A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones Review

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones

So, I’m a bit late in arriving to this particular party – and I’m not really sure why. I’ve had a lot of reading to catch up on and from what people have told me, these are really good books. Knowing that, I wanted to get most other titles finished first, some trilogies and series’ that I hadn’t had a chance to finish before diving in to this one – and I’m glad I did.

A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic series of seven books but only five have been published thus far (at time of writing) although two of those five are split into two making seven. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it’s about to get a lot worse and very, very quickly but I’ll try to ease you into it, starting with the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones.

On a side note, I’ll make some references to the television show, Game of Thrones, in this series but this is mostly about the books as I’m sure you’ll have guessed by now.

Getting to grips with the cast

Fantasy and science-fiction books are especially guilty of often being one thing – and while this can apply to any genre, it’s most common here – and that’s that they become too big too soon. Rather than easing a reader in, we essentially blow their minds and expect them to remember every name, person, place, term and such right from the get go, because it will be important later.

This happens in A Game of Thrones too, and because the cast so large and diverse it makes sense that each chapter is told from a different character. Where this falls down is when the story leaps to the other side of the country or a certain amount of time has passed and this isn‘t made clear until later chapters.

What this does, and it does well, is let you invest in a number of characters for different reasons. There’s a lot of death in this book – and the series as a whole – so focusing on one character wouldn’t work because you’d know he or she would survive. George R. R. Martin’s ability to make you care about a character and kill them will infuriate you but again, there’s such an influx of new characters that you’ll keep reading.

The plot

There are fights, politics, intrigues, betrayals and deaths. Lots of deaths. And a lot of sex. Do the people in Westeros ever wear clothes? Well, they do but sometimes it really feels like they don’t.

Ned Stark is visited by the King, who happens to be his old friend and the two fought in the war to take the crown. He’s called to the capital to serve more directly as Robert’s Hand and this is where it all starts going wrong. Bran is injured and there’s a mystery around his attacker, Jon Snow is going to the Wall. Ned’s daughters are joining him in the capital and his wife is going on an epic journey of her own from north to south and back again in search of justice.

On the other side of the waters, the last of the Targaryen’s – whose family held the Iron Throne before Robert – are looking to forge new alliances and raise an army to take back what they lost.

There’s more I could say but this is just an introduction for you. I think it’s important to point out that’s no good and evil in this book. Everyone has their own goals and agendas and they all believe in what they’re doing. Everything is grey here, rather than black and white. While you may disagree with one character or family, every action has consequences and the fact they have such conviction is refreshing.

Conventions of the fantasy genre

I’m not going to go into huge detail on this – although I think it may be worth a look at in general in the future. What you’ll discover with A Game of Thrones, and the A Song of Ice and Fire series in general, is that certain things don’t happen as you would expect. The thing is, you might not even realise you expect them to happen and this is why people are so ‘outraged’ by the amount of deaths.

Let’s take Jon Snow first. He’s the bastard son of the Warden of the North, who rules the region for the king. Fine, but because we don’t know who the mother is, and the fact that we share his point of view for much of the book, we know he’s important so we expect him to live and do great things. Then he goes to the Wall. You can still be great but it’s not what we’re used to, with such characters ending up as a ruler or with the gorgeous princess.

What about Snow’s half-brother, Bran? He’s thrown from a window and made a cripple. This generally doesn’t happen to our heroes unless they have a chance to ‘fix’ their problem. This, so far, is not possible and we’re faced with a much grittier world and story. This is quite refreshing and removes the idea that the worst injuries our protagonists will ever suffer are token scars over their eyes to make them look tough and cool.

And the TV show?

I held off from watching the TV show for a long time – I wanted to read the books first or at least at the same time – to really see the differences between them. Now, I’ll hold my hands up and tell you that there are very few times where I’ll say the books aren’t better. It’s different art forms, yes, but I’m allowed to have that level of bias – especially on this blog!

I then rushed through and watched the entire thing by the time I finished the first book of the third book (keep up!) and it is a great show but there will always be changes. Saying that, the first season holds true to the book for most of it and that’s really good – it’s not often I can say that. Going forward though, that does change.

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Maddaddam: The Story Never Really Ends

Maddaddam

Maddaddam

I’ve promised this one for a while – and I finished this book a while back but I really wanted it to sink in before I wrote this blog. That’s how much I love this book and the trilogy as a whole. Bravo, Margaret Atwood, bravo.

