Monday, April 30, 2012

Soulless by Gail Carriger

My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.30 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 3.94 / 5.00

Alexia Tarabotti is a constant source of embarrassment and disappointment to her mother. Not only did she inherit her Italian father’s dark hair and skin, with it’s propensity to tan, but she is also bookish, forward and not at all lady-like: it is enough to make poor Mrs Loontwill faint quite away. Fortunately, Alexia’s half-sisters, Felicity and Evylin, are the perfect of embodiment of respectable English girlhood: blond, fair-of-skin and empty-of-head. Adding to her strangeness is the fact that Alexia has no soul, a very rare affliction inherited from the long-dead Mr Tarabotti. Those humans gifted with an overabundance of soul are candidates for being turned into vampires or werewolves, and so living greatly extended lives, while others are held close to their bodies after death and become ghosts. All three types of supernatural live openly in human society and are regulated by Her Majesty’s Bureau of Unnatural Registry. Soulless preternaturals, such as Alexia, have the ability to negate the abilities of supernaturals, returning vampires and werewolves to their original human state and exorcising ghosts, all with a simple touch; and so we start our story . . .

Alexia is attending a terribly dull ball and has retreated to the library to enjoy some treacle tart in peace, when she is accosted by an impudent vampire. Not only does he not introduce himself, displaying the worst manners imaginable, but then he attempts to bite her without first asking for permission. He is totally confused by his inability to actually accomplish the biting, as he has never heard of a preternatural and cannot understand why his fangs keep disappearing whenever he touches her. When reasoning proves to be futile she makes use of her wooden hairpin and trusty parasol to stake the ruffian. This incident brings Alexia into conflict with the unforgivably Scottish Lord Maccon, head of the BUR and Alpha of the London werewolves. She relays her surprise that the vampire was unaware of her nature, as the few new vampires created by the local hives are always well educated about preternaturals, or that he should be allowed about town in such awfully cheap clothing.

As the number of ill-educated, new vampires appearing in London increases, Alexia finds that everyone suspects her of masterminding the phenomenon. Whilst trying not to give her mother cause to have an attack of the vapors, she seeks advice from an independent vampire, the outrageously extravagant Lord Akeldama, who uses his group of devilishly handsome young men to collect all the gossip and intrigue from around town. Unfortunately, he does not know who is responsible, and she is repeatedly ordered to desist by Lord Maccon, but Alexia has never been the type to take advice, even if it is delivered by a powerful werewolf who is in turns angry and physically affectionate. While she cannot quite accept that Lord Maccon might be interested in her as a woman, Alexia continues to make enquiries as she seeks to uncover the true nature of these new vampires. 

I have to admit that I spent a great deal of time chuckling whilst I read this book. The name of the series that it begins, The Parasol Protectorate, is indicative of the humor that fills the writing. The author’s turn of phrase is delightfully sharp, although it captures the overly wordy style of writing of the period, which is Victorian. Unlike Sarah at Bookworm Blues, who found this problematic, I found it drew me into the world very successfully. Of course, I am British myself, so I may find it easier to associate myself with an Alexia who is not only witty but also has a cutting, sarcastic tone.
“How ghastly for her,” said Alexia, driven beyond endurance into comment. “People actually thinking, with their brains, and right next door. Oh the travesty of it all.”

Alexia is a fearless heroine who fights her own battles: and in a full skirt and corset with a bushel and hat to contend with. She knows that she is not really a part of the High Society that the rest of her family inhabits, but she genuinely doesn’t care and is unashamed of her differences. So, in many ways, she seems like a very modern woman. However, she is limited by some of the mores and expectations of her time and never really pushes the bubble so far that she feels out of place in the Victorian period. In many ways she reminded me of Lauren, the heroine in Mary Ballogh’s A Summer to Remember, that I read at about the same time. It is so nice to have a period character who shows some backbone, but is not too anachronistic.

