Tag Archives: reading

Re-Reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Post-Election

I re-read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last month, and there were many things that stood out to me as very timely in the wake of the election. (Just to be clear, in case my readers are of differing opinions, I view the election of a man who consistently spews racist, sexist, hateful rhetoric, and who has shown a willingness to protect and preserve his own ego and assets but not our national security interests or constitutional integrity, as a very negative event that will harmfully impact much if not all of our citizenry, and which I am committed to mitigating and resisting in every way that I can.)

Oh, and also, this post contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

trump-voldemort-google-image
Google Image results that confirm I’m not the only one making certain comparisons. But maybe it’s more accurate to say Voldemort represents Facism, which has ‘returned’ in a new body despite lots of people having been under the impression it was defeated decades ago

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the pages that pagelady read in 2013

Well, 2013 was not the best blogging year for me on here, was it? I’m way behind in writing up posts on the books I’ve read, but it’s a new year now so I have a fresh chance to do better in 2014.  Here’s a summary of the books I read last year and a brief reaction to them.  I still hope to post a full reaction to Allegiant soon, and a book-versus-movie comparison of The Book Thief.

In case you don’t want to read all my sub-cateogires, I’ll put my favorites first:

Favorite New Reads of 2013:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  So overwhelmingly, heart-breakingly beautiful.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy.  I read this book one Saturday while home alone and the first half of it scared me to death; it seemed like a pretty realistic possible scenario if an alien invasion was to happen on Earth.  The latter half of the book got more cliche and predictable, but I like Cassie, the protagonists, and I’m still interested to see what happens next, although I’m not sure when the sequel is scheduled to be published.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  As a shy fangirl who is more outgoing online than in real-life social situations, this book’s protagonist was totally relatable to me.  I’ve never really been into fanfic much but I am in multiple fandoms, I know these terms, I understand and partake in these obsessions. Plus, the Nebraska college-town setting was very similar to some of my own experiences in Kansas.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  Read this one because I loved Fangirl so much, and it did not disappoint.  From my review:

and i think that maybe it’s partly best explained by the answer Park gives in english class about the longevity of the story of Romeo & Juliet: “because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? and in love,” but this version is maybe a lot more relateable to an audience that isn’t part of a wealthy feuding italian family centuries ago, and to anybody that feels like kind of a misfit.

Rainbow Rowell is officially my new favorite author, not only because of her books but because of her twitter and tumblr which just made me instantly feel like “ah, yes, she’s one of us!“, which is too bad for David Iserson (author of Firecracker), because until I discovered Rainbow Rowell in the last weeks of December he would have been my choice for “favorite new YA author that I started twitter-following in 2013”.  He’s snarky and witty and I did love his book but I feel like I could spazz out about Rowell’s books in real life in front of her and she would be like “I know, me too!” but if I did that about Firecracker in front of Iserson he might just be like “wow, ok…” or say something cynical.

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The Pages that pagelady Read in 2012

This is an overview of the books I read in 2012, minus all the comic books because I already posted about those.

Favorite:

When asked to name a favorite book, I always think of a line from the movie Ever After, when Prince Henry takes Danielle (a.k.a. Nicole, at that point,) to a monastic library and tells her to pick a book, and she says, “I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens!”

So, I don’t think I can narrow down everything I read this year to just one favorite, but my top four would be:

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  Time magazine named it as the top book of 2012, so having it as a favorite is pretty mainstream, but I would have chosen it anyway.  Like Hazel Grace, I, too, now have an Augustus Waters fetish.  I cried my eyes out reading this book.  It was a great way to spend a weekend, and I am not being sarcastic.

Matched by Ally Condie.  From my review:

The first blurb on the inside cover that described it as “Think The Giver, but sexier,” (Lincoln Journal Star), was spot-on and I couldn’t describe it better myself.  What I loved most was how important words were, how the main characters realized that a poem could be subversive, that learning to write could be so powerful, that they could be inspired by the memorized words smuggled to them from over a century ago. And the writing of the story itself was just amazing; every other page I found a new quote that I loved and had to mark with a post-it note.

Also, Ky Markham is my literary boyfriend.  Well, one of them anyway, I mean I can’t forget about Four or Gilbert Blythe or Jim (from Moccasin Trail.)  But Ky is a permanent member of that club now, too.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.  I picked it up because I kept hearing it in comparison to The Hunger Games, sometimes in an accusatory “Hunger Games ripped off Battle Royale” argument.  Having now read both, I don’t think anybody is being copied, (and besides, Suzanne Collins has said she hadn’t heard of Battle Royale until after writing The Hunger Games).  They share the basic plot of “kids forced to kill each other”, but they’re very different in tone and agenda, and many of the other similarities (corrupt government, tracking devices, morally beating the system by refusing to go along with its rules) are also shared by hundreds of other stories.  I don’t think it’s fair to describe either story as “basically the same” as the other.  Take them separately, and then have a discussion about the similarities and differences.  From my review:

The way Battle Royale‘s third-person-omniscient narrator keeps switching to different individuals’ perspectives each chapter, and more often than not those individuals end up dying just as we’re really starting to empathize with their unique background, is devastatingly effective.  Some of the graphic descriptions of bloody violence pop up so suddenly and in such unexpected detail I was nearly sick.  Just now, having finished the book for the most part in one weekend, I feel like my heart has been battered by Yuichiro’s bat and stabbed by Mitsuko’s knife, and I will probably have a nightmare about Kazuo and his machine gun.  To me this is all evidence of the excellent writing that crafted this story, (so strong it comes through even in translation). I feel like the memory of each death will be hard to shake, too, since I was such an intimate witness to them all.  Excellent, excellent book, but not for the faint of heart or stomach.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.  Also, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords.  I’ve already babbled extensively about my reactions to and love for the first, second, and third books in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, so I’ll just include a visual representation here of what it’s like to go on the emotional roller-coaster within these books:

pagelady reacts to various plot twists in A Game of Thrones.

pagelady reacts to various plot twists in A Game of Thrones.

Least Favorite:

Probably Wither by Lauren DeStefano.  I think I’ve already posted everything I didn’t like about it.

Favorite New Author:

Definitely George R. R. Martin.  I had never read John Green before this year either, but his books didn’t take over my life and transport me so completely to a fantasy universe that I will be forever longing to visit now (right along with Narnia, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts) the way Martin’s did.

“Can’t Believe I’d Never Read This Before”:

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.  Why had I never even heard of it until this year?!

Top Recommendation:

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown.

Even though it may not have been favorite book this year, it was really good.  I haven’t heard as many people talking about this one, so I don’t think it’s as well known, but that’s a shame and I think more people should read it.   To quote from my own goodreads review:

This was a really good idea for a story.  It’s “about” a school shooting, but it’s really about dealing with the truth of the way people treat each other, which is unfortunately often negative, and how to realistically try to change the world or yourself for the better.  The story focuses on Valerie, girlfriend of the shooter, who targeted people from the “hate list” they had compiled, that Valerie thought was just venting.  It follows her surviving and having to deal with the fallout, and her healing process.  The complex emotions are really, really well portrayed.  The pain of so many characters feels so real, my heart was literally aching while I read much of this book. And I really liked that nothing was simple; Nick (the shooter) wasn’t a completely evil villain, and at times you could really sympathize with his pain.  The student body wasn’t united in its reaction to the event.  Valerie’s parents even had their own flaws and serious issues.  I would recommend this to be required reading for all high school students, because I think it would be a great discussion-starter and it really helps you empathize with multiple points of view.  I mean, shootings don’t happen in every school, but bullying does, and they COULD always happen, unless we try to change the culture.  I also really loved the therapist, (and in the Author’s Notes you find out her husband is a clinical psychologist and helped her authenticate Dr. Hieler’s dialogue and Valerie’s healing process). Plus, I really liked that it was set in Kansas, so a lot of the little place-mentions were familiar to me. I’ll probably check out the other books by this author.

Re-Reads:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I re-read it to refresh my memory because Baz Luhrman’s new movie adaptation was originally scheduled to be released this Christmas.  It has since been pushed back to summer 2013, but I’m glad I read Gatsby again because I had forgotten some of it, and probably didn’t appreciate everything when it was required for high school English, anyway.  It wasn’t a pleasant read though, since there isn’t a single likeable character (to me) in the whole story.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Because, obviously.  Bilbo is such a wonderful, faithful and unflashy hero.

Anne of Green Gables by  L. M. Montgomery.   I didn’t really read the whole book, but I downloaded the full Anne collection on my kindle and would sometimes read a chapter or two on lunch breaks when I was in-between other books or projects.  It just reminded me how much I love Anne Shirley, how many great quotes there are in those books, and how excellent the movie adaptation of the first book is.  (We shall not speak of the monstrosity that is the third movie.  We shall pretend it does not exist.)

Disappointments:

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.  It’s the sequel to Delirium, but I don’t think it’s as good.  I was annoyed with Julian and didn’t like the relationship that developed between him and Lena.  In a lot of ways it was the opposite of what I liked about Delirium, but maybe that was intentional, and maybe the conclusion to the trilogy will be better.

Thumped by Megan McCafferty.  It’s also the second in a planned triology–middle books in series are often weakest, it seems.  As I said in my review, what I liked about Bumped was the complexity of the issues it was questioning, but in Thumped the philosophical, theological and social questions were hardly included, and the plot twists became a bit ridiculous.  For once I would like to read a dystopian story where the teenaged main character doesn’t spark a national or global revolution, but rather a small one.  Even if it’s just within themselves.  When it invariably blows up into this huge, unplanned thing it just feels less likely.

And a little bit The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling, but that was a different kind of disappointment.  It was just a depressing story, but still very well-written.

Book Club:

I joined The Sword and Laser Bookclub, (one of the elements of Felicia Day’s brainchild Geek and Sundry), in September.  It’s nice to be participating in a book club again, after my local in-person group meetings lapsed into inactivity because too many of the other ladies were having babies.  The online format is convenient in that I can go read the discussion forums whenever I’ve finished reading that month’s book rather than having to scramble to finish by a set date and time.  But I do miss having in-person discussions, and I’m always less likely to participate in group conversations when they’re online, especially in such a big group.   Also, the convenience of “I’ll look at the discussions whenever I finish” can also be a too-easy cop-out for not finishing the book on time.  And you don’t get fun little themed snacks!  Oh well, I didn’t even try to read their November pick, The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Wiliams, because I was busy making dwarf beards, so I guess I’m not really taking it too seriously.

The two new books that I read this year through Sword and Laser were Foundation by Isaac Asimov and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  I rated them both 3 stars, but I think I might have liked Foundation better.  I wish goodreads would allow rating by half-star increments.

Looking Ahead:

The books I am most looking forward to reading in 2013 are all series that I need to finish.  Reached by Ally Condie is waiting impatiently for me (oops, finished reading it before I finished writing this post!  I loved it.), as are the fourth and fifth books in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy finale, as yet untitled, is supposedly maybe being published this fall and if so I will seriously consider staying up to begin reading it at the midnight moment of its release.

What was your favorite 2012 read?  And what are you most looking forward to reading in 2013?

