A Clash of Kings – Book Review

A Clash of Kings is the second novel in the truly epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The series is now a successful television show on HBO called a Game of Thrones.

This is a brick of a book. I take an average amount of time to read a book and this took me the better part of two months. The softcover that I own is a thousand pages.

I’ll try to keep this spoiler free but there might be a few that sneak in.

Characters

Complex mythologies and huge casts of characters go hand in hand with fantasy. Clash of Kings isn’t an exception. There are more characters than I could possibly keep straight. There are nine point of view characters and a plethora of others.

It would be easy with nice point of view characters, and a gazillion others, to make them bland or similar. Not going to happen in this book. I believe that despite the terrible things that happen to the characters, they are the best part of this book. Each and every one of them make you feel for them. The emotions vary as much as the characters but they’re their and strong.

That characters are great but they do drop like flies. The body count is as high as the emotions. Often the most likeable characters are the ones that die.

For the strength and consistency of the characters I give this book a five out of five.

Writing Style

This isn’t a quirky or flowery writing style. Martin has a way of making every word count and make you want to keep reading. It’s also a very easy style to follow. That means you won’t spend ten minutes reading a page only to realize you can’t remember what you read.

That being said I like quirkiness, I like flowers, and most of all I like a witty turn of phrase. Martin does it but it’s always through dialogue. If the narrative weren’t so well calculated, it would be dry.
It’s not your typical sword and sorcery fantasy. This is a high fantasy with low magic. It’s gritty and bloody.

For its efficiency I give the writing style a four out of five.

Story

I’ll say this right away. This isn’t one book with one story. Its one book with nine main characters and three times that many stories. It could have been split into 3 books with 3 characters and there would be little difference. With the exception of the wonderful bicep muscles I’ve developed.

Each book in this series builds upon the stories and even adds some. It’s all interlinked and brilliant. The stories are great and plentiful.

That all said I found the twists, high points, and low points subdued in comparison to the first one. I guess the first had a lot farther for the characters to fall on their faces. When the world has already turned to shit, it can’t get much worse. It does just not as dramatically as the first book.

It’s the second book in a series that could be just one large book it does a great job at what it needs to do but isn’t as awesome as the first.

I give it a three out of five for story.

Fun

In its own way this series is a lot of fun. It’s well written, intelligent, and keeps you on your toes. Clash of Kings felt long though. It could be that I wasn’t in the right mood for it or that it didn’t have the dramatic twists of the first. I found myself longing for the next book I’d read.

In fun I give it a three out of five.

Overall

Overall, if you have the upper body strength, patience, stomach, and love of high fantasy you’ll truly enjoy this book as part of the series. If you’ve read the first one and liked, keep going.

I think it’s a solid book by a master writer with an amazing talent with characters. For that I give it a final score of 75%.

The Hunger Games Trilogy – Book Review

The Hunger games Trilogy is composed of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. It’s written by Suzanne Collins.

In late December, I saw a few trailers for The Hunger Games movie. It looked interesting, I showed the trailer to my wife, and she bought the first book for her birthday shopping spree. Being a mean husband, I read it before she did. I immediately wanted the next two.

It’s an almost standard Post Apocalyptic Utopian Science Fiction. Set in a not so distant future where humanity has almost destroyed itself. You can easily see influences from multiple sources in her books. A little Greek myth, a little fantasy, and a strong dose of war fiction.

I decided to review the series as a whole since it felt more like one large book rather than three and I would be saying the same in all of the reviews anyways.

Characters

There is a multitude of characters throughout the three books. Each with varying importance but the author gives you the impression that they have fully fleshed out backstories. Not only do you feel each character has their whole life written out, the author makes you wish you could follow them and see their stories.

That’s not to say that the main character, Katniss Everdeen, ever gets boring. She’s a strong but young girl thrown from one duplicitous situation to another. If there’s any criticism about Katniss, it’s that she’s too real. She’s not a hero, she’s just a girl. When Harry Potter, or Frodo would complain and bitch but keep going, Katniss breaks down and cries.

