Monthly Archives: April 2011

TV Review: Game of Thrones, S01E02 – The Kingsroad

Show: Game of Thrones
NymeriaChannel: HBO
Episode: S01E02 – The Kingsroad
Original Air Date: 24 April 2011

Paths diverge in the second episode, as much of the Stark family and all of their guests depart from Winterfell, either for the Wall or for points South, leaving behind Robb, Cat, (Rickon, presumably, though we’ve yet to really see him), and Bran, still unconscious. Meanwhile, Dany and Viserys take off with the Dothraki, leaving Pentos (and civilisation) behind. So this episode is largely one of leavings and farewells — which is a bit interesting, for the second episode of a series. We meet everyone, see their relationships to each other, figure out how they’re all connected, only to see the ties severed

Tyrion, as I suspect will be true throughout the series, steals a lot of scenes. I giggled at him waking up in a bed of Australian shepherds in his first scene, and then he is so adorable with Tommen and Myrcella — both of whom are also lovely and charming, and who I hope we see more of. I love that Tommen giggles at all of Tyrion’s vulgar jokes. They seem to be keeping more of Tyrion’s dialogue intact than anyone else’s, and I’m so glad for that, because he has one of the strongest, most distinct voices in the series. It would be a damn shame to lose his snark.

But, seriously, watching Tyrion bitchslap Joffrey will Never Get Old. Here, enjoy a gif:

bitchslap

Hee.

Now then — They inserted a scene of Cersei “sympathising” with Cat, and, of course, we’re all wondering — did that first child of hers really die of a fever, or did Cersei poison it? I’m going with poison. I suspect this scene exists to establish the idea of Robert’s heirs having that famous coal-black hair. Meanwhile, Cat does despondent and tragically-obsessive quite well, which is good, since she’ll be doing a fair bit of that throughout the series. I’ll give her this, though, she puts up a damn good fight when it comes to the assassin.

I appear to be one of the few people in fandom not squeeing over the Jaime-Jon scene, and I suppose it’s because… I don’t quite know why it exists. These two characters never interact again. Not for the next four seasons, anyway. And it’s not as though they waste a lot of time thinking about each other. So, what’s the point? Just to set up more Stark-Lannister animosity? To preface the idea of the disdain the southron hold for the Night’s Watch? I’m just not sure. And not being a slash fan, I didn’t find it titillating for that reason, so, it didn’t do much for me. The Jon and Arya scene, on the other hand? Freaking adorable. I can’t decide whether I’m glad or not that they toned down the rancor in the scene between Jon and Cat, over Bran.

The episode moves fairly quickly through the events on the Kingsroad. I’m glad to see that more of the backstory gets revealed here, since I was concerned about that. We hear more about Rhaegar, more about the blurry events behind Robert’s Rebellion and the exile of the Targaryens, and we see how bloodthirstily blind Robert is when it comes to them.

We don’t see much of the kids on the road, so the Joffrey-Arya clash comes up fast, and the subsequent trial moves apace as well. This section of plot really kills any sympathy I might have for Robert having to deal with the poisonous nest of Lannisters. He’s just a coward, too pathetic to do what he knows is right, too apathetic to deal with his son and heir appropriately, too selfish to show any loyalty to the friend he’s dragging out away from home. Lady’s death saddened me, but I wonder if it would’ve had as much of an impact if I hadn’t read the book — we really only see Sansa with Lady in the one preceding scene (and I do think it’s telling that Sansa keeps Lady on a leash). What broke my heart more was actually having to see Arya driving Nymeria away. That’s something you only hear about in the book, so actually seeing it makes it so much worse — especially because we did see a bit more of Nymeria and her personality.

As sorry as I feel for poor Lady, though, I don’t feel the least bit sorry for Sansa. She brought that on herself. She sold out her sister and lied for the sake of that sniveling weasel Joffrey. She deserves everything she gets. (But, fun fact — Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa, ended up adopting the dog that portrays Lady, so the real-life story has a very happy ending).

I also find myself wondering how they’re going to handle the direwolves getting, well, bigger. They’re practically full-sized dogs already, and since they are, in fact, using real dogs for the filming… I wonder what sort of film trickery they’ll employ to make it seem like they keep growing. I enjoyed that they didn’t pull punches, though, when it came to showing Summer savaging the would-be assassin. I also love how Summer calms right down when the job’s done, all like, “What? Naptime now.”

And where the hell is Ghost?

