Waverley

Waverley, Sir Walter Scott, 1814

Waverley Sir Walter Scott

Waverley is an odd novel that kind of captured my heart.  Sir Walter Scott was a prominent Scottish poet before he published his first novel anonymously.   It was immediately crazy popular.  Waverley is often called the first historical novel, which I guess it might be, if you choose to ignore Gothic novels.  I suppose you could argue that Gothic novels are their own genre and Waverley launched the historic novel genre.  It certainly is not the first novel with a historical setting.

Scott set his first novel during the Jacobite Revolution.  Briefly, in 1688 England deposed King James II in favor of the much less Catholic King William of Orange.  As you can imagine, not everyone in Great Britain was on board with this decision.  The Scots mostly remained loyal to King James as he was part of the Scottish Stuart dynasty.  In 1745, James II’s grandson, who went by the adorable name Bonnie Prince Charlie, landed in Scotland and made an ill-fated attempt to take back the throne.  Waverley is set during this exciting time.

The main character is Edward Waverley and he is the silliest main character I have encountered so far.  I have so many problems with his personality, but I am smiling while I think about them.  His silliness doesn’t ruin the novel for me; it just makes me laugh.  Edward is a naïve, young English nobleman who joins the King’s army and sets off to Scotland to fight the Jacobites.  The Jacobites were loyal to the House of Stuart.  Apparently, if you were a nobleman in the army at this time, you could just take off whenever you wanted and go visit your noble friends.  Who knew?  Edward goes to visit his uncle’s dear friend the Baron Bradwardine, a Jacobite.  Baron Bradwardine.  Such a great name.

While visiting the honorable Baron, Edward learns about his arrangement with a certain Highland chief.  Get ready for the best name of any literary character ever.  Are you ready?  Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr.  Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!  Oh, I love him.  I love Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr so much.  He is the chief of Clan Ivor.  As Edward learns, Scottish chieftains were basically mafia bosses.  Baron Bradwardine paid Fergus Mac Ivor a fee for protection from other chieftains.  Basically, if Bradwardine pays up, Mac Ivor wont steal his cows.  If another chieftain steals Bradwardine’s cows, Mac Ivor will fight them and get the cows back or he will go steal cows from one of his enemies and give them to Bradwardine.  When Edward hears about this he thinks exactly what you are thinking right now: “That’s awesome!  I want to go visit this awesome guy.”  So, he sets out into the rugged highlands to pay a visit to the local chiefs.  That is the best idea that Edward has in the course of the book, and the only decision he makes for himself.  Everything else that happens is someone else’s idea.

Edward is quite passive, like a female character from this era of literature.  Also like a female, he constantly needs assistance from men.  Every time he tries something manly, he gets injured or sick and has to be rescued and nursed.  At one point he gets a nasty letter which “filled him with such bitter emotions, that after various attempts to conceal them, he at length threw himself into Mac-Ivor’s arms, and gave vent to tears of shame and indignation.”  Adorable, right?  I would like to fling myself into Mac Ivor’s arms, cuz that guy is manly and effective.  The only emotions he gives vent to are pride and loyalty.  Like a man.  (Ok, I know, reinforcing the gender binary.  Sorry.  Whatever.)

The bromance between Fergus and Edward can only be attributed to opposites attracting.  Fergus is a man of conviction.  He believes in the restoration of the Stuart monarchs SO HARD.  I started to believe in his cause too, that’s how powerful Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr’s convictions are.  Edward, on the other hand, is a freaking turncoat.  Really!  No foolin.  He joins the English army, cuz, whatever, he didn’t have anything better to do.  Then he changes sides, but not because he believes in Mac Ivor’s cause.  He joins the opposing army, because his original army is mean to him.  I am not kidding.  Also, they kind of kick him out.  Then when he is fighting with the highlanders he gets all upset when they try to kill British noblemen (you know, because it doesn’t matter if you kill a commoner, but it’s just a terrible shame to spill blue blood) and tries to save them.  Make up your mind, Edward Waverley!  This may be a result of indoctrination during American history classes, but there is something in me that hates a turncoat.

