it wasn't the best movie in the world by any means. But it was a spectacle and it did so many things right that a space fantasy hasn't done since...well, Serenity / Firefly, I guess. I was initially not that interested when I learned it was based on a Marvel product, and the trailer didn't really entice me either, what with the raccoon and the tree.

They won me over, though, the both of them - because this was a charming film, with humor, the best special effects I've seen, and it was all over the place genre-wise, and I was able to just sit back and enjoy the ride, and only twice did it break the immersion. And it was closer to the classic Star Wars blueprint than, say, superhero comics. By classic Star Wars I am primarily thinking Han Solo, who was quite the scoundrel back in the day. He was updated in Firefly, and here's 3.0 in the shape of Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. Version 3.0 takes it all a little further, with snappier dialogue, even closer to grey on the scale of black to white, and funny. Every scene with Peter Quill, the Star Lord, played by American actor Christ Pratt, is gold. The raccoon, while initially giving me a little of the bad Jar Binks vibes as opposed to the good Gollum vibes, becomes a character I eventually found entertaining, and the tree was just a great sidekick, and more than once I found myself imagining that parts of this was a Star Wars spin-off about Han and Chewie blasting through the galaxy on fun adventures.

The more...Marvellous...parts of the film were to my surprise cool too, and there were many fun bad guys, interesting locations, creative camerawork, spectacular shots, and enough subtext to make me want to see it again - at the same time it was cheesy and a little dumb. In other words, a perfect space fantasy.

And I was going to stop at awesome.

Now I'm going to read reviews to see what kind of reception this film has gotten, as I actually have no clue. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had been to a proper blockbuster. And I didn't mind, in the least, all the little hints that a sequel might just become reality.

I have to admit that almost hidden in this spectacle is a wafer-thin plot, but it did never really matter. And it made me even more ready for next year's December, when Star Wars: Episode VII has a lot of psychological damage to repair.

Next up: Another re-read of a chapter from A Storm of Swords. I almost promise.

Oh, what do you know:
Writer of first Star Wars spin-off movie finds that Guardians will make his job harder.
Good!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Just just.

SO, what news of Ice & Fire?


  • Martin is awfully proud of The World of Ice and Fire, to be released in October. A concordance based on the first five books of an unfinished series, Martin none the less promises us answers to questions we never knew we had (which I read as "stuff that doesn't really affect the plot and as such isn't that important"). Still, it looks fat and big and the artwork visible in one of the photos seems good. Hopefully they are not recycling too much from the licensed games, like they did with the two Art books. At least one fan asks some seriously pertinent questions but Martin only answers questions where he can get people to buy some stuff. Oh, wait, that's old news.
  • More old news is of course the casting of a number of people for Game of Thrones Season Five, and there is no longer any doubt that Dorne is coming to the show in full force. Well, almost: We're missing two of the biggest players. But more casting news will undoubtedly surface. How will it all look and feel? I bet I'm not the only one who is curious to see if the slower books four and five will be dissected and adapted in such ways that the story lines do not take away from the series' momentum. 
  • On Westeros, people still debate the smallest details of the works in existence to keep the hurt of the Long Wait at bay; some threads are definitely interesting and thought-provoking - such as, could it be that Quentyn Martell, everybody's favorite character from A Dance with Dragons, is still alive? When you begin to read the arguments from the pro side, it becomes convincing, actually. 
  • An essay about Varys and Littlefinger over at Tower of the Hand is worth a read. A re-read of The Hedge Knight has also started over there. Yes, there are many ways to keep the flame alive during the Long Night. Of waiting.
  • Over at Is Winter Coming?, the most active threads seem to be about...being drunk, spambots, and picking smilies. Something tells me a lot of my friends are tired of the saga.
And that's it as far as I'm aware of interesting goings-on. Well, there was the Comic Con Panel, of course. 
Now I'm off to see Guardians of the Galaxy, an appropriate warm-up to another long wait, the wait for the return of proper Star Wars in December 2015.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

[Review] King of Thorns

[Minor spoilers, nothing that'll have you pull out your hair or genitals or anything]

Of all the books that promise you an experience similar to A Song of Ice and Fire (which many blurbs have promised ever since Martin's series became the new benchmark), there are only a few that I believe would actually speak to the core audience of Martin's novels. This audience has become increasingly diluted of course with Game of Thrones, or rather, expanded, and so when I see a book promising something akin to Martin, I take it with an even bigger pinch of salt now than I did when, say, Bakker, Abercrombie and Lynch became among the new rising stars in fantasy. Of course, most people who read books enjoy different books, so a book doesn't have to be a carbon copy of another series, but I suspect these blurbs help guide certain folk toward certain authors and novels; King of Thorns, then, shares with Martin's Ice & Fire a few things - this sequel to Prince of Thorns delves into a gritty world with grittier characters, with the main character Jorg still a fellow you love to hate. Imagine The Adventures of Joffrey Baratheon and you're close, although Jorg is much more likable in most respects.

