Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold – George R R Martin

Somehow, over a busy and stressful Christmas period, I managed to read the second part of George R R Martin’s A Storm of Swords. I came away from the first part feeling deflated, I liked the “ending” with all the stuff surrounding Bran and Jon, though the two didn’t meet, Jon seemed to feel something was going on. However, the book as a whole certainly did feel like it was building up to something more, however I fully admit reading these two books as the single volume they were originally released as would have been far too daunting for me.

This is the book where everybody dies, or it feels like that anyway, we lose Joffrey, Robb (and pretty much his entire army), Catelyn, Shae and Tywin. By the end of the book we only have Stannis and Danaerys left who have been vocal about their claim to the Iron Throne, Tommen is to be crowned as King but now theres no Hand to take control of things whilst he matures.

One of my favourite moments in this book is the passage that takes us from Jaime trying to redeem himself to his brother Tyrion, though his revelation surrounding the truth of Tyrion’s marriage to Tysha, where we find out that Tyrion’s relationship was genuine and that Jaime had been forced by his father to make Tyrion believe she was a whore. Jaime was obviously hoping that his confession would heal some of Tyrion’s pain and hopefully heal and bitterness between the two of them, though there has always been some warmness in their relationship, this particular event has always been an (understandable) sticking point for Tyrion. It doesn’t have the required effect though, in fact its the total opposite, which again, I find perfectly understandable when Jaime had defied his father by joining the Kingsguard in order to try and (secretly) be with Cersei, Tyrion, having kind of kept his siblings secret, evidently feels betrayed. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that Tywin is killed whilst trying to deal with a rather stubborn bowel movement. The guy was so up himself that his shit was packed in there too.

I’ve said in previous A Song of Ice and Fire posts that I’m not much of a fan of Sansa, I think I began to warm to her in the first half of A Storm of Swords, but I do think we see so much more growth here. She’s still a typical princess, but she’s also beginning to become far less trustful than those around her, and with good reason. There’s a genuine sense of caution in her dealings with Ser Dontos during her escape from Kings Landing, particularly prior to her having to climb down the cliff face. But she’s also wary of Littlefinger, there’s no obvious signs, but I always felt she seemed uncomfortable when in his company. You could argue she’s silly in trusting Lysa, but despite not knowing her aunt, she’s always been raised to believe that bloodties matter, and she isn’t really aware quite how mad her mothers sister has become.

There are two things I want to address before I finish up. The handling of Jon becoming Commander of the Night Watch was well handled but fairly predictable, I’d say it was predictable even if you hadn’t watched the show. However, we definetly get to see the reason why so many people look up to him and why the old guard fear him so much when he’s handled control of the Wall during the battle with the Wildlings. Every single man commits to his instructions, but not only does he apply sound commands that work, he seems to have a natural flair for looking after his men, allowing them to make wagers that keep morale up but keeping himself seperate enough that there cant be any sense of betrayal (and that part in particular reminds me of the Bastogne episode of Band of Brothers). He also acknowledges when certain men, and indeed himself, need to step away from the action for a while.

Lastly, onto the Epilogue, I had to Google this after reading, its the first time that I’m certainly aware of that something that happened in these books wasn’t translated to the screen. I understand there’s fan theories around whether Catelyn does indeed come back in the TV show, but its only rumour and speculation and I’m not getting into that. Do I like the idea? Why not, if they can bring Gregor Clegayne back (in the show, thats not happened in the books yet) as a giant zombie, then Thoros bringing Catelyn back and the repercussions for the Frey’s from that is definetly something I’m looking forward to.

In a way, its a shame that there’s going to be a months break between this book and the next one in the series, I genuinely really enjoyed this one, I’d say it was my favourite so far and I’m itching to see where it goes next (especially as alot of what happened in the show is foggy in my mind). I’m also happy for the break and reading whatever is nominated next as I don’t want to burn myself out on them when there’s still a few (three?) books to go.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow – George R R Martin

It’s that time of the month again, first Wednesday of the month means Book Club update and we’re back to the A Game of Thrones series. This month I’ve been reading A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow, which is actually the first part of the much bigger original release of A Storm of Swords, we’ll be reading the second part in December I think.