All the other main characters are very well drawn. Lord Maccon is a bad-tempered bear of a man, who seems to have great difficulty behaving in an acceptable way, and relies upon his Beta, the diminutive Professor Lyall, to deal with the niceties of most situations. Alexia tries to escape her air-headed, fashion and marriage obsessed mother and sisters as much as possible. She can always depend upon Miss Ivy Hisselpenny to join her for a turn around the park and a good gossip, although Ivy’s totally disastrous taste in hats is a major flaw that Alexia has learnt to tolerate. Her other great confidant, Lord Akeldama, is a wonderfully affected character who constantly seems to speak in italics and is so flamboyantly gay that he is almost universally despised by everyone else that she knows, but she loves him dearly, mainly because he seems to genuinely like her for who she is. These are fun people, and I can imagine that they would be very entertaining to spend time with.

The story moves along fairly well, though the pace is a little uneven, but the writing itself is enjoyable enough to overcome this. The world is well drawn, with lots of detail and different enough from historical Victorian London to show a little of the Steampunk aspects that become more prominent in the second book in the series. The Romance elements were handled with an air of confusion, but I felt that this conveyed Alexia’s own reactions to Lord Maccon’s advances. There is a great deal of sexual tension between the two, with increasingly urgent sessions of fumbling, but the relationship proceeds in a stop-start fashion, as they both fight to control their urges. Kristen at Fantasy Cafe found this emphasis on physicality a little boring, but I felt this demonstrated both his animal instincts and her ‘soulless’ lack of romantic sensibilities.

The Book Smugglers found Alexia to be extremely similar to Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody and they also had other criticisms, which were shared by several reviewers on Goodreads that were ambivalent or negative about the book. I can’t comment on the similarity to Peter’s books, but many of the negativity seems to be due to the genre labels used to market the title and the hype associated with its promotion. I can understand how disappointing it can be when you start a book expecting one thing and getting something entirely different. I have also had the experience of reading a famously popular book that ‘everyone’ has raved about, only to wonder if I am reading the same thing that they did . . . ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson springs to mind instantly. All I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through Alexia’s world: I have already read the second book in the series, ‘Changeless’, and the third, ‘Blameless’ is sitting on my coffee table as I type. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 4

A Game of Thrones: Tyrion V to the end of Arya IV (p. 541)

My previous posts:   Week 1   Week 2   Week 3

38. Tyrion V

The battle of wits between Tyrion and Mord, the jailer at the Eyrie is a perfect example of how Tyrion can talk his way out of anything. The sky cells themselves are a fiendishly simple way of securing and breaking prisoners and were brilliantly done by the HBO show. Of course, he is only in there because he mouthed off to the increasingly stupid and creepy Lysa. She has all the political acumen of a doorknob, so he neatly maneuvers her into agreeing to a trial by combat. I like the fact that he has a back up plan when she refuses to summon Jaime to fight on his behalf. That Bronn is a bit of an enigma, and I do wonder why he offers to fight for Tyrion. I know that there is gold on offer, but it still seems a little risky. Tyrion’s thoughts about the assault on Bran are very interesting. He points out that, although he is accused if both attacking Bran and killing Jon Arryn, it seems like there are two different hands involved. He sees Jon Arryn’s murder as subtle and clever, but the attack on Bran as clumsy. If we assume that Cersei and / or Jaime left the assassin behind to silence Bran, then they were not the ones to murder Jon Arryn. Interesting: I wonder if this little conundrum will be explained at some point. Oh, and young Robert? Yikes with a side order of double yikes! “I want to see him fly!” This kid is starting to make Joffrey look well adjusted.

39. Eddard X

Ned, in his opium-induced sleep dreams about the battle outside the tower where Lyanna was being kept. This is one of the big points in argument for Lyanna being Jon’s mother: why else would three of the Kingsguard be protecting her, unless she was mother to the King’s heir? Ned the tactless has to try to undo several days of Cersei pouring oil into the King’s ear whilst he was unconscious, but just has to blurt out that he was only at the brothel to see Robert’s bastard daughter. Way to go, Ned: Cersei really wanted to hear that! But as she is also being as stubborn and tactless as a Stark, it cuts both ways. One of these days she will do something subtle and surprise us all. Unfortunately, Robert insists that Ned resume his position as Hand, even though he is still badly injured, and announces that he is off to do some hunting. In other words, he does not want to have to deal with any of the Lannister / Stark animosity, so he is going to hide until they sort it out themselves. He is such a self-pitying coward! Worse, he actually made me feel sorry for Cersei when he hit her, obviously not for the first time, and I hate being made to feel sorry for her. However, I am beginning to hate Jon Arryn much more than just about anybody else. How did he allow Robert to become this sorry excuse for a man?

