The Legacy of Robb Stark.

For viewers, it has been over three years since the Red Wedding episode, “The Rains of Castamere” of Game of Thrones aired on HBO. For readers, it was the year 2000 when A Storm of Swords first came out. For me, it was 2012 that I first read the third book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. While many have poured over every page dissecting every word for theories on where the series will go my To-Be-Read pile has only gotten bigger keeping me away from rereading the series until recently.

Robb Stark, the eldest son of Eddard Stark, has been ever present in my mind as I reread the series. Mostly, in relation to what has happened to the North after book three / season three and what has happened to Jon Snow in season six. Spoilers ahead.

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After Zelda, Superheroes Were My Gateway To Fantasy.

After the news of celebrated writer and artist Darwyn Cooke’s passing, I picked my copy of Absolute DC: New Frontier and absorbed Cooke’s love letter to the Silver Age of the DC Universe.

It’s massive scale and the enormous cast of diverse characters combined with the lingering thoughts about Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World reminded me that after The Legend of Zelda it was superhero comics that opened the gateway for my love for fantasy.

The similarities between the two are surprisingly plentiful. Just to name a few:

  • Garish costumes.
  • Systems of magic.
  • Unusual names and codenames.
  • The use of symbology.
  • Enhanced or enchanted armor, weapons, and items.
  • Prophecy and legends influencing the protagonists.
  • History, mythology, and continuity that dates back before a current story but has a lingering effect.
  • Multi-faceted heroes and villains that walk the moral line.
  • Archetypal heroes and villains that serve as both characters and symbols for their cause.
  • Conflicts on the micro scale within close knits groups,
  • Macro scale conflicts that put universes in jeopardy,
  • and those in-group conflicts affecting the chance of success of resolving those universal threats.
  • War: The consequences of war, the threat of war, and the aftermath of war.
  • Death: Heroes, villains, love interests, and side characters all dying and in some cases, coming back.

Superhero comics do have the advantage of being broad enough in storytelling that it can encompass many genres including fantasy. A majority of DC’s magic users, including Etrigan, John Constantine, Dr. Fate, Swamp Thing, Alan Scott, and oh, I don’t know, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman all either dip their toes or fully submerge themselves into fantasy.

What it comes down to is world building. If you can understand the chaos that is the worlds of Marvel and DC then remembering the houses on Game of Thrones isn’t that difficult. What’s different is that for Marvel and DC the rules are always changing. What most fantasy tends to do is either established the rules early on or establish the rules and break them early on to create conflict. This is because eventually those fantasy stories are going to end. Comic book companies are in the business of keeping their stories running for as long as they sell. Thus their characters have to change overtime but not necessarily evolve.

Plus, most series of fantasy novels are written by one creator while superhero comics is a ever-spinning turnstile of different writers and artists. Their environment, purpose, supporting cast, powers, appearance, and even their history could change from one writer to another. Elements that stem from roots in fantasy could not longer be in fashion. Now, their powers, equipment, cast, or origin may not be science fiction in nature.

This can be frustrating to the reader which could not be more apparent with the recent developments in [spoilers] DC Universe Rebirth and the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers. Change is acceptable in a fantasy novel, especially a series with no previous history (real world history that is) but not so with most superhero comics considering their long history dating back to World War II. Even new superheroes have this struggle because by the time you establish a new character in an ongoing over a certain amount of issues any change you make is going to met with resistance from your readers.

That and the price is why I made the jump. I was frustrated by bad writing of characters I loved and the ever increasing price of comics versus the price of books made the switch easy. Fantasy novels have stayed relatively the same price, they have a more complete story, no other bad writer is coming in and fucking up what the good writer has done, there are no editorial mandates to fit within a big event happening in another series, and  the story is self-contained.

Still, I may never hace found fantasy without superhero comics.

“The Wheel of Time is too daunting,” says Tolkienist. “Wait, what?” Everyone else asks.

Recently, I finished reading The Eye of the World, the first novel in Robert Jordan’s sprawling epic The Wheel of Time. It the first of fourteen novels and quite frankly, it is a bit intimidating. This is coming from someone who has a studied the Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and other collection of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing on a scholarly level, for fun.

The Wheel of Time seems daunting in the same style that Frank Herbert’s Dune is daunting. The difference being I already decided in my mind when I read Dune that I would go no further than the first book. You don’t have that option with The Wheel of Time. Like Dune, the writing style is long-winded but Jordan, like Herbert and Tolkien, cares about his words being mot juste.

However, this makes for a slow read. A fantasy novel, usually a long read by itself, will take me about two weeks to read. The first Wheel of Time novel has taken me a month to get through. It’s a slog, which usually has a negative connotation, but somehow it’s a good slog? A lot of backstory and history is given in this first book which usually would be perfect for a reader like me, who loves exposition, but by the end of the novel, it was hard to stay focused.