Anyway, Sir Walter Scott’s style is dense and often dull.  He includes many obscure references that only a highly educated British reader from the early 1800s would get.  Also, he makes the fatal flaw of writing a boring character.  Baron Bradwardine is notorious for telling long, boring stories.  Walter Scott includes many examples of those long, boring stories in Waverley.  I don’t think I need to explain to you why that’s not a good thing to do as a novelist.  Honestly, the book is pretty boring overall and the characters have incomprehensible motivations.  Waverley is basically unmotivated.  I can’t relate to Mac Ivor’s royalism.  It’s completely out of my realm of understanding to want to give up your life to make another man king of somewhere.  Just don’t get it. I do admire Mac Ivor though.   I did enjoy the book, mostly because of the incredibly romantic setting.  I got super excited about the highland Scots.  They have a loyalty to each other that I do understand.

Despite its faults, I actually enjoyed reading Waverley quite a bit.  Scott hides a unique sense of humor within all those extra words he uses.  I got swept away by his romanticized vision of 18th century Scotland.  His descriptions of Clan Mac Ivor in their cave hideout are so vivid that I could smell the damp wool of their kilts.  I never liked the main character even a little, but I fell head over heels for Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr.  Heeheehee.  Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr.  Delightful.

You might like Waverley if:

  • you went to St. John’s College or some other Great Books school and are trying to get your money’s worth out of your education by reading literature that references all those great books.
  • you yearn for tales of old Scotland so fervently that you don’t mind slogging through some incredibly dense prose.

You might not like Waverley if:

  • you have a low tolerance for pretentious literary references. 

 

Final Thoughts: Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr!  That is all.

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Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813

Originally, I wasn’t going to reread anything for this project.  However, now it would seem strange to skip over major works of literature in my chronological journey through the canon.  So, I am adding books to the list that I have already read, but I forgot to add Pride and Prejudice until after I read Emma and Mansfield Park.  Hence, my Austen chronology has gotten mixed up and my opinion of Austen got mixed up with it.

Here’s a summary of how I felt as I read the first 4 of 6 Austen novels on my list:

Before: Ugh, so much Austen.

During Sense and Sensibilty: Ugh.  Yuck.  Blergh.

During Mansfield Park: Yawn.  Why does anybody read this stuff?

During Emma: Ok, Austen, I’m not too mad.  Emma is kind of a worthless B, though.

During Pride and Prejudice: OMG, Darcy and Lizzy’s love is more important to me than my own life!  They are the best lovers in literature.  Yay, Austen!


Pride and Prejudice Cosplay

There’s a good reason for P&P being Austen’s most well-read and well-regarded novel.  It is largely absent of the flaws common to her other works.  As I see it, those flaws include excessive length, thoroughly boring characters and conversations, scanty plot and weak characterization.  Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park are the worst offenders.  Pride and Prejudice, however, doesn’t have these problems.  Despite the maxim that authors should show rather than tell, when characters are having a dull conversation, it’s often better for the author to summarize.  In Mansfield Park Austen dedicates 10 pages to a pointless conversation about shrubbery just to show the reader that a certain character is profoundly boring.  In P&P she mercifully tells us that Sir William Lucas and his daughter “had nothing to say that could be worth hearing” and moves on with the story.  That summary made me so happy.  Writer win!

I have probably read this book five times now and each time I find myself more emotionally invested in the lives of the characters.  I wonder how much this has to do with the merit of the book versus the cultural cache these characters have.  Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy transcend their novel of origin.  Am I invested in their love story because I like this book or because I like the BBC miniseries or the film starring Kiera Knightley or because I’m pretty much obsessed with Bridget Jones’s Diary?  Any way you slice it, I really care about their love.  They provide the archetype of the lovers who initially misunderstand and dislike each other, are thrown together by circumstance and grow to have a deep respect and horniness for each other.  By my estimation, 98% of RomComs and romance novels make use of this archetype.  I guess we’re all hoping that the people who dislike us just don’t “get” us and with more time and experience will see how deeply wonderful we are and propose, like, nine times.  Especially if the people that don’t like us happen to be rich and handsome.  The minor characters in Pride and Prejudice are more vivid than in other Austen novels.  The sarcastic, lackadaisical father, the frivolous, inappropriate mother and sisters, and the sycophantic Mr. Collins are literary archetypes in their own right.