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2012: the year pagelady got into Comics

Prior to 2012, I had only read a handful of comics.  I mean besides the ones in the newspaper on Sundays, which my siblings and I used to fight over, (and I have a video recording of one of my sisters bidding me farewell when I left for college saying she was glad I wouldn’t be around to “hog the comics” anymore.)  No, I’m talking about actual comic books.  And trade paperbacks, (a term that I learned to distinguish from “graphic novel” this year, in my evolution of becoming a comic book nerd.  A graphic novel is a book-like comic that was published as one whole.  A trade paperback is a book-like collection of weekly or monthly issues of comics from a particular storyline.  The term “graphic novel” is a little more general and is sometimes used to refer to trades, but my new-found comic-world sources say there’s a distinction and this is it.)

Before I got into comics for myself, I had really only read Watchmen and V for Vendetta, reluctantly and at the insistence of my husband.  I enjoyed both stories, but I found it difficult to read the comic format.  My brain was so accustomed to becoming fully engrossed in worlds built exclusively from text that it couldn’t quite make sense of this hybrid word-and-image realm.  My eyes jumped from word bubble to word bubble automatically without taking time to process the pictures that went with them, and then I’d have to go back and see what I’d missed.  Instead of processing the images and words together as a storytelling whole, I was tackling them separately, a distracting and disjointed method that left me frustrated and unenthusiastic about the comic format.

I felt less dumb admitting the format was challenging after realizing that it does demand substantial mental energy:

“Comic books make the brain work in a very interesting way,” says [Seattle Public Library librarian Blythe] Summers. “You are reading, but you are also filling in the ‘gaps’ in the story that occur between pictures.” -(source)

“Comics…stimulate both sides of the brain simultaneously: the right side processes pictures and the left side processes words. These operations reinforce each other, and readers get a double whammy of images and phrases that convey important information.”  -Glenn Herdling, (source)

That last quote is an overly simplification of how the brain works, because virtually any processing task lights up multiple locations of the brain and very little is handled exclusively by either the left or right hemisphere, but it’s still true that reading comics requires an ability to decode meaning from written words AND from non-linguistic images at the same time.  Recent  research by Neil Cohn actually indicates that images in comics are processed very similarly to sentences, and “we depend on a visual grammar in comics in order to make sense of them.”  (You can download Cohn’s paper, “Linguistics, Comics, and Visual Language: the past and future of a field” here, or any of his other papers here.  It’s all very interesting, especially to me with my background in linguistics, and I’m glad I chose to blog about this topic because I might not have found his work otherwise!)

Anyway, I eventually got over my inability to read comics smoothly.  And I can’t really point to one epiphany moment when I suddenly “got it,” I just adjusted as I read more comics.  My brain became more skillful at the simultaneous processing of linguistic and non-linguistic visual input, and I discovered that comic books are just like the traditional books that I’ve always loved; worlds of rich imagination and complex characters, relate-able villains, idealistic heroes, metaphors to process reality, alternate realities to escape to, adventures to experience, lessons to learn, lives to live; magic enchanted on a page.  The main difference between comic books and text books is in the format used to transmit the story from the mind of the creator to the mind of the reader.  (You could also argue that there is greater homogeneity in the fictional worlds derived from the story that live in readers’ imaginations, since comics provide visual representations instead of just occasional physical descriptions.  Do comic book readers argue about which actors could best resemble beloved characters as much as fans of something like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter do?)

One of the first comics that I read and enjoyed fully the first time through, (I don’t want you to think I didn’t fully enjoy Watchmen or V for Vendetta when I eventually re-read them!), was Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales.  I burned through all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD a few summers ago, and it was a lot of fun to revisit that universe and add depth to the story even though there were no new episodes.  Of course, you can really revisit Buffy and the whole gang by reading the continuation of her storyline in seasons 8 and now 9, released exclusively in comic format.  And I did read all the season 8 comics for Buffy the Vampire Slayer this year–I didn’t totally love them, but that’s not the important thing.  The important thing is that I was able to read them because I discovered that my local library has a collection of comic books!!

This was truly a thrilling revelation.  Like, not quite as good as discovering that libraries exist and that you can borrow virtually anything from them to read, but pretty close.  I don’t have to be able to afford to buy everything in order to read it!  (Which is fantastic, because comics are expensive, and also, as someone new to the genre I’m still getting caught up and sampling storylines, authors, and artists to find what I like).

Thanks in part to the library’s collection, (but also in part my wallet,

pic of civil war, the shepherd's tale, and the guild: the knights of good

I added these treasures to my personal collection in 2012.

my birthday giftcards, recommendations from comic-savy friends, and the Alan Moore/Batman obsessions of my husband), these are the comics I read in 2012:

Volumes 1-6 of Mind MGMT.

Volumes 1-6 of Mind MGMT.

Mind MGMT is a brand new comic, by Matt Kindt.  The first issue was published in May 2012, but I didn’t read it until July.  (Still, I feel like that is pretty dang close to getting in at the beginning!)  There are six issues so far, but then there’s also a #0 and some digital comics that tell little side-stories, too.  I picked up the first issue because by that time I had started following @DarkHorseComics on twitter, (step 2 in my evolution towards comic book nerd), and I was browsing in the comics section at Hastings, (step 3), and I saw Mind MGMT and remembered all the tweets praising its creativity and depth that I had flicked through in my twitter feed and decided to check it out.  (Good job with your social media marketing, guys!)  It’s about mind control and a secret organization and a novelist hunting down leads on a mysterious case of mass amnesia, and it is worth reading in the monthly format rather than waiting for the trade collection because 1.) it’s an experience that is another step in my evolution towards comic book nerd, and 2.) the story is so dense you get more out of it each time you read it.  The more that is revealed in later episodes, the more significant little things in the first pages are.  And each page has Mind MGMT “field guide” notes in the margin, that add another dimension to the story like tantalizing breadcrumb clues (!).

Becoming hooked on a monthly comic (and resigning myself to happily parting with a few dollars every time a new issue comes out) was a pretty significant step in my comic book reader evolution.  Additional steps I experienced this year included: one time I went to pick up the latest Mind MGMT and they were sold out of the issue I needed!  I had a minor panic attack and rushed home to order it online.  Afterwards I felt like I could legitimately say I had leveled up in the comic-reading world.

Somewhere along the way this year I created accounts to be able to read Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse comics online, and get e-mail updates about new releases.  Another step occurred on a recent trip to Chicago, when I visited not one but two comic book stores, and added some more treasures to my collection.  (I most excited about picking up a trade of  Captain America: The Death of Captain America.)   And finally, now I have an entire shelf devoted to my collection, complete with plastic protective covers and everything!   (Just one shelf, though, for now.  I’m still evolving.)

I solve the DC vs. Marvel quandary by maintaining Dark Horse Comics as my favorite publisher.  They do a lot of television and movie tie-ins, which is how I really started getting into comics in the first place, (Felicia Day’s The Guild comics were some of the first I purchased,) and besides that they publish Mind MGMT.  So, yeah, I’m a Dark Horse girl.

And now it’s time for the next step in my comic-book nerd evolution: what recommendations do you have for me?  What are the classics that you would assign if you were teaching a college literature class devoted to comics?  Or, what is something you’ve read that has an excellent story arc or beautiful illustrations or both?  I know I can get recommendations from goodreads.com or wikipedia or something like that, but I like hearing suggestions from real people on stuff they’ve actually read.

Also, can someone explain to me how canon works with these long-running comic characters?  Like, I know there have been other people besides Bruce Wayne who acted as Batman at different times.  So are they all Batman, like is there a continuous lineage that you can trace and say at different times who Batman’s alter ego is, or do they overlap?  And if there are multiple origin stories, then which one is definitive?  Or are they all canon and you just have to specify whether you’re talking about, for example, Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe or the Marvel Ultimate Universe, etc.?

*update* Okay, so this totally has to count as leveling up again, right?  Legit twitter recognition from my favorite comic publisher?  SQUEE!

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The Casual Vacancy Book Reaction

This is a reaction to J. K. Rowling’s newest book, The Casual Vacancy.  As there is a substantial amount of language used in the book that is considered offensive, you should be warned that I may include them in some of it in quotes.  This is also a *SPOILER*-y post regarding the plot of The Casual Vacancy.

A friend, who knew I was planning to read the book right away and wouldn’t get a chance to do so herself, asked me to text her a one-word review when I was finished reading The Casual Vacancy.  I thought of several options while I was reading, like “raw,” “depressing,” “honest,” “heartbreaking,” or “grim.”  In the end, I settled on “condemning,” because it was overall a very bleak and realistic portrayal of our modern society, populated by repeatedly selfish and cruel humans, whose self-absorption, stereotyping and prejudice ultimately did nothing to prevent fatal tragedies.  Barry Fairbrother seemed to have been one of the only decent people in the town, and he died in the first chapter.  There was very little hope that the miserable existences described in such painfully vivid detail would ever be improved.  Perhaps that is a more realistic outcome–that change comes slowly to society, that maybe only one or two people in the whole situation are motivated to try to effect change–but the fact that this is really an accurate presentation the current state of affairs, that most of us won’t be bothered to do anything about the plights of our neighbors or the less fortunate, should make the reader feel ashamed.

Pervasive self-centerdness was definitely one of the themes I felt this story hammer home, partly through the fact that many characters enjoyed others’ misfortune with schadenfreude-ic glee, but when the situation was reversed felt that people should pity them, without a trace of irony.  There was also the climax, when three people saw a small child all alone and did not concern themselves over his well-being in  the slightest.  It seemed that this quote, describing Andrew’s violent and corrupt father, would be  appropriate for many other characters as well:

Simon had the child’s belief that the rest of the world exists as staging for their personal drama; that destiny hung over him, casting clues and signs in his path, and he could not help feeling that he had been vouchsafed a sign, a celestial wink.

Tessa notices and is frustrated by this unconscious belief that oneself is the most important person in the universe, shared by her son Fats and many of the students at the school where she  works:

She wanted to scream, You must accept the reality of other people.  You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is.  You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.

Later, Tessa is again frustrated by a person not bothering to think of others as he does himself:

Tessa fought down an impulse to snap.  Colin had a habit of making sweeping judgments based on first impressions, on single actions.  He never seemed to grasp the immense mutability of human nature, nor to appreciate that behind every nondescript face lay a wild and unique hinterland like his own.

Although she doesn’t always act accordingly, Parminder reminds herself of a Sikh teaching at several points:

The light of God shone from every soul.

I hope I was meant to generalize those quotes and see them as applicable to both the entire cast of this book and much of its audience, but then I’m apparently not very good at discerning what this author intends.  In a interview promoting the book, Rowling gave a much different perspective on her work than I came way with:

Themes of the book include drug addiction, racism, rape, alleged paedophilia…. It’s clear that this is a very different kind of book.

“It’s a cheery book! Clearly a comedy, it’s a good beach read. But yes it is different, I genuinely think even though it sits a little oddly with that list of themes, that this is a humorous book. Some of the humour may be rather dark in places but yes its life in a small town [and] everything that entails.” [source]

I can’t find a video of this interview, only the written transcript, so I don’t know whether her inflection indicated that she was joking or not.  But I’m a little saddened if she really thinks this is primarily a comedy.  There are certainly several snarky descriptions and a couple parts that made me laugh out loud, but my mind refuses to process reading depictions of self-harm, rape, drug addiction, child neglect, and domestic abuse as “comedy.”  I cried much more than I laughed.  However, in the same interview, Rowling also intimated that readers should cry:

The book has quite a bleak and shocking climax , what sort of reaction do you hope it gets?