I’m actually sad that it’s over. I could happily read more of this world and its characters – who knows, maybe it’ll happen? – but I doubt I’ll get the chance. There is a definite ending here, which is a whole different conversation (one I’ll discuss in the future, I’ve just decided). It’s been an interesting journey starting with Oryx and Crake, continuing with The Year of the Flood and now ending with Maddaddam. The latter is why you’re here, of course, so let’s get on with it.

Feel free to catch up with my thoughts on Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, first. Also, there will be spoilers, later. Another warning will help you divert attention if you haven’t finished it yet.

This one does pick off from where we left off

Unlike with The Year of the Flood, which takes place at roughly the same time as Oryx and Crake, Maddaddam picks up more or less right after. You could almost argue that it’s not a sequel to The Year of the Flood alone but Oryx and Crake as well.

Toby continues to serve as our narrator and protagonist now, although Jimmy isn’t out of it totally, but his use is limited. You’ll remember this from the previous books and discover how he fares as you read on. Also, as with most first person stories, there’s a fair amount of bias in Maddaddam. In The Year of the Flood, Toby was fairly even and neutral but that’s changed now there are other people around and Zeb returns.

She does get a bit whiny at times but I can’t say I’m not sympathetic to her. You’ll have to let me know if you agree.

Other than that, this book is written as skilfully as the others. There isn’t a moment in any three of them that I didn’t enjoy. Once you get past the fragmentation and accustomed to the characters, it flows fantastically. You won’t even remember how clunky and confusing it was at the beginning after a while.

It’s even more fragmented

Yeah, you heard me. Both books before this were fragmented with events that happened before and events happening then. It was easily to become lost and confused with Jimmy’s and Toby’s thoughts, memories and current events.

Maddaddam goes a bit further. Here, we learn the story of Zeb throughout the book. That might not sound much different or more complicated than the others but there’s more. This story runs alongside the main one, so we’re used to that by now but following each section of Zeb’s story is a retelling of that part to the Crakers.

And there are changes.

This is a big clue to Toby’s frame of mind and character – a bigger clue than any other. Don’t glaze over these parts too because it all adds up to something in the end, which is important to all three books.

Are these spoilers?

The search for Adam One is a big part of this book and if you don’t know already, you’ll learn for definite who he actually is along the way. Is he dead or alive, though? I won’t tell you that.

While survival is still important, we are given more information about the daily life of the survivors and the things they have to deal with. This is always exciting, it’s Zeb’s story which provides more of that – along with plenty of laughs. Maddaddam will reunite old friends, kindle hope and also break your hearts. Be prepared for some emotional goodbyes because after all the work the survivors put in, this isn’t a perfect happily ever after.

It’s a satisfying conclusion all around and it shows that just because the story ends, the world does not. That’s one of the things I like most about stories – they live on in our imaginations long after the words have ended. When there are questions to be answered, we’re even more intrigued. I will return to this topic later, it’s an interesting one. For now, however, go read this book – and the others too!

Book Review: The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood

Apologies, everyone! I thought I had done a blog already on Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. If I have, then Google is going to kick my ass (uh oh, the digital marketing side is coming out. Quick, quick – get it back in the box!) but I really can’t find it so here it is. And later this month, you can look forward to my thoughts on the final book of this trilogy, Maddaddam.

The Year of the Flood is the sequel to Oryx and Crake, a book I adore that seems to be more speculative fiction than science fiction. It’s a genre that I can really get behind as it makes you think, it takes issues or technology we have – or are just developing – and wonders where it might go. Sure, there’s an aspect of that in most science fiction but it becomes a staple of this genre, or sub-genre depending on how you view. Fantastic stuff.

If you want to catch up on my thoughts on Oryx and Crake, please do so!

Two – yes, two – narrators

While Oryx and Crake focused on Jimmy and his story, both past and present, The Year of the Flood introduces us to two protagonists. These are Toby and Ren (who you should remember was a part of Jimmy’s life in the past) and the story is split between them and their own journeys.

While that’s all well and good, Atwood doesn’t give up on the history of her main characters. So, not only do we have the story from Toby and Ren to contend with but also parts of their past. This can actually make a fragmented story even harder to follow and I’d advise that you don’t try and rush this book or you’ll get lost in what’s going on very quickly. Their stories are also connected – they aren’t just random choices.

What’s important to remember, even more so than that, is that this book seems more like world building. It takes the stage and setting from Oryx and Crake and builds on it in every way. Some events are told to us again, from a different perspective and this is fascinating. Despite that, it’s not boring. It does lull you into a false sense of security and when you least expect it, the big things happen!