The love stories in earlier novels go one of two ways: 1: “Hi, nice to meet you.  You’re hot.  I’m hot.  Our parents are ok with it.  Let’s get married.  I’ll send for the pastor in the morning.” Or 2: “Hey, dummy, let’s elope.”  I think Pride and Prejudice resonates with modern readers, because we want lovers to get to know each other.  We like to see marriages founded on affection.  We want characters to have some experiences together before they tie the knot.  Elizabeth and Darcy do this and it helps the reader feel invested in their romance.

I didn’t like Pride and Prejudice when I read it as a teenager.  Elizabeth Bennet has grit, but you need a decent understanding of the social norms of the early 19th century British aristocracy to appreciate her particular spunkiness.  In the context of earlier novels and when compared to Austen’s other heroines Lizzy is a breath of fresh air that provided me a much needed reprieve from the swooning, confused, inactive ladies of early English literature.  Many people romanticize this era in literature, but in the past I have found it difficult to relate to the concerns and sentiments of Austen’s characters.  With more life experience relating to Austen gets easier.  I have actually spurned a lover for being ill-bred.

You might not like Pride and Prejudice if:

  • Eh hem.  If there’s one thing I’ve come to terms with as an appreciator of English literature, it’s that not liking Pride and Prejudice is not an option.  You will read it and you will like it!  If you find yourself not liking it, revise your thinking.  We, the literati, have decided that there is nothing wrong with this book.  If you don’t like it, there’s something wrong with you.  Bad wrong.
Pride and Prejudice Cosplay

This photoshoot gave me the chance to tell Simone to “Clasp me to your bosom!”

Quote:

“‘I am astonished, my dear,’ said Mrs. Bennet, ‘That you should be so ready to think your own children silly.  If I wished to think slightingly of any body’s children, it should not be of my own however.’”

You might like Pride and Prejudice if:

  • Wait, you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice yet?  That’s crazy.  Borrow a copy from a friend.  Pretty much everyone owns this book.  (My home seems to spawn copies of P+P.  Every time I purge my bookshelf I get rid of two extra copies.)  It’s a quick and delightful read that displays Austen’s unique wit at its best.  Read it now so you can read it again two more times.  It just gets better.

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, 1811

I have a lot of thoughts about Austen. I won’t lay them all on you today.  I put all five of her novels on the list, so we will get to them over the next few weeks.  I will say that Sense and Sensibility is a brilliant title.  It keys the reader in to the central concept of the novel, the contrast between the two sisters’ reactions to heartbreak, hardship and injured pride.  Elinor’s measured, restrained, self-denying response highlights the selfishness of Marianne’s effusions of grief, wallowing and lack of concern for the effect her emotions have on those around her.

I do appreciate the point that Austen illustrates about being over-emotional or perhaps excessively restrained and I appreciate the way that she makes it.  I think she presents a valuable observation about human nature.  However, I must be missing something when it comes to Jane Austen overall.  I find her a bit dull and considerably spiteful.  I know that other readers love the sharp-witted barbs she slings at her characters.  That’s perfectly valid, but I get weary of her constant enumerations of the character flaws of aristocrats.  Yes, there are people in this world who are frivolous or mean-spirited or unintelligent, but surely Austen knew some admirable people.  Right?  This really boils down to a matter of taste.  Some readers will delight in what I see as tiresome cattiness.

