Tag Archive: Fantasy

Scheming Kings and Queens Part 2

So last week’s other book was A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin. This is book two of the seven book long  Song of Fire and Ice  series.

Since I am going to attempt to read the whole series, I have decided to not really go over many plot details in my blogging. I introduced the characters in my first post, and I feel like that is plenty. Anyway, it suffices to say, that the book follows the Seven Kingdom’s disintegration into civil war after the death of the King, the varied adventures, journeys and horrors of the Stark children, the menace at the Wall, and the quest of the Mother of Dragons to take back her throne. Along with all that there is lots of scheming, plenty of blood and war (warning: this book is bloodier than the first) and so much intrigue that you might need a flow-chart to follow it.

Martin’s books are immensely popular, and I think that is because they are so well-paced. Each chapter is told from the POV of an important character, so just as he leads you up to something exciting, he moves on to the next character or plot line so that can tantalize you further. At times I found this frustrating, but the end result of this technique is that I raced through the book, trying to see who lives, who died, and who conquered.

It is said that Martin based the book on the Wars of the Roses, and at the moment it seems like an everlasting struggle for power. I cannot seem to figure out who is the main of driving character in this story (although I have my hunches) and at times Martin sets you up and then it all ends in an elaborate trick. But the book was easy to read and I raced right through it so, I guess I will have to go on to book three. So far, the series is holding my interest, but check back with me when I get to book five or six.  We shall see, but there is a huge wait list for all the books at my city library, so it seems that I am not only person that has been sucked into this series…..

Ciao for now

Bookish C

Inklings Predecessor, Take Two

Having enjoyed The Princess and the Goblin, this past weekend I decided to pick up another MacDonald book, The Princess and Curdie.  This latter book serves as a sequel to the former, but unlike most sequels, it is at least as good as, if not better than, the original.  Whereas the first book focuses primarily on the eponymous princess, Irene, the second follows Curdie, the boy hero from the first story.

At the beginning of the story, about a year after the events in The Princess and the Goblin, Curdie is slowly drifting away from his former virtue.  One day he shoots an innocent white pigeon with his bow and arrow simply to test his skill.  Upon picking up the (nearly) dead bird in his hand, he is struck with remorse, and at once he runs to the king’s former residence to confess to the princess’s great-great-grandmother, to whom the bird belongs and who features even more prominently in this story than in the first.  Curdie’s act of repentance is the first step toward his rehabilitation, and Princess Irene the elder (she shares the name with her great-great-granddaughter) then sends him on a quest.  Curdie is not alone in his quest, but rather receives help from a strange and motley group of creatures, as well as Princess Irene the younger, with whom he is reunited.  As in most fairy tales, Curdie manages to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, but, without giving away the ending completely, it does not end in the typical fairy tale ending.  Rather, the book ends on a note in keeping with MacDonald’s vision of reality, virtue, and society.

The Princess and Curdie was one of my favorite books I’ve read this year for a number of reasons.  MacDonald’s depictions of natural settings are rich and evocative.  Take his description of mountains toward the beginning of the story:

“I will try to tell you what [mountains] are.  They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon below, and rushed up and out.  For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones.  And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight – that is what it is.”

No disenchanted universe, this.  Moreover, MacDonald has a keen insight into the human condition and the nature of virtue.  The story’s symbolism is religious, and more specifically Christian, through and through, though without being overly preachy or moralizing.  Take his description of kingship:

“He was a real king – that is, one who ruled for the good of his people and not to please himself, and he wanted the silver not to buy rich things for himself, but to help him to govern the country, and pay the ones that defended it from certain troublesome neighbours, and the judges whom he set to portion out righteousness among the people, that so they might learn it themselves, and come to do without judges at all.”

The story is also darker than the first.  Though Curdie’s act of violence toward the beginning of the story is condemned, MacDonald was by no means a pacifist.  This tale has more than its fair share of battles, sometimes told in gruesome detail.