40. Catelyn VII

Catelyn gets the news that her self-righteous taking of Tyrion is leading the Lannisters into war with the Tullys, while she sits in the Eyrie dancing attendance on her barking mad sister. The fact that Lysa makes the trial by combat into a nice day out in the garden had me shaking my head in wonder. However, there were some nice political hints when we learnt that Jon had intended to send young Robert to Stannis to be fostered, not Lord Tywin as we had heard earlier (but I can’t remember how we found out). Anyway, the fight goes as any person with half a brain would predict and Brann wins. I felt very sorry for Ser Vardis, who was very brave to champion his lady, but who died so pointlessly. I was a little surprised that the courtiers were so vacuous, although I expect that the ones who cannot make pleasant with Lysa have had the good sense to stay at home.

41. Jon V

It was nice to catch up with Jon this week: I missed him last week. To see him stand up for Sam, again, was very satisfying. Jon is a rash young man, but he is growing and learning to take responsibility for his friends; he will become a great leader one day. His words to Maester Aemon were thoughtful and I felt so proud of him for speaking out for his friend. I doubt that Jon’s opinion has carried much weight in the past, because of the whole bastard thing, and it was sad to read his own self-loathing. Jon for King of the World, with Sam as his Hand!
42. Tyrion VI

Again, the Mighty Tyrion shows how well he understands the world and how it works. No creeping and hiding for him: he has a nice, warm fire and then waits for his new army to come to him! I love Tyrion: he can be joint King with Jon. The story of Tyrion’s wife is so sad, and it makes me want to poke Lord Tywin in the eye for being so evil and unfeeling to his son. I suppose that Jaime was trying to be nice by setting up the whole thing, but he obviously has no gift for seeing the consequences of his actions. Of course Tyrion would fall madly in love with this girl: how could he not? The more we learn of Tyrion the more I think that Lord Tywin made a dreadfully wasteful mistake in alienating his third child. He has twice as much wit as Jaime and Cersei rolled together with the personality and wisdom to be a great Lord himself. However, I doubt if Lord Tywin will see that future: after all, a Lannister always pays his debts, and Tyrion will never forgive his father for what happened with his wife. The hill tribes are hilarious in themselves, and I love the names that Mr Martin as given them.

43. Eddard XI

So, the Mountain That Rides has been out an about visiting some of his neighbors, whom he likes to rape, murder or set on fire. I am interested to find out how Lord Tywin keeps him under control, as he does seem to have a bout as much self-control as a lobotomized Rottweiler. I am not sure if Ned makes the right decision to send out some men to de-knight him, but I guess that they should have taken ten times as many, plus some flame-throwers. More unfortunate is that Maester Pycelle is still hanging about being creepy and Ilyn Payne, the King’s Executioner, might be unhappy at being kept at home. As an aside, I loved the description of the Iron Throne and how it was made: you have to love a seat that can do your prostate examination for you if you sit on it the wrong way.

44. Sansa III

Ah, Sansa, you silly girly girl, you! Yes, obviously Ser Loras should go because he is the prettiest knight that she has seen! Good grief! I am beginning to get seriously annoyed by her fantasy-driven detachment from the reality of her world. Unless it is a psychological defense mechanism to stop her thinking about her eventual marriage to the total fruit loop that is Joffrey, I will have to reach into the book and slap some sense into her. I have to agree with Arya about most things, and she even apologizes for being rude to Sansa, but, no, Sansa cannot look beyond herself and the pretty court and fluffy sparkly unicorns in children’s stories (or something similar). However, she does make Ned see the blindingly obvious: Joffrey is the product of incest. This makes so much more sense of the dreams and remembrances about Lyanna, IF we assume that she is Jon’s mother, because it was a way for Ned’s subconscious to keep bringing up the subject of bastard children. I was nicely surprised that Arya tried to cheer up Sansa when they find out about the trip back to Winterfell: she seems to be making a real effort to be a good sister. I loved that all she was worried about was taking Syrio with her: she can be King along with Jon and Tyrion!