Harry Lloyd continues to do a fantastic job with Viserys, so much so that he’s somehow making him less of the arrogant, entitled pissant and more just sort of pathetically deluded. It’s a nice touch, especially since otherwise I think he and Joffrey could quickly become redundant. I love Dany and her handmaidens. Getting to hear “It is known” makes me giggle, and I have to say, I really hope that phrase catches on.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Dany and Doreah and the sex instructions. Gratuitous lesbian visuals? Blatant fanservice? Maybe. But I liked it. I liked Doreah actually having something to do, because she’s very appealing, and I enjoy seeing a friendship grow between her and Dany. If that continues, it’ll also give Dany an outlet to convey some of those inner thoughts that were so close-kept in the first episode, and thus will explicate her to the audience more. I also like that you got to see a bit of fire out of Dany there — a hint of things yet to come, even though she’s still clearly not fully comfortable seizing the power which is her right. There’s still something deeply problematic about her relationship with Drogo, with how they’re portraying it, but we’ll have to see where that goes. Because it started out so brutal, I feel like if they try to make it look like it turns into love, what it’s really going to look like is Stockholm Syndrome.

As a final thought — I know a lot of people have talked about the opening credits sequence, how amazing it is, Emmy nominations, etc. But has anyone else taken a close look at what’s inscribed on the metallic bands enveloping the sun-like thing? Because… they tell the backstory. If you know what you’re looking for, that is, otherwise they’re pretty vague. But it begins with a volcano erupting (which is what we’ve all presumed at least part of the Doom of Old Valyria to be), and then — a dragon, and what looks like what might be waves — the migration of the Targaryens. In the second section (following the view of Winterfell), you see a stag, a wolf, and a gryphon tearing apart a three-headed dragon — referring to Robert’s Rebellion (though I don’t quite know the significance of the gryphon there, since the only gryphon-sigil I can think of is Connington, who was on Rhaegar’s side, and who isn’t a major figure besides; maybe it’s just a lion, which would make a lot more sense, but its head looks awfully beak-y). Third section, the stag crowned, haloed, with lots of other animals bowing down. It’s possible everyone else noticed this on the first run, and I’m just an idiot for not having noticed it in the first episode, but I’m kind’a geeking out over here.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, by Kim Harrison

Title: The Good, the Bad, and the UndeadGood Bad Undead
Author: Kim Harrison
Year of Publication: 2005
Length: 453 pages
Genre: urban fantasy/magical realism
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 3 stars

If I keep reading this series, it will be entirely for Trent Kalamack.

I totally called it, by the way. His secret, I mean, the mystery of what he is. Called it back in book one, because, let’s face it, there’s only one supernatural species with that kind of charm. And so I find him fascinating. He’s my favourite thing in the series (especially since Jenks and Matalina didn’t figure as strongly in this book as they did in the first). Smooth, suave, genteel yet ruthless, unflappable yet intense — it all makes for a delicious anti-hero.

I still have trouble with Rachel as a heroine. The sheer number of times someone says to her, “This is a bad idea, here are the reasons why, how about we wait five minutes to form a better plan?” and she then blindly charges off, it’s just absurd. It’s hard to sympathize when bad things happen to her, because she so blatantly invites them all in. I also still feel like the rules of the world aren’t clearly enough defined. Whether that’s because Harrison hasn’t defined them for herself or because she’s holding them back, I don’t know. It’s getting a bit better as Rachel explores ley line magic, because that forces some definitions into the narrative, but there’s still so much that’s maddeningly vague. Like, how is it that some humans can use the same magic as witches? It seems to take them a lot more effort, but it sort of feels like that ability ought to be what makes witches… witches. And there are still a lot of blurry lines around the edges of the alternate history and the Turn and just how the Inderlanders kept society together, not to mention how it’s currently operating. This all sort of hovers in the background without much explication, enough to be interesting, not enough to keep from frustrating me.

The plot is also fairly uneven. The bits with Piscary and Ivy don’t twine together with the “witch-killer” plot as well as they probably ought to, and the “witch-killer” plot itself never has all that much power behind it. We learn about too much of it in retrospect, rather than actually feeling the mounting tension of a serial killer at work in the shadows. It’s precisely the sort of thing that the Pendergast series does so well, but Harrison doesn’t do it at all here. One of her perpetual problems seems to be that of telling rather than showing, which is a guaranteed story-killer.

I can tell that Harrison is improving, though. I’m just not sure it’s enough, or that it’s happening quickly enough, to hold my attention. But, the steamy scenes in this book are a lot more enticing than in the first. The moment where Ivy snaps and offers to make Rachel her scion is hot and heavy, and the following sex scene with Rachel and Nick is pretty good as well. And then there’s the epic tease with Kisten in the elevator. And, like I said, there has been some improvement in the world-building.

Overall… I’ll probably given the third book a go, but I’m in no rush. This series is so far good enough for idle entertainment, but it’s not winning me over as a true and dedicated fan so far.

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TV Review: Game of Thrones, S01E01 – Winter is Coming

Show: Game of Thrones
S01E01 - DanyChannel: HBO
Episode: S01E01 – Winter is Coming
Original Air Date: 17 April 2011

I figured, while I’m waiting to acquire Episode 2 in a completely legitimate and not at all suspicious fashion, I would take the time to pen my thoughts about last week’s Episode 1. This review will be filled with spoilers, both for the book and the tv show. Consider yourself forewarned.