It’s funny, for such well-known fantasy series it is surprising how little I knew about it. Even A Song of Ice and Fire was spoiled for me (The Red Wedding) before I ever finished the second book. With The Wheel of Time, however, I’ve never heard of a single character or setting. Not Rand Al’Thor, Mat Cauthon, or Perrin Ayabard nor Tar Valon, Emond’s Field, or Caemlyn.

When I say the series may be too daunting for me this isn’t a criticism of the books nor does it mean that I won’t continue reading. What I mean is that it’s going to take me a long time to read and truly appreciate the series. As a child, doctors told my mother that I had attention deficit disorder. In school, I could not sit still. At parties, I would run into walls. To fight this, my parents removed all artificial flavors and coloring from my diet rather than putting me on a prescription drug like Ritalin. Now, I struggle to fight distractions when writing and have difficulty staying focused if I read a two books of a series in a row.

I could read each book in the series one after another, but not only would it take longer than if I read other books in between but the series would become a burden rather than what I would do for enjoyment. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Great Hunt, after I’ve read two or three other books in between. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read The Lord of the Rings for the twelfth time in ten years.

Steel Is The Answer for Abercrombie’s Last Shattered Sea Novel.

Joe Abercrombie goes in swords and axes swinging in his third volume of the Shattered Sea series of Young Adult novels. War looms over Father Yarvi, Thorn Bathu, and Gettland through the eyes of three new point-of-view characters for a novel that is closest in tone to The First Law trilogy.  Only detraction is the non-stop action and abrupt ending leaves Half A War with less room for moments of character development but otherwise satisfying conclusion. Read more for spoilers.

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Changing the Dark Tower V: The Final Book and Modred: All Hype, No Substance.

When those doors open to the Dark Tower at the end of Stephen King’s final volume the journey for Roland and his Ka-Tet will come to an end. The journey, however, is not without its hiccups and so here are some suggested changes for the “The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower.”

My posts on “The Wolves of the Calla” and “The Song of Susannah” focused more on criticism rather than changing those volumes. Most of the changes of “The Wolves of the Calla” are the result of changes in earlier novels, like introducing Father Don Callahan in an earlier book. With “The Song of Susannah” the changes suggested were cutting and pasting bits from “Wolves of the Calla” for the beginning, and the beginning of this final novel for the end. This would give the sixth book a more coherent story from beginning to end. Now let’s talk about the beginning of this novel. Obviously, there will be spoilers.

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Appreciating A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Most people, when talking about the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, rank A Feast for Crows as the least interesting followed by A Dance with Dragons.

The first time through though. the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, bored me in every chapter that wasn’t a Tyrion or Davos chapter. It’s not the book’s fault but a fault of my own.

You see, I have this problem when it comes to reading. Every time I try to read a series in succession I grow bored, no, restless during the second book. It becomes hard for me to concentrate and I always end up putting the book down, especially since I’ve figured out this flaw, and picking up a different one. I think it might stem from my A.D.D. (which I was diagnosed for, not just the many people claiming to have it) but I can’t be sure.

Besides A Clash of Kings other victims of this dilemma include the second Mistborn book, The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and even The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s just when Sam and Frodo are climbing down the elven rope that I put it down though unlike the others listed I picked it back up shortly after. Spoilers ahead. 

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The Battle of Pelennor Fields | Quote by J.R.R. Tolkien

“In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.

All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, steadfast as a graven image in Rath Dínen.

“You cannot enter here,” said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. “Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!”

The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.

“Old fool!” he said. “Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!” And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.

And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the city, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of war nor of wizardry, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.

And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns, in dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the north wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.”

via Goodreads | Quote by J.R.R. Tolkien: “In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black s…”.

Gives me chills down my spine every time I read it. One of the few times Peter Jackson was able to evoke the same kind of emotions in the film version was Rohan’s charge into battle.

 

Hobbit sized editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Yesterday I received in the mail my pocket sized copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings pictured here:

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The outside feels like this faux leather that bends easily like rubber but seems like it could take a lot of abuse.

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Since they are pocket sized of course the writing is small but the type is equal to any hardcover or paperback edition. In fact, it looks almost exactly the same like they were originally larger and went through a shrink ray.

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In fact, I was surprised to find The Return of the King still included the appendices and the index.

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As far as fitting into my pocket is concerned, it fits about as well as an iPhone 6+. They’re definitely not meant for small pockets or tight jeans but fit nicely in the pockets of my coats, sports coats and blazers.

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They’re a nice edition to my collection and I plan on annotating them to death. If you’re buying these books for the first time though I don’t suggest them.