As much as I wanted Katniss to get up, grab a bow, and shoot everything evil, it was a nice change to have a character that was genuinely traumatized by the crap she’s survived. Possibly the most intense part of the series was being right there with her and feeling every single moment. There were times I put down the book and wanted to cry but never did I want to stop reading.

The secondary characters are all as engrossing and as much as I enjoyed the epilogue. I could have used another hundred pages telling me what happened to each minor character.

I give the series a 5 out of 5 for characters. When I wish I could know what happened to a character mentioned only once or twice in a book, I have to acknowledge the authors skill.

Writing Style

I have to start out by giving Suzanne Collins credit for writing in the First Person Present Tense. First person is hard enough when written in the past tense but written in the present tense it’s extremely challenging.(Remember all this is my opinion based off of my experience writing.)

One of the great advantages of the first person present tense is tension. If someone is speaking in the past tense then you can assume they are still alive but with the present tense, there’s more urgency and fear.

In order to allow the reader to make their own conclusions Collins let’s Katniss describe an event and then later draw conclusions. This often leads to the reader knowing something way before the protagonist has even considered it.

As far as story structure goes the books, and the series, follow a three act formula. I think this forces Collins to force the story into the mould. There are parts that drag a little and some that seem rushed in order to fit into the three acts.

Another criticism would be how rushed some of her actions scenes feel. There is one extremely important action scene at the end of the last book, which takes up two or three lines. The scene is so shocking that I had to reread it several time before I understood it.

For writing style, I give the series a 3 out of 5. It’s very good but has some structure weaknesses.

Story

I’ve heard every comparison about this series with other arena-style books or movies. They’re full of it. This has a lot more in common with Utopian/dystopian fiction. I see a little Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, etc. It also has many similarities to a standard hero’s journey. Despite the protagonist not being a true hero.

I keep asking myself was this a good story? And my answer is both yes and no. If your definition of a good story is something that both touches you and scars you for life, than yes. If your definition of a good story is something that touches you and makes you happy, than no.

This is a poignant and heartwrenching series that will stick with you long after you’ve read it.

I give it a 4 out of 5 for story.

Fun

As much as I wanted to keep reading this series, I can’t call it fun. It’s painful, sad, shocking, and depressing.

I posted that I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry after finishing it and I think many people reading it would agree.

This category’s score reflects my joy while reading. I really like being happy when I finish a book for this reason I give it a 2 out of 5 for fun. I would give it a 1 but the pain is essential to the story and not just there for its own sake.

Overall

It’s a great series that I admire the style and story but will most likely never read again.

I’d only recommend reading it to someone who is emotionally stable and with the warning that it will twist your heart and rip it out of your chest.

Overall, like I’ve said, great but it’s score is low from my emphasis on fun. I give it a 70%

A Princess of Mars – Book Review

A princess of Mars is the first of eleven books in the Barsoom series. I’ve also heard it called the John Carter of Mars series.

This is a classic Science-Fantasy, published in 1912. Like other Mars novels from that time, almost all its scientific assumptions about Mars have been disproved.

This novel created and still personifies the Sword and Planet Genre.

The author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, is best known for his Tarzan series. However, his science fiction has had an influence that can still be seen in newer authors. He had an amazing way of mixing science fiction and fantasy without making it feel forced. His influence can be seen in many of the “New Wave” science fiction authors like Laguin, Zelazny, or Moorcock.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my post here.

Characters

This book only has two main characters. John Carter is veteran of the American Civil war and possibly many others, he refers to himself as a Virginian Gentleman. He’s a fighter and an impressive one. He looks thirty and has lived at least a hundred years. Interestingly doesn’t remember his childhood.