The first twenty minutes of this actually didn’t have much new — the first fourteen minutes had nothing at all new, in fact, if you watched the earlier preview, and even the bit following that we’d seen much of before. HBO threw a lot of Winterfell action at us early on — but that’s okay, because it’s so darn good. The opening is creepy as all hell, and I suspect some viewers will be wondering if they’re watching a fantasy series or a paranormal horror flick. Just when you thought the Others couldn’t get any scarier, HBO makes one of them a little girl. Thanks a lot, guys, I didn’t need to sleep or anything.

The opening credits sequence is awesome and I sort of want to live inside it.

The direwolf puppies are incredibly precious, but — and here’s the first “They changed it!” whine you’ll get from me — I wish Jon had gotten his line about the albino pup being his, rather than Theon making it a condemnation. I wanted to see Jon’s possessiveness over Ghost. It changes something to have it be someone else’s proclamation. I was definitely wanting them to show the wolves just around some more, too. Except for Bran’s (as-yet-unnamed Summer), we don’t really see any of them in attendance with their Stark counterparts.

The story really starts to open up with the Lannisters et al arrive. Mark Addy is perfect as Robert Baratheon, who I’ve always envisioned as a Henry VIII analog. I’m uncomfortably attracted to Jaime Lannister, and I really enjoy Lena Headey as Cersei. I know some have expressed their reservations about her, but I think she’s great. Cersei is a stone-cold bitch. We don’t see the crazy start to come out in full force until much later in the books — here at the beginning, she’s an ice queen with a heart of steel. And Lena’s portraying that really well. And then there’s Tyrion, who hasn’t actually had all that much to do yet, but who still steals scenes. Peter Dinklage is, as everyone suspected, perfect, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.

Now, this could be the downside of being so familiar with the books, but I really felt like they went light on the backstory. It seems like they skimped on things that those of us who have read the books all know, but they didn’t really explicate that much for new viewers — So if you’re new to the series, what you get is this: We know that Robert killed someone for something to do with Ned’s sister (did they even say her name? I know they didn’t say Rhaegar’s, because I was waiting to hear it pronounced) and still dreams about it and is clearly super-upset, but we don’t really know why. We know that Ned’s gone to war for Robert more than once. Theon isn’t explained at all, he’s just kind’a… there. Did they even mention that Jaime is the Kingslayer? Or mention the Kingsguard and its attendant vows?

I mean, obviously, this sort of complex backstory is super-hard to fit in without it being all exposition city, and that would be as much of an error and probably a more fatal one for the show — I’m just vaguely worried a lot of it might get glossed or left out completely. And it’s not like the backstory is unimportant — it’s really the underpinning for everything. A lot of the dynamics, the family relationships, the old rivalries, those are all hard to understand if you don’t know why they came about. But maybe they’ll seed it all as they go along in future episodes.

Alternatively, this could be me being too sensitive thanks to how much I heart Lyanna.

They are setting up the Stark-Lannister rivalry really well, though. I enjoyed just feeling the awkwardness with Cersei and Catelyn, while Robert’s doing something inappropriate or when they’re talking to Sansa. I think I was also unnecessarily entertained by Robb’s reaction to Sansa making eyes at Joffrey. Sansa comes off as such a spoiled brat in this first episode, and I wonder if they’re going to make it any easier to like her as the series goes on. I am not a fan of Sansa’s in the books, but I was thinking the series might make her more appealing — instead, I feel like sympathies are definitely weighted toward Arya. I’m sort of okay with that, though, because Maisie Williams might be the best thing happening on that screen. She’s such a delight to watch.

A lot of folk have been sort of hard on Daenerys in this first episode, but I think Emilia Clarke is doing a great job — she’s conveying something that it’s really, really hard to get across when you don’t have the benefit of an internal monologue, that sense of taking yourself away from the present because too much about it is too difficult to handle. Dany doesn’t have confidantes in these early parts of her story. There’s no one for her to talk to, no one that she can spill her inner thoughts to for the benefit of an audience. So we have to get all of that from implication, and it’s tough. I think it’s going to pay off, though — I think all of her passivity and blankness in this first episode is going to explode into action later on, and that will allow the TV medium to show her transformation really effectively. I also enjoyed Harry Lloyd’s performance as Viserys — I knew he’d be great for it after having seen him in Doctor Who. He hits the perfect notes of inappropriate, entitled, angry, and pathetic, all mixed together.

And then the last scene — It’s another place I feel like there was stuff left out that should’ve been there, because what Jaime and Cersei say is as important as the fact that they’re screwing. Bran doesn’t know what he’s hearing, of course, but it provides so much for the audience about what the Lannisters are up to, just how deep their treason goes. “The things I do for love” was just perfect, though — so casual, with just a touch of loathing, and such a brutal, undramatic shove. Great ending to the episode — and I can only imagine what viewers new to the series thought about it.