Like all Austen novels the main concern in Sense and Sensibility is who everyone will marry.  Frankly, I don’t really care who they marry.  Recently, I was complaining about this to my best friend who said “but, you were the one who explained to me why that’s so important.”  What did I explain? Deciding who to marry was the only chance a woman had to determine the course of her own life.  Women had few means of accumulating wealth.  So, “making a good match” was their one chance to improve their circumstances; something women can now do throughout their adult lives without getting accused of being mercenary or callous too often.  I think I may have made this point in reference to “Middlemarch” in which George Eliot clearly delineates the causes and consequences of deciding who to marry.  She shows how ill-equipped Dorothea and Rosamund are to make this decision; how ill-suited they are to get along with the husbands that they choose.  Austen does not do this.  The reason I don’t feel invested in the Dashwood’s marital prospects is not that I don’t think marriage is an interesting topic for a book.  I don’t care who they end up with, because the gentlemen in question lack dimension.  I guess I want Elinor to marry Edward, but only because she seems to want to.  I can’t remember a single thing he says from the entire book, but I distinctly remember that he doesn’t do anything until he proposes to Elinor.  Not one thing.  Sorry, Austen fans, but that’s terrible.  She spent so much time establishing exactly how nasty and self-interested Lucy Steele is in her attempts to impede  Elinor’s marriage to Edward, that she failed (yes, FAILED) to give us a reason to root for said marriage.  This is supposed to be a canonically awesome item of literature.  In the 1995 Ang Lee movie they had to add scenes and plot elements to Edward’s character (remember the bit where he sends the atlas to the little sister?), because not even the irrepressibly charming Hugh Grant can make something out of nothing.

That’s enough anti-Austen rhetoric for now.  Next up, Sydney vs. Mansfield Park.  For the record, I do mostly respect Jane Austen as an author.  I just don’t enjoy her as much as everyone else in the world seems to.  Sense and Sensibility with all its imperfections is not a bad first novel and Austen’s later novels improve a bit in some areas.  She gets a bit better about showing rather than telling, for example.  A bit.

Oh wait, one more thing.  SPOILER, BY THE WAY, IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT DON’T SCROLL PAST THE PICTURE. 

Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen

I am completely not ok with the way Austen disposes of Marianne.  She marries Colonel Brandon because her family wants her to and she feels bad about wearing on their nerves during her long mope over Willoughby?  She grows to love him eventually?  You’ve got to be kidding!  I mean here’s Austen’s explanation of why they wish for a marriage between Marianne and the Colonel:

Precious as was the company of her daughter to her, she desired nothing so much as to give it up to her valued friend; and to see Marianne settled at the mansion-house was equally the wish of Edward in Elinor.  They each felt his sorrows, and their own obligations, and Marianne, by general consent, was to be the reward of all. 

Really?  Really?  Colonel Brandon has been through so much, we should do something nice for him, like, I don’t know, give him our daughter as a prize.  Literally, a consolation prize.   You may want to make the claim that Austen is being ironic and mocking her characters.   However, Colonel Brandon and Marianne end up super happy together and in love, which is how Austen rewards the good decisions of the characters she herself has deemed deserving.  Blerf.

You may like Sense and Sensibility if:

  • you like Jane Austen, generally.

You may not like Sense and Sensibility if:

  • you need action in your novels.  I know some readers like characters to do more than loll about wondering who to marry. 

Final thoughts: I have no final thoughts.  My thoughts on Austen are to be continued. 

 

The Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott, 1810

The Lady of the Lake is an epic poem set in medieval Scotland.  Surprisingly, the title is probably not a reference to Arthurian myth.  When I got to this poem on the list, I really thought I was going to have to jump in a lake in the middle of February and hold up a sword.  I would have done it too, but fortunately the titular Lady simply lives near, not in, a lake.

I had a hard time following the plot of this poem, but I’ll do my best to lay out the scenario for you.  A knight is out hunting and gets lost in the mystical Scottish wilderness.  He sees a beautiful maiden (he can tell she’s a maiden, because Scottish maidens at this time braided ribbons into their hair to indicate that they were unwed and. . .unspoilt) paddling a little boat on a lake.  She is wary of him at first, but noble ladies do not allow noble men to go without food and shelter, so she invites him back to her abode.  Don’t worry, there’s an old bard and some other servants there too.

