Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Game of Thrones: Cheat's Guide to the Folk of Series One

To my eternal fannish delight, there will be a new series of Game of Thrones, the HBO adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire this weekend. Since I’ve already promised a book review a week, I thought I’d post a preliminary catch up for anybody who feels like jumping into the series but hasn’t set foot in Westeros previously, and anybody who wants to be able to hold a conversation without suffering the pleasure of watching it.

If I have to warn you about spoilers, you shouldn’t be allowed on the internet unsupervised.

Book One/Series One

This book has the fewest viewpoint characters, and follows the Stark family fairly closely. There are a lot of older white men with beards, but don't worry if you get confused. They're not all that important. The books are told from the viewpoint of the key characters. In book one, it's these people:

Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark- Played by Sean Bean
Lord Stark- Often seen looking sternly into the middle distance
 Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. An ‘honourable man’/goody-two shoes. Best friends with the King, Robert Baratheon. They were both fostered by the late Jon Arryn, Hand of the King. Robert has travelled to Winterfell to offer him Lord Arryn’s old job. And also to weep over the tomb of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s dead sister. Ned also has a bastard son, Jon Snow, the one mark on his otherwise neat and well ironed reputation.

Things to remember: He thinks a lot about a promise he made his sister on her deathbed. His honour makes him stupid.

Lady Catelyn Stark (nee Tully)- Played by Michelle Fairley

Catelyn Stark- MLFWLF (Mother Little Finger would like to fuck)
Mother of Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon and Robb Stark, wife of Ned. She hates Jon Snow but is fiercely protective of all the Stark children.
Goes mad for a bit when her son Bran is pushed from a tower. Hates Jon Snow, Ned's Bastard, who was born when Ned was fighting in the rebellion that gained King Robert the throne. Later in the story, she arrests Tyrion Lannister for the attempt on Bran’s life and causes all kinds of trouble.

Things to remember: Lord Peter Baelish (Littlefinger) is in love with her.

Sansa Stark- Played by Sophie Turner

I love Sansa. Don't care what anyone says.
The eldest Stark girl. She’s a real little Lady, and delighted to be betrothed to Prince Joffrey. While many think Sansa vacuous and stupid (Joffrey is a cruel,  simpering fuckwit whose only redeeming feature is his mother’s money) she’s actually one of the more cunning Starks and you see her develop a genius armour against the poison of the Lannisters at court. Has a direwolf named Lady. It’s executed because Prince Joffrey is a bellend.

Things to remember: Sandor Clegane (The Hound) has a soft spot for her.

Arya Stark-Played by Maisie Williams

The youngest Stark girl. Basically all you need to know is that she’s a badass. With a sword. Also, the only character to have a POV chapter in each book so far. Has a direwolf named Nymeria. Has to chase it away into the woods because Prince Joffrey is a bellend.

Things to remember: The Writer of this Blog has a soft spot for her.

Bran Stark- Played by Isaac Hempstead-Wright

Kind of annoying. Get him, horse!
Pushed out of a window by Ser Jaime Lannister, The Kingslayer. Now crippled. Given charge of Winterfell when the eldest Stark, Robb, goes to war. Has a Direwolf called Summer.

Things to remember: Has weird dreams. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.

Jon Snow- Played by Kit Harrington

As cheerful as he gets. 

Ned Stark’s bastard son. Goes to the wall. Hates the cold. Bit of a whiner. Makes friend with Samwell Tarly, cutest dude ever. Has a Direwolf called Ghost.

Things to remember: He talks about being a bastard a lot.

Tyrion Lannister- Played by Peter Dinklage

Tyrion Lannister- Baddest of Asses.

AKA Tyrion the Imp. Younger sibling of Queen Cersei and Ser Jaime. He reads, drinks and whores a lot. Once loved a woman named Tysha. His father and brother revealed she was a whore hired to trick him. He’s all bitter now.

Things to remember: Lannisters always pay their debts.

Daenerys Targaryen- Played by Emilia Clarke

Fire and Blood, but mostly fire.

AKA Daenerys Stormborn - The last of the Targaryen bloodline, along with her insane brother Viserys. Daenerys is sold as a wife to Khal Drogo, a Dothraki horselord. Her brother expects an army in return. At the end of this book/series, she becomes the mother of three dragons. Viserys is killed by Drogo for being a little shit.

Things to remember: fire cannot kill a dragon.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

There are three reasons I choose to buy a book. A Daughter of Smoke and Bone met all three criteria. It was in the Sci-fi/Fantasy section, the title was sufficiently dramatic and the cover art was pretty. Anybody familiar with my reviews should also be familiar with my love of judging books by their covers. They’re generally a good reflection of content.

In this case, I was right. The book is fantasy, it’s dramatic and it’s pretty. Do I love it as much as I could? No. Let’s read the blurb!


The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen year old art student in Prague, on the other the errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in Elsewhere, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work- buying teeth from hunters and murderers- nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life, and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

Now, here’s a young blue haired girl (crazy!) in Prague (romantic!) studying art (naturally!). There’s the handsome ex, the plucky best friend and the magical secret. Sounds good! However, romance is present! I'm highly allergic. It brings me out in Meh. Karou’s creepy ex has a “handsome-but-grabby” vibe, while  shiny-mystery-man Akiva is a killer. Clearly, this is fiction, but this is where young girls get the idea that 'bad boys' can be redeemed by ~*true love*~. In my experience, few sane women ever say: 'He’s genuinely dangerous! I’m quivering…especially in my loins!'