A Word on the Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition Trailer

The blu-ray for the extended edition of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug comes out November 4th in the United States. My copy will hopefully arrive that day but in the meantime here’s a trailer that offer two major bits that got axed from the theatrical edition.

First of all, though he looks a little tall to me in the trailer, that is Thráin, Thorin’s father, confronting Gandalf in Dol Goldur and shouting that Thorin must never enter Erebor. Finally, after getting a name drop in the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey perhaps what has happened to the last dwarven ring of power will be explained. Also, with the jumbling of time Jackson has done I can’t wait to see how he explains Gandalf getting the key and map from Thorin’s father before they’ve actually met in Dol Goldur, that being originally how he got it in the books.

Second, there’s Beorn, barely even in the theatrical release it seem, and this is just my guess, most of what was cut from the film involves Beorn. Before the release of the film there was talks of Beorn hunting down orcs at night to corroborate Thorin and Gandalf’s story. The other part seen in this trailer involving Beorn is in his garden with him chopping wood, possibly for a scene of exposition between Gandalf and Beorn or perhaps the introduction of the dwarves and the telling of what has happened to them so far just as in the books. Also, it looks like a scene in the forest involving Beorn and Gandalf is included as well. It could be possible that Beorn escorts Gandalf part of the way to Dol Goldur considering that the wizard has one of his horses.

Also in the trailer, besides reiterating what was in the theatrical release are scenes involving a conversation between Thorin and Bilbo upon arriving in Laketown and one between the Master of Laketown and Alfred of what Thorin’s quest means to him.

Not included in the trailer but released earlier this summer is extended Mirkwood scene mirroring the one in the book where they have to cross the river and poor Bombur falls into the enchanted water and the company is forced to carry him. You can see most of that scene here:

In interview, Richard Armitage mentions Bilbo and Thorin seeing the white stag, just like in the books, but this stag is projection of Thranduil into the forest. Thorin will try to kill it of course, because dwarf king no like elf king.

It’ll be interesting to see what else was cut that are scenes from the book and what Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh made up for their version of The Hobbit.

Late to the Party: Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself.

As far as book go, it isn’t often that I have the forethought or the word on the street to get in on the ground floor of an author or series of novels. Joe Abercrombie is no exception.

I bought the first book in his The First Law trilogy after pre-ordering his new book Half A King. Once I start reading The Blade Itself my first thought was that I have should have read this years ago. Eight years later I’ve finished the first book and I want to read the second book right away. This is highly irregular for me.

I don’t know what it is but I can’t read the second book of a series immediately after reading the first. I get distracted, I get bored, I lose focus, my eyes start to trail off and by the end I can’t remember what really happened. I’m going to be clear: this is a not a slight of the quality of the novels but a flaw that I have. Just look at this list of second books I’ve tried to read immediately after the first and either didn’t enjoy it as much or since discovering this flaw about myself, stopped reading to pick up another time.

  • A Clash of King by George R.R. Martin
  • The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
  • The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  • Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

I can recall my experiences with all these books. You know when you read the words but don’t really take in what they’re saying? That happened to me with A Clash of Kings and The Restaurant at the End of the Universes? One, I missed hints to major plot points that would come in future books and the other I was too bored to enjoy Adam’s delightful sense of humor.

I think with The Wise Man’s Fear I got the furthest before putting it down, maybe a hundred pages? This was around the time that I was discovering this flaw about myself and I loved The Name of the Wind so much that I didn’t want the experience of the second book to suffer. With Kill the Dead, the second book in Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series I read the first page, could feel my restlessness settle in and immediately put it down.

Now, Red Seas under Red Skies I remember putting down for maybe a month or two before I had to pick it up again in order to keep up with a friend who was reading, a much faster read than I am. Same thing happened with The Well of Ascension the year before and my opinion of the Mistborn series as a whole suffered for it. That book was torture for me to read through, I found it slow, I found the main character Vin to be a whiny idiot who made the worst decisions and by the end I didn’t care about anything that was happening. I just wanted to finish and when I did I didn’t bother picking up the third book even though my friend had already gotten halfway through it. That was December of 2012 into January 2013 and only now have I even started the third Mistborn book, The Hero of Ages. Guess what? I actually am enjoying despite the sour taste the second book left in my mouth. 

There are of course exceptions. If I read The Lord of the Rings I can read all three front to back with no qualms. Sometimes I’ll just read one only because I have read them so many times and want to read something new but the point is I can read all of them front to back without getting that restless feeling. Same thing happened with most of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It wasn’t until the fourth book that I got restless and even then I only read one book in between before reading book five, six and seven.

The point of all this is that I want to read Before They Are Hanged, the second The First Law book right now. I need to know what happens to the characters now rather than later. I want to know more about the world, about it’s past and what is going to happen next. If an author can get me to do that then the books must be damn good.