What follows is not so much a love triangle, but a love square with three men competing for the hand of our maiden.  Oh, and hidden identities.  The knight is King James V.  The maiden is Ellen Douglas, the daughter of his former friend and advisor turned enemy.  Roderick Dhu, a bloodthirsty highland chief who has been helping Ellen’s fugitive father, thinks he’s earned her hand in marriage.  However, Ellen only has eyes for Malcolm Graeme, a lithe young whippersnapper in Roderick Dhu’s retinue.

In my opinion, Scott does a poor job of introducing characters.  By the end of the poem, I had a solid grasp of the temperaments of all our main guys and gals, but it was difficult to understand who was who in the beginning.  “The Lady of the Lake” is not my favorite epic poem, but it does have some highlights.  There is an exciting battle scene involving boats sneaking up on a dear little island.  Canto IV describes a very spooky Druidic sacrifice committed by Roderick Dhu’s priest.  That canto is a strong and entertaining bit of poetry worth reading on its own.

Here’s a quote of Ellen Douglas sarcastically explaining why she does not admire Roderick Dhu:

I grant him liberal to bring,

When back by lake and glen they wind

And as in the Lowland leave behind,

Where once some pleasant hamlet stood,

A mass of ashes slaked with blood.

 

You might like this poem if:

  • you are one of those Scots who is obsessed with romanticized Scotland of yore.

You might not like this poem if:

  • following narratives in poetic form is difficult for you.

 

Final thoughts: “The Lady of the Lake” is not the greatest poem in the English language, but it’s an enjoyable romantic vision of medieval Scotland.

Twin Study

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Notable for:

  • being my favorite book of short stories ever.  That’s right, ever.  No exceptions, not even Flannery O’Connor.
  • saving my sanity one time when my best friend and I were trapped in my cabin in the pouring rain for one million consecutive hours with nothing to do but read and discuss Twin Study.

Twin Study by Stacey Richter has been filling my life with joy since it was published in 2007.  The stories are hilarious and delightful and kind of messed up.  I’ll tell you about my favorites.

Velvet is the life history of a terrier.  It is not one of those stories where the dog is a foil for a sad little Southern boy.  This story is just about Velvet; humans are background characters.  Richter manages to pull off a story about the interests and misadventures of a dog, because her style has all the zeal and relentless energy of a terrier.  I usually do not like literature about dogs, but this one gets me every single time I read it.  It contains many amazing sentences such as “The little girl swore to feed her and house-train her and dress her in tiny plaid coats when it rained, but after several weeks spent holding the puppy so constantly that the dog was damp with hand-sweat, her infatuation faded and the care of Velvet reverted to the mistress of the house.”

My Mother the Rock Star is the story of a girl’s thirteenth birthday.  She happens to be the daughter of a very famous and very crazy musician.  This is the funniest story I have ever read, no contest.  It contains the wonderful sentence “My mother says, I gave birth to her thirteen years ago and I still remember the drugs they gave me at the hospital, they were so fucking great.” 

Habits and Habitat of the Southwestern Bad Boy is the story of two friends who invite (abduct?) a teenage boy on a trip to the nearby desert to see a giant cow skull.  Tension ensues.  Here’s a quote: “[. . .]his T-shirt, which seemed to be from a foreign country where English is admired rather than understood.  It said: ‘Do To Others As Others Have To You Be.’”

A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility is a fictional case study and a modernized fairy tale.  The premise: a meth-cooking princess consumes too much of her own product and admits herself to the ER.  It is hilarious and odd.  It is also the story that inspired the pictures that accompany this post.

