Thursday, 26 April 2012

A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - Part One

Allow me to explain: this is a big book, a very big book, that may take me a while to get through, just like Pillars Of The Earth did. As such I have decided that it may be an idea to write a 'kind of review' up to the point where I have read. A lot happens throughout that would take up a lot of space reviewing if done altogether - and I can't promise I'd remember every great thing that happened in it if I waited until the end.

I am up to chapter 35 out of about 70 odd so things are really just kicking off and there are still a few threads loose in the ether that need to be tied in. I say chapter 35 but in reality the chapters aren't numbered - they are given the name of the character we are following and it is then written in a predominantly third person p.o.v which is limited by what only the character can see/hear.

A Song Of Ice and Fire is an well written fantasy series set in the continents of Westeros and Essos. At the beginning of the book (and still up to this point) Westeros is a land at peace that is broken into seven kingdoms, from Winterfell in the Northern lands ruled by the Starks down to King's Landing where (as guessed in the name) the current royal family reside and further south (though I have yet to be taken to that area so no idea yet). In the prologue we are introduced to the land beyond The Wall, a large structure further north than Winterfell, that was built to keep 'The Others' from crossing into Westeros.

The start of this book pulls you in with death and suspense and mystery but don't you dare start thinking that this book is all about fighting and other types of action, I don't believe it would have stood the test of time quite so well if it was! The chapters that follow are more about political intrigue and the workings of a court than anything else but don't let this put you off as it's intertwined with the story in such a way for it to become interesting or just mentioned in passing through one of the character's chapters.

After the King's Hand dies King Robert asks for Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and old friend, to take up the position. Ned is reluctant but persuaded by his wife Catelyn Stark, nee Tully, that it could be a good thing for their family. On top of that they've just found a message from her sister that the last Hand's death may not have been entirely natural, so let's take the position and then have Ned look into it whilst he's down there - that's not putting him in a dangerous position at all, is it dear reader?!

With family problems abound and finding out his friend is not a friend anymore but a King and a stranger there's no question that Lord Stark is going to have issues in his new position of power. It really doesn't help that there's a new threat to the peace on the horizon that they've only just been informed could happen. It's annoying when us readers know what's being planned by those sly Targayen's but can't quite make our voices heard through the book ;)

This section ends with Ned Stark finally having a moment of realisation and doing something rather sensible (this is him though, he's always the sensible one) and now leaving me eager to keep reading on, worried about what will happen to these characters I've come to love and seen some of them mature. I speak mainly of Arya Stark and Jon Snow (Ned's illegitimate son). One having to learn how to behave like a lady in public and the other learning that life's tough outside the protection of his father, especially when you end up guarding The Wall. These two characters are definitely my favourites, as I'm sure Martin wrote them to be.

This is definitely an epic-fantasy that deserves all the attention it has recently started receiving. It may be in the fantasy section but it steers closer to politics and swords than the sorcery side of things and for this I'm glad. I highly recommend this for those fantasy lovers who have been absent from that section for a while or who were scared off by the recurring themes of magical elements or wizards at war etc etc (as I was) - go on, get your teeth into something grittier and less 'magic saves some world'.

I will be watching the TV show after I've read the second book (at the earliest).

Part two will follow soon, I hope.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

My Other Blog

Hello all,

I have a favour to ask of you I'm afraid....  No, wait!! Please come back!! It's nothing massive I promise!

All I'm asking is that you please check out a separate blog that I have set aside for my writing attempts. It's still in the first desgins of beings et up and some of the first few random ramblings are a few years old by now but I am currently working on my own piece of fiction (has been posted in too) and I'd really appreciate some feedback or even just some knowledge that people have seen it.

The site address is :  Chapter 1 of my work has just been posted (yes, that is it's current title and no it won't stay that forever!).

Thanks guys and gals, it does mean a lot!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

This has always been one of those books I wanted to get around to reading but always ended up being pushed aside for something new. Definitely a shame because this is a good book.

The book follows the lives of the Dashwood family: Mrs Dashwood and her three daughters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret from the time of the death of Mr Dashwood through to their having to move out of the family home, Norland, to make way for their rather selfish half-brother (from Mr Dashwood's previous marriage) along with his even worse wife and into a smaller cottage in Devonshire. They are then introduced to Mrs Dashwood's family, the Middletons, who in turn introduce them to their circle of friends and then we start to see events unfold.

This book is set mainly from the eldest sister, Elinor's, view on events. She is the most sensible, emotionally reserved out of her and her second sister, Marianne. Unfortunately Margaret does not get much of a look-in in this book as she is the youngest and so seen to be not yet of an age where she is victim to all the love entanglements, misunderstandings and social requirements that her two elder sisters find themselves subject to.

Elinor, whilst still residing at Norland, found herself being paid attention by the new Mrs Dashwood's brother, Edward Ferrars and secretly hopes this may continue after the move, even with Mrs Fanny Dashwood informing Elinor's mother that this relationship could never happen. Marianne, meanwhile, has no romantic interests when they move. However, as the more romantic and dramatic of the two sisters, you can be sure that this could easily change. She is 16/17 at the start of the book and full of ideas of how a man should be and what sort of relationship she would look for. A potential suitor, Colonel Brandon, is suitably put down by her as being too old (he is 35) and her descriptions of how she imagines that marriage to be on her part are rather hilarious (she sees herself as more of a nursemaid than a wife). It is after this that she meets Mr John Willoughby, through a rather 'damsel in distress' moment, and they start to be seen as courting by those around them.

