12.17–A Clash of Kings

This novel, in case you don’t know, is the second in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.  By no means as interesting as the first, much of it feels rather like filler.  It takes a very long while for the events to get moving. For a novel that’s 969 pages long, reading through 400 pages in which mostly nothing happens is pretty difficult.  Still, the events of the latter half of the novel make pushing through the first part worth it, and I very much look forward to starting the next novel.

As ever, the story of the Seven Kingdoms is told from multiple third-person points of view, following a large number of different characters.  One of the most frustrating things about this series is the sheer number of characters (I believe I read somewhere that throughout the series of five books so far there are over 1,000 named characters).  Their names are unusual and some of them are very similar, making it extremely difficult to keep track of everyone.  At times I only followed the story based on some vague concept of a person’s character–this man is bad, this woman is benevolent, this man can’t be trusted, this one can be bought for gold–instead of attempting to memorize all the names. It helps to read the appendix at the back, and keep referring to it as the novel progresses.

I will say this for Martin: with his main players he takes a great deal of care, crafting them into multi-faceted, many-sided characters.  My favorite in this novel is Tyrion Lannister, a witty man whose lack of brawn has turned him into a clever schemer–the man who really controls the country, though from the shadows so that no one knows it. Arya, my favorite in the last book, lost most of her spunk for this one, though she gained it back at the end to reclaim her place in my heart. Sansa, whom I hated in the first novel, certainly earns the reader’s sympathy in this one, as her mad betrothed, Joffrey, abuses her horribly, both emotionally and physically.  Cersei Lannister and her son Joffrey are both evil to the core–Joffrey a spoiled, mad child who has been given a crown, and Cersei the mother who will do anything to protect her son and see him hold on to the Iron Throne.  Each of these characters, and the others, evoke specific emotions within the reader, and once the chapter ends and we don’t know how soon we’ll see them again, there is a little bit of disappointment.  I’ve considered skipping ahead to the next chapter belonging to a character I’m particularly interested in, but I know that by the time the novel gets around to that next chapter, so many things have changed that nothing will make sense.

The plot moves swiftly and the fortunes of characters change in a flash.  In this novel, as in its predecessor and presumably its sequels, nothing is certain–life or death, good or evil, victory or defeat.  Even when it looks as if a battle can have only one outcome, Martin surprises us with some new trickery.  With five kings vying for one throne, and two more self-styled monarchs eyeing the throne from a distance, there is no well-defined line in the sand, no clear hero for which to cheer.  In this, Martin creates realism far beyond what most authors will do.  These people could be walking around in an alternate universe, where fate does not always favor the noble or the good.  Though the world he created is very thorough, complete with topography, geography, history, religion, language, culture, and the previously spoken-of characters, it is this ability of his to not give us the happy ending we want that truly brings the story to life and makes it believable.

Though I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as the first, I still had difficulty putting it down, especially the nearer I drew to the end.  The simmering pot of the Seven Kingdoms explodes into a boil, and it gets to be a very exciting read.


12.11–The Pirate Queen

I picked up this book in a tourist shop with an assortment of Irish interest books.  The back cover text makes it seem a lot more exciting than it really is. It is a historical book whose enticing teaser text invites the reader to enter the exciting, adventurous, romantic world of Grace O’Malley–the Pirate Queen. In the 16th century, Grace unofficially ruled the west coast of Ireland with her armada. Theoretically this book should have been really interesting, but sadly it was more a history of the conflict between the Irish and the English.  Grace herself occasionally surfaced in the book, and all the events sort of centered around her, but it wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy my desire for a really good pirate story. The history was interesting, but not what I wanted to read about.

Since probably no one is going to read this book, I won’t spend much time on reviewing it. I don’t even know if it’s available in the US. Maybe it is, but honestly I’d pass it by. There are other, better books about pirates out there.

Week 13, Part 2–The Eighth Day

Oh, I’m behind. Forgive me!

First of all, does anyone else find it amusing that week thirteen’s book was called “The Thirteenth Tale”? I just noticed that, and no, I did not do it on purpose. Hah! Funny how life works out.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=4770030886&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrThe second book I read in week 13 was called The Eighth Day by Mitsuyo Kakuta, a book originally written in Japanese and translated into English. It’s another of those books set in a place I do not know a great deal about, and it’s interesting that our book club chose it mere days before the earthquake in Japan brought the country to the forefront of everyone’s thoughts.  It is an interesting discovery to make as I read–the realization that most of the books I read are set in a fairly limited range of settings.  Thus, though Japan bears great similarities to the United States, I felt fully the cultural differences while reading Kakuta’s book.  Sometimes they brought me down, because it was difficult for me to reconcile the traditionalism of the eastern culture with the invasion of my familiar “western” economy and ideas.