This sequel is just as witty and well-written as the first book, and opens up the setting bit by bit, giving us some nice revelations along the way. The author also employs a few unusual (or at least uncommon in fantasy) techniques to get his story across, such as using snippets of diary entries, alternating between the present and a story line happening four years earlier (but featuring the same characters), and even different fonts to keep it all straight. I like it. I like it a lot.

Mark Lawrence also has a whole range of neat little concepts up his sleeve, sprinkling the story with his own fairy dust (although in this series, it'd be more appropriate to call it tar or some such). One of these fun ideas is the concept of Jorg carrying around a box in which he keeps memories that just are too tough to bear. It also allows the author to keep us hanging on certain things we'd like to know about Jorg's past until it is time (perhaps readers brighter than me figured it out beforehand, what do I know).

The way the tale is written in the first person, by a character of dubious morality, is just great, and it allows for some very droll humor and fun one-liners, which is one of the book's strengths. If there's a weakness to it, I'd say that at certain points in the tale it lags a little bit, but overall this is a very minor niggle as it flows well enough most of the time, and that some events are described a little vague so that I am not sure what I am supposed to envision - this is partially due to the nature of the setting, though, because Lawrence tries to describe things we know through the eyes of a character who has no idea what he is seeing. Another niggle is the way exposition can be really in your face at times, which is kind of the opposite. It's too vague! It's too obvious!

As in the first book, Jorg is once again surrounded by a cast of characters, but I feel that some of those he has lost on the way were more interesting than some of the new characters in this part; but this is also a minor niggle, as Jorg hogs the spotlight most of the time - and one could argue that the other characters are viewed through his eyes, and thus it would make sense that they aren't given too much depth. His loyal companion since book one, Makin, is still present and correct, and the one Jorg has the most interaction with. Sometimes his band of brothers remind me a bit of the Dogman and his group (from Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy), both as characters and as types.

While the story is in general about large-scale politics (as the titles of the three novels in the trilogy suggest), don't expect the kind of intrigues and backstabbing found in King's Landing. There's a little of it, but, like the first story, this tale is closer to the classic fantasy travelogue in many ways, with Jorg and his band roaming the lands (to secure his power) on various adventures. There's even a whiff of Rothfuss-esque fairy tale air in this story, with certain encounters absolutely evoking that feel (at least until you have deciphered some of the setting's back story).

It took me a long time to read this book, but that isn't the book's fault - it's crisp and smooth and there's not much dawdling in the plot (not at all, one can argue) - I just take a much longer time reading physical books because I don't always have the opportunity to read by light. However, to remedy is, and because I hunger for the conclusion, I have purchased the e-book version of the third and final book in the trilogy, Emperor of Thorns, which I hope will answer some of the questions I have and provide the same humor and adventure that the previous two did.

I've already jumped into Emperor of Thorns and enjoying it. After that, oh my...so many to read. So many. I think I'm going to read Abercrombie's Half a King, because, you know, he's the man and I expect a lot from him, even when I'm not in his target audience for once.

Here are a few quotes from Amazon that I feel paint a pretty accurate picture of King of Thorns (it has a 4.5 rating based on 341 reviews - it is really good, but you must enjoy your fantasy a little bit cynical):



  • Overall, this book is a lot less dark that its predecessor and involves a lot more planning on Jorg's part - and is thus a more enjoyable read. 
  • The main character Jorg is not quite as bloodthirsty as he was in the opening volume of the Broken Empire Trilogy but every bit as treacherous and quick-thinking. Lawrence subverts some of the fantasy world cliches in interesting ways. 
  • Powerful and clever language. Full and deeply-realized world. And best of all, a protagonist of truly moving complexity.