Now, this all seems rather simple and set out but Miss Austen has a few twists and turns up her sleeve that I shan't spoil for you. All I shall say is that the only seemingly constant men throughout this book are those already married and Colonel Brandon.

Austen is really capable of showing the characters growth throughout this book, whether it's Marianne needing to mature or Elinor needing to show her emotions more, even to the point of showing the men noticing that they need to change in order to be happy. These characters became real people to me and I found myself buried in their world (I had to remind myself to stop speaking 'Austen' at times before I received funny looks) and investing my feelings in the outcome of their situations.

This is well written and an enjoyable read with Austen managing to set the scenes well whilst also conveying across Elinor's feelings on every situation she has to face. You really end up feeling for Elinor as she hides her own miseries whilst dealing with Marianne's dramatic reactions to what happens to her. I found Elinor to be my favourite of the two sisters, she is constant and loyal to her family at the same time as keeping her own feelings to herself whilst still holding on to any hope.

The most common reaction to my telling people I was reading this book was 'I preferred Pride & Prejudice to Sense & Sensibility' or vise versa. As I have yet to read P&P (I know, terrible) I cannot give my verdict but I'm happy to say that, if the rest of her books are like this one and Emma, then Jane Austen will shortly become one of my favourite authors.

If you enjoy books from this period then I highly recommend you read this, the same goes for if you have yet to dip your toe in this era but you find you want to. It takes on some problems that are still occuring today (love and the emotions that go with it don't change) and does so from two very different points of view. Bring on the next Austen, I say!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett

This book is the reason I haven't posted in a while - it's a long book and I'm going to start straight off by recommending you have enough time aside to read it so you can really get into it.

I had seen the adverts on TV for the Channel 4 series and was quite interested in it, but never got around to watching it, I'm now on the lookout for the DVD set!

This book was first described to me as a soap opera with a cathedral being the main character, and that person was spot on. This is mainly set in a fictional town of Kingsbridge (there are several towns of that name in Britain but none in the location described) and it's surrounding areas. This is quite unfortunate for me as I really wanted to go visit this fictional cathedral!

Set in the 12th Century the prologue opens with the disastrous sinking of the White Ship, carrying King Henry I's only son, William along with a large entourage of the royal court. This death eventually threw the question of succession into dispute and led to years of civil war between two cousins, Stephen and Matilda, as the idea of Henry's daughter, Matilda, ruling was not yet accepted by the ruling lords and barons.

This is the background against which the story is set; very uncertain and the peasantry being at the mercy of lords and barons waging smaller wars against each other for land and power without fear of repercussion from the crown. After the prologue we are introduced to Tom Builder and his family and immediately we are shown that he is a man of principle - for himself and the people who work for him. This may not be the best thing, a peasant standing up to the son of an Earl, but it helps show the character of both Tom and the Earl's son William Hamleigh and introduces the reader to the way this novel is going to go.

'Pillars' then follows Tom through cities, towns and tragedy as he tries to find work to keep his family from starving, even almost risking his life over the family's pig. It is through this and through the eyes of other characters introduced that we get around to the building of Kingsbridge cathedral. This works for how the novel is set out and introduces the reader to the historical events taking place in the country, making sure we remember the more powerful forces affecting our characters' lives.

 Follett introduces us to characters slowly and through chapters written in their own point of view, taking his time to weave all the separate stories together until you suddenly see it connect with a flash of realisation. This slow build up may seem tiresome at first and encourage you to put the book down and walk away but please don't as it builds up, connects together and I found the switch between the points of view as a good thing, it kept me reading through the slower parts.

With the obvious distinction between good and bad it is difficult for the reader to make their own mind up about the characters as Follett doesn't seem to believe in shades of grey too much, if a good person does something bad it is always justified and a bad person only does something good if it's an accidental repercussion of an attempt at a bad deed. Now, with a book like this, I don't mind that too much as the story itself allows this to flow into the background whilst the turbulent storylines and plot twists take centre stage. The characters are still padded out and made into real people and not completely predictable, although one or two characters do come close at times.

I was very interested in the building of the cathedral and it was made very obvious that Follett had done his research on this subject. It was described in a way that I found interesting and not patronizing or where I'm expected to already know the basics and just be shoved into the deep-end. I found myself visiting two cathedrals whilst I was reading the book and found it really helped me appreciate all the hard work of all the individuals that were working on these amazing buildings.

This book is definitely an epic and I would suggest putting aside a full week or two so that you can really get into the descriptions and character depths. It isn't the sort of thing you can pick up, flick through a couple of pages and then move on to do something else but it is well worth the time to pick up.

If you like historical fiction with a bit of cathedral architecture mixed in and you're looking for your next big read then this is the book for you. If you like soap opera style books that spreads over about 40/50 years and mainly focuses on a small group of people then this is also the book for you. I'm now waiting for the right time to buy the second book.