So! I’m excited to keep watching. I can’t really make a full judgment on the series yet, and I do feel like the first twenty minutes or so sort of dragged, but there’s enough good stuff there that I’m eagerly awaiting E02.

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Libertine’s Kiss, by Judith James

Title: Libertine’s Kiss
Author: Judith James
Year of Publication: 2010Libertine's Kiss
Length: 384 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: New book and a new author
Rating: 4 stars

I’ve been saying for a while that I wish more historical romance authors would plumb new, under-explored eras for their potential. The overwhelming majority of historical romances are Regency romances — and there’s nothing wrong with those, I adore them (clearly), but they do make up a hefty chunk of the market. What’s left tends to be vague medieval tales — often not set with any specific historical framework in mind, but dropped rather blindly into Ye Olde Englande or Bonny Scotland, with only the vaguest gesture at authenticity. Others will wander a little later, heading on through the Victorian era (Lisa Kleypas has done this particularly well) — but by and large, Regencies still seem to rule the roost.

Libertine’s Kiss takes place in one of the eras I’ve long considered ripe for the plucking: Restoration England, just following the return of lively, lusty Charles II to the throne. Far from being a stable and ever-growing empire, England’s just coming out of a few decades of civil war, and that turmoil sets the backdrop for Libertine’s Kiss. Elizabeth and William were childhood friends, verging on sweethearts, but the political upsets separated them, and so when, years later, William stumbles into the house of a Puritan widow, wounded and seeking aid, he doesn’t recognize her. She knows him, though, and they share a steamy night together (and you’ve got to love a book that gets to the sex less than 30 pages in). They get separated again, though, and as the political wheel turns, Lizzie loses her lands and wealth thanks to her father’s sympathies once the royalists are back in power. She goes to court to appeal to King Charles for redress of her grievances… only to discover William again.

What I love about this is that it’s romance with a dark side, romance with a seedy underbelly. There are not nice and neat sets of rules to be obeyed like in Regency romances. Preserving one’s reputation is far less of a concern. Indeed, a girl can hardly count herself as being worth notice unless there’s some scandal attached to her name — as Elizabeth Walters discovers. And both the characters have some psychological trauma — Lizzie from an abusive spouse, William from an abusive tutor in his childhood. Both of them are, in a way, damaged goods, but it’s William who has the more visible scars — he drinks too much, he’s a shameless rake (not a toothless breed as in Regency romances, but here a real seducer and debaucher), he has a scathing and vicious wit… and yet, underneath all of that, you can still see the hero. It’s nice to see an author not flinch from giving this sort of depth to the characters, to let a story go to those dark places.

Despite the darkness, this book is a lot of fun — especially once Lizzie decides to make the best of the situation and enjoy herself as a merry widow. Lizzie and William both have a lot of hurt and a lot of pain in their pasts, but you can see them helping each other back to the light. They have to face their demons, and once they do — fireworks. Literally. 😉

The book is populated with some of the other wonderful (and real) characters of the era — Samuel Pepys, Barbara Palmer, and King Charles himself. James also weaves in some fantastic poetry, much of it borrowed from the fantastic Earl of Rochester, others from Robert Herrick, John Donne, Edmund Spenser, and so on. It’s nice to see an author relying on verse that isn’t Shakespeare’s — much though I do love Shakespeare, it’s almost become a cliche in historical romances to use his lines as supplements. James shows a lot of creativity, particularly in how she weaves the story of Britomart from The Faerie Queene into Lizzie and William’s story, and she proves herself quite well-read. My favourite poetic insertion:

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction–
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher–
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly–
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat–
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility–
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

William recites this to Lizzie while explaining to her the court fashion to appear a bit disheveled — another nice touch, showing that James knows her sartorial details as well. And I love Restoration clothes — curls and ribbons and fripperies, all designed to look as though they’re about to fall right off. It’s the sort of lush indulgence that permeates the atmosphere of the whole book. James’s writing style is particularly well-suited for this time period, as she gives herself over to the sort of heady descriptions and sensuous delights that the folk of the Restoration court so appreciated.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’d love to see more of its ilk out on the market. I recommend this book to anyone who’s looking to break out of the standard fare of historical romance. With James, you get the Happy Ever After, but you have to endure quite a bit more to get there. If you’re up for a bumpier, darker, and altogether thrilling ride, Libertine’s Kiss might be just the thing.

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When He Was Wicked, by Julia Quinn

Title: When He Was Wicked (Bridgerton #6)WhenHeWasWicked
Author: Julia Quinn
Year of Publication: 2004
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Regency romance
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 4 stars

This book has probably my favourite opening of any romance novel ever.

In every life there is a turning point.  A moment so tremendous, so sharp and clear that one feels as if one’s been hit in the chest, all the breath knocked out, and one knows, absolutely knows that one’s life will never be the same.