Friday, August 1, 2014

[Re-read] Davos VI: A Man with a Plan


Fans all over the Internet are telling themselves that Martin is close to completing The Winds of Winter. Why else is he revealing small tidbits all the time? The latest news to hit us is that the book's prologue will include the character Jeyne Westerling, whom we haven't seen much since 2000. Fourteen years later we will finally see what becomes of her. Martin is quick to point out that Jeyne might not be the POV of the prologue, thus she might survive it, but if you ask me, Jeyne will be the POV and she'll have a knife in her gut. I'm spoiled by the Game of Thrones show. As weird as it is, that a minor character's appearance in a prologue provokes such reactions and discussions, I am even more surprised by the amount of people putting so much hope in Martin, to the point that some fans wonder if he is finishing book seven at the same time. This is still the author who has published two books in the last fourteen years, right? The author who hasn't shown his editor more than a hundred or so pages of the next manuscript and that was a good while ago? And now he's said no to writing an episode of Game of Thrones: Season Five and everybody's happy because that means around thirty days he can spend on the book instead. However, with all the cons he visits and all the trips he takes, I wonder if priorities could have been different. It matters not. One way or the other, it's up to Martin to deliver the book when he feels satisfied with it, and all we can do is to continue this third long wait (I know, it isn't near as long as the waits for the two previous books were - not yet, at any rate).

Speaking of prologues, here is my list of the five existing prologues in the order that I like them.

A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Dance with Dragons
A Feast for Crows

I'm not going into the hows and whys of this opinion right now, but as you can imagine I hope the next prologue is as tense and interesting as the first prologues were (admittedly the one in Clash was a little long), and with Jeyne involved it might just happen. All right, the main reason why Feast has my least favorite prologue is because it introduces too many characters at once, is technically less well written, and, since it is set in a completely new environment (Oldtown) I'd love the place to be more...unique. Well, I'll get to that hopefully when I'm done reading this tome. A Storm of Swords, here we go. Davos' fourth and last chapter in the novel, he doesn't have many chapters but they are needed for Martin to show us what is going on in Camp Stannis, and I still think Davos should show more smuggler-like qualities in order to not be so bland. Not one of my favorite characters, I do like many of the characters who he interacts with though, so it doesn't hurt that much to re-read the Onion Knight. 

***

Sheesh. Summer and all that. I began writing this post almost a week ago, and then, a lot of other things that had to come first. But here I am and with A Storm of Swords at hand. Incidentally, I finally - finally! - finished Mark Lawrence's King of Thorns last night, but the book deserves its own post so I am saving my thoughts on that one for the next time. I can reveal that I immediately bought the third and final book in this trilogy (The Broken Empire Trilogy, they call it, and yes, it's fairly broken one might say) and am pumped to get on with Jorg's story when I dive into bed tonight. But first, Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, the loyal adviser, the man with a plan (after this chapter, at any rate). While listening to a couple of new CDs. And trying to get a splinter out of my foot after some very handy sandbox-building in the garden, for the Second Son. You can call me many things, but handy is (unfortunately, I think) not such a..thing. Concept. Whatever! And in dire need of something cold to drink...mmmm...checking refrigerator...(that's such a great word)...mmmmm....Beeeer.

***

Immediately, Martin launches into a metaphor that has me frown, which I seldom do reading these books, to be honest (but boy do I frown when I struggle to read another paragraph of R.A. Salvatore). "Their voices rose like cinders" is ... wait, that's not a metaphor really, is it? Or is it? Now I am confusing myself and I am five words into the chapter. Anyway, I thought it a strange comparison. Not that cinders don't rise, fluttering from a bonfire or whatever, but how do voices rise like that? Are they sitting and they sing as they rise in a jittery style? No matter. What Martin wants to show us here, is a little bit of good old R'hlorr worship. Chanting, Melisandre's voice is loud and clear above the others, leading the sermon. In the song, she first pleads to her god for his wisdom in the sense that he can lead his people "from the darkness, fill our hearts with fire, so we may walk your shining path." It's not unlike your regular routine prayer really, perhaps with a little more emphasis on flames. I like the image of the gargoyles on the walls of Dragonstone seeming to stir and shift in the glow of the nightfires. It gives a spooky contrast and might just suggest that this R'hllor is a threat (to the already established religions of Westeros).

