Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Clash of Kings - the second book of A Song of Ice and Fire is bloodier and darker

The second book from Martin's epic A Song of Ice and Fire largely reminds of political elections in Bulgaria. Five kings are fighting for the Iron throne and almost all of them have no claim on it whatsoever.

Robb Stark is determined to avenge his father's death and to wipe of the face of the earth every Lannister still standing. Only 15-years-old and with the help of his notorious mother Cathleen Stark, he leaves Winterfell to his younger brothers and marches south to spread justice. After his father unfortunate death and Ned Stark's murder, the spoiled and annoying Joffrey is free to play king and even the powerful Cersei cannot stop him spilling blood back and forth. However, his comfortability on the Iron Throne is shaking as the truth of his mother and father/uncle incest is coming to surface.

Robert Baratheon's brothers Stannis and Renly also join the party. Stannis, most probably the most righteous heir to the throne, chooses not the way of the sword, but the way of dark magic. Abandoning the old gods, he chooses the God of Light and his representative the red-haired Melissandre. One must point out that Stannis is the least desired king as his personality cannot be further away from charming and exciting the masses. Renly, on the other hand, is the pretty, attractive, young, and rather impulsive candidate-king. Forming a strategic alliance with Highgarden by marrying one of the lord's daughters, he secures for himself a strong army to try and storm King's Landing.

I must revise my statement - it is actually four kings and a queen. Daenarys (or simply Danny) is without a doubt the most boring and redundant character in the novels. So far her successes include burning Khal Drogo and accidentally awakening her dragons and settling in Qarth, the most beautiful city in the world (according to its people). Danny indeed lacks experience and good judgment (which she compensates with looks) but she has her loyal dog next to her (Jorah Mormont), who, to be honest, is far more concerned with how to get into her pants than to help her take Westeros back.

One must mention Theon on top of these 5 kings. Upon his return to the Iron Islands after being Ned Stark's ward (or prisoner in Theon's eyes) he discovers he is a stranger at home. His younger and manly sister is now his father's and his people's favorite for the throne. Theon must prove that he is worthy of the iron blood and takes a rather bold but stupid decision to turn against the people he grew up with. Even though I quite like Theon, he lacks the wits and the patience to be a conqueror and his immature act would cost him more than his father's disapproval and his sister's contempt.

A Clash of Kings is indeed bloodier and darker. Martin once again reminds us not to make a character a favorite, because everyone can easily be killed in the next chapter (one of the aspects I simply love about Martin's style; no one is safe from the power of his pen). There are more battles with great descriptions in the second part and one gets the feeling that while the first one was more about strategy and wits, the outcome in the second one will be determined by spears and swords. The magical unites with the historical to create a battlefield, where strength, wits, gods, and luck interact, where alliances are broken and enemies found in a mere second, and where nothing is certain except the fact that Tyrion is a dwarf.

Some people share the belief that the second book was much more boring and predictable than the first one and that Martin is lowering the quality level of his epic story. I couldn't disagree more. While A Game of Thrones was much more an introduction to the Land of Westeros, the noble houses, and the conflicts, in A Clash of Kings we are so to say at home already. I have my personal favorites (yes, I wouldn't surprise anyone if I say Tyrion but I kind of have been fond of Theon as well; don't ask me why, I still don't have an idea). The second novel builds upon the first with characters becoming more rounded, while the reader has the chance to see them in situations the first book didn't offer. Jon Snow falling in love (or in lust) and questioning his oath to the Men of the Watch, Cersei showing some humanity after all, and Tyrion struggling between his loyalty to his family, his affection for the whore Shae, and his inherent inclination towards justice are not to be missed. Martin hasn't become bored or predictable yet, but he becomes wordier and wordier. His descriptions are thorough, his style insightful, and his imagination beyond admiration. Truly one of the most notable science-fiction authors of our time and one who must be followed closely.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The fantistorical epos A Song of Ice and Fire - A Game of Thrones (Book 1)

I have never actually liked epic fantasy novels. I barely finished the first part of LOTR (yes I know the books are better than the movie) and I was quick to claim fantasy epics as something I would never waste my time on. The magic swords, the creatures, the wizards, the rings, all of that made me bored as hell. However, as I have discovered quite a few times in my life, the things I tend to judge way too quickly, at the end turn out to be not only not that bad, but actually pretty awesome.

I guess I am pretty slow to discover George R.R. Martin's epic A Song of Ice and Fire. The fantasy and science fiction fans must have known it for years. As much as I like to criticize book adaptations, though, thanks to HBO's series A Game of Thrones I actually looked into the books. I have sworn I would never watch a movie before checking out the books, so after I was totally hooked up by the first episode, I deleted the whole series, went straight to the bookstore and bought my self the first novel.

George R.R. Martin's style captured me from the first couple of chapters. As much as I was expecting the same sort of bullshit (I don't meen to offend anyone) as LOTR, I was pleasantly surprised, and yes, completely hooked. The story of the magical land of Westeros, where 7 noble houses fight for a throne (i.e a game of thrones) is a good mixture of science-fiction and fantasy. Yes, Martin has the occasional walking dead, wizards, wildfires, and inexplicably clever direwolfs, but everything is done tastefully. A Game of Thrones much more reminds of a mediaval story of knights, ladies, fights, glory, and honor. It actually resembles Rome, Spartacus, etc much more than LOTR and Harry Potter. And that was what I actually enjoyed most about it.

Martin is a great storyteller. His attention to detail is magnificent; he spends a fair amount of time on even minor characters. His novels are long, yes, but the inclusion of minor characters combined with the focus on inner struggles, conflicts, and battles provides a insightful picture into the land of Westeros and into its characters' minds.

The novel is told through the point of view of several main characters, which alternate in no consistent order. As such, I was able to grasp a conflict from both of its sides. What is more, Martin's characters are neither good, nor bad. All of them are able to feel compassion, yet all of them fight inner demons and not always act in the righteous way. In that sense as well, it is not a fantasy epic about good vs. evil, it is an epic about the good in men vs the bad in men. The seven noble families must overcome not only their enemy, they must decide within themselves what is more important - family and love or honor. Martin is no predictable author, so don't get to love any of the characters - at any point of time anyone can be killed. In that sense A Game of Thrones (and A Song of Ice and Fire) is not an epic about any particular character; it is more of a bible of a medieval society, where power, money, and love attempt to live together.