45. Eddard XII

Maester Pycelle is about as subtle as a bacon sandwich at a synagogue. He couldn’t possibly be working for Cersei could he? I liked how Ned basically said, “Am I bothered?” It is just a shame that it has taken Ned this long to start doing things politically. Of course, he then goes and makes the biggest mistake of his life: he warns Cersei that he knows about the incest. NO! NO! NO! NO! You stupid man! Well, Ned, it was nice knowing you. Her description of the ‘rightness’ of incest was truly disturbing, but also sad: how had Tywin the all-powerful allowed his children to do this? Then she suggests giving herself to Ned if he will hide the truth from Robert: YIKES! Does this not suggest that she has no honor or pride, and that she will do ANYTHING for her children / family? Run away, Ned, grab the girls and run as fast and as far as you can, right now, as soon as you can hobble out of the Godswood!

46. Daenerys V

All together now: “Ding dong, the idiot Beggar King is dead!” Nobody really deserves to have liquid gold poured over his or her head, but Viserys did, he really, really did. The contrast between Daenerys’ acceptance of and integration into Dothraki society and his feeble attempts to be ‘respected’ because of who his father was are amazing. It was so interesting that she psychologically distanced herself from him once she knew what was going to happen and began to call him “the man who had been her brother”. Creepy and sad at the same time, as was her thought that “Fire cannot kill a dragon.” But then, she had just eaten a raw horse heart that was so fresh that it was still warm: she is now a hard woman not a scared child. Knowing what happens later, I am still intrigued by the prophecy that her child will be the ‘stallion who mounts the world’ and wondering if it still holds true at the end of the book.

47. Eddard XIII

I can understand why Ned could not bring himself to add to Robert’s pain by exposing the truth about the children. However, I thought that his angst over the re-wording of the Will was frustrating, because it shows that Ned has no idea how much trouble he has waiting for him when Robert dies. Littlefinger has it right when he warns Ned that his honor makes him so easy to defeat. Ned seriously underestimates his opponents and their desire for power. Varys suggests that the King’s accident might have been stage-managed by getting him roaring drunk, although I would not rush to blame the squire, Lancel Lannister, who was more than likely just following orders. It looks like someone is good at making murders look like accidents . . . Oh, and I wonder what had caught and eaten the White Hart: my vote is Nymeria.

48. Jon VI

More Jon, although we do get more of the petulant, rash child-like Jon until Sam points out what as amazing honor it is for him to be requested as the Lord Commander’s steward. I also liked Sam’s dismissal of the religion that he had been raised in: I expected the Septon to have something to say about it, but I guess that the two religions co-exist quite nicely. Sam is so pragmatic about the way the world is and his role in it: in that way he reminds me of Tyrion a great deal. I love the Weirwoods and I hope we will eventually learn who carved the faces into them; I also like the fact that the Old Gods are not named as individuals, they are always a nameless crowd. I liked Jon’s realization that Ghost looked like the faces in the trees: it reminds us that the wolves are not just some cute pets that happened to appear, they are a gift from the gods. Then ghost goes and finds a human hand: I suppose we should be happy that he brought it to Jon rather than eating it.

49. Eddard XIV

Oh Ned, you are such a nice guy, and I love Sean Bean, but you are the stupidest intelligent man I have read of in a long, long time. You trusted Cersei to behave with honor, like that was ever going to happen. You trusted Littlefinger to arrange for your protection, even though he makes your flesh crawl and wants to sleep with your wife. You stupid, stupid man. It was nice to see Joffrey acting like a true King though: I had massive flashbacks to young Robert at the Eyrie.

50. Arya IV

Arya and Syrio are such a great duo, and I like how his way of speaking is just different enough to suggest that he is really alien to the world of Westeros. I loved his story about the cat and how he became First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos: I just hope that Arya can remember this in the future. I felt so proud of his determination to protect her and sorry that he could not really manage it. However, I do feel like he has given her a much greater chance of survival than Sansa. He has instilled mental strength in her and it will help her to deal with the effects of Ned’s capture. It is terrible that she had to kill the stable boy, although I doubt that he would have let her leave unless she did. Her ability to make a plan and carry it through was amazing, considering how young and scared she is. That scene where she had to walk across the open courtyard, in full view of the gold cloaks, had me sweating.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Read Along of Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch Part 1

You can see Redhead’s Part 1 post, and the links to the other blogs taking part, here.

If you haven't read the book, or even if you have, why not join in and read along with the rest of us?