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                Over the course of our friendship my best friend and I have had a few debates over the merit of a Dalai Lama quote that goes something like “everyone is trying their best at their own level of consciousness.”  She agrees wholeheartedly.  I think some people are trying their best, some people are coasting and some people are intentionally being jerks.  Personally, there are days when I kick butt, accomplish things and do favors for others.  There are also days when I watch six episodes of “Battlestar Gallactica” then go out and say something unkind to someone who irritates me.  I am not willing to admit that I was trying my best on those days, because if I was trying my best, I should have been a whole lot better.  However, Richter’s characters exemplify that quote.  They are truly trying to do their best at their own strange levels of consciousness.   They are striving for a better iteration of themselves, a more thrilling existence.  Despite the dark kernel of bitterness, doubt and dissatisfaction in the back of their minds they continue to strive.

I really admire Stacey Richter.  Her stories are hilarious and dark.  Her sentences surprise and entertain you.  Her economy of word is impressive.  Whether literature resonates with a reader is subjective and personal, but these stories really resonate with me.  To quote a friend: “How could anyone not like Twin Study?”  I think she is underrated.  Everyone should read this book.

You might like this book if:

  • you have a sense of humor.
  • you have any sense at all.

 

You might not like this book if:

  • I don’t even know.  I can’t think of a reason.

 

Final thoughts: Get your hands on a copy.  Read it.  You won’t regret it.

Game of Thrones

sydneyreadseverything

I am working on reading Clarissa, the longest book in the English language.  A girl can’t read 1,489 straight pages of 18th century courtship drama without occasional relief.  She simply can’t.  So, I read George R. R. Martin’s ultra-popular 1996 novel Game of Thrones and I am going to review it for you.  Hold on to your hats; I have a lot of thoughts about this book.

For those of you who have been living on the moon for the past few years and consequently haven’t heard much about Game of Thrones: it is the first book in Martin’s pseudo-medieval epic fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire.  HBO has released two seasons of a super sexy, super violent TV series adapted from the novels.  There are five books so far.

Game of Thrones was recommended to me by the two people whose opinions I trust most when it comes to literature.  So, I was expecting to love it.  However, 500 pages into this 800 page tome, I was not really feeling it.  Before all you rabid fans start hating me, please note that it really grew on me.  By page 800, I was invested enough in certain characters that I was holding back sobs.  I will tell you what I liked about it first.

Martin creates a rich fantasy world.   I think fantasy fans appreciate novels set in a world that has its own vivid geography and history, which Martin efficiently delivers.  He doesn’t spend a lot of time exhaustively describing features of the landscape, but I can still picture Winterfell, the Wall, Dothrak and other settings from the novel.  You will not find long, Tolkien-esque passages or ballads extolling the virtues of heroes who died long before the events of the book.  Rather, Martin gives the bare bones of his world’s history and darkly hints at the details.  This approach keeps the action moving, creates mystery and lays the foundation for a more intricate understanding of his world, which I assume he will develop in later books.

Certain characters are well-developed.   I am mostly thinking of Tyrion, Daenerys and Arya with an honorable mention for Catelyn, Ned and the Hound.  Yeah, that’s right, I did not say John Snow.  Deal with it, fan boys and girls.  Martin presents Tyrion very well.  At first you don’t know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy.  By the end you don’t care that he’s on the wrong side, you are rooting for him anyway.  He is nuanced and lovable.  Ned Stark’s tomboy daughter Arya is great too and I can’t wait to see Daenerys take over the world. (I don’t know if that happens.  Don’t tell me.)  Martin deserves credit for bravery.  He is not afraid to make you love a character and then brutalize that character.

Plenty of tension.  I cannot fault Martin’s plot.  I especially find the tensions between the old aristocratic houses to be well done.  There is certainly plenty of intra-family tension as well.   In fact, there are heavy doses of all your classic types of literary conflict: character vs. character, character vs. the world and internal conflict.