Where John Carter is impressive, his character arc isn’t. The only thing that changes is his understanding of Mars and his relationship status. That being said, he is an interesting and entertaining narrator/character. There is no doubt that he is a hero and he’s an entertaining guide to Barsoom.

The second main character is Mars, or as the natives call it Barsoom. There is more ink dedicated to her than to anyone else in the novel. A dying world with interesting and detailed cultures, the real character arc is Mars’. She goes from a war torn, segregated, and dying world to a united(ish) kingdom, but still dying. It’s a beautifully described world. At some points I preferred the world building and Martian history more than the actual story.

There are plenty of secondary characters some of which are fun others are down right boring. Overall, they feel unimportant next to John Carter.

The weakest character, as in most adventure stories from this time, is Dejah Thoris. Or the love interest. She’s less of a person and more of a goal for the protagonist. He treats her well but she has all the personality of an inanimate object.

I give it a 3 out of 5 for characters. Even though most of the characters are uninteresting, they are also unimportant next to the awesome John Carter and the brilliant Barsoom.

Writing Style

The book is written in first person, John Carter is writing his memoirs in the form of a letter to a friend. With few exceptions we are always dealing with John Carter and the way he sees the world(s).

The style is dry and at times, a little disconnected. When I say dry, I mean it felt academic. It’s a feel and style that was used a lot in that time and he does make it interesting.

One of the things that kept the book from feeling like a long Barsoomian discourse on history was the fact that it was so disconnected. The story would get a little dry and suddenly we’d be learning the history behind the Green Martians firearms. I’d get bored with the history and suddenly John Carter is kicking someone’s ass. It was a nice way of keeping the reader interested and informed.

I give the style a 3 out of 5. I guess I’m just a sucker for a first person narrative.

Story

It’s difficult to tell which tropes the author is using and which he invented. At its base, this is an “Other World” novel, sometimes called “Portal Fantasy” or “Trapped in another world”. It’s a common story structure with immense customization. I’m not sure you can say it was influenced by The Time Machine or by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but they are definitely pulling from the same source material. Most likely, whether the authors did it on purpose or not, these stories are heavily influenced by old fairy myths.

Once John Carter arrives on earth (after an extremely bad portrayal of Native Americans) the story becomes a loose narrative of his journey around Barsoom. The only story motivation is survival. In the third act he is moved to action and almost single-handedly changes the face of Mars.

There are a lot of coincidences throughout the book that stretch believability along with John Carter’s inability to make a mistake. Other than the typical “White is right” and “Women are only good at being pretty” this book does have a few interesting messages. It’s definitely championing emotion, especially love, as what makes us human and what makes the difference between right and wrong.

An interesting essay could be comparing the cruel, barbarity of the Green Martians with that of the Humans in Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World and trying to associate it with their similar reproductive methods.

It could change with the rest of the series but the weakest part of this book is the story. I give it a 2 out of 5.

Fun

Was this book fun? Yes, Yes and yes. Maybe it’s the little boy in me (I’ve been meaning to get that removed) or the adventure lover but this book was a joy to read. It helped that it was tiny by comparison to other books of it’s genre. It made the bare-bones plot and history lesson seem quick and move along without getting dull.

A few modern Authors could learn something about Story/world-building from Burroughs I give it a 5out of 5 for fun

Overall

Overall, if you like swashbuckling and classic science fiction than I’d recommend you read A Princess of Mars. However it does suffer from it’s age and wouldn’t make it into my top ten best books.

I’ll probably pick up The Gods of Mars at some point and see what happens to John Carter. Most of the novels are available from the Gutenberg Project for free, can’t go wrong there.

Overall it was enjoyable but not amazing. I give it a 65% enjoyability score.

NaNoWriMo/Viridian Sky Update Four

The novel is going really well, I’ll officially hit 50 000 later today technically winning NaNoWriMo. I’m surprised how easy it was for me to force myself to write everyday and I’m also impressed at how difficult it was to write. I hope I can keep the same pace or close in the coming month.