This week we have read up to the end of Chapter 3.

1. The Sinspire. It looks like our heroes (can they really be called that?) find themselves in search of a way into an unbeatable vault. Do you think they have what it takes to make it happen?

Of course they are our heroes! I want to be just like Locke when I grow up! :D

If there is anyone who can think up a way into an unbeatable vault it is Locke Lamora. However, I am fairly certain that it will not be easy and there will be plenty of blood, sweat and tears along the way. I am not certain that they have everything in place just yet, but I am sure they will find it without much of a problem.

2.  Anyone want to guess how they're going to make it happen?

If I can waste a little time making a prediction (that we can all laugh at later), I imagine that getting into the vault is less about the design of its security system and more about Requin's psychology. Of course I am probably wrong: in fact, it is almost certain that any prediction I make about a Scott Lynch novel will be completely wrong. I believe I predicted that the Grey King was Locke's Daddy, so we all know how good I am at this guessing game! :D

Perhaps they will simply cut out the vault and use a tame dragon to carry it away to their island paradise. Why are you looking at me like that? It is a possible solution to the problem: they might have a pet dragon . . . and a way to cut emberglass . . . and some really strong rope . . . and NOBODY would expect that!

3. It's a little different this time around, with us just being focused on Locke and Jean. Is anyone else missing the rest of the Bastards as much as I am?

I feel bad for saying this, but not really. It would be nice for them to gather some replacement Bastards, but I don't think that they are ready to trust people that much just yet, especially Locke. I was wondering what had happened to Ibelius, the dog-leech, then we learnt that he had given up on Locke out of frustrated disgust. It seems like Locke came very close to losing Jean as well, but that the experience brought the two even closer together. The sequence of the 'intervention' was very funny, but moving as well because Jean was making one last desperate attempt to save his friend from himself. I love these guys!

4. I love the section where Jean starts to build a new guild of thieves. It really shows just how well trained and tough he is. Do you think the Bastards will end up training others along the way again like Bug?

I enjoyed that section as well: Jean as the new Chains. 
"Who's the biggest, meanest motherfucker here? Who's the best bruiser in the Brass Coves?"

Although I think that they might train others to play a role in their scheme, I doubt that will see more Gentleman Bastards as such. As I said above, I am really not sure if they can trust anyone that much yet. This distrust will be much worse now that they have been threatened by the Bondsmagi and have the Archon on their case: anyone showing any interest in them will be suspected of being a spy.

5. For those of you looking for Sabetha, we still haven't spotted her yet. Anyone else chomping at the bit to see the love of Locke's life?

'Spotted her'? That makes it sound like we have encountered her, but that she was in disguise or hidden. I can only imagine how extraordinary this woman must be to have captured Locke's heart so thoroughly, so I am looking forward to meeting her. Of course, knowing Mr Lynch, she will probably turn out to be a forty-five year old, cross-eyed, bald, hunch-backed mother to twenty-seven children who has no teeth and farts constantly while Locke gazes at her with adoration.

6. It's early on, but the Bastards are already caught up in plots that they didn't expect. How do you think their new "employer" is going to make use of them (The Archon, that is)?

He is going to try to use them to further his own plans, but will be royally shafted, I suspect. Whatever he has in mind will be very dangerous for our boys as he seems rather cunning and ruthless. I did think that the whole 'Oopsie, sorry about my guards, they are all idiots: bad guards!' was very unsubtle and that it was perfectly obvious that he would drug or poison them. He does seem a little over confident, which usually comes before a disaster if you are an enemy of Locke Lamora.  

Other thoughts:

The Prologue: what??!???!??! Jean selling Locke out?!???!??!? 

I really thought that there would be a question about 'The Revenge of the Bondsmagi'. We all predicted that they would be a little upset about The Falconer, but I didn't expect them to show up so soon in this book. That was a really spooky scene, especially with the little girl as their mouthpiece: it was nice knowing you, Locke and Jean . . . 

Am I the only one who was slightly disgusted by the thought of Izmila Corvaleur eating those chocolate-dust covered cherries, sucking her fingers and then handling the cards? They would have been all sticky and disgusting: ewww!