Straight off the bat, I’m going to say I’m so glad that for the paperback release they split this book in half, I’m not a particularly fast reader and with a half term during the time I was reading this I wasn’t sure if I’d even manage to complete this one. I have though, in fact, I finished it a few days early.

I also think the style Steel and Snow is written in made it a struggle, for all the relief I felt that I was only having to read “half” a book, I also think it’s easy to realise that it’s only half the story whilst you’re reading it. There’s far more plodding narrative here than in either A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings whilst its gathering things together after the events at the end of the second book in the series, so we’re seeing key characters recovering and playing politics, more so than ever, after the Battle of Blackwater. Which is interesting to a degree but the politics never seem to go anywhere. We see the gradual build-up to a number of events, Joffrey’s wedding for one, but none of them really feel like they go anywhere in this book, in fact, a lot of the time the things being discussed don’t come to fruition because they’re all events being saved for the latter half of A Storm of Swords.

This means you’re left with a book that doesn’t progress things and thus feels frustrating to read and its only really a handful of chapters where the reader is given anything to sink their teeth into.

It’s a book full of journeys, with no end in sight, which is fine, it puts you in the shoes of all the key players and whilst it ends on a genuine cliff hanger it feels a bit cheap getting to that point.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to like here, I love Jon’s story throughout, I love that his tale has kind of turned into a spy movie, complete with a girl trying to turn him to the other side by playing on his sexual desires, I like Ygritte as a character, I find her to be both amusing and strong, and whilst I know the outcome for her, I’m enjoying any time we get to spend with her (though as the book ends, her and Jon have been separated, so to speak).

Another character I’m enjoying is Lord Beric Dondarrion. Up until this book we’d only seen him at the tourney in A Game of Thrones, since then he’s been mentioned rather a lot as there have been quite a few characters hunting for him for a variety of reasons, but here Arya happens upon him and I like the contrast between the books Beric and the shows Beric, they’re both the same person, but their physical appearances are (in my mind) very different. In the show, Beric’s been brought back from the dead and received a lot of injuries, but the only visible one is his missing eye which he covers with a path. In the book he doesn’t even do that, his eye socket is there for all to see not to mention the caved in part of his head. The description of him gives the impression of a dead man walking (which of course, he is), but he’s still an absolute badass. I have, however, found myself have to force myself to overlook the fact that The Hound wasn’t scared of his flaming sword when the two fought (even though a point is made that Thoros defeated Sandor Clegane in one tourney due to the latter’s fear of fire, though I may be misremembering that)

The key thing in this book for me is that I think, for the first time, we are beginning to see people’s morals being torn to some degree. Jon is torn between serving the Nights Watch and completing his undercover mission (though that also comes with the caveat that no one knows he’s alive, let alone that he’s acting as a spy rather than turning traitor) and his lust (which he’s mistaking for love) for Ygritte. Tyrion has been forced to marry Sansa to protect her, himself and Shae. Brienne so obviously wants to kill Jaime but must keep that in check in order to serve Catelyn whom she has sworn her allegiance to, and this is a pattern that’s seemingly repeated throughout the book for a lot of characters but I think may have originally begun with Arya’s story from A Clash of Kings onwards as Arya is mostly doing whatever she needs to do to survive despite her not really agreeing with serving the Boltons (for example).

I opened this basically complaining that its a book that doesn’t really go anywhere, but I also think its allowed the characters to breathe a little, I think I have a better understanding of the likes of Arya, Jaime and Jon than I had done prior to picking this book up, that said, I do think its the weakest of the three (or two and half…) books I’ve read in the series thus far.