This one runs parallel!

Something else to keep an eye on with The Year of the Flood is that this is not a sequel. Well, it is. It’s the sequel to Oryx and Crake, as I’ve said but more importantly, it’s not a sequel in terms of the story and timeline. This book is set at roughly the same time as its predecessor so even if this is the first one you read it won’t make a massive difference.

There will be a difference in how events are portrayed, and different terms used like the waterless flood, which has a different name from Jimmy’s story. You’ll encounter these variances throughout the book if you’ve read them in order or you’ll come across them with Jimmy. They amount to the same thing.

In the end, both books are building to something else. What that is, I won’t say!

This is a fantastic book and it carries on with the high standards set in Oryx and Crake. If you’ve just read the first book, you’ll have no trouble keeping up with the switching narratives and timeframes but if it’s been a while, it may take a little time to get back into the swing. I’d recommend catching up with Oryx and Crake first but it’s not essential, just remember this story runs at the same time as that book.

Keep an eye on this space for my review on Maddaddam in a couple of weeks!

Is this the end of the Star Wars Expanded Universe?

In March last year, I wrote a blog about the Star Wars Expanded Universe and whether Disney should keep it or not. By now, we know that everything we’ve been used to is no longer canon and the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been released. I want to touch upon my favourite moments of the EU and the ones I’m happy to see go. If you want to catch up on what I said last year, visit this post first.

Star Wars EU 1

Shelf one of my Star Wars Expanded Universe collection

First things first, the trailer

Now, I don’t think JJ Abrams did too badly with the Star Trek films from the last few years. People have their issues with both of them but I quite enjoy them – they’re nothing on the originals but they’re not trying to be. Given that approach, and how well Disney has done with Marvel, I’m fairly hopeful that the next Star Wars film will be okay, at the very least.

They can’t be worse than the prequels (hopefully) and the trailer looks dark and edgy. The story will always be a conflicting point but we have very little information to go on right now. Eleven months to go but I’m hoping the next trailer will keep the momentum going.

My favourite Expanded Universe moments

Star Wars EU 2

Shelf two of my Star Wars Expanded Universe collection

I could go on about a lot of favourite moments but I’m going to choose some of my favourites. If you haven’t read a lot or are up to date, then be warned there are spoilers but since it’s not canon, does that matter to you now? Either way, here they are:

Grand Admiral Thrawn from Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy of books was probably one of the best villains outside of the original trilogy. The story made sense given the background of the Empire and their xenophobic attitudes – although this did slowly change over the years – but you really felt that Thrawn could deliver the Empire some long-term success and my only regret is that he didn’t last longer.

The Yuuzahn Vong from the New Jedi Order series of books aren’t always popular. It was a long series, seventeen books or so, but it was the kind of shakeup the Expanded Universe needed. Their fanaticism and resistance to the Force asked the heroes and readers some big questions and the characters become a lot more real in the process. Finally, this is the point where we actually see some beloved characters die and this was a shock from the first book.

The X-Wing series of books are some of my favourites in the whole of the Expanded Universe, following the adventures of Rogue and Wraith Squadrons. They are much funnier than most of the other novels and focus on a different set of characters, although our heroes do show up from time to time. Remember the Ewok pilot fiasco? No? you need to read the ninth book then. Genius – Yub yub!

Boba Fett! What’s not to love about this guy? From being swallowed by the Sarlacc to becoming a living legend, the guy has seen more of the galaxy than anyone else and still comes out on top. He might be getting on a bit but that doesn’t stop him from being a ruthless killer, fearless warrior and commanding leader. He even gave one Jedi a helping hand to stop a tyrant – so he does have a soft side. Hopefully, he’ll be just as legendary in the future.

What am I happy to see go?

Star Wars EU 3

Shelf three of my Star Wars Expanded Universe collection

There are still more spoilers here:

While the New Jedi Order did something valuable and important for the Expanded Universe, the first book killed Chewbacca! I get why they did it – and to be fair, it’s a pretty epic way to go (death by moon!) – but I’m still happy that he’s back. It tied up his story very well but who isn’t going to be happy at seeing that walking carpet back again? Exactly. Mixed feelings on this one.

Mara Jade was a very interesting character and she has developed the most throughout all characters in the Expanded Universe. From wanting to kill Luke Skywalker to eventually working with him, marrying him and having a kid with him, she’s been on quite a ride. Whether we’ll ever see Mara Jade again is anyone’s guess but at least now she isn’t dead – although she doesn’t really exist right now either.