How cool were the Archon's mechanical insect collection and the sculptures made of coins in the Sinspire and the way into the Archon's keep, through the water fall? Not as cool as a sport involving jumping sharks, but still pretty cool. :) 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Read Along of Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson Part 3

The Read Along is being hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. 

This week’s questions were supplied by Grace. You can follow the links to everyone else’s answers here.

We read up to the end of Chapter 25.

1.  During the past week there's been a lot of speculation as to the quotes at the beginning of each chapter.  Now that we finally know the answer, does it change anyone's opinions of the Lord Ruler?

I feel very smug that for once I was right about something like this: normally I am totally wrong if I make a prediction about anything! :D 

As for the Lord Ruler, as I said in my answers last week, I think he started out a decent bloke and was corrupted by absolute power. So, no, my opinion of him has not changed.

2.  What did you think of Elend's group of subversive nobles?  Do you think that Kelsier is right to dismiss people who could be potential allies, or is this another case of his anti-nobility biases showing?

I am not sure how effective they could be. We all know that teenagers rebel against their parents and this could simply be an example of that. However, they might be in earnest in their desire to change the system, in which case they might be very useful allies. One problem could be the dedication level of each individual: it is much easier to sound rebellious when you are in a group. It could be that some of them truly believe what they are saying whilst others are merely agreeing for other reasons. I think it would be dangerous to approach the group as a single unit and much more sensible to speak to each individual separately. I am quite sure that Kel is very biased against the nobles, though we shall see if he is right this time.

3.  What's your favorite part of the book so far?

That is a tough question. I think my favorite part is still the first description of Kel's allomancy fighting. It was breath-taking in its visual imagery and the description of magic unlike any I had read before. Simply amazing!

4.  Now that Kelsier's plan has hit some major stumbling blocks, what do you think will happen next?  Do you think he can still succeed in defeating the Lord Ruler?

"Major stumbling blocks"!??!???!?!??! That is a slight understatement!

I assume that the quotes from the Lord Ruler's Diary are meant to foreshadow Kel's journey to becoming the next head of state or at least the power that places the next ruler in position, which means that he must succeed somehow. However, I have no idea how that will happen, or what he will do next. I do think that the remaining army will be important, as will his new-found determination to shake the skaa out of their acceptance of defeat. Perhaps he will target the Lord Ruler individually, hoping that by removing the head of government the whole of the oppressive society will collapse. He will never give up trying, not now that he has both revenge and social injustice motivating him.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Confessions of a Read Along Addict

As you may have noticed I have been involved in a couple of Read Alongs recently. I even want as far as creating a Page especially for them here.

For the first time I am about to embark upon a period when I will be involved in two Read Alongs at the same time and I just wanted to mark this momentous occasion with a post encouraging you all to get involved if you can. 

So what is involved in a Read Along, and why should I get involved with one?

Thanks to someone's reTweet, I joined up to the Read Along for The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, a book that I totally fell in love with. However, it was not simply the quality of that book that has turned me into a self-confessed Read Along Addict: it is the process itself. I am assuming that the RAs that I have experienced are fairly typical in that a host blog or website divides a book up into several sections, each of which can be read in a week relatively easily. The host posts a schedule of each week's reading and chooses a day of the week for people to receive an email with questions about that section of the book. The bloggers taking part agree to post their answers to the questions two days later and usually the host asks them to provide links to their posts so that everyone can read and comment on each other's thoughts.

Sounds pretty dull, but it is actually a great way to read a book. For a start, you are forced to take the reading slowly. I actually found it very satisfying to dedicate one day a week to my reading and I looked forward to it, just like the latest episode of my favorite TV show. Then, to add to the experience, once a week I had a set of questions to make me think about what I had been reading. This made me concentrate on aspects of the book that I might not have paid much attention to and brought out details that I had not seen as important at the time of reading. However, the very best part of the experience is reading all the other answers and getting into discussions with other people about what has happened, what it means, what will happen next, etc, etc. This is a fairly new experience for me, because I rarely read something at the same time as someone else that I can communicate with during the process. I have been a member of my book group for almost two years now, and I love the discussions we have about the books we have read, but we only talk about them once we have finished. The chance to discuss books whilst still in the process of reading them is a true delight that I did not expect.