The story is told in two parts. The first part begins in 1985, and is narrated by a woman who, after her affair with a married man ends in her aborting his child, kidnaps the child borne him by his wife.  She lives for four years on the run, in various hiding places, raising the girl as her own. At the end of four years, she is caught and the child is returned to a family she doesn’t recognize as her own.  The second part is narrated by the child herself in the present day, all grown up and struggling to find the truth about her identity and come to terms with her harrowing family situation.  When she meets a barely-remembered friend from her days spent with the kidnapper, she follows their old route around Japan to uncover what really happened during those four years, and who the woman was whom she called mother.

It wasn’t my favorite, I won’t lie. I felt weighted down by a very heavy depression the entire time I was reading.  Literally everyone in the book is screwed-up somehow (I guess the counterargument to that would be which of us isn’t screwed up?) and after a time, it really brought me down. Like so much contemporary literature, there seemed to be little or no resolution or redemption at the end of the novel.  Personally, I enjoy reading as an escape from the monotony and uncertainty of life. It is rare that I want to read about the same depressing things and open-ended questions that I experience in real life. I appreciate the value of documenting modern life in this way, and understand the appeal it may have for others. Indeed, this novel may hold a great deal of appeal for someone whose preferences tend toward this type of novel, as it is an intriguing story and is well written.  For me, however, it’s not a novel I would ever revisit, nor one of which I would speak highly.

Week 11, Part 2–The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I suppose I should dedicate a rather long post to this one, as it is an outrageous bestseller at the moment, and has come highly recommended to me by at least a dozen people. In fact, the copy I just read was given to me by someone who had an extra and insisted that I have it and read it.  Which I promptly did.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0307454541&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrNearly everyone has had an experience in which they get excited about seeing/reading/listening to something that gazillions of people claim is amazing.  As they make their way through it, however, their disappointment grows and grows, until they nearly hate the object to which they had so looked forward to experiencing.  This phenomena I will term “The Overhype Effect” or TOE for short. TOE, for me, definitely applies to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  No, I don’t hate the book. In fact, let me just start by saying that it is very good.  It is suspenseful and frightening, macabre and thrilling.  The characters are great–especially, obviously, Lisbeth Salandar, who is The Girl with the tattoo.

It took literally forever to grab my interest. The first several chapters were so incredibly boring that the only reason I kept going was the fact that everyone who has made it through the book says it’s fantastic.  And from about page 200 to the end, it was fantastic.  Still, that’s a long time to finish the set-up and jump into the main plot. I got pretty frustrated with the waiting.

That said, the waiting was basically worth it. There were so many plot twists and turns–unexpected things just coming out of nowhere. It was everything a thriller/mystery should be.  And there were several parts where I thought to myself, X-number of pages left? What can he possibly have left to say? He’s already blown my mind X-number of times!

I love that it is set in a real place but a place you don’t read or hear much about–Sweden.  Many of the books I read are either set in some made up world, or in England, or New York and other big cities in the U.S.  This, I feel, is overdone. I’m so tired of always reading or watching what goes on in NY, LA, or Chicago.  Hello! There are other places in the States that deserve attention too!  Same with London, Paris, and Rome.  There are other European cities that are interesting. Which is why I found the setting of Sweden so alluring. It was a whole new set of names and cities that I had to navigate, and it made the read much more challenging than it would have been otherwise.

The characters’ relationships to each other were also fascinating. Blomkvist–the main character who is hired to solve a 40 year old mystery–has strange relationships with women, including one with Erika Berger, a married woman (who also happens to be his boss) whose husband has known about the affair since before he even married Erika.  Then there’s Lisbeth Salander, a troubled young woman of 24, still assigned a guardian by the state due to psychological issues.  She also happens to be a talented researcher with a gift for digging up more information about a person than that person can even recall themselves.  She and Blomkvist team up to find out what happened to Harriet Vanger, a teenager who vanished in the 1960s.  Along the way they discover some pretty messed up secrets, and also find a solution to their loneliness.

I suppose what ended up being the most disappointing to me was the slow start.  Everything else was great, but by the time I got to the good part I was already mad at the book and determined to resent it. Still, I think it is worth slogging through all the incomprehensible business talk (unless, of course, you know/enjoy business, and then it’s not slogging at all, is it?) to get to the deeply disturbing yet heart-poundingly exciting thriller that lies in wait.