Davos is watching the proceedings from a window above. Melisandre's plea becomes a passionate glorifying of the deity: "You are the light in our eyes (how romantic) the fire in our hearts, the heat in our loins. Yours is the sun that warms the days, yours the stars that guard us in the dark of night." Also a typical part of a prayer, I suppose, almost as if there is a need to placate this god (which suggests he is a god that could, potentially, turn your back on you, or get real angry with you). Finally, Melisandre asks for his protection, rounding out the chant with the classic line, "The night is dark and full of terrors." It makes the godhood somewhat ambiguous, if you ask me. He seems to be both a protector (he guards through the stars that light up the darkness of night) and a destroyer (the fire, the sacrifices, and that the night is full of terrors) - which, in my personal opinion sounds a bit like that deity who runs the show in the Old Testament - or any other of the many vengeful deities found in mythologies around the world. Anyway.

Queen Selyse leads the response to Melisandre's utterings of holiness, in one sentence showing us / reminding us how devoted Stannis' wife has become both to the red woman and to the foreign god. Davos sees Stannis clenching his teeth, knowing that the king himself is not quite there. Stannis is only using Melisandre, and R'hllor, for his own purposes - to win the war. Pragmatic fellow. Remembering the first time I read this, when Martin takes care to describe Princess Shireen between the two royal parents, I was 100% sure we were going to see the little greyscale princess thrown on the flames as a sacrifice. A nail was bitten off in suspense. Davos sees the king staring into the flames, wonders whether Stannis sees something there. Personally I have a feeling he is just thinking really hard: "Is all this hogwash really worth it?" Melisandre gives us more insight into R'hllor - apparently this is the creator deity, making sure we understand this is a monotheistic religion so to speak, what with R'hllor having breathed life into humans, and given the sun to warm and give light. Davos thinks there are fewer people responding to her now than the night before; is she losing her audience already?

Next voice belongs to Ser Axell Florent, standing barrel-chested, being loud. It is implied that Davos and Florent have some kind of plan that will hopefully come to fruition the following night, but clever as Martin is, he doesn't reveal too much to us yet. Now I'm tired of Melisandre's praise and thanksgiving, but she drones on. Reminds me I have to go to church tomorrow for a wedding.

Davos thinks of his boyhood, when he was taught the religion of the Seven, which leads to him now praying to the Mother to keep his son Devan safe from R'hllor. He is interrupted (uh oh! This could actually be a very small foreshadowing of Devan's death in a literary sense - as if Davos' can't finish his prayer to the Mother, hence no protection for Devan; not saying there is a Mother, but in the literary sense). Ser Andrew touches Davos' elbow and calls him "lord", which sounds queer to Davos' ears. In his mind, he is still a smuggler.

Davos follows Ser Andrew Estermont and a few other characters away from the nightfire mass; the awesomely nick-named the Bastard of Nightsong, and Ser Gerald Gower, Sir Triston of Tally Hill, Lewys the Fishwife (that's a less cool nickname). They each receive a one-sentence description which tells me they aren't all that important to the plot. Also, if Davos' plan doesn't work out, they'll be dead anyway. As they walk, Davos is once more lost in thought, thinking of Melisandre trying to explain seeing things in the flames. What the memory seems to tell us is that there's a trick to seeing in the flames, but if you want to see something there, you can see it - in the sense that people see Jesus in toast, dog behinds, or in the clouds. In other ways, Martin is telling us that this religion might not have any more "real" power than the other religions in Westeros (except, perhaps, the Old Gods, who we get explained later to be something...different). 

Davos has gathered these men to fulfill his plan. They are arguing about killing Melisandre, Davos reminds them how easily Maester Cressen fell prey to her.

They arrive in the chambers where Edric Storm is doing sums, being tutored by Maester Pylos. The maester is in on the plan; Edric is surprised. Pylos tells him to fetch his cloak, he is going with Davos. Edric says he was about to go pray to the Warrior, because he too, hasn't fallen for Melisandre's propaganda. Pylos reminds Edric that Davos is the King's Hand, and so Edric joins Davos. Davos had been uncertain of Pylos - like myself, really - but now the young maester is risking his life for the cause. They take the boy to the water, where one of Salladhor Saan's ships await. Ser Andrew placates the young boy (and cousin), telling him he will go with it. Edric is sad and wants to say goodbye to Shireen, but they won't allow it. The idea of her being sacrificed is disproved when Davos, through his thoughts, reveals that they are taking Edric away because he is the one scheduled for sacrifice by burning. Edric becomes more and more opposed to the whole idea of being smuggled (aha!) out of Dragonstone, and begins to argue, demanding to see his father Stannis. Which would be only natural, of course. I really think the chapter's beginning is really boring with all the religious droning, but now it takes on a suspenseful, secret escape and my eyes are basically glued to the paper, making it hard to write down my thoughts. Also, my head is full of other matters (a flooding river has taken away half our garden, among other things). Davos needs to lie to Edric to threaten him, which works.

