Review: The Skystone

The Skystone
The Skystone by Jack Whyte

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a new (well, relatively – 1990s) take on the Aurthurian legend, Jack Whyte looks not at King Arthur himself, but who came before him. How did Camelot come to be in the first place? What world events allowed the fabled kingdom to be created?

Set in the dying days of the Roman Empire, Roman general Caius Britannicus and his friend Publius Varrus, an ex-soldier and blacksmith, combine forces, resources and families to found a colony. Here they strive to protect their loved ones and their way of live from the barbarian invasions they know will be coming. The end of the Roman Empire is the end of the world as they know it. Their ultimate goal is to stop Britain from falling into barbarism, to uphold loyalty, discipline and honour in their small pocket of the island.

This novel was a great start to another epic retelling of the Arthurian saga. I can’t wait to see where this series goes. There is a little too much military history/strategy for me to give it a full five stars, but the characters are well developed and the attention to detail is phenomenal. I even love the “sciency” bits where Varrus tries to work out the origin and identity of the mysterious Skystone.

“Magic, after all, is no more than the product of knowledge others don’t share.” 

I keep guessing at which characters will morph into traditional Arthurian roles, but I think I am likely way off. Too early for that yet. Clearly, Excalibur will be smelted from the Skystone. But I must say that if the Lady of the Lake is reduced to a mere statue, I will be disappointed.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Review: The Onion Girl

The Onion Girl
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm.
When I read a fantasy novel, I tend to either obsess over it and the whole series love it or dismiss it entirely. I rarely have an in-between reaction.
When this book started, I thought I was having the latter reaction. I just didn’t buy in right away. To me, fantasy should be completely detached from the real world. That’s why I like it. This was different. The characters live in the real world (albeit in a fictional city) but know that a parallel fantasy world exists. Some visit it, some cannot.
That was pushing my acceptance level.
Where de Lint won me over, however, was with his characters. I liked them. I wanted to know more about them. I kept reading about this world I wasn’t sure I believed in so I could be sure they were OK. And before I knew it, I had bought in. So much so that I am already reading the next book.
I wouldn’t rate it as a full-blown obsession yet, but it could happen.

Note: content heavily features reminiscence of childhood sexual abuse.

View all my reviews

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

 “Many good men have been bad kings,and some bad men have been good kings.”

As mentioned in my review of A Feast for Crows, the last two novels of the A Song of Ice and Fire series were originally conceived as one, but split in two to deal with their excessive length. A Dance with Dragons brings us back at long last to the storylines of Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister (the holy trinity of the series, in my humble opinion), among others.

Even more so than in the previous books, A Dance with Dragons is really about power – who has it, who wants it, and who can or cannot handle it.

It has been more than 20 years since Robert Baratheon led an uprising against the Targaryen king, in response to the “kidnapping and rape” of Lyanna Stark. (I am still anxiously awaiting the reveal of what actually happened to Lyanna as nothing in that story makes sense). Robert, a good man, was a terrible king. He led the kingdom into debt and ruin, and the wars never really ended.

In reading this latest installment, I was overwhelmed with the chaos of the world Martin created, but could also see the threads beginning to come together – literally and figuratively. (I am not going to summarize the plot. It is too complex, and if that’s what you want, read the book.)

Tyrion, now exiled for killing his father, is slowly making his way to Daenerys, and I eagerly anticipate the outcome of this meeting. Martin wants us to believe his only motivation is wealth and power, but I believe he will be Daenerys’ greatest asset. If I could contrive a theory that made him part Targaryen, one of the dragon’s three heads, I would believe it. I don’t know how or why, but he will help Daenerys win the throne.

Then we have Jon. Somehow, if any of my instincts are correct, Jon has to eventually end up with the other two . Of course, we are meant to believe [SPOILER: stop reading now if you haven’t read the book, I mean it!] that Jon is now dead, murdered by the men of the Night’s Watch for his plan to ally with and rescue the wildings (oh, and everything else he did that was new, innovative and/or risky).

A Dance with Dragons felt like a lot of time-filling, move-making and set-up (the whole ridiculously long and dull siege of Mereen for instance) but that is not the same as being dull or uninteresting. Only that aside from a few introduced changes and updates, the real purpose of the book was to set up for the next one, when the real action will happen.

