Tag Archives: dragons

Review: “The Ice Dragon,” by George R.R. Martin

Title: The Ice Dragon
Author: George R.R. Martin
Series: A Song of Ice & Fire….kind of.
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: TOR, 2014 (originally 1980)

The Ice Dragon was originally published in 1980 as a short story and later reworked into a short novella for younger readers. Does it tie into Martin’s magnum opus, A Song of Ice and Fire (better known to some by the title of the first book and HBO series, A Game of Thrones)? That depends on who you ask. The book jacket says yes, in an obvious attempt to boost sales. Martin says no, and that ASoIaF wasn’t even a thing yet when this was written.  If you read it, you can easily tell that this is at best tangentially connected to Martin’s more famous work–there are thematic connections, but it bears little resemblance to any of the recorded history of Westeros and Essos, nor to most of the mythology mentioned therein. Could it take place in the pre-history of Valyria? Sure. It could describe the early days of that empire, forgotten by the time of ASoIaF, but there is little to suggest that beyond the thematic connections and, obviously, the dragons. Even the titular ice dragon is different from what audiences reportedly saw last season on the show. So officially, it’s not a part of the ASoIaF canon, but if you want to make it part of your headcanon, go ahead. Be my guest.

Adara is a winter child, born during the deepest freeze anyone can remember, and is always happiest when the land is in winter’s icy grip. She’s a cold child, both physically and emotionally, able to handle the small ice lizards that come during the winter without melting them as her playmates are wont to accidentally do. But what no one else knows is that Adara also has a dragon. Not the smallish, green fire dragons that the Empire’s men ride into battle, no–those terrify young Adara. Adara’s dragon is the legendary ice dragon feared by her entire village. It’s been seen in the sky each year since she was four, and each year the winter comes earlier, freezes harder, and lasts longer. Adara loves her dragon, loves riding it through the sky, the frigid wind in her face. But now it is summer, and her dragon is nowhere to be seen. Now it is summer, and the war in the north is not going well for the Empire. Imperial Dragonriders have been retreating in the face of their enemies, but Adara’s father refuses to leave their farm….until enemy Dragonriders show up and capture Adara’s family. Now only Adara is left to defend her home….but how can she do that in the middle of summer?

This is a quick read, and surprisingly nuanced for a children’s book. Martin weaves a complex tale of love and sacrifice that is fit for children, yet appeals to adults as well. And to top it off, Luis Royo’s artwork is superb. Most of it is uncolored line art, but even that is beautiful. See below for the full version of the cover art. This feels like the kind of story Old Nan would tell to the young Stark children at Winterfell, yet as I mentioned above the history described therein is not consistent with Westeros. Maybe early Valyria, if they ever faced an enemy that also rode dragons…

CONTENT: No profanity or sexual content whatsoever. Some violence, not gory, but neither is it sugarcoated. When dragons battle, people burn.

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Review: “A Clash Of Kings” by George R.R. Martin

Title: A Clash Of Kings
Author: George R.R. Martin
Series: A Song Of Ice And Fire, Volume II
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Bantam, 2002

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m absolutely sold on this series. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I hit the end of what’s been published so far…join the poor souls clamoring for The Winds Of Winter, I suppose. Obviously, this is going to contain MAJOR spoilers for A Game Of Thronesthe first book in the series. You’ve been warned!