As another unexpected pleasure, I have now found a list of blogs that I like reading and friendly bloggers that I enjoy communicating with. Reading and writing the last posts for The Lies of Locke Lamora was a bitter-sweet experience: bitter that such a great book was over but sweet because I knew that we would all be reading Mr Lynch's second Gentleman Bastard book: Red Seas Under Red Skies. I have no doubt that I will feel bereft when we finish the RA for that book. However, I have my second RA group to help me through the crisis, and some people are in both groups, which is even better. Although we are only three weeks into Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, the host, Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, is already talking about the group reading the second and third books in the series shortly after we finish. YAY!

This week we start Red Seas Under Red Skies, with questions due on Thursday and posts on Saturday. If you are interested in taking part, you can sign up here.

On May 21st we start Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. If you are interested in taking part, you can sign up here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 3

A Game of Thrones: Eddard IV to the end of Bran V (p. 409)

My previous posts:   Week 1   Week 2

27. Eddard IV

The mystery around Jon Arryn’s death deepens as we learn that he has been visiting brothels with Stannis Baratheon, who has taken himself off to Dragonstone. It seems that young Renly has found a girl that he thinks looks like Lyanna, Margaery Tyrell, and is disappointed when Ned does not see the resemblance. However, Ned is in no doubt about the boy armorer’s Gendry, who looks very much like his father, the King, and who had been recently visited by Jon Arryn and Stannis Baratheon. I have to say that Ned is decidedly dull when it comes to the issue of the royal children: he notes how much Renly and Gendry look like Robert, but doesn’t notice how Joffrey and his siblings do not.

28. Catelyn V

This chapter seems to me to be the one where Fate steps in and messes everything up for most of the people in Westeros. Without the amazing chance of Catelyn and Tyrion arriving in the same inn on the same night, life would have progressed relatively smoothly and many more people would have been alive by the end of the book, never mind the series. I understand why she does what she does, but it is the point of no return: the first falling stone that creates the avalanche of unstoppable events leading to war, death and destruction. Having said that, it is wonderfully done, and it takes a lot to surprise and out-think the Mighty Tyrion.

29. Sansa II

What are the chances that the young squire who probably killed Jon Arryn would make a mistake and be killed in the Tourney? Very, very large, obviously! Littlefinger is extra creepy with his comment about Sansa looking like Catelyn, but not as creepy as Joffrey’s ability to be nice one minute and then totally disinterested the next. I am totally at a loss about Loras Tyrell giving Sansa a red rose, not a white one like the others. However, the most interesting section of this chapter is Sansa’s conversation with Sandor Clegane, the Hound. It seems that he is not the psychopathic minion that we took him for. I am not sure why he is drawn to Sansa, perhaps he responds to her innocent idealism or her kindness. At first, it seems that he is simply trying to frighten her, but this incident creates a bond between them that will be significant I think.

30. Eddard VII

Cersei really is desperate to get rid of Robert, isn’t she? She knows how to manipulate him beautifully, but Ned and Sir Barristan Selmy persuade him that there would be no honor in fighting in the melee. Unfortunately, although Robert hates Cersei he has all the political intelligence of a small rock: he is quite right in saying that he was a bad choice for King. We see more character development for Sandor here. His brother, however, seems to be less of a character than a force of nature: the Mountain that Rides! Maybe it is just me, but that does not strike me as the nickname of a warm and cuddly man who is happily in touch with his feminine side. However, I note that Sandor is holding back while fighting him, which makes it more impressive that he manages to best a man who can behead his own horse. Later, Ned is visited by a wonderfully camouflaged Varys. All I can say is “Beware Spiders appearing to be your friend!” While I think Varys is more truthful about his actions than either Littlefinger or Maester Pycelle, I still do not trust him.

31. Tyrion IV

The Mighty Tyrion makes some very good points that suggest that he is innocent of the attack on Bran, and we can see Catelyn starting to doubt her actions, but she will not change her mind. Although she has taken steps to avoid the Lannister men who will be searching for them, she will not turn from the path that she has chosen. Her blind faith in Littlefinger is shown to be even more foolish by Tyrion’s assertion that Petyr claims to have taken her virginity. Her outrage stops her believing this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Tyrion is speaking the truth here, as he does most of the time. It seems like a strange thing to concoct when he is totally at her mercy and could provoke her into having him killed. Of course, he goes on to prove that he has honor by saving her during the attack by the Mountain clansmen.