Oh – and I almost forgot to mention that Bran’s story continues to evolve (and is getting really interesting) as he met the three-eyed crow of his dreams and is learning to be a skin changer. Will Bran control the dragons? Where does his ability come from? So many questions. When is the next book out? Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another six years.

 

Hardcover: 1040 pages

Publisher: Bantam (July 12 2011)

ISBN-10: 0553801473

ISBN-13: 978-0553801477

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The saga continues, and I am way late in reviewing it.

As the story picks up, Cersei is now essentially ruling the Seven Kingdoms while her son actually reigns, and like most who lust for power, she is completely inept once she attains it, leading the kingdom deeper into debt, destroying alliances, and approaching ruin.

More kings have died than even existed when the series began – and while it may seem that would make the war for the throne easier to decide, all it has done is open up an other series of claims. This one’s son, that one’s nephew, another one’s daughter.

What’s interesting about this episode is that in writing it, Martin found it was too long, and too complex (he can self edit? who knew?) and so split what was planned as one book into two.  A Feast for Crows focuses on Westeros, King’s Landing, the riverlands, Dorne, and the Iron Islands, and the following novel, A Dance with Dragons, covers events in the east (Daenerys and the Night’s Watch) and north. Better for continuity, yes. But aside from the Jamie/Brienne plotline, and Arya (whose story just gets stranger here), he removed most of my favourite characters from the story.

Good points: Samwell Tarly comes into his own. Somewhat. And slowly. But I have high hopes for him. Interesting background details in Dorne will prove important in later developments.

Paperback: 784 pages

Publisher: Bantam (October 30, 2007)

ISBN-10: 0553582038

ISBN-13: 978-0553582031

 

A Storm of Swords by George R R Martin

I am so far behind with my reviews! A Dance with Dragons was released yesterday, and I still haven’t even written the review for A Feast for Crows. Soon. I promise. 

A Storm of Swords might just be my favourite book in this series. So far. Westeros is still at war. Winterfell has fallen, leaving one of our kings without a kingdom. Stannis has been defeated, and while he may have a kingdom, he does not have any army.

As the war continues, the reader is left to continually wonder just who are the good guys and the bad guys here anyway. All the major characters are tested. Some pass with flying colours, others fail miserably. And yet others do not survive.

The best part of A Storm of Swords is by far the deepening of the magic. Now more than ever it becomes clear you are reading fantasy. The dead do not always stay that way. Dragons live again. Bran Stark is really coming into his own, too. Once a weak and whiny character (not his fault, when the story began he was eight years old and newly crippled), Bran is now discovering the full extent of his abilities and if off on a quest of his own, North of the Wall.

Joffrey becomes even crueller a king than even I anticipated. Even his mother begins to doubt his ability to rule. Jon returns from his time with the wildlings, more mature and experienced for it, but still quite young and naïve. Catelyn’s world crumbles around her, each moment more tragic than the next. The chapters she narrates are heartbreaking, and the choices she makes lead to one of the most interesting plot twists yet: releasing Jamie Lannister, the Kingslayer, under the protection of Brienne of Tarth.

By the novels end, two kings are dead, and the Night’s Watch has a new Lord Commander. And I could not wait to get to the next book. Bad news: it’s the last one available. Good news: book five will be published in mid July.

Mass Market Paperback: 1216 pages

Publisher: Bantam; 1 edition (Mar 4 2003)

ISBN-10: 055357342X

ISBN-13: 978-1439149645

A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin

Clash of Kings, the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, wastes no time in tedious recaps or introductions. I was glad to have very recently finished Game of Thrones. The story picks up exactly where it left off… with Westeros in chaos and civil war.

We start with three declared kings, Joffrey Baratheon, Renly Baratheon and Robb Stark. Soon after there are two more: Balon Greyjoy declares himself King of the Iron Islands and launches and attack on the North, and Stannis Baratheon declares himself king of Westeros, and as Robert rightful heir, his claim is most worthy, despite the fact that he is entirely unsuitable.

