Tag Archives: Bantam

Review: “A Game Of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin

Title: A Game Of Thrones
Author: George R.R. Martin
Series: A Song Of Ice And Fire, Volume I
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Bantam, 2011

I know, I know. How am I just getting around to this? As usual, I can only point at my groaning TBR shelf and jabber incoherently. I had actually never heard of it until the television show started and I was confronted with the promo image of Sean Bean sitting wearily on a throne made of swords. That got my attention, for obvious reasons. I’ve yet to see the show, given my well-documented position on watching adaptations before reading their original sources, but I’m told its incredible. With stars like Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage, I don’t doubt it…. Martin is of the opinion that anytime a character is placed in danger, you should fear for their safety. Characters die. Minor ones, and major ones. Frequently. Anyway, I’ll do my best to be spoiler-free here. This is one of those series where that matters….

A Song Of Ice And Fire takes us to Westeros, a fantasy realm where the seasons wax and wane unreliably, somehow tied to the ebb and flow of magic within the world. In this land, summer can last a decade…and winter can last a lifetime. The series is written in third-person, with each chapter being from the perspective of one of an enormous cast of characters. Eddard “Ned” Stark is lord of Winterfell and the northern half of Westeros, a sparsely-peopled expanse where it is not uncommon to see a light snow even on a summer morning. He and the king, Robert Baratheon, were raised together, closer than brothers, and together deposed the Mad King Aerys Targaryen fifteen years ago before placing Robert on the throne. Now Ned is summoned south to court to serve as Robert’s right hand. It’s a position he has no desire for, but doesn’t trust anyone else to guard his friend’s back and get to the bottom of some troubling questions. Ned was one of my favorite characters in the book, largely because he was the only truly honorable man in the entire book, though that may change as his children grow older. Oldest son Robb (age fourteen) doesn’t actually get his own POV chapters, but is nevertheless an important character as he tries to fill his father’s absent shoes. Ned’s younger son Bran served as one of the more surprising characters, becoming far more interesting than I had expected a lad of seven to be, but I can’t say why without spoilers. Additionally, Ned’s daughters serve as frequent narrators, both the naive eleven-year-old Sansa and her nine-year-old tomboy sister Arya. I liked Arya a lot, but Sansa’s ill-fated naivete had me ready to throw the book across the room in frustration at times. Future books should see less of that, sadly for her. Ned’s wife Catelyn Stark also serves as a narrator for large portions of the story, initially holding down the fort in Winterfell before setting off on her own journey for reasons that are redacted here. Ned’s illegitimate son Jon Snow* (age fourteen, same as Robb) travels north to the Wall and joins the Night Watch, keeping a lonely vigil against the supposedly-legendary threat of the Others, despite the fact that they’ve not been seen for thousands of years. One of my favorite characters of all was the dwarf Tyrion Lannister  despite the fact that he stands opposed to most of my other favorites for most of the book. The twisted, ugly youngest son of lord Tywin Lannister, Tyrion is under no delusions about his situation in life. His sister, the queen Cersei, hates him. His father blames him for his mother’s death in childbirth. Only Jaime, Cersei’s twin, treats him with any measure of decency. Unable to compete in the field of physical combat due to his stature and deformities, Tyrion has developed his mind as his best weapon, and unleashes it on all he encounters. His are all the best lines, and it is incredibly obvious who Martin’s favorite character is. Across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen, thirteen-year-old daughter of the deposed king, will have her own tangentially-related adventures as her brother marries her off to a nomadic horse-lord in an attempt to secure an army with which to reclaim Westeros. Despite the lack of overlap in this branch, Danaerys is set to become another favorite. Her adventures are not yet having any effect on Westeros as a whole, aside from some tension at court as news reaches them, but that will certainly change as the series nears its end….