32. Arya III

Arya is out chasing cats: what is not to love about that? I am disappointed for her that she catches the old black cat only to be distracted, so that she cannot take him back to Syrio to prove that she caught him. The scene with Magister Illyrio and (as shown in the HBO series) Varys in disguise is very unsettling. There is the terrible suggestion that his ‘little birds’ all have their tongues removed and so have to right their reports. Also, it seems to suggest that Varys is trying to place the throne back into Targaryen hands and that the Stark / Lannister tension will help. We have an answer to why Renly was disappointed with Ned’s reaction to Margaery Tyrell: he was hoping that she would look enough like Lyanna to provoke Robert into marrying her. This shows Renly’s lack of political expertise: I would like to see anyone try to drag Cersei out of the Red Keep. Poor Arya knows that all of this is important, but does not do very good job of telling Ned.

33. Eddard VIII

Just when I thought Ned had started to get the hang of politics, he proves what a total dunce he is. He angers Robert by opposing him, even though he knows that this will simply make the King more stubborn. This places him in a very dangerous situation, because without Robert’s protection he is open to Lannister attack, which he seems to realize and so he makes plans to leave that night. Varys pokes Maester Pycelle into revealing his part in the plot to kill Jon Arryn by mentioning the very same poison that he had suggested to Ned. While I agree with Ned that killing Daenerys is a cowardly act, I also have to agree with Renly: why was this not done years ago if it was so important? I get the feeling that Robert is feeling less secure as he gets older and so she now presents more of a perceived threat than before. It is strange that Littlefinger should turn up to persuade Ned to postpone his travel plans for a few hours: that is not at all suspicious, is it?

34. Catelyn VI

The approach to the Eyrie is wonderfully evocative, although I have to wonder how they keep the place supplied. I am intrigued by Mya Stone, and I hope we will see more of her. Young Robert Arryn breast-feeding at the age of six years? Eww, eww and double eww! This scene was disturbing to read, and even more uncomfortable to watch on TV. Lysa is obviously several sandwiches short of a picnic and her son is so over-protected that it is creepy. I find Catelyn’s disbelief that he is Jon Arryn’s son totally understandable: I would not be surprised if we find out later that he is not Jon’s at all.

35. Eddard IX

Ned remembers Lyanna being all too aware of Robert’s constant wenching. The fact that she could be so unmoved about the prospect of her future husband being unfaithful to her adds power to the argument that she was actually in love with Rhaegar Targaryen. The fact that thinking of her leads Ned to remember Rhaegar is a strong supporter of this. Robert sounds like a love addict: constantly falling in love with one woman and then moving on to the next. I can only assume that his great passion for Lyanna has remained intact because he never had her. Ned STILL does not see the problem with the golden-haired ‘Baratheon’ children, but then, he still trusts Littlefinger, so we have to question his common sense. I find it interesting that the HBO series took the confrontation with Jaime further, rather than leaving it as more of a warning as it is in the book.

36. Daenerys IV

Viserys continues to whine like the whiniest whiney thing: how is he still alive? He has such a bizarre view of the world that the word ‘insane’ seems inadequate to describe him. Fortunately, Daenerys has a much stronger sense of survival and is integrating beautifully into the khalasar. She has blossomed into a powerful young Queen who will no longer submit to her brother’s unreasonable demands. I was so happy when she smacked him around the face with that belt, although I would have been happier if she had hit in the tenders. After the Arya chapter earlier, where we are told that Ser Jorah is one of Varys’ spies, it is a little difficult to like him as much as I did earlier, but he does seem to have attached himself to Daenerys.

37. Bran V

Much wolfy goodness on display here as Summer and Grey Wind show how deadly they can be. I loved the sensory descriptions as Bran rides out of Winterfell for the first time since his fall: Mr Martin is great at giving us a sense of what it is like to be with the characters we are following. The attack by the Wildlings and deserters from the Wall was grim, but Bran handles himself well and Robb displays courage and swordsmanship. However, it is the wolves that really save the day: and Theon Greyjoy’s bow. I loved how the guardsmen are so upset by what they see of the wolf-inflicted injury, but the most shocking aspect was Summer chowing down on the dead woman’s guts. Of course, the most shocking thing about that is that nobody tries to stop him and that Bran is unmoved by it.

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