The last chapter.  Whooooooooooeeeeeeeeee.  It’s epic!

sydneyreadseverything

Now on to what I didn’t like so much

Stilted structure.  Martin uses floating limited omniscient third person narrative.  Meaning, the story is told in third person, but each chapter focuses on a different character.  Each chapter title is the name of the character whose perspective we are seeing for that chapter.  Now, this isn’t a bad strategy.  It allows Martin to bounce around his large fantasy world and let the reader inside the heads of his many characters.  However, it significantly interrupts the flow of the different storylines.  Martin ends a chapter on a dramatic moment, leaving you wondering something like “Whose disembodied hand is that?  How long have they been dead?  What killed them?”  Instead of getting answers you are sent to the other end of the kingdom to hear about another character that you don’t really want to hear about, because you are thinking about that hand.  Six long chapters later, Martin gets back around to the hand, but you have forgotten about it, because you are worried about someone’s crazy sister.  So, the author has to spend time at the beginning of each chapter reminding you of what happened the last time you checked in with that character.  All this jumping around results in a lack of flow.

                Style.  George R. R. Martin is obviously inviting the J. R. R. Tolkien comparison with those two “R”s, but he is no Tolkien when it comes to crafting an elegant sentence.  Apart from some jargon specific to medieval war craft, his vocabulary is basic.  His sentence structure is often so simple that I felt like I was reading the world’s least appropriate children’s book.  Simplicity is not necessarily bad.  But,  those two “R”s put Tolkien in the back of my mind.  Tolkien’s style is far from flawless, but it drew on classic Norse, Celtic and Anglo-saxon tales which gave it a certain classic, epic flavor that is missing from Game of Thrones.  Also, there are moments in Game of Thrones that seem intended to be dramatic, but fall flat.  I suppose Littlefinger is supposed to be funny, right?   As I read his dialogue I was thinking “Boy, I hope the writers change this for the show, cuz, yuck.”

Certain characters are not well developed.  Sansa is girly and that’s all.  Teenage girls are complicated, y’all.  Martin had 800 pages to give her a scrap of complexity, but he didn’t bother.  Cersei is a bitch and that’s all.  Jaime is conceited.  Those of you who have read it, did you notice that Martin never mentions that Jaime is impatient until nearly the end of the book when a plot point hinges on his legendary impatience?  Not strong writing.

sydneyreadseverything

One particular scene bothered me.  Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, is a grizzled, surly, macho, laconic, introvert.  He seems to dislike Sansa Stark, because she is noticeably afraid of him.  However, late one night he opens up to Sansa and tells her a personal story that no one outside of his family is supposed to know.  He then threatens to kill her if she ever tells.  Hold the phone!  Why on earth would he do that?  There is no reason why that character would reveal himself to Sansa in that moment.  Martin wanted the reader to know about the Hound’s past before the next scene occurred, so he had him pour his heart out to a frivolous girl with whom he had no previous bond.  Silly and unrealistic.  The writers of the HBO show obviously agree with me, because they have a different character reveal that information.  Later on there are some hints that a protective bond may form between the Hound and Sansa, so it seems like this scene is out of order.  Someone as proud, macho and anti-social as the Hound doesn’t show vulnerability to some random girl he happens to be walking next to.

Favorite Snippet

“When dead men come walking in the night, do you think it matters who sits the Iron Throne?”

You may like this book if:

  • you like fantasy.
  • you like well executed fantasy.
  • I was going to list some other stuff, but it basically boils down to liking fantasy.  You know, princesses, knights, intrigue, honor, battles, magic.

 

You may not like this book if:

  • you do not like fantasy.

Final thoughts: Game of Thrones is an excellent example of its genre.  I didn’t love it immediately, but I am excited to read the next book.  You will probably like it.  Everybody else does.  It makes me happy when fantasy books/shows/movies are very popular.  People like to look down on fantasy fans and accuse them of nerdiness.  The popularity of this series and of Lord of the Rings shows that deep, down inside most of us LOVE a good sword and sorcery epic.  We all wish we had the balls to dress up as Ned Stark and go LARP in a public park.  That hat I told you to hold on to, take it off for LARPers, they are fearless.

Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo