book review: the blue sword

I tend to read more science fiction than fantasy, but The Blue Sword is a good example of why I love fantasy too. There’s just a timelessness to a fantasy novel that science fiction can’t really lay claim to. Fiction about the future always has so much of the present embedded in it, but there’s nothing about The Blue Sword that lets you know it was written 30 years ago. The Hero and the Crown is the prequel to this book, but I think I’m glad I read them in internal chronological order rather than publication order.

In The Blue Sword a young woman named Harry who’s living the colonizer’s life in a land far from her home. She’s kidnapped and made a part of the Hillfolk who are trying to eke out an existence while being besieged by not-quite-human magical Northmen and her own people. She becomes the bearer of the titular sword and becomes a legend herself. There’s a sense of inevitability to the story (in a way that George RR Martin would destabilize at every turn if he were writing it) but it’s very beautifully done. It’s not Le Guin-level amazing, and I don’t think it’s as good as The Hero and the Crown, but Harry is a heroine that you can see being emulated in stuff like The Girl of Fire and Thorns and other more contemporary fantasy. I will gladly recommend it far and wide.

book review: a dance with dragons

I haven’t been waiting for the latest in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for as long as some people, but I was glad to see A Dance with Dragons come out this year. Reading it was my reward for finishing up my fantasy and science fiction for younger readers course. I was in the mood for some Knights Who Say Fuck. And in that I wasn’t disappointed.

As far as the book itself went though? It was okay. I was glad to catch up with what was happening to all the characters I hadn’t heard any news from in so long (most of the story in this book is about characters whose shorelines were left out of the previous book, A Feast For Crows). And in the last third of the book we got a few glimpses into other areas of Westeros and beyond as well.

It was all fine, but it felt more like a letter from a friend you haven’t seen in a while than an actual story with a beginning, middle and end. It really is just a bunch of stuff that happens. Yes the stakes escalate through the book, and terrible things happen to characters we like (which is one of those things you have to deal with getting into this series), but it didn’t feel like a story, just the latest instalment to leave you waiting for the next one.

It’s good though. Theon Greyjoy has a great arc in this book. Ramsay Snow/Bolton is a terrifying villain. Tyrion is in this book and it’s really hard not to enjoy his chapters (though I bet when they get to doing the TV version of this book his trip to Meereen will be a bit less needlessly complicated). There are dragons doing dragony things and princes from fairy tales trying to do princely things. Things turn out better for one of those groups than the other.

I hope the next book takes a bit less time, and that there aren’t too many more to wait for. But if you’re in the market for epic fantasy and don’t mind an author who isn’t afraid to be brutal to his protagonists, this series is very good. I just can’t say it keeps getting better and better.

book review: assassin’s apprentice

Reading Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb reminded me how much I love the A Song of Ice and Fire series. If you’re aware of the current authors in the fantasy field, you know that A Song of Ice and Fire is not written by Robin Hobb, and so I probably wasn’t a huge fan of this book. However, that’s not entirely true.

The story is about the bastard of a prince who was next in line to be king but then abdicates. The boy grows up in the stables and the king takes an interest and then he’s trained to be a very Heinleinian hero who can do anything in the world, but mostly poison people for political gain.

There are some good bits, especially to do with magic, and how one man has to hold the marauding pirates at bay by clouding their minds all by himself and stuff. Also the soulless returned victims of the pirates are a good takeoff on zombies which tried to bring up the notion of it being politically difficult to kill them (they are the kingdom’s own subjects after all, just made sociopathic through magic).

The thing that strikes me false about the whole story is the lack of cynicism. It’s very clean and shiny, even though it’s trying to portray how shitty life is for a royal bastard who prefers to sleep in the stables. I wanted this to be told with the George R.R. Martin kind of grit where [SPOILER ALERT] one of the heroes gets his head chopped off before the first book is even over. But it wasn’t.

There are some contrived conflicts and not a lot of real “Oh god, what’s going to happen to whoever?” moments. It all feels very safe. Even the murdering, which is very glossed over.

I’m debating reading the next book in the trilogy. It wasn’t a bad book, but didn’t really get me terribly invested in the whole thing.

book review: a feast for crows

I quite enjoy George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I don’t read a tonne of fantasy naymore, but this stuff is good. Brutal, political, with characters you quite enjoy every time you see them, especially since you know they could die at basically any moment. A Feast For Crows is interesting in its slightly frustrating way. It focuses on half the characters that one would think would be grabbing the spotlight from the last book. There are huge swathes of the realm that we’re used to reading about that just aren’t present. The rest of the story is promised in A Dance With Dragons, which it amusingly says in the afterword will come out next year. The book was published in 2005. There is no Dance With Dragons. Yet. I want to know what’s been happening with the rest of everyone, but I can’t.

Earlier in 2009 there was a big kerfuffle online about the delays in this next book. It led to an interesting discussion on some of the blogs I read about fan entitlement and how authors aren’t content-producing machines built to churn out what you want on a 12 month schedule. I mean, there are writers like that but that’s called television. Even though I’d love to have the next book in the series right now please, there are loads of other books I can read while I’m waiting.

book review: a storm of swords

You’ll be pleased to know I’ll soon be done with this series, as A Storm of Swords is book three of four that exist so far in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. And things continued apace with war and the politics of kings. This book saw a bit more magic showing up and weddings that went really badly. Martin has no compunction against fucking up best-laid plans. It’s gotten to the point where I hate to read any characters coming up with a plan because you know that nothing good will come of it. Not because the plans are bad but because other people are already making plans. There’s also more religion showing up, and good things happened to a couple of characters, which means I’m kind of scared to read the next book.

book review: a clash of kings

Last week I read A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin, the sequel to A Game of Thrones. It felt like not nearly as much stuff happened in it, though if I sit and count things I suppose the events would probably even out. It felt like there was much less urgency in this book. Even though I knew how A Game of Thrones ended since that was a re-read, I felt a real hand grabbing my shoulder making sure I paid attention to what was about to happen to all of these characters. In A Clash of Kings there wasn’t that same feeling. It was more like catching up with the people you’d been introduced to previously. Things weren’t nearly as drastically different at the end from the beginning as they were in A Game of Thrones. Not that I didn’t like it, I just wasn’t as in awe of it as I was of the relentlessness of the first book. That is all.

book review: a game of thrones

I’m trying a new thing for me. Re-reading books I already own. First on the list was George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It’s an epic fantasy series without a lot of magic and with a lot of swearing and politics (in one of those internet things people do to make more descriptive titles for books it became “Knights Who Say Fuck”). Wow though. It’s been maybe ten years since I read it and I’d forgotten how good this thing was. He does horrible things to his characters but he’s got the skill to make you feel like all of it is inevitable, instead of like the author is pulling strings to make what he wants to have happen happen (which is my biggest problem with Alastair Reynolds’ books).

You know how good this book is? The main family is from the north and the cold and their motto is “Winter is coming,” and I find myself wishing I was there in the cold with them. I have no desire to be anywhere warm in that world, even as my toes fall off here.