I don’t think I would have much to say to anyone who didn’t at least tear up a bit. I don’t think I would have warm feeling toward someone who didn’t. But it’s a vile thing to say to a reader, did you cry or are you some sort of sub-human? [source]

After so many years confined to the magical and comparatively safe and happy land of Harry Potter, perhaps it was a relief for Rowling to write something so gritty and real, so contemporary and ugly.  People died in Harry Potter, but not by suicide.  Draco may have been a bully, but he didn’t relentlessly post cruel Facebook messages to Hermione’s wall and make her want to cut herself.  The Dursley’s mistreated Harry, but they didn’t physically beat him.  I’ve got nothing against harsh depictions of reality in stories, but I would have preferred more hope for a change for the better in this one, (and I’m not convinced we really needed those explicit descriptions of the porn that Andrew and Fats viewed.)  Much of this book seemed to be simply noting, in very well-crafted style, “isn’t it funny how absolutely terrible people can be?”

I wasn’t really bothered by most of the “foul” language, since it fit with how those characters would realistically speak or think.  This was even addressed explicitly in the book:

Krystal thought she was being funny.  She used “fucking” interchangeably with “very,” and seemed to see no difference between them.

The important thing about analyzing any language use is the context; Krystal uses those words indiscriminately with everyone, barely realizing they’re considered taboo, while Andrew and Fats sometimes use offensive words together to mark the situation as casual, intimate, and without adult supervision.  What struck me most about the language in this book was actually the amount of big words, (like I had to look up a few even though I consider myself to posses an extensive vocabulary), and the prevalence of Britishisms.  I marked all of the instances of British slang that I noticed, and if there is an interest I could write up a separate post outlining and explaining them to an American audienceClick here to read my post on the British slang in this book.

If you’re familiar with the brilliant parallels in the structure of the Harry Potter books, which have been dissected and discussed by others at length, you might not be surprised that Rowling’s new book also features 7 sections with a similar theme running through the end of each one.  I can’t quite figure out how section 4 features in as the middle, and I haven’t yet noticed whether there are individual parallels to be made within each section, but what I have noticed is a systematic recurrence of sex and death.

In the last segment of Part I, Fats and Andrew get high and ruminate on the meaning of life together.

“Yeah,” said Fats.  “Fucking and dying.  That’s it, innit?  Fucking and dying.  That’s life.”

“Trying to get a fuck and trying not to die.”

“Or trying to die,” said Fats.  “Some people.  Risking it.”

“Yeah.  Risking it.”

There was more silence, and their hiding place was cool and hazy.

“And music,” said Andrew quietly, watching the blue smoke hanging beneath the dark rock.

“Yeah,” said Fats, in the distance.  “And music.”

The river rushed on past the Cubby Hole.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this conversation is almost a blueprint for the rest of the book.  Part II ends with Krystal and Fats having sex in a cemetery, strongly echoing Fats’ summation of the two most important elements that make up life.  Part III ends with Nana Cath’s funeral and Krystal being raped.  Part IV ends with the election, so I’m not sure how it fits in exactly, but maybe the thematic element is in the middle of Part IV instead of the end, since it’s the middle chapter?  Part V ends with Robbie’s death, due in part to Krystal and Fats’ irresponsible coupling, and Part VI ends with Krystal “trying to die,” and succeeding.  Part VII ends with the music at Robbie and Krystal’s funeral, and the townspeople averting their eyes from her grieving junkie mother, because they’re still unable or unwilling to really see or engage with her, and the river of their selfish, judgmental pettiness is going to keep rushing on uninterrupted.  (How depressing!)

Now that I look back at all the repetitions, I don’t know why I was so shocked by Robbie and Krystal’s deaths at the end.  I should have seen them coming.

Of course, there were lighter moments, too!  One of my favorite descriptions, perhaps ever, was of Krystal’s education:

Krystal’s slow passage up the school had resembled the passage of a goat through the body of a boa constrictor, being highly visible and uncomfortable for both parties concerned.

I also enjoyed the humor in royal-watching Shirley’s volunteering at the hospital with a fantasy that the Queen will visit and thank her, diabetic Tessa’s characterization of muffins and chocolate as “traitorous  glucose,” and the abundance of descriptions of the gossiping bussybodies that populate Pagford, like this one:

Maureen’s mouth was hanging open again; she was like an ancient baby bird, or perhaps a pterodactyl, hungering for regurgitated news.

My favorite character was definitely Sukhvinder Jawanda; I felt she was one of the bright spots in this little town full of so much pathetic meanness.  After all, she is the only one who tries to help rescue Robbie.  I felt a lot of empathy for her in her self-loathing, egged on by Fats’ torment, and my heart nearly broke for her at this relatable pain:

His every insult and jibe was branded on Sukhvinder’s memory, sticking there as no useful fact had ever done.  If she could have been examined on the things he had called her, she would have achieved the first A grade of her life.

I was glad her parents discovered that she was cutting, and I hope the therapy they’ve enrolled her in will be helpful, and that they will learn to communicate their appreciation and love for her instead of cutting her down and complaining that she isn’t a superstar.  (Is it weird to hope for things for the futures of fictional characters?)

As for whether or not I would read the next book by Rowling, I might, but I will read the early reviews and excerpts next time, (which I completely avoided this time around), before deciding if it sounds like something I want in my mind.  Rowling isn’t the cheerful and optimistic author I wanted her to be, but she’s still very talented, and I must accept the reality of other people.

 

**update** J.K. Rowling has answered a fan question about the gritty, realistic characters in this book at length. Her response is very detailed and it makes me appreciate the story further.

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Storm of Emotion over Storm of Swords

*SPOILERS* ahead, of course.  If you want to see my other Song of Ice and Fire posts, click here for Game of Thrones , and here for Clash of Kings.

Oh my goodness.  This book, A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin, was intense.  And so exciting!  I feel like I burned through it, even though it still took me about two weeks to finish, because whenever I did sit down to read it was hundreds of pages of non-stop action and roller-coaster emotions at a time.  My goodreads updates feature an overabundance of exclamation points and capital letters.

In the beginning I was excited and thought I was totally prepared for whatever was coming, since I was now a veteran of two whole books in this series.  The prologue featured a plot to kill Mormont by some bad Night’s Watch brothers, and then the Others attacked!  Exciting stuff, but I was ready for Others.  I was like:

pagelady makes an excited, intrigued, and not at all scared face.

Excited, intrigued, and not at all freaked out yet. (But it’s only the prologue…)

As I kept reading, it didn’t take long for me to be completely surprised by the plot, and then shocked over and over again, head-spun, mind-blown, sick with worry, overjoyed with vicarious vengeance, exultant at victories, devastated at defeats, gasping at revelations, and repeatedly squealing “OMG!”  Maybe I should make my own house words, like all the powerful families in Westeros have; instead of “Winter is Coming,” it could be “Plot Twists are Coming.”  I should know this by now.  This series is definitely a thrilling read!

pagelady's sigil, a gray book on a black background with a black "p" on the cover

The newly minted pagelady sigil and house words!

Aside from the non-stop action, I would characterize this book as “the one where everybody grows up”, (except for Rickon who is M.I.A. the entire time.)  Robb “I took her castle and she took my heart” Stark gets married, even though he breaks his promise to marry a Frey in the process, because “he chose the girl’s honor over his own.  Once he deflowered her, he had no other course.”   But he did have a choice, and Tywin Lannister notes that his choice reflects that “Robb Stark is his father’s son.”  Plus, he’s King of the North, and undefeated on the battlefield.  What a guy!  He should live long and prosper!  Yeah right, he’s his father’s son, and his father was basically killed for being such a noble guy!  So yeah, I didn’t see Robb’s death coming at all, although I was suspicious about the Freys and the ones they kept saying couldn’t attend the wedding because they were “off on duty.”  But I thought they were actually off away from the castle and were going to ambush Robb later, I didn’t think they would cut him down so heartlessly and unfairly while he was a guest at their wedding!!  It was such a terrible, inglorious death for someone who deserved so much more!  And Catelyn died in that chapter too, which I wasn’t super sad about since I find her annoying, but it was still awful since she might have allowed herself to be captured if she had realized that she did still have other children alive that she might see again.

pagelady makes a crying face

I was so not prepared for mass killing to break out at that Tully-Frey wedding!

Sansa gets married too, (poor girl)!  At first I thought it would be to the crippled Willas Tyrell, (and she thought it would be to Loras Tyrell, silly girl.  Besides the fact that he’s taken his vows of celibacy to serve in the Kingsguard, there are some pretty strong hints in this book that Loras and Renly were lovers).  Anyway, she ends up having to marry Tyrion instead, which is a shame because it would have been fun to get to see more of Olenna “Queen of Thorns” Tyrell, who spoke so hilariously with lines like, “once the cow’s been milked there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder.”  Sansa finally escapes King’s Landing, but her situation is still pretty miserable, as her rescuer is the creepy (in a rapist kind of way) Petyr Baelish.

“You told me that life was not a song.  That I would learn that one day, to my sorrow.”  She felt tears in her eyes, but whether she wept for Ser Dontos Hollard, for Joff, for Tyrion, or for herself, Sansa could not say.  “Is it all lies, forever and ever, everyone and everything?”

Poor, poor Sansa.  Later, when yet another marriage arrangement is forced on her, you can see just how far away she is now from the innocent and optimistic girl that went south in Game of Thrones.

It is not me she wants her son to marry, it is my claim.  No one will ever marry me for love.

It’s not quite true, because Petyr Baelish seems like he wants to marry her for love–it’s just, it’s for the love he has for her mother, and how much Sansa reminds him of her…it’s creepy.  Stop creeping, Littlefinger!  I’m very worried for Sansa’s future.

pagelady makes a "stop creeping, littlefinger!" face

“You must be very cold. Let me warm you, Sansa. Take off those gloves, give me your hands.” and “I think you might be even more beautiful than your mother was, when she was your age,” said Petyr the creep.

Bran is getting better at controling his warging, and he has the maturity to decide that his group should take the hard trip to the Wall and beyond rather than the potentially easier but potentially deadly strategy of seeking refuge from their neighbors.

Bran realized he was crying.  Stupid baby, he thought at himself.  No matter where he went, to Karhold or White Harbor or Greywater Watch, he’d be a cripple when he got there.  He balled his hands into fists.  “I want to fly,” he told them.  “Please.  Take me to the crow.”

It took them the whole book to get there, but Bran and his posse are on the other side of the Wall now, having gone through the Black Gate (what?!) to meet up with Coldhands (WHO?!)  I can’t wait to see what happens next with him, especially if he starts learning more about how to warg into other creatures, (Hodor?!)

Arya is the one who first pointed out to me this “growing up” theme, because she explicitly mentions that what she’s experienced has aged her.

“I’m bigger than I was.  I’m not a child.”  Children didn’t kill people, and she had.