Isn’t that gorgeous? And it makes for such an effective opening, because there’s something so seductive about that description. All of us want to experience that moment, we yearn for that earth-shaking realisation — and JQ socks us with it from the beginning. It sets the stage admirably — so much of the book has that half-dizzied, half-stricken feeling to it. It’s simultaneously such high drama but also so real. When He Was Wicked, start to finish, doesn’t flinch away from some of the darker and more difficult aspects of what it means to be in love.

What struck me most about When He Was Wicked on this re-read is how much more of a mature story it is than most romance novels. The heroine isn’t a debutante, not a virgin — she’s a widow. She’s known love, and she’s known loss. The hero is an unabashed rake, but not your usual variety — he’s been suffering for years, stifling his emotions, because he’s in love with his cousin’s wife. It’s a complex situation, with a lot more pre-existing entanglements than most romance novels spin together.

And that’s the crux of our conflict. There are some other points — Francesca’s first husband dies, leaving Michael to inherit an earldom he never expected to have. To escape it (and Francesca), he runs away to India for a few years (and contracts malaria while he’s here). But plot definitely isn’t what drives this book: it’s all the characters and their emotions, as Frannie and Michael struggle with their feelings for each other and the guilt that those feelings create. Because they both loved John (Frannie’s first husband, the former Earl) so much, they have to convince themselves that he would approve of them being together. When He Was Wicked is one of the slower-paced Bridgerton novels, but not in a bad way. The stakes aren’t dire, but the emotions are so strong. This isn’t a light-hearted romp; the currents run deep.

Honestly, in a lot of ways, this book is sort of the “one of these things is not like the other” of the Bridgerton series — which is appropriate, since Francesca admits that, though she loves her family, she doesn’t always feel like she fits in with them. She’s the sly one, the quiet one, and throughout the series, she’s always been more on the periphery. She also spends less time in her book with her family than any of the other Bridgertons do — much of the plot takes place with Frannie and Michael up in Scotland. It’s still a Bridgerton book, though — you couldn’t remove that element and have the same story. The focus on family is still very strong in a way that I associate more with the Bs than with any other romance novel family, and the scene where Violet and Frannie discuss what it’s like to lose a husband is one of the more tender and lovely moments that JQ’s ever written.

This book also has probably some of my favourite sex scenes in Regency romances. They’re so sensual and lush, really heady. You feel a little lust-drugged just reading them. Also, the advantage of your heroine not being a virgin is that you get a lot more, ah, creativity, right from the get-go. She takes charge, she knows what she wants and what she likes — Of course, since Michael is our hero, he does get to introduce her to some new things and please her in new ways. (And I love getting to skip over the absurdity of the hymen myth, since that never fails to bother me). I had forgotten how much I like Michael as a hero, too — You get so much of his viewpoint, spending a lot of time inside his head. The funny thing is I can’t even put a finger on why I like him so much — there’s just something very appealing about him.

Overall, I really enjoy this book. It’s not one of my fave Bridgertons, but I’m still very fond of it. Another hearty recommendation, particularly to anyone who likes her romance novels deeply emotional.

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A Game of Thrones, by George R R Martin

Title: Game of ThronesGame of Thrones  (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
Author: George R R Martin
Year of Publication: 2005
Length: 835 pages
Genre: fantasy
New or Re-Read?: Re-read in anticipation of the HBO series starting
Rating: 4 very solid stars

Be ye forwarned: This review is going to be long. I’m also splitting it into two sections: Spoiler-Free and Spoiler-Full. Mostly because I just don’t know how to talk about so much of this book without spoilers.

Spoiler-Free Section

I’m going to try to avoid giving the same review that, well, everyone else on the planet has. Yes; A Game of Thrones is not your grandfather’s fantasy series. Rather than good and evil, we have every conceivable shade of grey. No hero is without fault, and no villain is without… Okay, almost no villain is without some hint of redemption. (I hold severe reservations about Cersei and Lord Frey, for a start). GRRM doesn’t pull punches, and no one is safe — up to and including children and pets. Westeros is a far harsher world than most fantasy series exist in — its as much a political thriller as it is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Especially in this first book, the sorcery aspect is subtly played — rumors, myths, legends, long-forgotten things which no one quite believes in any more.

Okay, so, the requisite summary — And all I can really do without spoilers is tell you how things stand at the beginning of the book: Robert Baratheon is King of the Seven Kingdoms, after overthrowing the previously ruling Targaryen dynasty. He rebelled when the crown prince, Rhaegar, absconded with Robert’s fiancee, Lyanna, the younger sister of Robert’s best friend, Ned Stark. Ned lives up North, close to the Wall, which separates the Seven Kingdoms from the wilds and wastelands (where, we learn in the prologue, an ancient supernatural evil appears to have awakened). Ned has a wife, Catelyn, five children (Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon), and a bastard (Jon). He also has a brother, Benjen, who is a brother of the Night Watch, who guard the Wall. Robert has, for fifteen years now, lived in King’s Landing, towards the south of the continent, with his wife Cersei (Lyanna died in, er, mysterious circumstances before the end of the war). Cersei was born a Lannister, the ruling family in western territories. Robert asks Ned to come serve as the Hand of the King, and despite deep misgivings, Ned agrees. Further complexities ensue thanks to Cersei’s brothers, her twin Jaime (a member of the Kingsguard, who betrayed and murdered Aerys) and the dwarf Tyrion (snarky and smart as a whip). The last Targaryens, meanwhile, are in exile across the Narrow Sea, where heir Viserys is about to sell his sister Daenerys into bridal slavery to a horselord.