The book is split into three parts, the first part being introduction, the second being the race, and the third being still unknown.

I’m coming up to the end of the second part. It has been filled with action and I’m starting to get better at describing fight scenes, I think. The characters have been growing together and the angst-y romance is coming together. The big twists will be coming up at the end of part two so please keep voting.

[polldaddy poll=1100137]

I have a large battle with one of the main baddies and after that I’m completely stumped. I’ve never reached an ending for a book before and this one doesn’t seem to have a clear cut ending. As with other times I was stuck here’s a poll.

[polldaddy poll=1141719]

I’ve decided on Viridian Sky as the title but that can always change. In future posts I’ll refer to the book by its title instead of NaNoWriMo.

Hope the next 30 000 or 40 000 words go as easily as the first 50 000.

Thank you!

NaNoWriMo/Viridian Sky Update Four

The novel is going really well, I’ll officially hit 50 000 later today technically winning NaNoWriMo. I’m surprised how easy it was for me to force myself to write everyday and I’m also impressed at how difficult it was to write. I hope I can keep the same pace or close in the coming month.

The book is split into three parts, the first part being introduction, the second being the race, and the third being still unknown.

I’m coming up to the end of the second part. It has been filled with action and I’m starting to get better at describing fight scenes, I think. The characters have been growing together and the angst-y romance is coming together. The big twists will be coming up at the end of part two so please keep voting.

[polldaddy poll=1100137]

I have a large battle with one of the main baddies and after that I’m completely stumped. I’ve never reached an ending for a book before and this one doesn’t seem to have a clear cut ending. As with other times I was stuck here’s a poll.

[polldaddy poll=1141719]

I’ve decided on Viridian Sky as the title but that can always change. In future posts I’ll refer to the book by its title instead of NaNoWriMo.

Hope the next 30 000 or 40 000 words go as easily as the first 50 000.

Thank you!

NaNoWriMo Update Three

I’ve finally written past the boring parts of my novel. I’m sure they’re interesting to read, they just weren’t much fun to write. The characters are working together and I have more actions scenes coming up. I’m finding it a little hard to right cool gunfight scenes, maybe I should re-watch Firefly.

I’ve long past the NaNoWriMo halfway mark and I’m quickly approaching the novels half way mark. The halfway mark is 45 000 words. It’s intimidating to think I’ll have to keep this pace up over to most of December. It’s a lot of work but I’m really enjoying it, I wish I could do this for a living, maybe someday.

I have no illusions about this novel. As it is I know a lot of it needs retooling. I need to go back and edit all the dialogue to make it flow better. I also need to go back and fix the issue I seem to have with starting three out of four paragraphs with a noun or pronoun. I also need to beef up the descriptions of my characters and the world.

It’s interesting to me, that the character I liked most and had best fixed in my head before hand is most likely going to get cut from the first half of the book. He has four mini-chapters dedicated to his journals and I think I’ll just cut them out completely. I find they’re too world building oriented.

I’m keeping the polls from last week open since the twists will happen in the middle of the book, in about 10 000 more words.

It fascinates me what kind of emotions I’ve gone through, most of the first week I felt elated and couldn’t wait to write, the second I felt terrible I hated the novel and wanted to give up completely, now the third week it feels more like work but I look forward to discovering what happens.

For everyone who would like to be a Test/Beta reader, please email me or make a comment on one of my posts and I’ll get you a copy of the book when it’s done the second draft.

Here’s a poll for all you aspiring Writers.

[polldaddy poll=1121117]

Thank you for your continuing support.

NaNoWriMo Update Two

I’m at chapter eleven with almost 25 000 words written. I still don’t know where things are going I do know its time to make a huge shift in the story. I’ve been building up and now the group is almost together. The drama is about to start and the first world changing adventure is about to start.

I’ve been alternating between the story and a character writing in his journal. I don’t think I like it. I find I’m telling too much in a short space of time.