A mysterious tiny old woman, (perhaps a fabled child of the forest?), picks up on some bad vibes from Arya one night, and calls her a “dark heart”:

“I see you, wolf child.  Blood child.  I thought it was the lord who smelled of death…”  She began to sob, her little body shaking.  “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel.  I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours.  Begone from here, dark heart.  Begone!”

Arya interprets the “smell of death” that the old lady senses as the body count that the young girl has racked up.

Arya was remembering the stableboy at King’s Landing.  After him there’d been that guard whose throat she cut at Harrenhal, and Ser Amory’s men at that holdfast by the lake.  She didn’t know if Weese and Chiswyck counted, or the ones who’d died on account of the weasel soup…all of a sudden, she felt very sad.

I went right along with this assumption, although I thought perhaps the old lady sensed that Arya was going to kill someone else soon, but I never for a second thought that Arya herself would be killed!  When I finished the chapter on the Tully-Frey wedding, which ends with Robb and Cat dead, I quickly flipped to the next chapter on Arya (after I finished crying and yelling) because I knew she was right outside the same castle, with the Hound.  I did not expect the Hound to take an axe to her head!

pagelady makes an angry face

“She ran from him as Mycah must have run. His axe took her in the back of the head.”

I was in such a fragile emotional state already, having just witnessed the murders of Robb, his followers, and his mother, having had to resign myself to the fact that these characters do not always get glorious deaths or long lives to reach their potential.  But THIS?!  My FAVORITE CHARACTER, cut down by this shifty warrior who keeps alternating between being sympathetic and being a total jerk?!  Who is now 100% jerk-i-fied because he just killed Arya Stark?!  I was inconsolable.

pagelady is crying hard

Noooooooooooooo, not Arya!

During the next several chapters, I kept having to stop reading temporarily to mourn.

pagelady has thrown the book down and is crying

I can’t…I can’t even…

Initially, I had hoped there was a metaphorical interpretation for “his axe took her int he back of the head,” but it was pretty similar to the description of Catelyn’s death, and I thought this must have been the “smell of death” around Arya the little old lady sensed.

Then, one hundred and seventy three pages later, another Arya p.o.v. chapter popped up!  The Hound had just hit her with the flat of his axe, to knock her out so he could rescue her since she was determined to go into the deathtrap of the castle!  I have to say, well done George R. R. Martin.  I really thought she was dead, for 173 pages!  You got me, sir.  You got me good.

pagelady throws her hands in the air and shouts "wooo-hoo!"

My reaction to discovering that Arya was in fact still alive.

Jon Snow’s “growing up” in this book involves him “becoming a man”, by getting laid.  I was ambivalent about the wildling Ygritte with her “lucky” kissed-by-fire red hair, and I didn’t like how unwilling to compromise she was, but when she died I still got a little choked up.  It’s kind of good that she died, though, so that he doesn’t have that lingering conflict of interest.

pagelady sniffs and tears up over ygritte's dying words, "you know nothing jon snow"

Ygritte’s last words.

And now Jon is the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch!  I loved all of that, how Samwell really “played the game” to get him elected, how Ghost showed up so he came into the great hall as an imposing figure, how the Old Bear’s raven quorked his approval, too.  Jon will be an excellent leader–look how he held the Wall, with so few men and supplies!  But I wonder if Robb’s will of succession is going to complicate things for him, and how he will deal with Mance and Stannis and, oh yeah, the OTHERS?!  That’s kind of a meta-narrative, though, so we probably won’t see it fully resolved until the last book.  And probably Dany’s dragons will play an essential role in vanquishing the Others, too.  (That reminds me, how cool was it when Sam slayed the Other with the dragonglass dagger?!  Loved it.)

You know, even Jamie Lannister grows up a little in this book.   He’s actually trying to be a good person now that he’s lost his sword hand!  I think maybe most of his evil Lannister-ness was concentrated in that hand, and maybe it has also helped his character to be separated from Cersei for so long.

picture of jamie minus his hand

Jamie himself points out that he’s lost the hand that killed a king and pushed a child out a window.

I absolutely looooove the begrudgingly respectful relationship between Jamie and Brienne of Tarth, especially when he goes back to rescue her from Harrenhall and when he gives her the sword of Valyrian steel and the mission to save Sansa.

“When Ned Stark died, his greatsword was given to the King’s Justice,” he told her.  “But my father felt that such a fine blade was wasted on a mere headsman.  He gave Ser Ilyn a new sword, and had Ice melted down and reforged.  There was enough metal for two new blades.  You’re holding one.  So you’ll be defending Ned Stark’s daughter with Ned Stark’s own steel, if that makes any difference to you.”

Meanwhile, across the sea, Dany is growing more and more confident in her role as Queen.  She was a badass in this book!  When I read the part in Astapoor, where she was going to buy the Unsullied army by selling one of her dragons, I was so mad at her, but then a few pages later I was totally fangirling over the way she dominated those slave traders.

dany appears to be selling the dragon

pagelady makes an exasperated face

Girl, you’d better not sell that dragon!

dany gives a secret command and the dragon attacks the trader with flames

pagelady makes a happy face

AWESOME!!!

Of course, Dany’s victory in Astapoor wasn’t the only moment that I cheered for.  I really liked the way Arya crossed The Tickler’s name off her vengeance list, yelling the same questions that he had used during his torture sessions as she stabbed him.  And I liked how Tyrion finally stood up to and ended his father, the most cold-hearted man (that I’ve met so far) in all of the seven kingdoms.  And of course I was elated that snot-nosed Joffrey finally died.

pagelady happily recalls arya killing the tickler, joffrey dying, and tyrion killing tywin

Is it bad that they’re all moments of people killing other people? Video games don’t make people violent, these BOOKS do!

I was so glad that Joffrey was finally removed from power, but the way it happened had me instantly worried about Tyrion’s chances of survival, so I barely even had time to gloat.  Although, his death WAS totally deserved, especially since we had just learned that it was Joff who sent the dagger to kill Bran in Game of Thrones.

Cersei closed the window.  “Yes, I hoped the boy would die.  So did you.  Even Robert thought that would have been for the best.  ‘We kill our horses when they break a leg, and our dogs when they go blind, but we are too weak to give the same mercy to crippled children,’ he told me.  He was blind himself at the time, from drink.”

Robert?  Jamie had guarded the king long enought to know that Robert Baratheon said things in his cups that he would have denied angrily the next day.  “Were you alone when Robert said this?”

“You don’t think he said it to Ned Stark, I hope?  Of course we were alone.  Us and the children.”  Cersei removed her hairnet and draped it over a bedpost, then shook out her golden curls.  “Perhaps Myrcella sent this man with the dagger, do you think so?”

It was meant as mockery, but she’d cut right to the heart of it, Jamie saw at once.  “Not Myrcella.  Joffrey.”

Cersei frowned.  “Joffrey had no love for Robb Stark, but the younger boy was nothing to him.  He was only a child himself.”

“A child hungry for a pat on the head from the sot you let him believe was his father.”

Learning Joffrey’s motivation actually makes me almost pity him a little, but he was still a twisted psychopath.  Elsewhere in this book, Stannis recalls Joffrey cutting up a pregnant cat and proudly taking the baby carcasses to show Robert.  The kid was not sane.  I’m glad he’s gone.

Random observations:  I loved that Davos learned to read, rescued Edric Storm, and convinced Stannis to take his army north.  I noticed three or four mentions of the phrase “dance with dragons” in this book, and I’m wondering how those mentions will relate to the fifth book.  Melisandre’s prophecy about the stone dragon waking with the blood of a king must refer to Dany’s dragon eggs, which were thought to be stone, but hatched when she burned them on the pyre with Khal (“king”) Drogo’s body.  When Hoster Tully kept mentioning “Tansy” as he died, at first I thought it was a woman he had an affair with, then later I thought it was an illegitimate child of Lysa and Petyr’s that he’d made Lysa give up, but having finished the book I think it was just the herb that he forced Lysa to unknowingly drink, causing a miscarriage of her bastard with Petyr.  When Arya and Gendry are at the brothel with the outlaws, there’s a “red-haired inkeep” named Tansy, so I thought it could be her since Cat is a Tully and has reddish hair, too.  I think it’s just a coincidence, though.  The story Meera relates about the mystery cranogman knight at a tourney is significant, because Jojen kept asking Bran if he was sure his father had never told it to him before.  I think the mystery knight was Meera and Jojen’s father, and the tourney was the one in which Rheagar won and gave the winter roses to Lyana and started that whole war that ended with Robert on the throne.  I wonder if we’ll get to learn more about the role that the Reeds’ father played in all that?

So.  That was pretty much it, the book was incredibly exciting and I had come to the end but for the epilogue.  My heartbeat was starting to calm down.  I was feeling satisfied with what a great read this had been, and ahh, here’s some little tag on the story about a random Frey going to deliver a ransom.

pic of me just reading

Just reading along, la-di-da, only a few pages left…

Suddenly, WTF?!  Catelyn is still alive, or re-alive, like a freaking zombie, like Beric Dondarian was?!?!  But she’s all bloated like a corpse and has her death wounds and stuff?!  WHAT THE EFFFF?!?!?!

pagelady freaks out about re-animated catelyn

ZOMBIE-ISH CATELYN STARK!!!!

And that’s the end.  OF COURSE it’s a cliffhanger, (I should have remembered, plot twists are coming!), and I’m so wound up and can’t wait to start the next one!  Unfortunately, I already know it will be a few weeks before I can start Feast for Crows because I have some other books I need to finish, plus I need my reading schedule cleared on September 27 for J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.  But I will return to Westeros as soon as I can!

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Clash of Kings Book Reaction

I actually finished reading Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin two weeks ago, but I haven’t had a good chance to sit down and compose my thoughts, reactions and predictions until now.  (The beginning of the semester is always a little hectic).  Like it’s predecessor, this book is so long and dense it’s a little overwhelming to dissect, and I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll probably forget to include some crucial plot twist or character dynamic in this post.  Although, my system of marking noteworthy passages was much better organized this time.  I used different colors for characters, quotes, cultural clues, and prophecies:

I have not started reading Storm of Swords yet, because I really wanted to write down what I was thinking and feeling about the series at this point before moving on.  You only get to read something for the first time once.  Also, once I’m caught up to what has been published so far I’ll still have to wait an agonizing few years before the last two books come out, so I might as well savor the journey I have ahead of me.

Characters:

Arya: Still totally love this girl.  She is probably my favorite character so far, (followed closely by Jon Snow with Tyrion in third place).  She is so strong-willed, determined, and smart, and she is probably one of the only one in her family who could endure and survive what she has been through.  I liked that she spent this entire book masquerading as a peasant, too, because every main character is high-born (or at least a bastard raised in privilege) and I was starting to wonder what life must be like for the common people.  Whenever the narrative describes these elaborate, jewel-encrusted outfits that Cersei wears I think, how long did it take some seamstress to make that?  It’s not like they have sewing machines, and they’d have to make or acquire all the fabric and materials, and it would take months or years and that would be their whole life, sewing sewing sewing all day long till their backs and fingers ached.  Or what about these guardsmen, standing around in front of a door all day, loyal to one family and getting killed because of the other families that don’t like the family you serve, and it has nothing to do with you except that you had the misfortune to not be born to a lord.