Han and Leia’s kids really had it rough. One died during the Yuuzahn Vong war, one fell to darkness and redeemed herself and then the other one became a full on Sith Lord. Jacen Solo’s descent to darkness almost mirrored his grandfather;s, which was probably the point. It was an interesting way to come full circle again, especially as he was the one most people guessed would become the ‘next Luke.’ It might have been tragic if not predictable – especially for the person who had to stop him. One guess there.

Where next?

So, what’s next? Will there be more books to come? Are they going to continue this story or follow from the new films? What about new games and such? There are a lot of questions without answers right now and I doubt we’ll get any serious answers until at least after the film is released in December. Any thoughts or ideas, please let me know. Got any favourite or least liked parts of the EU? Share them with us.

Laters!

My Life as an Other

The Night Watch Series

The Night Watch Series

So, this is my final post on Sergei Lukyanenko’s The Night Watch series – well, unless there’s another book in the future. Rather than focus on the books themselves, as I have done in the last three in this series, I wanted to do something different. This isn’t about the films either, I’m not a fa of them and that’s not what I focus on here. Instead, I want to be a little more creative since that’s what I’m good at and you guys seem to like it.

Don’t worry; it’s not fan-fic. I just want to put myself in that world and figure out what it’d be like to be a part of it. Most of us have imagined this at some point with our favourite films, books and games, so let’s see how this goes.

Going over the basics

So, what is an Other? Simply put, they’re human beings who are able to enter the Twilight, a word made up of different levels. The magical temperature of Others is lower than a normal human, who gives off the energy consumed by the Twilight and this means they can absorb it and use it in the form of their abilities and spells. There are more technical explanations and terms, but that’s the gist of it.

Vampires and werewolves also exist but they operate under somewhat different rules. Others take on various forms, including magicians, shapeshifters, healers, witches, enchantresses, prophets, clairvoyants and many more, with male and female variants existing. Witches tend to be dark while enchantresses light and there are other rules. A Light Other will disappear into the Twilight if they do things befitting a Dark One and vice versa so there is always a risk to being an Other.

This closest example to this we see is in The Day Watch with Igor and Alisa. We don’t know how people fade into the Twilight but Alisa dies by Igor’s hand. While he is eventually found innocent, he still fades into the Twilight by his own choice. Whether this is always the case or if there are more forceful events that could make this happen is unclear.

Would I belong to the Light or Dark?

I’d like to think of myself as a decent guy, I help people when they need it and I’ve done plenty of things that I’d say, on first glance, would make me a Light Other. However, after reading these books I have to question whether I could ever live that kind of life – especially for hundreds of years.

The Dark Others are not necessarily evil. Some are, most definitely. There are plenty of them who are just going about their business and daily lives, enjoying the benefits of being an Other and having things work to their advantage – who wouldn’t want that kind of edge? I know that I would.

The big difference I’ve seen is that Dark Others put themselves first and Light Others put other people first. This is not arbitrary for every situation however and the more I think about it, the more I think that while helping people is important, especially those I care about, I can’t do anything if I’m in no position to help them in the first place.

There’s always the Inquisition, which basically keeps the balance and peace between the two sides. That’s an option and while there’s an appeal, it would take some time for me to reach that point. Even then, those in the Inquisition are still Light and Dark, they just see things differently.

Being objective about it, I’m pretty sure I’d be a Dark Other. Not an evil one (hopefully), but most likely a Dark One. Interesting.

Could I be involved in the Watch?

This is another question altogether. At first, I’d have honestly said yes. I can keep the balance between the two sides, increase my power and have a productive life. The more I read, the more jaded I got – in terms of what the Watches represent.

It’s a constant balancing act but neither side can win, wants to win or ever will win. It becomes pointless, just for show and people still die as a result. The schemers like Gesar and Zabulon are playing a game but with real Others and humans. I felt like Anton was beginning to get fed up of it by the end of The New Watch too and I think it takes a certain kind of person, Dark or Light, to be able to take part in that for such a long time.

Maybe, at first, I could be a part of it. Regardless of how strong I became, I think even I would lose interest in such a battle. Then, the idea of doing something productive in the Watch would fade away.

I could go into much more detail but I think I’ve covered enough. It’s one thing to imagine what it would be like and quite another to write myself into someone else’s story. Interesting to think about and I’d love to know your thoughts on this so please get in touch!