As with The Princess and the Goblin, this book made it abundantly clear why Chesteron, Lewis, Tolkien, et al. were so indebted to MacDonald.  Though each of their stories is set in a different world, their characters all inhabit the same moral universe.  Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chesterton had these stories in mind as he wrote the chapter “The Ethics of Elfland” in his classic Orthodoxy.

I would recommend both stories for young readers, though one might hold off on Curdie until the age of 10 or 11 due to the violence.  Regardless, if you are a fan of Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton, then do yourself a favor and pick up at least one work by the man Lewis proclaimed his “master.”

Twenty-six down, (at least) twenty-six to go – half-way there!


Inklings Predecessor

Greetings!  This post comes to you from an undisclosed location in Western Europe (as will most of my future posts this year).  Once again, I have taken far too long between posts, but jetlag and getting settled in a new city will do that, even if I finished the book I’m blogging a week ago.

Years ago I heard that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two of my favorite writers, were strongly influenced by George MacDonald, a Scottish writer of the nineteenth century, and so for some time I’ve wanted to read one of his books.  A trans-Atlantic flight gave me plenty of time to dig into The Princess and the Goblin, a fairy tale that made a significant impression on another of my favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton.  Now that I’ve read it, I can see MacDonald’s imprint on each of these writers in different ways.

The story bears many of the literary features of a typical fairy tale: no distinct mention of a time or place in this world, stereotypical characters (a king, a princess, a miner, etc.).  The tale also extols many of the virtues that Chesterton, Tolkien, and Lewis prized: honesty, courage, keeping one’s word, faith in the seemingly impossible.  Moreover, MacDonald emphasizes the power of poetry.  The one thing that scares the goblins in the story away is rhyme, particularly spontaneous and silly rhyme.  It seems clear to me that this element of the story was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil.

Though not overly complicated, the story is a bit much to summarize in a blog post.  Suffice it to say that if you are a fan of Lewis or Tolkien, you should read this book.  According to Wikipedia, Chesterton said of the book that it “made a difference to my whole existence.”  Indeed, I suspect much of the argument in his classic Orthodoxy depended on such lines from MacDonald’s work as, “People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less”; or, “Seeing is not believing – it is only seeing.”

If you’re a fan of Tolkien, Lewis, or Chesterton, or of fantasy literature/fairy tales in general, then I highly recommend The Princess and the Goblin.  I intend to move on to the sequel, The Princess and Curdie, before too long.

Twenty-four down, (at least) twenty-eight to go.


Scheming Kings and Evil Queens

Do you like tightly written books, with a labyrinth of a plot and the size of a doorstop? If so A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin might just be for you.

It is doubtless that you have heard of the book– it has been out for a long time now, and recently was made into a HBO series. I could see why, with all the scheming, conniving, and twisty plots it would work well as a tv drama (not: I have not seen the series. I would be interested but as my cable tv requires $16 a month for a HBO subscription, I just don’t care that much.)

There is too much to describe in terms of plot– you have a fictional fantasy world, where the summers last years and the winters can last decades.  It is seemingly like feudal england, with many petty lords and kings brawling it out, and where deception reigns supreme. There is a great Wall to the north that holds back an invisible menace with only a rag-tag guard called the Black Watch to protect the people. Okay so the principle characters: The House of Stark– Robert Stark, his wife  Catelyn, and their children (who are central to the main plot) Robb, Sansa, Arya, Brandon, Rickon and the bastard Jon Snow. The king that holds the fractious kingdom together is Robert Barathon, who is married to the scheming and quite possibly downright evil, Queen Cersei, who is from House Lannister. Cersei, as it turns out, along with her brothers, and the whole lot of Lannisters, is rather power hungry. Meanwhile you have the descendants of the deposed old ruling line Targaryen, with Viserys ( the brother) and Daenerys (the sister) left– they live a life of constant exile, on the run.