Wow. What can I say about this? Martin’s prose is incredible, and I fully intend to further explore his bibliography both within and without this series. I love the use of multiple viewpoints, and the unreliable nature of these narrators adds an interesting factor to the narrative. Characters can be mistaken, and there are several scenes that are positively heartbreaking because we the reader know something the character doesn’t yet…and finding out could literally kill them. Plus, the information we’re given is all filtered through their perceptions–while there is little doubt that Aerys Targaryen was a lunatic, there are a couple tantalizing hints that his son Rhaegar was not nearly as vile a man as Robert and Ned believe him to be, and that the “kidnapping” of Ned’s sister that sparked the rebellion wasn’t quite as non-consensual as they believe. Occasionally you want to grab a character and shake them, force them to pay attention to vital information that is being disregarded because they have no idea of its significance, but of course that is impossible. Martin’s characters are also masterfully realized. Every single one that we spend significant time with is a fully-rounded, complex human being, and you sympathize with them. I even felt sorry for Cersei, albeit briefly, and the Hound keeps showing a core of deep humanity and compassion beneath his ruthlessness. If he didn’t work for the snotty little turd Joffrey I could probably come to like him…. The worldbuilding here is stellar, and I absolutely love the sense of history you get from the narrative. Positively Tolkienesque, and that’s a definite compliment. While this is fantasy, it’s not your typical romp. You can usually be assured that the protagonist will not only survive but triumph; not here. “In life, the monsters win.” Most fantasy is defined by the many different species, especially elves and dwarfs, but the only dwarf here is Tyrion, a dwarf in the historical sense–I’m not sure what the politically correct term is these days, I’m pretty sure “midget” is now considered derogatory, but I could be wrong. No elves either, the Children Of The Forrest are said to be long extinct. Of course, so were the Others, the White Walkers, and that turned out to be wishful thinking. Maybe the Children and the Giants still exist north of the Wall, but they don’t make much of an appearance here. There are elements of so-called “High Fantasy,” but the book is primarily a historical fantasy. Magic only slowly seeps in, starting off as largely dismissed by our protagonists and inexorably revealing itself to be alive and well. Dragons. Clairvoyance. Frozen wights that can resurrect the dead and turn them on their friends. As summer ends and magic grows powerful once again, one thing is clear: Winter is coming.

CONTENT:R-rated language, present but not gratuitous. Strong violence, often disturbing, and occasionally directed at animals. There’s a fair amount of sexual content, though its not rendered in unnecessary detail. This does, however, extend to some socially reprehensible acts such as incest and underage sex, along with quite a bit of discussion of prostitution and illegitimate children. There’s some magic, as noted, but I would class it as more fantasy-based than occultic, at least thus far.

*There’s a theory regarding Jon Snow’s true parentage that is widely regarded as the only good explanation for a number of inconsistencies that come up over time, but I’ll not be that guy and spoil the experience. Google it if you need to.

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Review: “Saint Odd” by Dean Koontz

Title: Saint Odd
Author: Dean Koontz
Series: Odd Thomas #7
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Bantam, 2015

It all ends here. The three (or twelve, depending on how you look at it) year journey of everyone’s favorite fry cook now draws to a close. It should be no secret by now that I’m a huge fan of Koontz and his most popular character, and this final entry in the Odd Thomas saga was no exception even if a few elements left me underwhelmed. That said, it’s obviously not the best place to start the series.

If you measure a man by the enemies he makes, Odd Thomas counts among the giants. Several months ago his path crossed that of a malevolent cult of Satanists, this time ones that were actually tapped into some nasty supernatural powers. With the help of some new-found friends he thwarted their plans that day, but in doing so has painted a bulls-eye on his back. He is now their number one target…and it’s no secret who he is and where he comes from. If someone wanted to hurt our heroic fry cook, hitting Pico Mundo is a no-brainer. So, warned by a dream that is clearly more than the result of too much pizza, Odd is drawn back to his home town for one final confrontation. This time, what the cultists have planned will make the events at the mall years ago look like child’s play….

Like I said, I liked this one. I was a little underwhelmed by the eventual revelation of just exactly what was up with Annamaria, but I suppose that was only natural since Koontz has been teasing us with it since 2008. Given the eventual revelation, I think maybe he made it just a little too interesting for his own good–after that buildup, the answer was surprisingly uninteresting. The book could also have used a main focal villain as opposed to the faceless cult, and the series celebrity ghost cameos were also sadly lacking here. Other than that, I was more than happy with the book. Odd’s trademark humor was in evidence, as was the heart and soul that we have come to expect from the series. As a conclusion to the series, it was fairly satisfying if perhaps a little abrupt–you get the idea from previous books that there’s some grand service he’s going to have to perform for Annamaria before their adventure ends, but I guess that was me (and everyone else) reading too much into it. Maybe now Koontz will finally finish the Moonlight Bay trilogy?