Arya, aka Nymeria “Nan”, page to Roose Bolton at Harrenhal.

Davos: Davos is so far the closest thing to a lowborn main character.  I mean he actually was lowborn, but now he has a title.  I liked his not-from-privilege perspective and I thought he was honorable, but I wish he would be more concerned with his sons’ futures than just hoping they’ll have higher stations.  He should be instilling some of that code of honor into them–what good will a lordship be if they grow up to be horrible?  They seem foolish and overly enamored with power.  Also, I think it’s kind of funny, but mostly gross, that Davos carries his severed fingertips around with him.  Fingertips: the new rabbit’s foot?  I guess both are pretty morbid.

Theon: I hate Theon.  I hadn’t really thought about him much at all during Game of Thrones, so when I started reading the first chapter from his perspective I was like, “yay, another new p.o.v!”, but two pages in, when I saw what a misogynist pig he is, I was like, NOPE!  Shut it down.  Not fangirling over this jerk.  Then of course I thought it was hilarious when he accidentally hit on his sister.  That’s what you get, Theon, for treating women like crap!  I guess I felt a teeny bit bad for him when he wasn’t accepted by his father the way he thought he would be, but really, he just waltzes in expecting praise and responsibility and he hasn’t really done anything to earn anything.  He’s a spoiled brat, and basically everything he did this book make me continue to dislike him, (hello, taking over Winterfell, fake-killing Bran and Rickon, actual-killing two innocent peasants?!), but when I ranted to my friends that have read ahead of me about how much I hate Theon they said, “he’s confused, he’s torn between his father and Robb!”  I certainly didn’t see any confusion from him in this book, so I’m guessing he must have some more character development to come.  But at this point I really hate him, so if I end up defending or loving him later, it had better be because he does some majorly redemptive rescuing of some other character or something.

Catelyn: I am getting really tired of Mrs. Stark.  For most of her chapters I was wanting to shake her and shout, “Get your ass back to Winterfell!” Her four-year-old misses and needs her desperately, her other son is having to deal with adjusting to life without he use of his legs and she hasn’t even seen him since he was still in a coma!  She doesn’t even act like she cares, she just says “Oh yes I miss my kids at Winterfell but I have to stay here with Robb, he needs me more,” when the truth is she wants to be wherever she thinks she can personally wield the most power and influence.  If she were honest about her ambition I might not find it so annoying, although I would still think she’s a bad mother for abandoning her youngest and most vulnerable children, (and look how that turns out for them, by the way!  Who needs you more now, Cat?!)  I wish we could get Robb p.o.v. chapters instead of Catelyn.

Tyrion: This was totally Tyrion’s book.  I loved seeing how clever he was at the manipulation and diplomacy involved in running a kingdom.  His plans kept falling into place so perfectly that I started worrying about the inevitable downfall when everything would come crashing down.  I really thought something bad was going to happen to Shae, and I guess it still might.  I’m extremely curious to see what becomes of Tyrion now that his father has returned to take over the job of Hand of the King.  I was cheering for him when he rode out into batle, though.   Poor guy, getting his face cut up, like he needed another physical deformity!  Tyrion definitely creept up the list of my favorite characters during this book.  I want to see him get married and have kids–he would be such a good dad!  And I want him to be happy.

Daenerys: I’ve decided that Dany’s chapters are primarily interesting for the cultural descriptions, (of the Dothraki, Qarth, the merchant shipyard, etc.), but not so much for her character.  Maybe she will grow to be more compelling later, but for now I’m like, “Hey cool, you have dragons!  And…not much else.”

Bran: I tend to forget about Bran until I get to one of his chapters, and then I remember that I totally love him and feel bad that I’d forgotten about him.  I was so proud of the way he carried the responsibilities of Winterfell lordship in his mother and older brother’s absence.  I’m heartbroken for his broken legs and broken dreams of fighting and becoming and knight, and I’m loving this whole wolf-warg business, mostly because he still gets to experience running and moving independently that way.  When Jojen said Bran was the winged wolf who would never fly, I started to worry that Bran wouldn’t survive to the end of the book, and I almost held my breath from the time Theon put those decapitated heads up to the time it was revealed they weren’t really Bran and Rickon.  Maybe, (hopefully), Jojen’s vision just meant that Bran would never walk again.  (Please don’t die, Bran!)  I do wonder, if Bran wargs into Summer’s brain right before he died, would he continue to live on in the wolf form?  It seems like that’s what happened to the wildling guard Jon killed towards the end:

On a rock above them, the eagle flapped its wings and split the air with a scream of fury.

“The bird hates you, Jon Snow,” said Ygritte.  “And well he might.  He was a man, before you killed him.”

Jon: Speaking of Jon, who discovered in this book that he, too can warg into his direwolf, he continues to make me say “awww!” in a high, adoring/pitying pitch when I read about his bravery, loyalty, and noble character.  His is a difficult path.  When Mormont needled him about his brother being King while Jon could never leave the Watch, I loved his response:

“What will you do?” Mormont asked, “Bastard as you are?”

“Be troubled,” said Jon, “and keep my vows.”

I love Jon’s sword, Claw.  I know he got it in the last book, but I think I forgot to mention it in my previous post.  I still love his friendship with Sam, and I know that even if all the other watchmen believe Jon has betrayed them, Sam will always believe he’s still loyal.   (I really love Sam, too.  I love how gentle and well-meaning he is, telling Gilly that surely Jon can help her, teaching his ravens how to talk).  I loved that Jon spared Ygritte, and that his squad leader probably based his decision to give Jon the most difficult mission of joining the wildlings in part based on that act, (my conjecture).  When Jon asks why he was commanded to kill the girl, Qhorin say:

“I did not command it.  I told you to do what needed to be done, and left you to decide what that would be.”  Qhorin stood and slid his longsword back into its scabbard.  “When I want a mountain scaled, I call Stonesnake.  Should I need to put an arrow through the eye of some foe across a windy battlefield, I summon Squire Dalbridge.  Ebben can make any man give up his secrets.  To lead men you must know them, Jon Snow.  I know more of you now than I did this morning.”

I’m still sticking to my theory about Jon’s real parents, but I put this book’s revelations on that front below in the Prophecies and Predictions section.

Sansa: I liked Sansa better in this book than Game of Thrones, because she finally realized the Lanniester suck and started acting more like a Stark.  Too late, of course, because she’s trapped there now, but at least she’s wishing she wasn’t.  That’s an improvement.  And I like that she is resistant but still a lady–I mean, she has to keep dressing fancily and making appearances and keeping proper court manners, but not everybody would be able to carry on and maintain composure in that situation.  She isn’t a warrior like her sister, but she does poses great strength, and I like the contrast between the two forms of strong females.  I also love her “Florian,” but I’m afraid he’s pretty much worthless, except to keep her hopes alive.   Oh, and poor girl, traumatized by her first period because she’s afraid she’ll have to marry Joffrey, (which she now doesn’t have to do, *phew*), I felt so bad for her, but also laughed a little bit:

“The blood is the seal of your womanhood.  Lady Catelyn might have prepared you.  You’ve had your first flowering, no more.”

Sansa had never felt less flowery.  “My lady mother told me, but I…I thought it would be different.”

“Different how?”

“I don’t know.  Less…less messy, and more magical.”

Sansa becomes a woman.

Jojen Reed: thank goodness, a green-eyed character who is not evil!  I was worried when I read his description that he would be another Lannister-type villain.  Even better-his prophetic visions are called “greensight.”  I’ll take all the posotive green-eyed connotations I can get!  I really like his sister, Meera, too; she is now Arya’s main competition for the character in this series I would most like to be.

Cersei and Jamie and Joffrey Lannister: they still suck.  Carry on.

The Hound: I’m still fluctuating, but I think overall I like him more in this book than I did in Game of Thrones.  His best moment for me in Clash of Kings was when he saved Sansa from the mob.  I also liked when he talks back to Joffrey, and that he refused knighthood.  But what exactly was he planning when he waited in Sansa’s bedchambers?  And why does he seem to be drunk all the time?  I know patricide is awful, but I kind of hope he kills his brother.  Because Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane needs to die, and I think The Hound would get the most catharsis from it.

Jaqen H’ghar: Loved him, by the end, because of the way that he helped my favorite character.  Very intrigued about his background and abilities.  Hopefully we will see more of him.  Valar morghulis.

Hodor: Hodor!  Hodor hodor, hodor hodor.  Hodor?!  Hodor!  Hodor.

Quotes and Cultural Things I Loved:

Winter is coming, and it’s going to be fierce because this summer has lasted:

Ten years, two turns, and sixteen days it lasted, the longest summer in living memory.

We learned a lot more in this book about the religion of The Seven, as well as the Lord of Light and the Drowned God.  We learned a little about the old gods, too, and the children of the forest.  I think I’ll save an analysis of all those religions for a separate post, though, since this one is already pretty long.  I also marked all the different ways people referred to the comet, so I can post about that later too.

These were some of the quotes I liked in this book, with pages numbers from the paperback edition I was reading, (ISBN 978-0-553-57990-1):

“Power resides where men believe it resides.  No more and no less.” -Varys, p. 132

“When we speak of the morrow nothing is ever certain.” -Ser Rodrick, p. 257

“To Winterfell we pledge the faith of Greywater.  Hearth and heart and harvest we yield up to you, my lord.  Our swords and spears and arrows are yours to command.  Grant mercy to our weak, help to our helpless, and justice to all, and we shall never fail you.”  –Jojen and Meera Reed, p. 329

“That’s pretty.”  He remembered Sansa telling him once that he should say that whenever a lady told him her name.  -Jon Snow, p. 370

His stunted legs might make him a comic grotesque at a harvest ball, but this dance he knew. –Tyrion re:playing Cersei’s manipulative games, p. 450

“We can only die.  Why else do we don these black cloaks, but to die in defense of the realm?” -Qhorin, p. 632

Jaqen made me brave again.  he made me a ghost instead of a mouse. -Arya, p. 681

Tears filled Bran’s eyes.  When a man was hurt you took him to a maester, but what could you do when your maester was hurt? -p. 967

WTF Moments:

I mean, Melisandre giving birth to Stannis’ assassin shadow.  That’s the main one.  It’s the only one I can think of right now.  I did not see that coming, at all.  I mean I knew she was up to something sinister but I never would have guessed it would take that form.  It was…a WTF moment.  There is no other way to describe it.

I share your shock and revulsion, Davos.

Prophecies and Predictions:

I’m not really sure what all the visions that Dany saw in the House of the Undying Ones mean, but I marked them all so I could check back later to see if they end up making more sense eventually.  Like, could this one be talking about Ned Stark, whose sigil was the direwolf, who was led like a lamb to his slaughter?

Farther on she came upon a feast of corpses….In a throne above them sat a dead man with the head of a wolf.  He wore an iron crown and held a leg of lamb in one hand as a king might hold a sceptor and his eyes followed Dany with mute appeal.

Then she saw the bit about the Targaryean baby, and that has to be significant somehow because they mention the name of the series, “song of ice and fire.”