Okay, so the book starts with the King, asking his best friend Stark to serve as his Hand (think like an appointed Prime Minister, but not– perhaps Cromwell to Henry the VIIIth would be a more apt comparison). Stark fears that it is a trap but he leaves his homeland in the north with his daughters in tow right after tragedy befalls his son Brandon– a tragedy that is suspect at best. Meanwhile he sends his bastard son up to the Wall to serve on the Watch (Black Watch men live out their lives celibate and without families once they “take the black”). Once  he gets to the city all hell breaks loose, and the characters all have to fend for themselves in their own ways. In the meanwhile, Viserys sells his sister to a horseman warlord (think like a fantasy Ghengis Khan) in order to gain the troops needed to regain his crown, but the one who ends up really taking up their birthright is Daenerys, who despite many horrors, comes into her own.

Okay, so that’s it on plot. What I liked about the book: the female characters are as well developed and varied as the men. Some are scheming, some are brave, some are pragmatic, and some are just dumb. This goes for the men too. Most of the characters are multi-faceted and conflicted, there are only a few black/white ones. The plot is quickly paced, it is thick with intrigue and it keeps this enormous book humming right along.

There is violence– quite  a bit of it, but hardly unexpected in a book set in a sort of parallel medieval universe. Some people say that this is one of the Great Fantasy Epics of All Time. Ehhh not so sure of that, but it is well done and much better than a lot of the bad fantasy out there  (there’s a lot), but I would still say the Lord of the Rings, Dune and the Earthsea cycle are the greatest fantasy epics. (I am the biggest Ursula Le Guin fangirl, I know.)

But the book is seriously entertaining. I read this right after I had finished the semester, was done with grading and wanted nothing more than to melt into a puddle on my couch with the dog at my feet, eating strawberries by the pint and reading. This book was good for that, and I am planning to read the next ones in the series (just waiting for them from the library.) So if you need something to keep you entertained and that is well-written, then this is your fantasy novel.  Enjoy.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C

A Clever Young Hero

Today’s book is The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

So far in my book challenge, it has not been hard to read a book (or more than one) a week. This week, however, was the first week that I struggled– perhaps because I wasn’t feeling all that well, or maybe because I felt slightly bogged down by the huge pile of library books on my dining room table. So I chose this book because it seemed like something fun, and indeed, it was.

The Thief is actually a Young Adult book– but as many of you who are avid readers know, some of the best literature out there is being written for children these days. The book was a Newbery Honor award winner in the last 1990s and is the first part of a trilogy.

Having read this first book, I think I am going to have to finish the trilogy.

Okay, so the book starts with the main character, Gen, who is languishing in a prison. He is a thief who was caught for stealing the king’s seal. Gen is sprung from prison by the King’s Magus (a sort of educated councillor) who needs a skilled thief to steal Hamiathes’s  Gift– a rock given by the Gods that bestows the right of rule on the wearer. The little problem about this is that the rock has to be stolen from the Gods themselves.

The book is set in a fantasy world that seems to be one part Ancient Greece/Rome, and one-part Enlightenment-era Europe. It is clearly based off of the Mediterranean countries (the countless references to olive trees, yogurt, and the sunshine make sure of that.) Turner also creates an intricate pantheon of Gods (much like the Greek and Roman Gods) that are revealed to the reader as the Magus, Gen and a small party journey to the place where Gen is to steal Hamiathes’s Gift. The stories of the Gods and their particular subplot in the story are intricate and tightly written.

The book is told in the first person (from Gen’s point of view) and initially he is a bit unlikable. He a smart-ass and troublesome, but as the book proceeds, he evolves, as do his motivations and background (which you discover little of until about the last third.) The other characters evolve over time too, and Turner does a great job of portraying them evenly and realistically. The book moves forward evenly, if a little slow at the beginning but once you get past the middle it is hard to put down. Turner’s writing is brisk and succinct. She does not give over to overly flowery prose–instead it is tight and intricately plotted storytelling that she sticks to.

I won’t give away the ending, but to say that it has a surprising and throughly enjoyable twist. This book was great fun to read and I enjoyed it — and I think it is a fabulous book for pre-teens to young teenagers.  There are many themes in it but the main one is power. Turner carefully explores all of its intricacies– the power between people, between kingdoms and what happens when one challenges those perceived notions of power. A fun book and it helped to get me out of my reading funk.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C