All books in the series are narrated in alternating points of view, jumping back and forth between characters to tell whole story of what is happening in Westeros and beyond. Clash of Kings offers new narrators in Davos, (the Onion Knight), and Theon Greyjoy – who we new slightly from the previous book, but now learn much more about his character (little of it being complimentary).

For the most point, I enjoy this style and the variation it adds to the book, but the simple fact is that some characters are far more interesting than others (Jon, Arya, Tyrion, Catelyn, to name a few) and others either irritated me (Sansa, Stannis) or bored me (Daenerys).

Tyrion Lannister, plays a much larger and more interesting role in this novel and while I still like him more than I dislike him, there is definite evil in him, and I think he will continue to be one to watch as the story progresses.

Daenerys Targaryen, as mentioned above, has proved less interesting this time around. I can see where the plot line is going and why it is important to know this information about her, where she is, and what she’s doing. But aside from a few tantalizing hints at magic and dragons, there was little in her actions to get excited about through this book.

While originally bogged down in detail, by story’s end I became intrigued by Jon’s adventures as a member of the Night’s Watch, and especially the orders he receives at the end of the novel. I am also predicting that Sam Tarly will become more and more important as the plot progresses in further books. I am also interested in where the story of Brienne of Tarth will go. It is so rare to see a plotline involving an unattractive woman.

What I loved about the story continues to be true: no character is safe from a sudden and brutal death, and the reader cannot be fooled in to thinking that they really know any one character, as new revelations are on every page. There is no clear good and evil. Even the very bad can be redeemed, or at least have their moments.

As Clash of Kings ends, we have already seen the death of one king, and appear to be seeing the downfall of another, but the Lannisters still control King’s Landing and the throne. Overall, while not quite as interesting as the first book, I still very much enjoyed it, and continued right into book three, which I will review very soon.

Mass Market Paperback: 1040 pages

Publisher: Bantam; 1st MMPB edition (Sep 5 2000)

ISBN-10: 0553579908

ISBN-13: 978-0553579901

Game of Thrones by George R R Martin

In a world where summers and winters stretch years at a time, trees have faces, races of men have disappeared, while races of wolves thought dead have reappeared, the king is dead, and the men, women and children left in Westeros struggle to place the right man on the Iron Throne.

Game of Thrones opens with a sinister prologue, as members of the Night Watch are attacked in the haunted forest by the undead others, and soon after [note: in this sprawling epic, soon is about 150 pages later] King Robert’s death leaves the kingdom in shambles.

Ned Stark, his five true-born children and his bastard son are key players in this first volume of the fantasy saga: A Song of  Ice and Fire. Also vying for power are the Lannisters, whose family are the first to claim the throne, the Targaryens, King and Princess overseas, plus a host of knights, soldiers and the wildlings from beyond the wall.

Game of Thrones is no chaste Lord-of-the-Rings-style fantasy. Sex abounds, and the more deviant, the better. Children as young as twelve are fair game. Rape is everywhere. Yes, rape and war go hand in hand, but in Martin’s mind, there’s barely a man who wouldn’t do it, and more than a few women who are OK with it, provided the women taken are not highborn, of course. [Oh, for the day there is a fantasy series written with lots of good sex in it! Perhaps I will have to write it myself.]

Those two complaints aside (and the fact that the writing is far to wordy, and the books could easily be half as long, and all the better for it) I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am already on to the next in the series. Martin has created fascinating characters and an intricate storyline, and I will forgive many technical errors for this.

I was thrilled to find a new fantasy series with a reasonably unique  setting and plot. There is no “dark one” and no epic battle between good and evil. No King Arthur or comparable patriarch. No Christian vs. pagan parallel (though old gods/new gods/god of light are close). Just men being men, women (where permitted) being women, and everyone despite their best intentions, drawing their world closer to destruction with every step. And the beasts. I do love the beasts. Krakens. Direwolves. Dragons. Even the eagles and the crows have a role to play.

While the humans play their game of thrones, the Others are waiting. Keep fighting over your castles, fools. They will take everything else.

Mass Market Paperback: 831 pages

Publisher: Bantam; REP edition (Aug 4 1997)

ISBN-10: 0553573403

ISBN-13: 978-0553573404