And oh yeah. The Targaryens used to have dragons.

Yeah, this book is so complex that even the briefest summary is that long. That gives you a good indication of the depth of the story, though — it has a true cast of thousands, which can be a little mind-boggling at first. The trick is just to let it all wash over you, refer to the index if necessary, and wait for GRRM to draw your attention to the people who are really important. You can notice the rest on re-reads. 😉

This series is also fun for a history geek, because there are a lot of parallels between Martin’s invented history and the history of England. Stark v Lannister pretty strongly resembles York v Lancaster in a lot of ways, the Wall and the wildlings show some inspiration from Hadrian and the Picts, and the “Dance of the Dragons” which is hinted at in this book and talked about a little more elsewhere has correlations to the civil war between Stephen and Maud in the mid-12th century. So there’s an added level of entertainment for readers like me.

Spoiler-Full Zone

Re-reading this book is a trip, because you notice all the things that GRRM seeds so.goddamn.early! Hey, Prince Doran’s hedging his bets. Hey, there’s Barristan Selmy! Hey, they’re talking about Mance Rayder! Hey, Illyrio is talking about the Lord of Light! So many little tidbits thrown out that pay off later.

I noticed this on my last re-read as well, but I become increasingly convinced of the Rhaegar+Lyanna=Jon theory. It’s just… blatant, once you’re aware of it. Nothing in Ned’s memories or fever dreams about Lyanna makes the slightest bit of sense otherwise. And how much he hesitates every time Robert talks about how sweet and biddable Lyanna was and what a great marriage they would’ve had. What concerns me is that GRRM may flounce. Like, since so many fans have guessed that twist, that he’ll change it midway through the game (and, potentially, that’s why DwD was such a struggle for him to get through — because he had to change his initial plans).

Here’s another question I can’t quite figure out: Why does Westeros consider the Targaryens such a big deal? Why is everyone so hung up on them? I mean, I love the Targs, don’t get me wrong. But they were only around for 300 years. Less than that in the North and in Dorne. Yes, they united the Seven Kingdoms, but… for such a fractionally small part of history. I mean, we are talking about a land where (against all probability, language development, and genetic drift), families have had the same names and lived in the same territories for between 1000 and 8000 years. Is it just that they’re so recent? Folk certainly act like they were a much longer institution than they were. How did they come to so thoroughly dominate in such a short time? I find this odd.

I think the easiest way to compose my thoughts will be POV-character-by-POV-character. The first thing that strikes me, looking at these, is how narrow the scope is in this first book compared to later ones. Mind, I think GRRM widens the field far too much in A Feast for Crows (Greyjoys? Really? I’m supposed to care?) But here, 6 of 8 POV characters come from the same family. Our only alternate views come from Tyrion, member of the enemy family to the other 6, and Daenerys, far across the Narrow Sea. Compare this to 5 of 9 in A Clash of Kings, 5 of 10 in A Storm of Swords, and only 2 of 12 in A Feast for Crows, and, well, you see how the story expands outwards.

But, as far as A Game of Thrones goes, we have:

Ned: Eddard Stark, and his indefatigable honour, which pretty much gets everyone dead or in dire peril. Seriously! Most of the problems in these books can be linked to Ned Stark doing what’s “right” instead of what’s smart. I increasingly feel like the winners of this whole series will be the people who can balance honour and pragmatism. People who have no honour at all are villains, and we need to see them fail eventually, even if it takes a while. People with too much honour make idiotic mistakes that get people killed. The characters who are going to triumph, I feel, are those who choose to be honourable when they can be… but who aren’t willing to sacrifice everything for it, who would rather be practical than dead. Ned isn’t one of those people. Ned makes very poor decisions. What’s strange is that, as much as I know his execution shocked me the first time around (mainly due to the thought that POV characters aren’t meant to bite it), on re-read, he seems pretty much doomed from the start. There’s this black cloud that follows him around from the second he hears Robert is headed up the kingsroad to visit him.

Cat: Catelyn Stark, nee Tully, wife to Eddard, daughter to Hoster, sister to Edmure and (crazy-ass) Lysa. I have never liked Cat, and I’ve never made much of a secret about it. What really rubbed me the wrong way about her this time around, though, besides her catastrophically stupid decision to kidnap Tyrion Lannister without good cause, is her treatment of Jon. From the very beginning, she treats him like dirt on the bottom of her shoe. And I just don’t get it. Yes, I can understand being upset about having to house your husband’s bastard. But it’s been fifteen years. Shouldn’t she have reached some peace about that by now? I mean, this is a kid that’s a) not responsible for how he was begotten, b) her eldest son’s best friend, and c) a good influence on her younger children. Why so much hate? Apart from that — yeah, the catastrophically stupid mistake. And what’s worse is how smug she is about it, including her decision to take Tyrion to the Eyrie.