CONTENT: PG-13 grade profanity, pretty standard from Koontz since his return to the faith. Strong violence, occasionally disturbing. No explicit sexual content, but there are some references to the subjects of rape and child molestation. As far as occult content goes, this is pretty comparable to the earlier books in the series. Odd sees the lingering spirits of the deceased, both benevolent and malevolent. The cultists serve a reputably-nasty demon, though the entity itself stays “off-screen.” I had no objections, but to each his own.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

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Review: “The Walking Drum” by Louis L’Amour

Title: The Walking Drum
Author: Louis L’Amour
*Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Bantam, 1984

I’ve documented before my long-held fondness for the works of Louis L’Amour, and this particular book is no exception. Here you will find all of the adventure, excitement and historicity that has long been associated with the works of Louis L’Amour, but this time with a different setting. Most of L’Amour’s body of work is set in the Old West, or if not there at least on the American frontier as it existed at the time the story is set. The Walking Drum, however, is set in twelfth-century Europe, from Brittany to Constantinople and beyond. I am sure some of it’s impact on my memory has to do with it’s uniqueness among L’Amour’s works, but the fact remains that this is a well-wrought adventure novel with a wealth of historical gems hidden inside. My memory of it from childhood did not in the least do it justice. I very much wish that L’Amour had followed it up with the proposed sequel he was planning, but regrettably he died before he managed to get it written.

We join Mathurin Kerbouchard as a boy on the verge of manhood, his mother killed and his home burned by the evil local petty noble. His father, a legendary corsair, is lost at sea, rumored to be dead, but Kerbouchard doesn’t believe it. He resolves to find his father and enlist his aid in seeking revenge on the evil baron who burned their home. Of course, this is easier said than done. The ensuing adventure sees Kerbouchard as a galley slave and a noted scholar, a swordsman and a companion of princes, a merchant and lover to a princess, all culminating in a daring infiltration of Alamut, the fortress of the dreaded Assassins….

I can’t really offer too much of a description of the plot without major spoilers, as it is highly episodic. Kerbouchard embarks on one adventure after another, escaping one scrape simply to land in another. In some ways, Kerbouchard is the anti-Conan. Whereas Conan is an unschooled barbarian, come “to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet,” Kerbouchard absorbs knowledge like a sponge thanks to the Druidic training passed on by his uncle. Both are skilled swordsmen, and both are incredibly popular with the ladies, but whereas Conan prefers to start the discussion with his sword, Kerbouchard would much rather exchange ideas. This isn’t to say that he won’t fight, but he would prefer to explore other avenues in most cases. As with any of his stories involving a boat in any way, L’Amour devotes considerable time to one of his pet peeves–the misconception that people believed in a flat Earth until Columbus showed them otherwise, with Kerbouchard ridiculing the idea at almost every turn. Another particular notion he perhaps over-emphasizes is the intellectual superiority of the Moorish culture to the close-minded twelfth-century Christendom that made a virtue of ignorance. I’d like to be offended, but he’s not entirely wrong. On the other hand, that’s no longer the current state of affairs, either–they were called the Dark Ages for a reason, however flawed the term may be.

Ever reread a book you read as a child and been blown away by how much you missed on your first encounter? That was this book for me. Dad held this one in reserve until I was considerably older than when reading the majority of L’Amour’s work, and now I can see why. Even though I totally missed it at the time, there is a level of sexual content here that is totally foreign to most of L’Amour’s bibliography. It’s not explicit by any means, and in at least a couple cases I can’t even tell when it occurs, but Kerbouchard pretty much beds every woman he comes in contact with. The subtext is clear, even as nothing is explicitly said. There’s some very pointed and ribald flirting, but on those occasions everyone remains firmly clothed. Kerbouchard’s musings later on, however, make clear that at some point during the overview time-is-passing-quickly sections he and whatever lady he was with at the time definitely got it on. Nine-year-old me totally missed that, but then nine-year-old me was pretty sheltered. Nine-year-old me also missed a lot of the historical content that now makes more sense to the twenty-something student of history, but that’s only to be expected.

CONTENT: There’s quite a bit of sex happening in the time-frame covered by this novel, but absolutely all of it happens between the lines and is completely non-explicit. Mild language. Some strong violence, but nothing particularly disturbing. Some musings on the ancient Druids, but nothing too occultic–we know too little, and L’Amour has too high a regard for accuracy to say much.

*This definitely deserves four stars. The fifth may be a stretch for some people, and I freely admit the possibility of a nostalgic bias. I just don’t care.

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