Viserys, was her first thought the next time she paused, but a second glance told her otherwise.  The man had her brother’s hair, but he was taller, and his eyes were a dark indigo rather than lilac.  “Aegon,” he said to the woman nursing a newborn babe in a great wooden bed.  “What better name for a king?”

“Will you make a song for him?” the woman asked.

“He has a song,” the man replied.  “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”  He looked up when he said it and his eyes met Dany’s, and it seemed as if he saw her standing there beyond the door.  “There must be one more,” he said, though whether he was speaking to her or the woman in the bed she could not say.  “The dragon has three heads.”  He went to the window seat, picked up a harp, and ran his fingers lightly over its silvery strings.  Sweet sadness filled the room as man and wife and babe faded like the morning mist, only the music lingering behind to speed her on her way.

It seems like its gotta be referring to Rhaegar Targaryean and his firstborn Aegon by his wife Elia of Dorne, but as Ser Jorah says when Dany tells him about the vision,

“If [Aegon] was this prince that was promised, the promise was broken along with his skull when the Lannisters dashed his head against a wall.”

My theory about Rhaegar being Jon Snow’s true father could mean that Jon is actually “the prince that was promised,” but then I’m not sure what the meaning of this vision was.  Did Rhaegar misinterpret a prophecy?  Where did this “promise” come from, anyway?  What is this business of the three heads?  And does the fact that he plays a harp tie him to Ygritte’s tale about Bale the Bard, so is it all just a cycle that keeps repeating and the vision is not meant to represent exactly how it happened?

The tale of Bale the Bard definitely supports my theory about Jon being Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark’s son.  The blue winter roses!  They’re everywhere!  In Game of Thrones, Ned kept seeing them in his flashbacks of Lyanna, and she wore a crown of them in her crypt statue, and Rhaegar gave her a boquet of them at that joust before he supposedly kidnapped her.  Well, in the Bard’s tale, (which is called the SONG O’ THE WINTER ROSE, by the way!) Bale sings so beautiful for the then-lord of Winterfell that he is told he can choose his own reward.  Then, in Ygritte’s words:

“All I ask is a flower,” Bael answered, “the fairest flower that blooms in the gardens o’ Winterfell.

Now as it happened the winter roses had only then come into bloom, and no flower is so rare nor precious.  So the Stark sent to his glass gardens and commanded that the most beautiful o’ the winter roses be plucked for the singer’s payment.  And so it was done.  But when morning come, the singer had vanished, and so had Lord Brandon’s maiden daughter.  Her bed they found empty, but for the pale blue rose that Bael had left on the pillow where her head had lain.”

The story continues, as the father searches for his daughter to no avail, but a year later she shows up in her room with a baby, and it turns out they were hiding in the crypts beneath Winterfell all along.  (Then the story gets sad and  bloody and I think involves a Bolton ancestor who flays the grown-up baby.)

I’m telling you, these blue winter roses are significant…somehow.

So, similarities to the Rhaegar/Lyanna theory: a Stark maiden is supposedly abducted but might actually love the guy, and has a baby, and blue winter roses are significant.  When I type it out that way it doesn’t sound like such a strong argument, but the roses…the similarities…it’s got to be significant!  When Jon refuses to believe Bael’s story, calling him a liar, Ygritte responds with, “a bard’s truth is different than yours or mine.”  So maybe it won’t be clear what the meaning of these parallels are until later.

But then, we do find out that Bran and his entourage escape Theon Greyjoy by hiding in the crypts of Winterfell, while everyone goes searching far and wide outside the grounds for them!  Just like Bael and the young lady Stark, in the song!

This is totally giving me Battlestar Galactica flashbacks: All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again!

One last, minor prediction: I think that Varys can warg, possibly into that old cat that has been around King’s Landing forever.  It would make a lot of sense as to how he is able to somehow know everything about everybody else’s business if he spies on them in animal form.  I suspect that cat just because it has been mentioned several times.  They call Varys “the spider” but do spiders even have ears?  If he warged into an insect could he really see very much?  (Although, I guess it worked for Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire!)

How I Felt At The End:

What is to become of my poor Starks, scattered to the winds?  The winds of the WINTER that is coming?!  Arya needs to rip that flayed man emblem off her tunic, because the Boltons are bad news.  As much as I hope she and her small posse make it quickly to Riverrun, I’m afraid the fact that her direwolf Nymeria is still running wild and unaccounted for is prophetic of Arya’s fate to remain separated from her family and on her own.  Jon is with the wildlings now, and had to kill a night’s watch brother to join!  I was so happy when he spared Ygritte, and I hoped she wouldn’t betray him later.  Well, I guess she’s probably part of the reason he’s still alive now, but I’m already worried about how he’s ever going to get back to his brothers, and whether they’ll believe he didn’t really betray them, and I’m worried about how lonely he’s going to be, unable to really trust anyone.  What’s going to happen to Bran?!  His optimism closes the book, but all I feel is anxiety.  He and Rickon have loyal helpers but they are such small groups, if anyone finds them they are pretty much screwed.  Their biggest protection is their direwolves, but that’s not going to help them if they run into one of the armies wandering around the country!

Writing this post has definitely re-ignited my desperate obsession with this series.  I’m off to start Storm of Swords!  Do NOT spoil it for me!

WINTER IS COMING!!!!  FOR REAL THIS TIME!

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My Reaction to the Book “Game of Thrones”

So.  This book, the first in George R. R. Martin series A Song of Ice and Fire, has been on my to-read list for over a year.  I saw the “first look” in Entertainment Weekly when they started filming the television show adaptation, and I immediately thought “this looks like something I would like.”  But I haven’t seen the show yet, because I wanted to read the books first.  And I kept putting off the books because they are so long, I had other things I wanted to read first, and I knew that once I started I would probably get sucked into a new obsession that would take over my life.  And that is exactly what happened.  I gave it 5 stars, and I am now completely obsessed with this fictional world and its inhabitants,eager to devour thousands more pages.  Four more of the planned seven books are already published, so I’m sure have plenty of glorious plot twists ahead of me.  I can’t wait!

I managed to stay fairly spoiler-free by meticulously avoiding clicking on anything remotely related to the books or show and plugging my ears and humming to myself whenever people around me would talk about it.  My vigilance paid off, because I was able to fully appreciate all the unexpected twists and the roller-coaster emotions that I felt towards the characters throughout the book.  I hope I can stay spoiler-free until I’ve caught up on the series, and I don’t want to ruin it for anybody else, so look away now if you haven’t yet read Game of Thrones!  Because the rest of this post will contain **SPOILERS**!!!

The prose sucked me in immediately. This was my face for the first few chapters, giddy over the incredibly rich detail of this fantasy world and the intrigue of the characters’ relationships.

I’d have to say my favorite character was Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, but whenever I was reading a chapter from Jon Snow or Arya Stark’s perspective, they were my favorite.  And then towards the end I really fell in love with Robb Stark, too.  And of course I love Bran!  I guess I loved everyone while I was reading from their point of view, but I connected with Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen the least.  And while I like Tyrion Lannister’s humor and sympathize with his difficult past, he’s a little slimey and morally ambiguous, nothing like the noble Lord Stark.   I like Tyrion best of all the Lannisters, but that’s not saying much.

Oh, the Lannisters.  I knew at the first physical description of Cersei, her brother Jamie, and her son Joffrey that they would be unlikeable, yet another example of the annoying “evil” green eyes stereotype.  This is how they were introduced, promenading into the great hall of Winterfell in a chapter from Jon’s perspective:

His lord father had come first, escorting the queen.  She was as beautiful as men said.  A jeweled tiara gleamed amidst her long golden hair, its emeralds a perfect match for the green in her eyes.

.

Prince Joffrey had his sister’s hair and his mother’s deep green eyes.

.

Ser Jamie Lannister was twin to Queen Cersei; tall and golden, with flashing green eyes and a smile that cut like a knife.

There were other clues besides their eye color that the Lannisters weren’t going to be the heroes, but about 30 pages after reading these descriptions and predicting that these particular characters would be especially “bad” somehow, I was proved very, sickeningly correct.  This was my face when I found out about the incestuous relationship between Jamie and Cersei, just before they pushed Bran out the window so he couldn’t tell anyone he had seen them together:

I made the same face when Cersei told Ned that she and Jamie were “one person in two bodies.”  I don’t care if the Targaryens marry siblings too, it’s…sick.

If I had to rank the Lannisters from most evil to most humane, I guess it would be:

  1. Tywin-because of how he treats his family, particularly Tyrion and his wife.  That was awful.
  2. Jamie-because he is a kingslayer, a vow-breaker, an incestuous creep and he pushes Bran out the window.
  3. Joffrey-if he is allowed to rule much longer he’ll surpass Jamie in evil-ness. He hasn’t had as many chances to display his darkness.
  4. Cersei-she’s mean, cheats on her husband (with her brother!) she has it in for Ned, but she doesn’t want to kill him.  She really seems to loves her children.  Unfortunately her children suck, partly because of her.
  5. Tyrion-his main fault is being a loyal Lannister.  And he’s completely self-serving, I think.  He cares more about others than anyone else in his family, but he’ll still do whatever is best for him.

I liked the way the book continually switched between several characters’ point of view; it definitely pulled me deeper into the story because I not only got to understand multiple sides, but at the end of each chapter I immediately wanted to know what happened next for that character, and I’d have to read five or six more chapters before I got back to them.  There are really no good stopping points, there’s no time that you’re not desperate for  at least three storylines to be followed up.  I also really appreciated the narrative choice to shield the reader from witnessing the goriest action; for example, the chapters immediately following King Robert’s death are told from the perspective of Arya and Sansa, and we know that people are being killed and things are very bloody but the only death we witness is of the boy in the barn, and when Sansa walks to the courtroom later she averts her eyes from the bodies strewn about the castle grounds.  Then when Robb is in battle against Jamie Lannister, we’re sitting in the trees with Catelyn, waiting for it to be over.  The violence is there but we’re mostly spared the graphic details.

Learning about the Dothraki language and culture was what I found most interesting about Dany’s chapters; I didn’t really care for the Princess herself.  I mean I feel bad for her, but she’s somehow not as compelling to me.  The Dothraki were fascinating, but I would be terrified to actually meet one.  I wish there were more examples of their language, but I guess that’s something to look forward to when I watch the show.  Linguist David Peterson is the Dothraki consultant for HBO, and as soon as I’m able I’m going to check out his Dothraki website.  My impression of Peterson is that he’s way cooler and nicer than Paul Frommer, the linguist who created Na’vi and Barsoomian.  Frommer comes off in interviews as condescending and uninterested in interacting much with conlang fans or revealing too much about his work, so that he’s always the one who knows the most.  Peterson seems like a fellow enthusiastic language nerd, and he tweeted his agreement with my Dothraki analysis back at me when I said:

That was based on this passage, when Dany eats the heart of a stallion at Vaes Dothrak:

Khalakka dothrae mr’anha!” she proclaimed in her best Dothraki.  A prince rides inside me!  She had practiced the phrase for days with her handmaid Jhiqui.

The oldest of the crones, a bent and shriveled stick of a woman with a single black eye, raised her arms on high.  “Khalakka dothrae!” she shrieked.  The prince is riding!