Sansa: Sansa Stark, second child and eldest daughter of Ned and Cat. I swear, she gets dumber each time I read this book. I know she’s just an 11-year-old girl and we shouldn’t expect too much, but, seriously? How did she grow up this dim at Winterfell? How did just living in the North not knock better sense into her? Her younger siblings show a lot more reason and judgment, so you can’t really foist it off on her youth. I wonder if this is, though, a weird streak that she does inherit from Ned rather than from her southron mother — this wanting to believe the best of people. But even so — Ned at least sees the bad and chooses to believe good will prevail. Sansa’s just so blinded by romance that she doesn’t even see it. She’s all, “Oh, Joffrey is my sweet prince and my life will be wonderful!” despite all evidence to the contrary. I mean, seriously, he’s an unabashed little jerkwad from the get-go. There is no redeeming trait in him whatsoever. How does Sansa not see this? I get it that we need her like this at the beginning for the general theme of “life is not a song” (despite the title of the series), but it doesn’t make me want to throttle her any less.

Arya: Arya Stark, third child and second daughter of Ned and Cat. The tomboy. Arya is fiesty and troubled, always feeling like she comes off second-best in comparison to her sister, never allowed to play with the boys in the way she’d like. Ned compares her to his sister, Lyanna — which I think says a lot about Lyanna’s character. Arya has a fiercer practical streak than most of the Starks, and she thinks faster on her feet than the rest of them do. Arya’s also one of the focus points about a theory I have regarding the direwolves — but I think I’m going to hold off commenting on that until I’ve gotten through A Clash of Kings again, because more of it becomes apparent there.

Bran: Brandon Stark, fourth child and second son of Ned and Cat. The dreamer. Him getting thrown out the window is the first “ohmygod!” moment of the series — the first moment when you realise that GRRM means business and won’t protect anyone. Admittedly, Bran doesn’t do a whole lot else in this book — his chapters are fairly introspective, and he is, until Robb leaves Winterfell, more our way to still see what’s going on in the North. The seeds are there, but Bran’s story doesn’t really take off until the Reeds show up.

Jon: Jon Snow, an illegitimate member of the Stark family. I love Jon. He’s one of my favourite characters. But I hadn’t realised just how much of this book he spends vacillating, and it sort of annoyed me on this go-round. I guess it’s necessary to get him to where he needs to be, and I feel like his plot arc is pretty much all about standing at the crossroads and having to make tough decisions about who he is and who he wants to be. Also his dream about Winterfell lying empty, with none of his family there to answer his calls, (pg 267 of the paperback) is really eerily prophetic, considering what comes later.

Tyrion: The Imp, the younger Lannister son. His chapters are probably the most flat-out entertaining of the whole book. He has such an interesting and sarcastic outlook on the world, which makes his viewpoint great fun to look through. I particularly love how he takes to Jon and Bran, and honestly, I really hope that circles back around by the end of the series. Bastards and cripples and broken things — and they could cheerfully take over the world. Tyrion’s so sharp, and you can really tell how his family has influenced him, too — growing up with the lions, he couldn’t let himself show weakness, so even when he has ever reason to be terrified for his life, he has to stay unflappable and irreverent.

Dany: Daenerys Targaryen, Stormborn, Mother of Dragons. My favourite character in the whole series — and she didn’t start out that way. Because she’s so weak and cowed by her brother at the start of the book, dragging her feet and looking backwards — but she gets over it. I love watching her grow, and I love watching her assert herself. Once she Takes a Level in Badass, she just keeps climbing that tree — it starts, I think, with her first moment of throwing off Viserys’s authority. And she keeps leveling up from there — her reaction to his death, “He was no true dragon,” is just kind of brilliant, and then how mercilessly she deals with Mirri Maz Duur — and then, of course, the dragons. Her bravery, her surety that the fire won’t hurt her, how calmly and fearlessly she walks right into it. The ending of this book is one of my favourite moments in the whole series thus far — just the idea of the sky being alive with dragonsong for the first time in hundreds of years, it’s so glorious.

Okay, a couple thousand words later, that may be all I have. For now. I’m sure I’m going to look back as soon as I post this and think of things I’d meant to say. I mean, I have thousands of thoughts about this book and the series, but not all of them structure into a review very well. And that’s what westerosorting is for.

A final thought: This is a book blog, yes, but should I also blog my responses to the “Game of Thrones” episodes as they air? I think I might, particularly with the book so fresh in my mind.