They cross a yard, another conspirator is revealed (one Omer Blackberry, whose name feels entirely new to me, though he must have been present fourteen years ago when I read this chapter for the first time). Omer Blackberry. What an anonymous fellow. The ship is named Mad Prendos, which Davos thinks is fitting, as what they are doing is kind of ... madness. Defying the king, defying Melisandre. "Think of this as an adventure," Davos tells Edric before getting him off, and one wonders: when, if ever, will we see Edric Storm again, and what has be doing in the meantime, and how will his continued survival affect the plot still to come? The group follows Edric, except Davos and the Bastard.

Martin continues to build up the expense as Davos now knows he must face King Stannis and explain what he has done: "Dragonstone had never seemed so dark and fearsome. He walked slowly, his footsteps echoing off black walls and dragons." You kind of have to feel for Davos in this situation - he is doing what he thinks is right and good - which it is, he is saving an innocent boy's life - and when you know how harsh Stannis can be...Martin takes his time letting Davos think through his life up to this point, as if he is expecting it to end now, which of course builds suspense. He decides that if he survives, he will sail home to Cape Wrath. He feels he has overreached. Which, as a smuggler turned King's Hand, you can't really argue.

The Chamber of the Painted Table, still one of my favorite chambers in the series, is dark, so he puts on some fire to drive out the darkness and the cold, ironically doing just what Melisandre was harping on out about at the sermon (using fire to keep the darkness and cold at bay). He looks for the Mad Prendos but she is lost in the darkness, so he doesn't know if Edric Storm has gone already. Love that little bit of uncertainty, both for Davos and for the reader. When he thinks of the Targaryens, a wind sighs through the chamber, as if the memory of Old Valyria stirs...rather ominous. Then he hears Stannis and Melisandre approach; they are talking about Melisandre seeing "him" die and hearing "his" mother's wail - Joffrey and Cersei. Stannis is not so sure of this vision.

However, Davos steps forward and can confirm the death of the king. Melisandre, then, is right again. Stannis, kind of tongue in cheek, as if the author is breaking the fourth dimension wall (or whatever it's called) for a quick moment, says that weddings are more dangerous than battles. Melisandre states that now, Tommen will be the next king in King's Landing. Which is of course an annoying thing to hear for Stannis. "Save them sire," Melisandre says (talking about the people of Westeros), "Let me wake the stone dragons. Give me the boy." I am not sure what she means by waking the stone dragons in this scene; she has done her three leeches = three royal deaths thing, is stone dragons another trick that can make her long-distance murder someone?



Davos then reveals that Storm is gone. And Davos notices Melisandre's uncertainty, realizing he has been able to cheat her, because she never saw this coming! That is quite a potent and important revelation, of course - Melisandre isn't as powerful as she makes herself out to be. Stannis becomes rather angry, but most of it seems to build - and stay - inside the confines of his mind. Davos has prepared a speech, so he knows what to say, hoping it is good enough for Stannis to see the reason behind his action. Melisandre tries to tell him the importance of this sacrifice, but Davos has the words to counter. It's an interesting three-way conversation, for sure, with Azor Ahai mentioned, and it ends with Davos kneeling and offering himself up for execution as punishment; it is revealed that Davos has learned to read and write, and he presents Stannis with a piece of paper even as Stannis pulls out his sword, glowing in the chamber.

And that's how this chapter ends! Now, of course, we are fully aware of what Davos starts to read for Stannis that will change his mind; but it was a nice little cliffhanger once. Of course, the more devious of mind probably realized immediately what it was; I surely did not. I feel that this chapter could have been even more suspenseful; instead of starting out with the nightfire prayers and the droning, what if the chapter opens with Davos already moving Edric Storm, then passing the nightfires to overhear; and perhaps we should have seen them taking out those guards, have some more banter with the other fellows in the kidnapping, I don't know, just feels like it could have been an even stronger chapter, although I like it well enough.

Next up is Jon Snow again.