He is riding!” the other women answered.  “Rakh!  Rakh!  Rakh haj!” they proclaimed.  A boy, a boy, a strong boy.

Speaking of language, I wish there was a pronunciation guide for all these names!  How am I supposed to know which vowel the ‘y’ happens to be representing this time?  My friends that have watched the show keep correcting my pronunciations, and it’s frustrating because English already has a ridiculously inconsistent spelling system and I feel like I’m making reasonable assumptions, then I’m told I’m saying it “wrong.”  I didn’t know Catelyn was “Cat-uh-lihn,” not “Kate-lihn.”  I didn’t know Lysa was “Lai-zuh,” not “Lee-suh.”  I didn’t know Rickon was “Rih-kun,” not “Rai-kan.”

Oh well, maybe pronunciation is to me as needlework is to Arya.  I love Arya, for her spunk, her un-lady-likeness, her courage, her fierceness, for standing up against Joffrey in defense of the butcher’s boy, for.  I love her “dance lessons” with Syrio.  I hope she’s okay in disguise as a boy with Yoren.  I’m not sure I trust Yoren, but it’s better that he found her and is helping hide her than the despicable Lord Varys or the selfish Petyr Baelish.

My feelings for “The Hound” Sandor Clegane, with a tragically burnt face like one of my all-time favorite characters, Prince Zuko, yet a sworn sword to the evil House Lannister, can best be described by this chart:

My feelings towards Sansa fluctuated throughout the book as well.  At first I thought she was just annoying, and rolled my eyes at the prim and boring counterpart to my beloved, wild Arya.  I know she’s just trying to be a “proper” lady and that she wanted Joffrey to like her, but I was so angry when she wouldn’t back up Arya’s version of the confrontation with the Prince.  I guess Sansa paid for it by losing her direwolf, and now she’s paying very dearly for her moment of stupidity when she betrayed her father to the Queen.  I can’t hate her for it though because she’s a child and didn’t know the full situation, and I’m starting to like her a lot better now that she’s realized what a prick Joffrey is and is having fantasies about pushing him off of high towers.  If only she had Arya’s gumption, she might actually do it.

Then there’s Robb.  I think part of the reason it took me longer to become attached to Robb was that there were no chapters told from his perspective.  At the beginning I thought he and Jon were rivals, without realizing they were also close friends, and I sided with Jon so I didn’t care for him as much.  But I started to admire him as he struggled to take on the responsibilities of adulthood and leadership that were thrust upon him so young when he was left in charge of Winterfell.  I wonder which Frey will Robb choose to marry?  Will he even keep that agreement, or will some unforseen twist get him off the hook?  When the royal family visited Winterfell in the beginning, Robb escorted the Princess Mycella and was “grinning like a fool,” so I thought maybe he liked her.  And when Catelyn wondered if her son had ever kissed a girl, I thought maybe he had kissed Mycella.  Was that just a little crush, or will it break his heart to have to choose one of Walder Frey’s grand-daughters to spend his life with instead?

If I try to write a coherent paragraph about why I love Ned Stark it would just dissolve into blubbering.  He’s so noble!  He’s so pure-hearted and honorable!  He’s so good, and fair, and he loves his children so much!  This was my face when he was betrayed by Littlefinger, accused of treason, and imprisoned by the Lannisters:

Worrying about Ned Stark’s fate.

And this was my face when it came to THAT PART.  You know.  The terrible, terrible, gut-wrenching, unfair, dishonorable destruction of the best character in the whole book.  (I told you there would be **SPOILERS**!!)

page 727, in my paperback version.

And then, after I had recovered a bit, I vented my anger at stupid snott-nosed inbred Joffrey making such a stupid, unwise and unfair decision, and being allowed to do so by all the worthless people around him:

Dammit, Joffrey! I hope you are quickly dethroned in the next book.

Jon Snow was my second-favorite character, so now with Ned gone I suppose he is my top favorite.  He’s still young, so  he’s not quite as noble as Ned yet, but I think he will be.  I loved how he helped Samwell Tarly at The Wall, and all the conversations he’s had with the Maester’s there, even when he’s being lectured for his mistakes.  I loved how Sam decided to say his vows to the old gods, with Jon, even though Sam had been raised in the faith of the Seven.  It was another way to indicate a break with his past, that this was a new start, the same way people sometimes change their names when significant events happen, (although I think it was a sign of Sam’s loyalty to Jon more than anything else, and I loved that too).  I loved when his fellow newly-inducted brothers go after the deserting Jon to bring him back.  I love Ghost, (and all the direwolves of course), and the way Jon finds him last of all, alone and outcast like himself.  I just love him!

And, I have a theory about the true parentage of Ned Stark’s supposed bastard.  All throughout the book, Ned refused to talk about who Jon’s mother is, and whenever he mentioned or thought of his dead sister Lyanna, there was some mystery involved.  Her death had something to do with the war that led to Robert’s accession to the throne, but  we still haven’t really been told the whole story of what all happened between them.  But Ned had flashbacks and dreams of Lyanna with blue rose petals, or blood, or both, whispering, “Promise me, Ned.”  When Ned is imprisoned by the Lannisters, he recalls a jousting tournament when he was 18:

Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap.  He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.

But the clue that really stuck out to me came from Bran, when he goes into the Winterfell crypt with Maester Luwin and Osha and is telling the slave about the Starks who are buried there.  When they come to Lyanna’s tomb, he says:

“Robert was betrothed to marry her, but Prince Rhaegar carried her off and raped her,” Bran explained.  “Robert fought a war to win her back.  He killed Rhaegar on the Trident with his hammer, but Lyanna died and he never got her back at all.”

I don’t think Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna.  I think they were in love and ran off together.  I think he got her pregnant and she died in childbirth, that Ned was there and the promise he made to his dying sister that still haunts his dreams was to claim her son as his own bastard, to never tell anyone the truth in order to protect the life of her son.  So Jon Snow is really Jon Targaryen, and he resembles Ned because he is half-stark, but Ned is his uncle and not his father!  My friend @maldem, who has read all the books, pointed out to me that the series is called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and Jon Snow being half Stark and half Targaryen fits it perfectly.  The Starks live in the North, they were the kings of winter.  The Targaryens are the blood of the dragons, and can withstand fire, which Daenarys proves at the end of this book.  Jon burned his hand when he killed the wight that was attacking Mormont, but it healed pretty quickly.  Because he is half Targaryen!

This was my face when I read that final clue from Bran that I needed in that puzzle:

I think I know who Jon Snow’s real parents are!

Speaking of theories, here’s another one I put together that is much more trivial: the one cat that Arya had so much trouble catching once belonged to the former Targaryen Princess.

One by one Arya had chased them down and snatched them up and brought them proudly to Syrio Forel…all but this one, this one-eared black devil of a tomcat.  “That’s the real king of this castle right there,” one of the gold cloaks had told her.  “Older than sin and twice as mean.  One time, the king was feasting the queen’s father, and that black bastard hopped up on the table and snatched a roast quail right out of Lord Tywin’s fingers.  Robert laughed so hard he like to burst.  You stay away from that one, child.”

Later, when Varys visits the imprisoned Ned and tells him that if he does not “confess” to treason, the Lannisters will murder Sansa, the eunuch says,

“Rhaenys was a child too.  Prince Rhaegar’s daughter.  A precious little thing, younger than your girls.  She had a small black kitten she called Balerion, did you know?  I always wondered what happened to him.  Rhaenys liked to pretend he was the true Balerion, the Black Dread of old, but I imagine the Lannisters taught her the difference between a kitten and a dragon quick enough, the day they broke down her door.”

This story is so rich, even the cats have backstories!  I love it.

I still don’t really know much about those creepy zombie-like creatures in the prologue.  It was so scary reading the chapter when Jon was out with the rangers looking at those dead bodies that were starring up with “blue, blue eyes,” and right away I recognized that they were more of the sinister beings.  It was bad timing, because it was late at night, I was home alone and had only a small lamp on at the time.  Fortunately my direkitty was nearby to protect me.

pagelady’s fierce direkitty.

  (That’s another thing I don’t quite understand–what exactly is the connection between the Stark children and their direwolves?  I mean how does that work?  And how did Bran and Rickon have the same prophetic dream about their father?  And how do magic and prophecies work in this world?  Like, was the prophecy about Dany’s son wrong, since he died, or was it true and that means the baby isn’t really dead, but smuggled away somewhere?  Or was it just stillborn and the maegi woman made up that horrific tale about it having scales and wings and disintegrating?

This book is so dense, I could almost be content to read it again instead of reading the next one, just to pick up on all the little things I’m sure I missed.  But I’m also dying to know what’s going to happen to my beloved Stark family next,  and I’m eager to get caught up so I can go join the rest of the fandom online without worrying about avoiding spoilers.  Besides, the last two (of the planned 7) books aren’t published yet, so I can always re-read while we wait for them.

Robb unexpectedly becomes King of the North

I hope you’ve enjoyed the illustrations for this post.  I had to make my own, because I dare not type “game of thrones” or any characters’ names into a google image search, for fear of seeing something that will spoil that books I haven’t read yet.  I’m sure they would still be worth reading, but part of what I love about the first time through a book is making guesses and theories about what’s going to happen, and then finding out if I’m right or not.   For example, I’d  like to think I would have predicted that Dany’s dragon eggs would hatch at some point, but since I had happened to see a picture of that scene from the television show, (where three dragons flit around the shoulders of a silver-haired girl,) I’ll never know if I really would have, or what would have been my definitive clue.

In other words, the Others take you if you leave me a book-two-or-beyond spoiler in the comments!  And here’s a blank template if you want to create your own reaction faces; you just add eyebrows and a mouth.  It’s super fun.

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Things That Annoyed Me About “Wither” (The Chemical Garden #1)

Wither is a young-adult, dystopian novel by Lauren DeStefano, the first in a series known as The Chemical Garden Triology.  The blurb on the back cover summarizes the plot as:

In the not-too-distant future, genetic engineering has turned every newborn into a ticking time bomb: Males die at age twenty-five, and females die at age twenty.  While scientists seek a miracle antidote, young girls are routinely kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.  When sixteen-year-old Rhine is taken, she enters a world of wealth and privelege that both entices and terrifies her.  She has everything she ever wanted–except freedom.

Soon it becomes clear that not everyone at her new husband’s home is how they appear.  With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to escape…before her time runs out.

I thought the premise of genetic experimentation gone wrong sounded intriguing.  A friend warned me that the book made her angry, but I thought it would be like the way reading about difficult or controversial subjects can get under your skin and ignite a passionate fury, (like A Child Called It, Unwind, or Room) but she was right, this book was just plain maddening, and not in a good way.

(Book cover)

The following are specific issues I had with this story and the fictitious world it inhabits.  (Warning, *SPOILERS* ahead):

Story:

The Polygamy.  I just really didn’t expect that it was going to be actual, full-on polygamy.  I thought it would be more like typical young-adult love triangles, only with the twist that they were technically married.  But the girls’ collective husband, Linden, has sex with two of his wives, and the fact that he doesn’t sleep with all three is not for a lack of desire or effort on his part.  Most disturbingly, 21-year-old Linden takes the virginity of his youngest wife, Cecily, who is thirteen.  She is eager to step into the glamorized (in her mind) role of wife and woman, but she is a child.  The fact that Linden impregnates her just about made me sick.

I mean if she’s going to die at 20 I guess 13 is beyond mid-life, but if the goal is pure procreation then polygamy isn’t really the most efficient method.  Why have a wife when you can just have a baby factory, like the Cylons have on Caprica?  (Battlestar Galactica, Season 2 Epsidoe 5 “The Farm”).  There is an explanation given for this, actually; it is said that Housemaster Vaughn, (Linden’s long-living “first generation” father), believes the artificial insemination of the “first generation” is part of what unknowingly caused the virus, and that a cure can only be found in a natural-born child.  Cecily explains his belief to Rhine, in chapter 25:

Housemaster Vaughn is a brilliant doctor.  He’s working very hard.  He has a theory that the problem is that the first generations were conceived artificially.  So if a baby is born naturally, that baby can be fixed through”–she pauses, trying to remember the words, then she says them carefully, like she might break them–external intervention.”

I’m not sure how this theory makes sense, if the first generation doesn’t show any of the symptoms of the deadly virus they pass on to their children.  And just how is “external intervention” of a newborn different from manipulation of an embryo before it’s implanted?  I mean, yes, it’s different, but if genes are being manipulated, does it matter when or how the intervention takes place?  I don’t know, I’m not an expert on gene therapy.  (Sidenote: interestingly, the Cylons reach a similar conclusion to Housemaster Vaughn, that “love” is the necessary mystery ingredient to successful Cylon procreation).

Linden.  I just despised him.  What does he think gives him the right to multiple wives?  I just don’t understand polygamy, so I guess this ties in with the issue above.  But what I really disliked about Linden was the attempt to paint him as an innocent victim, lied to by his father, cruel only because he is truly unaware of the truth.  Yes, Housemaster Vaughn manipulates and lies to his son, but to blame Linden’s faults on someone else is bullshit.  Human beings are responsible for how they treat other humans.  And Linden never once acts like he considers his wives as fully human–he treats them more like pets or objects that he wants to take care of.  He’s gentle, he’s superficially worried about their well-being and respectful of their preferences, but he is  never genuinely concerned about who they are or what they want.  I don’t think he sees their perspectives as equal to his.  I don’t think he perceives them as fully human.  I mean, he’s confused as to why Rhine doesn’t want to sleep with him and tells her “I want to have a baby with you” on the same day that his son with Cecily is born.

The worst part about Linden is I think he could have been a redeemable character.  If Rhine and Jenna had been honest with him about their forced captivities, if they had enlightened him to the way they were actually prisoners, if they had confided their suspicions about his father’s manipulative secrecy, I think Linden would have become their ally, not to mention a better, more thoughtful person.  (It’s possible that DeStefano plans to mature Linden in some of these ways in the sequels, but I’ll probably never read them to find out.)  But Linden as he is portrayed in Wither is despicable.

The domestics.  If they are going to die in a few short years as well, why would “the domestics” or any of the servants in the mansion be so eager to spend their brief lives slaving away for their masters?  Why and how would they be so skilled?  The explanation given is that they are trained at orphanages, and sold off to the highest bidder.  I suppose that if servant-life at the mansion is substantially better than orphanage-life, it might be motivation to want to do a good job as a servant.  But Dierdre, Rhine’s personal “domestic,” is supposedly an amazing seamstress, and a talented beautician, (which seems so cliché , like why do the heronies always have to look stunning in the hands of their beauty team?  I want to read a book where the make-up artist is only so-so, and the narrator feels self-conscious about her sub-par hairdo.)  Dierdre is portrayed as someone who’s biggest thrill and life’s reward is seeing her charge primped and pressed and dressed in her best.  It’s patronizing and insulting and I didn’t like it.

Lack of voice.  For that matter, I didn’t really care for the narrator herself.   She almost felt more like a plot device than a person.  I never got the sense that I knew who she was or could understand her or her motivations.  She kept telling me statements about herself or her goals, but I never felt like the story really showed me her personality.

World:

Too much homogeneity.  If the technology to create super-babies immune to disease were possible, not everyone would take advantage of it.  Partly because it would undoubtedly be expensive, and many people would be unable to afford it, and also because I guarantee there would be some who were ideologically opposed to tampering with human life and “playing God” in that way.  Here is the explanation, in chapter 2, for the origin of the “first generation” (emphasis added):

Seventy years ago science perfected the art of children.  There were complete cures for an epidemic known as cancer, a disease that could affect any part of the body and that used to claim millions of lives.  Immune system boosts given to the new-generation children eradicated allergies and seasonal ailments, and even protected against sexually contracted viruses.  Flawed natural children ceased to be conceived in favor of this new technology.  A generation of perfectly engineered embryos assured a healthy, successful population.  Most of that generation is still alive, approaching old age gracefully.  They are the fearless first generation, practically immortal.

There is just no way it could become that widespread, that there would be no more “flawed natural children.”   (I mean, hasn’t DeStefano seen Gattaca?!)  In real life there are class differences and there are philosophical, religious, and ideological distinctions between different groups of people.  In this book, the two ideological camps mentioned are reactionary to the virus, and there is no mention or allusion to society being made up of multiple viewpoints before the scientific breakthrough.  It’s absurd.

The extreme homogeneity of the world of Wither is exacerbated by the fact that not a single non-white character populates the narrative.  Even if North America was the only continent in existence, (see below), it is not a land mass populated solely by Caucasians!  But the most “diversity” to be found here is that Linden’s wives include a blonde, brunette, and redhead.  Of course.

North America is the sole remaining continent. This one is a real head-shaker.  The explanation given is preposterous, and the implications downright offensive.  I think I gasped out loud in anger when I read this, (emphasis added):

…a third world war demolished all but North America, the continent with the most advanced technology. The damage was so catastrophic that all that remains of the rest of the world is ocean and uninhabitable islands so tiny that they can’t even be seen from space.

First of all, you know it would be the countries with “advanced technology” that got taken out first in what sounds like the nuclear war being described here, right?  If such a “catastrophic” war really took place and countries were destroyed or obliterated, it would be the less-developed countries that survived, the rural areas that were never a strategic target, the frozen mountains with impassable trails, the thick forests and jungles and swamps.  (This already sounds like a more interesting story to me.)

What kind of weapon is even capable of reducing an entire continent to tiny islands?  Assuming such destruction is possible, it would most definitely mean that sea levels would rise, which would affect the supposedly sole-remaining continent’s coastline.  Guess what two specific locations are mentioned as settings in this story?  Manhattan, New York…and Florida.  Two places that would almost certainly not exist under the circumstances described.  It’s so dumb.  And it’s not even really necessary!  There is enough catastrophe with this inescapable early death, you don’t need to add a world war and global destruction too, especially if it’s not going to make any sense.  Just say that the characters don’t know anything the rest of the world because they don’t live long enough to travel and see it, or don’t mention it at all.  Definitely don’t mention the global community by saying, as Rhine does in chapter 6 (emphasis added):

I have always been fascinated by the ocean, to dip a limb beneath its surface and know that I’m touching eternity, that it goes on forever until it begins here again.  Somewhere beneath it lies the ruins of colorful Japan, and Rose’s favorite, India, the countries that could not survive.

I actually like imagery in the first sentence, but it’s marred by this offensive, repeated assumption that Westerners are somehow superior to the rest of the world.  If only everybody else was white, and had the advanced technology that North America enjoys, (because there are no impoverished areas on this whole continent, you know,) they might have been able to survive.  What’s that you say?  Other countries do have advanced technologies?  The best innovations don’t always originate in English-speaking parts of the world?  I know.  That’s why this made me so angry; it just showed a complete lack of international awareness or sensitivity.  Like, “sorry, rest-of-world, you don’t matter.”

Nonsensical elements.  Really, why would the kidnappers shoot the rest of the girls in the van they rounded up, that weren’t chosen as wives by Linden?  If working female wombs are so valuable, couldn’t they have found someone else to sell the remaining girls to?  Or just abandoned them?  Why is it necessary to shoot them?  Is it just so Jenna knows without a doubt what happened to her sisters?  It just doesn’t make any sense, in a world that’s supposedly so preoccupied with preventing the extinction of mankind, to arbitrarily kill people like that.

How are Rhine and her brother able to find “work” so easily?  I mean why do factory production and shipping and things like that still exist?  Who is running these complicated infrastructures?  It seems like there would be a lot more crumbling of the social infrastructure than there is.  At one point Rhine and Jenna watch a soap opera together, and “the actors are all teenagers made up to look much older,” (chapter 17).  When reminiscing about her limited schooling, Rhine says that the children present all have first-generation parents who think education is important, or they are orphans who want to learn how to read scripts so they can become actors.  Who is producing these shows?  Is the writing, directing, and producing all done by first-generations?  If this culture is so obsessed with the glorious old days when people lived longer, why don’t they just air re-runs??!

When Rhine goes on her first public outing with Linden as his ‘first wife,’ she meets a man wearing a suit that she describes as “more expensive than a month of electricity in the mansion.”  But how would she know?  How does she know how much electricity costs in general, how does she know how much it costs for a building she’s only seen a few floors of, and how does she know that the suit in question is expensive?  Is she an expert in fashion or wearable materials?  (Hint: she isn’t.)

Why does this future have such advanced holographic technology, yet still use an old-fashioned card catalog in the library?!  This makes absolutely no sense.

Confusing and contradictory references.  The text mentions a celebration of the winter solstice, which nobody has called “Christmas” since before the first generation was born.  But then at one point Rhine describes colorful frosting as “like Dorthy’s Oz;” please explain to me how a pop culture reference like The Wizard of Oz survives if all references to and understandings of Christmas die out?

Also, Housemaster Vaughn has to explain to Rhine what the idiom “apple of one’s eye” means, (chapter 11), and he says it’s “an expression we old people have.”  But why wouldn’t she know this phrase?  Her parents were also first-generation, and supposedly told her so much about the world and things they remembered that didn’t exist anymore (kites don’t exist anymore, but kite string does, which is another ridiculous detail because you can make a kite out of newspaper and sticks, so, I’m not sure why they are ‘extinct’).  In any case, if two of the major sources for Rhine’s linguistic input as a child were from the same generation as Housemaster Vaughn, why wouldn’t they incorporate the same phrases and slang into their daily discourse?  I’m not sure what language change in a population such as the one described in Wither would look like, but it seems like the language might actually become less fluid overall since the most consistent speakers would be the persisting first generation, and any youth trends that arose would literally die out every decade.  And I assume the orphanages are all being run by first-generations, (who else would be capable?  Orphans caring for orphans?  Maybe the fact that orphanages would even exist is unlikely,) so it seems the majority of the population would in fact have opportunity to be linguistically influenced by the “old people.”

Conclusion:

I would not recommend this book.  I don’t know that I even care to read the sequels.  I just don’t care enough about these characters to worry what will happen.  The flaws in the world-building are too obvious and distracting to ignore, and the story itself is largely disappointing.

Consistency and logic are key to good world-building!  It doesn’t have to be absolutely factual, it just has to make sense.

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