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Fever Dream, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Title: Fever DreamFever Dream, Preston and Child
Authors: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Year of Publication: 2010
Length: 528 pages
Genre: thriller
New or Re-Read?: New!
Rating: 4.5 stars

Okay, so. I love the Pendergast thrillers. I got hooked on them when I picked up The Book of the Dead by accident (the 7th book in the series, and third of an in-series trilogy), and then had to backtrack and put the rest of them in order. Someday, I’m going to start the series at the beginning and review them all on this blog, but I have quite enough re-read projects on my plate at the moment as it is. Maybe over the summer — these are great beach reads.

It seems perfectly valid, though, to go ahead and do a review now for Fever Dream, the 10th book in the series, which I got in the mail a couple of days ago and tore through in under 24 hours. (I wait for the paperbacks of these because I have a thing about matched sets, and since my first 8 books in the series were all mass markets… yeah, it would make me a little crazy to have hardcovers. So I have to torture myself by waiting for the paperback releases). It’s the first book in a new in-series trilogy, and it’s not so heavily dependent on what’s come before. One of the great things about these books, though, is that they all are stand-alone, even the ones within sets.

Readers of the Pendergast thrillers have long known that he had a wife, once upon a time, who met with a tragic accident while on a hunting trip in Africa. In Fever Dream, Aloysius Pendergast learns that the accident was actually murder. The opening chapters flashback to these events, and it’s… really quite brutal. P&C don’t shy away from the gruesome when occasion calls for it. Pendergast uncovers a previously overlooked detail, and this discovery sets him on a path to vengeance like none he’s ever pursued before. Naturally, he pulls in Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta, the closest thing to a best friend he has, to help with the investigation.

I won’t even try to hide the fact that I adore Agent Pendergast. He’s fascinating, and has been ever since he first showed up in a purely supporting role in Relic. The mix of ruthless FBI efficiency with genteel Southern charm just makes me swoon. He’s so full of odd quirks, peculiar habits, and contradictions. He shows more genuine emotion in Fever Dream than he’s shown before, even when dealing with his brother in an earlier trilogy — the resurfacing of emotions attached to his wife really seems to get to him. The readers experience him largely through D’Agosta in this book, and so we feel the bewilderment at seeing Pendergast come a little unhinged. I confess, it thrills me — there’s just something delicious about watching the iron control slip. Everyone describes Pendergast as cold, but it’s apparent here that there are deep passions in him — just ones that he’s spent a long time and a lot of effort burying. In Fever Dream, we see them threaten to boil over.

This book takes off like a rocket and doesn’t let up. I nearly had two heart attacks in the middle of it — because I know that P&C aren’t afraid to pull punches or kill off beloved characters. It’s the “no one is safe” threat, and it’s always real, so when something bad happens, it’s truly heart-stopping. Pursuing clues, Pendergast and D’Agosta ricochet from Louisiana to Zambia to Maine and back again. And I had been waiting for P&C to take Pendergast back to his native Louisiana. I’d been praying they would for years now. Most of the books take place in New York, though a few have had other settings — the Midwest, Europe, the Atlantic Ocean — but we’ve only gotten tantalizing hints of Pendergast in his homeland. When I heard Fever Dream would take place in Louisiana, I was overcome with excitement, and P&C didn’t disappoint me; Fever Dream is full of backwater towns and gator-ridden bayous. P&C handle the twists and turns deftly, never letting the pace slacken — precisely what you want from a thriller.

The other thing I so enjoy about P&C thrillers is that they always have a slightly sci-fi twist. It’s always within the realm of plausibility, but they make speculations about where modern science could go. In that way, their novels are somewhat like Michael Crichton novels — only with a suspense twist. In Crichton novels, the science is typically front-and-center; in P&C thrillers, it slides in sideways. Usually the main characters discover it as they go along, piecing improbabilities together, and that’s the case in Fever Dream, though in some other novels, we get the viewpoint of the involved scientists as well. Their sci-fi elements never create a new universe, it all fits in perfectly well with our version of reality, but it gives their novels that little extra kick that not all mysteries have.

I’ve also noticed that P&C have a fascination with mob violence. It shows in the Pendergast novels (Reliquary in particular) and in some of the stand alones (especially Preston’s Blasphemy). It’s a concept they explore again in Fever Dream. I confess, I was worried when the idea was introduced that it would take over the story, derail an already packed plotline — but it didn’t. P&C used it as an effective element and then let it drop naturally, rather than carrying it through past the point of usefulness.

Overall — I loved this book. P&C deliver brain candy of the very highest quality yet again. Fever Dream is a fast-paced rocket of a book, a thoroughly enjoyable entry into the series. The mystery of Helen’s murder isn’t fully solved by the end of the book, which ends on a cliffhanger. I’ll be looking forward to the next two books with great excitement. I highly recommend this, and the whole Pendergast series, to lovers of thrillers and mysteries, but also to anyone looking to experiment in a new genre. I don’t typically read a lot of thrillers, but P&C’s are just fantastic, and I’m completely addicted to them.

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