I’ve decided to keep writing after NaNoWriMo is done and try to get this book to between 80 000 and 100 000 words. It needs a lot of work and the editing alone will be killer but I’ll have written a novel and that’s all I’m aiming for now.

After this next section I’m going to need to shake things up a lot what should I do?

[polldaddy poll=1100137]

No one commented on the possible Title so here’s a poll with choices:

[polldaddy poll=1100179]
Thank you for your support and hopefully the middle will flow half as easy as the start.

NaNoWriMo Update I

As 2pm Wednesday the 5th of November, 2008. I have 12 241 words. I’ve been writing a lot more then I thought I’d be able too. I seem to be averaging 2000 to 2500 words a day. I hope I can keep it up.

I’m working with “Viridian Skies” as a title. What do you think?

There are Five main Characters so far, and two villains of sorts. It seems I’ve missed the boat completely with the Absurd goofiness that I wanted to put into the novel. It’s closer to gritty and dramatic.

My chapters have been short around 2000 words. I think this still works so far. They might need to be extended or just grown over the rest of the book. I’m not sure yet. I’m really letting this flow naturally. I’m trying not to over think it. I have Ideas of how it’ll end but I’m not sure. I’d like to kill a character but I’m really not sure about that.

The world is developing well; everyone has a power of sorts, either drawing from psionic forces or arcane. Out of the five main characters only one is psionic and the other four are arcane. We have:

Cassandra Davanne: An ex con who’s trying to get herself out of trouble. She’s a hell of a fighter. She’s an fire Elemental. Meaning she can create and control limited magical fire around her body.

Arthur Jackson: He’s an AWOL Knight (Cross between cop and soldier.) who’s trying to discover the reason for his wife’s death. He’s a Jumper (I need a better name for it.) He can teleport short distances and has perfect night vision.

Paige: A cute little girl living on her own. She’s a Psionic and very powerful.

Roland Lavallée: A young retired Knight and very socially awkward. He’s a healer.

Richard Washburn: An old retired Knight who was too honest for the force. He’s Flyer.

As far as the story goes here’s a little taste with the chapter tittles.

Chapter One – In which we meet Cassandra Davanne and wonder why she’s so angry.
Chapter Two – In which we find Arthur Jackson wallowing in the past
Chapter Three – In which we meet Paige and her interesting logic.
Chapter Four – In which we learn about Roland Lavallée and his short career as a knight.
Chapter Five – In which we discover that Love is a beautiful thing and assassination is not.

I’d love to hear comments of suggestions
Thank you!

NaNoWriMo Part VI

Just under twelve hours before NaNoWriMo starts and closer to twenty four before I do, and I’m really getting nervous. I’ve been reading others blogs and other websites. It feels like everyone’s written an outline and planed their story. I have nothing ready except for Genre and Mood. I guess that’s something but reading that some people have their plot points set out worries me.

I’m getting a lot of support from friends and family and that helps settle me down. However every time I think about it my heart starts thumping and I get a little giddy.

My biggest problem is going to be not editing myself. I’ll often write a paragraph and then re-read it, over and over again, fixing little issues. I usually miss the homonyms, cursed things! If I can write straight I think I can average 1000 words an hour. That means an average of 2 hours writing daily. Gah! What have I gotten myself into?

Alright let’s see what I have decided so far with everyone’s help.

Genre: Modern Fantasy, with elements of Sci-fi and Detective/Filmnoir
Mood: A strange balance between Gritty and Absurd.

The first chapter will definitely introduce us to the characters, probably in the style of a Disaster story, jumping back and forth between characters and media.

I’m thinking of maybe writing journal entries that will introduce us to the world but not have anything to do with the main characters. Sort of a mini Auto-biography spread out through the book.

Other then that I have nothing; hopefully when I look over the polls, inspiration will hit harder then a crazed duck who thinks I’m a loaf of bread.