Westeros is in chaos! King Robert Baratheon is dead, slain by a boar in a tragic case of “hunting while intoxicated.” Robert’s young son Joffrey now sits upon the Iron Throne, advised by his mother Cersei Lannister. What few know is that Joffrey is actually the illegitimate offspring of Cersei’s incestuous liaisons with her twin brother Jaime. Robert’s Hand, Eddard “Ned” Stark, discovered this deadly secret, thus sealing his own fate as well as that of his king. Cersei made sure her hated husband was well-supplied with his favorite wine before heading out to hunt the boar that would kill him, and Joffrey ordered Stark’s head struck off in punishment for his failed attempt to place Robert’s brother (and legitimate heir, given Joffrey’s true parentage) on the throne. Tyrion Lannister has been sent to serve as Joffrey’s Hand, much to Cersei’s annoyance, and he’ll have his work cut out for him. Both of Robert’s brothers have taken the opportunity to declare themselves the true king, Stannis by right of birth and Renly by right of arms. Sadly, they stand a much thinner chance of success opposed to one another than if they teamed up…. In the North, Robb Stark’s bannermen have declared themselves free of the Iron Throne and placed a crown on their lord’s head. A string of brilliant victories has left them with a strong bargaining position and a valuable hostage: Jaime Lannister. Sansa Stark is stuck in King’s Landing, at the mercy of the cruelty of Cersei and Joffrey. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) her naivete was stolen when her father’s head left his shoulders. Now she plays the meek and obedient prisoner, all the while praying for an opening to escape the hell she’s stuck in. Arya Stark has successfully avoided her sister’s fate, posing as a boy and falling in with a train of recruits heading north to the Wall–a road that leads right past Winterfell…after wending its way through the thickest of the fighting that’s engulfed the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, Jon Snow joins a massive force ranging beyond the Wall to search for news of his missing uncle…as well as insight into the return of the Others, ghastly frozen wights thought to be the stuff of legend. Across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen has assumed leadership of her dead husband’s Khal, her followers awed by the three dragons birthed from Drogo’s pyre. But despite their devotion, the fact remains that they are weak. They are in no condition to face any of the rival Khals that roam the Dothraki Sea, let alone reclaim Westeros….

Martin’s prose continues to be top-notch, keeping you enthralled with the world he’s weaving even as you’re disgusted at the horrific events that are unfolding before your eyes. Various characters continue to prove just as unreliable in their assumptions as in the first book, and Martin seems to delight in working the narrative equivalent of “negative space”–the important information is often what’s NOT being said. It’s refreshing to see an author who respects his audience’s ability to work things out on their own. Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow remain hands-down favorites, while Daenerys and Bran continue to grow on me. As winter approaches and Danaerys’s dragons grow, magic slowly flows back into the world in subtle ways, but this remains primarily a historical fantasy at this point. If you can stomach the brutal world Martin is creating here, I can’t urge you strongly enough to join me. Apparently it only gets better from here….

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, not gratuitous, but not rare either. Rampant, disturbing violence, from hangings and decapitations to occasionally more grotesque fates–flaying comes up occasionally, though we don’t actually “see” that happen. There’s not-infrequent reference to torture though. Again, a fair amount of sexual content, including topics such as incest, rape, underage sex, and prostitution. Not really rendered in gratuitous detail, but often frankly and/or crudely discussed. Also, occultic elements begin to creep in here. Beyond the fantasy-based magic of wights and dragons, we get a guild of pyromancers whose power is waxing again for reasons they can’t seem to figure out (“Our spells haven’t worked this well since the time of the dragons!”) and a priestess of a foreign god with the power to strike men down with shadows.

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Mini-Reviews: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, part 2

Here’s the second round of Discworld books! (First round is here.) I started reviewing all series in this format, but have since abandoned that idea. I’m sticking with it for the Discworld novels, because I have a lot of the same things to say about them and multiple posts would get incredibly redundant.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld does for (or to) Fantasy what Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy did for science fiction–firmly sets a story within a genre, stereotypes intact, then goes to town.  He’s frequently irreverent, and it’s an absolute delight to read. Since this post is a compilation of reviews for books six through ten of the series, there are a few spoilers. Specifically, if you haven’t read Sourcery yet, my review of Eric is going to spoil the ending of that for you…..

WYRD SISTERS (****)
This sixth entry in the series stands on its own rather well, its only ties to the previous novels being the reappearance of Granny Weatherwax from Equal Rites, the cameo appearance of the Orangutan librarian from the Unseen University, and the obligatory appearance by Death (who may be the only character to appear in all of the books to date, I’ll have to check on that sometime….) This volume takes on Shakespeare, the theatre, and the power of words…..

King Verence of Lancre is dead. His cousin, Lord Felmet, very rudely stuck a dagger in his back and pushed him down the stairs. The three witches of Lancre (Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and young Magrat Garlick) don’t hold with meddling in politics, but what are they to do when a servant hands them a babe and a crown before expiring from the three arrows stuck in his back?

PYRAMIDS (*****)
This time Pratchett takes on ancient Egypt. Prince Teppic is the heir to the throne of Djelibeybi, the oldest kingdom on the Disc. He’s spent the last several years being educated by the Assassins’ Guild, but now he must take the throne due to his father’s unexpected demise. But ruling the Old Kingdom is harder than it looks, especially with the High Priest Dios “interpreting” all of his orders all wrong. In addition, the massive pyramid being built for his father is acting very strangely…..

This volume stands very well on its own–the only real connections to the rest of the series thus far are the city of Ankh-Morpork, Death’s appearance, and the cameo by Unseen University’s Orangutan librarian.

GUARDS! GUARDS! (*****)
With this seventh entry, we are introduced to the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. There’s Carrot Ironfoundersson, a six-foot-tall dwarf-by-adoption newly arrived in the city to seek his way in the world, while Captain Vimes serves in the role of every film-noir detective or cop ever to grace the silver screen. Along with Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs, Carrot and Vimes are going to have their work cut out for them, because Ankh-Morpork is about to discover that dragons aren’t as extinct as previously thought. But is the dragon’s arrival merely coincidence, or is there a larger, more sinister plot afoot? It is going to be up to the Watch to find out!

This volume stands on its own fairly well, at least insofar as previous books are concerned. I understand there are a number of later books also starring the Watch, but this is the first in that subseries. Recurring characters include the Librarian and Death, of course, as well as the Patrician (who I can’t help imagining as Ralph Fiennes for some reason).

FAUST ERIC (****)

When we left Rincewind at the end of Sourcery, he was running for his life through the Dungeon Dimensions, trapped there for the forseeable future. Well, it seems he’s found a way back onto our plane of existence (or whatever plane the Discworld is on, at least), but its a bit embarrassing. He’s been conjurred by a fifteen-year-old demonologist wannabe, who remains stubbornly convinced that Rincewind is a demon and demands his three wishes. Rincewind finds, much to his surprise and confusion, that he seems to actually be able to grant these wishes, which of course launches our protagonists on a comic journey of mythic proportions, literally to hell and back and to the ends of the Disc…..

Could you read this ninth entry in the Discworld series by itself? Sure, you could, but you might feel you were coming into the middle of a story. This one probably stands alone least of all the Discworld stories I’ve read so far. For my two cents, you should at least read The Colour Of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and Sourcery before delving into this next installment of Rincewind’s adventures.

MOVING PICTURES (*****)

The Discworld is in peril once more, and this time it’s quite a show! When the last priest of an ancient order dies without training a successor, the spirit of Holy Wood is released once more into the world. People are called from the Disc over to come and be a part of this new phenomena–moving pictures! The only problem is that the dark Lovecraftian things from the Dungeon Dimensions still want through into the Discworld, and Holy Wood is about to make a door for them….

Moving Pictures is perhaps my favorite book in this series yet. Pratchett usually picks one idea or concept to make fun of and play with for the course of a book, and this time it was Hollywood. As such, the book is rife with references from Gone with the Wind to old Errol Flynn flicks. The plot is mostly an excuse to make all these jokes, but it’s still great fun! This one stands alone as well as any of the Discworld novels, by which I mean a lot of background characters reappear–The Librarian, Death, Detritus the Troll bouncer from the Mended Drum tavern, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler….a couple others, I think, but its not really important.

Content-wise, Discworld holds steady at a raucous PG or a mild PG-13. There’s mild language, comedic violence, and various raunchy jokes that never actually become explicit. If you were okay with the likes of Conan and Red Sonja you have nothing to worry about here.

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