Friday, October 21, 2011

Weekend Reads: Song of Ice and Fire

When I'm not on pain killers and can focus for more than 5 minutes at a time, one of my favorite cold weather activity involves cuddling up with a good book and a warm blanket. With winter quickly approaching, I decided to start a regular "weekend reads" post for whatever literary work has currently or recently captivated my attention.

A friend suggested I sign up for Goodreads, which has ended up being a great resource to find new books and explore genres I might not have otherwise even attempted. This, along with the recommendation by the same friend and the release of the new HBO special Game of Thrones, lead me to start the "Song of Ice and Fire" series by George R R Martin.

I don't think this series would have been something I would have gravitated to by simply reading the buy me blurb on the back cover, but I did suffer through all 4 Twilight books, after all, so I decided to start with the first book in the series and go from there.

This series takes the idea of perspective to another level by switching between characters within a continuous time line. Normally I find this constant switching very disruptive, and it seems like you spend the first half of a book waiting for the character's plots to collide and become cohesive (think the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo). Martin did an excellent job painting the majority of the characters as real people, and as you switch between the lives of different characters, you begin to sympathize with individuals you initially didn't care for.

This book does have a fantasy element, in that there are dragons. It's also set in a more medieval kind of realm, akin to middle earth for you Lord of the Rings fans. Unlike Tolkien's work, to which this series is constantly compared, these books focus more on political drama than a new world. If you're a fan of the HBO series, I would highly recommend reading the series, because winter is in fact coming and you should know what perils await.

BOOK ONE: A Game of Thrones 

Tags: Fantasy/Politics/Medieval-Times
Pages: 835
: 5 of 5
Buy-Me Blurb: Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective wall. To the south, the King's powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King's new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself. A heroic fantasy of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and evildoers who come together in a time of grim omens. 

Comments: Great story of the struggle for political power and the many perspectives allows a greater understanding of the rational characters have for their actions. Introduction of the major houses and a major play for power that colors the rest of the series. 

Tags: Fantasy/Politics/Medieval-Times
Pages: 761
Stars: 3 of 5
Buy-Me Blurb: Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders--Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over an age of enforced peace are dead...victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky—a comet the color of blood and flame—six factions struggle for control of a divided land. Eddard's son Robb has declared himself King in the North. In the south, Joffrey, the heir apparent, rules in name only, victim of the scheming courtiers who teem over King's Landing. Robert's two brothers each seek their own dominion, while a disfavored house turns once more to conquest. And a continent away, an exiled queen, the Mother of Dragons, risks everything to lead her precious brood across a hard hot desert to win back the crown that is rightfully hers.

Comments: Picks up where the previous book left off. Introduces new characters at the beginning, which is slightly confusing because it takes a few chapters to figure out how they fit into the world and story we already know. Little else can be said about the individual books without spoilers, but if you're struggling here, give it until the next book before you make a decision. 

BOOK THREE: A Storm of Swords

Tags: Fantasy/Politics/Medieval-Times
Pages: 1128
Stars: 4 of 5
Buy-Me Blurb: Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King’s Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. . . .
But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords. . . 

Comments: Martin never allows the reader solace in knowing their favorite characters are safe and this book is no exception. Starts slightly slower, then picks up like mad near the last half. Major spoilers prevent more information than that being shared.  

BOOK FOUR: A Feast for Crows

Tags: Fantasy/Politics/Medieval-Times 
Pages: 1060
Stars: 2 of 5
Buy-Me Blurb: It seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears. . . . With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King’s Landing. Robb Stark’s demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist—or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out.

But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead.

It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes . . . and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors. 

Comments: Much slower pace book than the previous three in the series. Originally this was a larger book and was sectioned into this book and A Dance with Dragons. Ends without much resolve so take that into consideration before starting, and have the next book in the series on hand and ready to go (not that it will help much)! 

This is the book where you learn George R R Martin is a complete asshole. His editors didn't like the length of this book so he was told to split it into two books or edit this one down to a respectable length, he chose to split the book... literally. The end of this book is a major cliffhanger and he summarizes what I just wrote as an explanation as to why you have to wait a year (which of course turned into two) for the rest of this story. Because of this there seems to be disposable characters introduced, as simple plot fillers to fill out what was supposed to have been half of a larger installment. On another note, Martin starts making up nonsensical words in this book, to the point I thought my ebook had editing problems, which it also had, but that's another post at another time.  

BOOK FIVE: A Dance with Dragons 

Tags: Fantasy/Politics/Medieval-Times 
Pages: 976
Stars: In progress 
Buy-Me Blurb: In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance—beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.
Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys’s claim to Westeros forever.
Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone—a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.
From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.

Comments: I had such high hopes for this book after the cliffhanger that was Feast for Crows, but it looks like he added filler here too. I love the characters, but several of my absolute favorites are all but absent from this book, which means I'll have another 1-2 year wait to continue their story. I will, in fact, continue with this series, but this was another asshole move on Martin's part, and I think the timing was more to coincide with the HBO series premier than to satisfy readers. 

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