You've killed how many people??
No. The idea that true love has to verge on a suicide pact is a trope I dislike more than any other, and it’s reeeeally common. Smoke and Bone isn’t the worst offender by any means, but I find the idea icky. 

Smoke and Bone is one to avoid if you’re getting bored of dramatic and beautiful people. Karou and Akiva, are powerful, magical and most importantly, sexy. The people surrounding Karou are, of course, much less attractive than she is. Karou deliberately sabotages a love rival, not by making her escape to a convent or fall off a cliff, but by making her ugly. Despite protests to the contrary, Karou obviously cares that she's purdy. Can we have a badass who isn’t also smoking hot? Apparently no. One questionable trope is fine, but I LOVE MURDER-MAN and LOOKS ARE EVERYTHING together provided a niggle that I couldn’t push aside.

Despite my misgivings I wandered along with the story. My wandering was facilitated by the fact that there’s a central mystery and a plot that doesn’t feel like an afterthought post-romance. Smoke and Bone has the Teeth Mystery™, for example, which is weird and chilling. Karou has friends, talents and ambitions and flesh her out and make her feel real, albeit somewhat perfect and shiny. Not quite a Mary Sue. Regardless of my disdain for romance, the story is compelling and well written. There’s a genuine sense of peril at times but also a belly laugh or five when Karou is joking with her friends. The romantic element stems mostly from the backstory, and for a backstory it has very little sense of “Just...just because! Okay?!” Which is something, at least. 

At first I dismissed the Mary Sue hints I was getting from Karou this as part of the magic. She’s 17 and has some powers - of course she would have blue hair and an excellent life. But then it transpires she was always super beautiful and awesome, even in the Kingdom of Backstory, and then it’s a little harder to swallow. It bothers me, especially with fantasy characters. The world is magical and amazing, if the protagonist is also magical and amazing, but protests all the while that they aren’t, it sounds plastic.

I know I’ve harped on, but I really enjoyed this. I just can’t in good faith say it’s everything it could be. It’s got all the problems that a lot of stories with female protagonists have. The story was awesome, and it was a quick, satisfying read, but it left me feeling disappointed that I couldn’t rave about it.

To the cover reviews:

‘WOW. I wish I had written this book.’
Patrick Rothfuss
If you're familiar with my Name of the Wind review, it's clear that this actually explains a lot. The things that bother me about Karou are the things that bother me about Kvothe. I love them a hate way.

‘A mesmerising novel on an epic scale.’
Mesmerising, sure! But, epic is like...I could kill someone with this book, its papery bulk intimidates me. A grand story told on a grand scale. This isn't an epic, just a great story. Calm down, Glamour, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Maybe the trilogy overall will be an epic- what will you say then?!

‘Remarkable and beautifully written… The opening volume of a truly original trilogy.’ 
Pretty much, Guardian! *high five*

‘Trust us, it's brilliant.’

So, overall, I give A Daughter of Smoke and Bone 3.5 Mell-heads. There was romance, but I enjoyed it. What more can you ask for, really?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien

I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings, so when JRR Tolkien released this novelisation of the films, I was really excited. There are some things you just can’t capture on film, you know? In a brave move he has decided to take one of the biggest movie trilogies of all time and translate it into the written word. Bold.

I’m kidding. But I have this pendulous guilt around my neck about having seen the films before I read the book. Lord of the Rings is the only example of that in my book-world. I’ve tried. I really have. I attempted The Hobbit years ago, but didn’t get too far before lists of dwarves started to piss me off. Various attempts at the trilogy haven't gone much better. It's like in Deathly Hallows where they’re camping, they’re lost and it just won’t end. Except, instead of being several chapters of tedium, this is a whole damned trilogy.

The thing that finally propelled me to give it another go was, essentially, a lack of internet. In my desperation and sheer stimulus craving madness, I watched Peter Jackson’s film, the whole Director’s Cut Super Sexy Special Addition in a day. That’s 12 hours of Lords and Rings. I love those films, and I have to believe the books that inspired them are worth a read, somewhere in there. They must be. So, after my traditional “Frodo’s gone to the West” weeping was over, I added Fellowship to my Kindle and started reading. 

I'm sad that can't enjoy this trilogy objectively as a new fan. I recognise the changes made between book and film, but there’s no sense of betrayal or scandal. First of all, because I'm a film fan already, and secondly, a lot of the changes make sense to me. I know for a fact it’d be different if I'd read the books first. I feel like a fraud. 

Worst of all, I feel like one of those idiots who decides just to wait for the film, because it’s easier. And even worse than worst of all, I really am one of those idiots. At least, I am when it comes to Lord of the Rings.

The bits that didn’t make the film (Tom Bombadil, for example) were worth having read just to know what I’d missed. The camaraderie of the fellowship was heartwarming, but otherwise, more often than not, the book was just bewildering. Big swathes of Frodo not knowing what to do, but not getting any further in his thought process so it's just wasted time. In the past when I've heard “Oh, yeah, Tolkien needed an editor” I underestimated the extent to which he seriously needed a fucking editor.

As a fantasy fanatic, I will keep on with the series. I feel obliged. I recognise the extent to which the genre is indebted to it and how much I am indebted to the genre. However, that’s also like recognising that a Bugatti Veyron is indebted to the inventor of the wheel. Functionally, they do the same thing, but the execution has become far more powerful and elegant. 

I give 3 Mell-Heads.