Friday, January 20, 2006

A Song of Ice and Fire

Addendum: This is very like A Song of Ice and Fire, where everyone is calling people names they don't like and people are killing everyone for the slight. This is like performance criticism.

Edit: Putting this on top of Sups' addition to my review. Never call me 'Ash' again, or I will have to kill you. And that would make me sad.
- Aishwarya

Putting this on top of Ash's review as it is small and quick: I just happen to be one hundred pages into the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones and cannot put it down. Things that would be major irritants for me in the normal run of things - violet-eyed princesses, people wearing clothes that bring out their colour, and stupid women - are just whizzing by because Martin's world is so complex and tangled, and his writing good enough, to make me want to keep reading, to believe that there are reasons for all this. House Stark are definitely the heroes of this story. let's see if GRRM is one, too. Further updates coming up in a separate post.

-- roswitha.

A couple of years ago I asked a friend to get me one of the books in this series because I'd heard George R. R. Martin was really good. He got me the second book, A Clash of Kings. The fourth book, A Feast For Crows was published a few months ago, but I haven't seen it available anywhere yet. However, I did find the third book, A Storm of Swords, in Midland, Aurobindo Place. I finished it yesterday, so I thought I'd ramble on about it here for a while. Please note that my understanding of the story is slightly limited because I haven't read the first book.

Martin isn't particularly original - this is nothing more than conventional fantasy. But it's good, solid writing within its genre. With the death of Robert Baratheon, various contenders come forward to assert their claims to the Iron Throne. Robert's wife Cersei is trying to protect the right of her son Joffrey Baratheon to the throne. Robert's younger brothers (Stannis and Renly) both try to seize power, Robb Stark, king in the North, also steps forward (I'm not sure why this is - I can't see that he has any logical claim) and Daenerys Targaryen, exiled daughter of the previous king Aerys, is on her way back home.
This makes for lots of politics. Anyone who has ever discussed fantasy or science fiction with me must know by now that I love politics in fantasy. Here it works really well with shifting alliances, unforseeable motives, and general unpredictability. I've given up trying to predict who will finally end up in power, though I'd like it to be Stannis Baratheon, he's rather fascinating. Martin seems to enjoy randomly killing off his characters, which is great fun. You never know who's going to go next. (Amazon reviews for the latest book complain of too many new characters. I'm not surprised - he's killed most of the old ones.)
There are the conventional elements of fantasy too - dragons, a bit of magic, and the direwolves (I love the direwolves.) Also, the embarrassingly addictive descriptions of clothes which I'd usually associate with Robert Jordan. I wonder if Martin realises this. He gets away with it though, simply by being a better writer.

I think the only real problem with the series is that there's far too much going on. I can't figure out where people are, most of the time, and I would have thought I'd read enough fantasy to be good at that.

Still. It's solid, it's entertaining, and it's worth a read.

Monday, January 09, 2006

minor thoughts on persuasion and jane austen

I’ve read, or attempted to read, all her work now, except Northanger Abbey and have hemmed and hawed for years over whether I really like her (P and P was so funny) or don’t (but Emma was so insufferable) or if she is really just historical, academic fluff, interesting from a cultural point of view. Certainly different from George Eliot and the Brontes.

In my third ever Literature class in college, our teacher divided us up into groups and asked us to point out to her some ideas that Austen shared with her poet contemporaries, Wordsworth and Coleridge. So we all dove into our Features of Romanticism bullet-point sheet and racked our brains to come up with stuff about long walks among hedges and so on and so forth, and my professor just rolled her eyes at the end of it ‘Fools!’ said she, or something like, ‘Austen isn’t a Romantic at all.’ Which was a great relief.

Not that I’m a die-hard fan of the Romantics, but I think that in Persuasion Austen just outdoes herself with regard to the individuality of her characters. I like Elizabeth Bennett because she speaks her mind, but I love Anne Elliott because she knows her own mind, at least through the course of the novel, and Austen narrates the story of how she got to her moral and intellectual and emotional independence with a tenderness that is a far cry from her youthful lack of compassion for anyone in Pride and Prejudice. Anne has a conversation with Captain Harville towards the end that positively fills the modern feminist heart to capacity with joy: she politely rubbishes all Captain Harville's thoughts about literature handing down the traditional notions of womanly inconstancy and lack of intelligence. Anne has thought about the fact that women have never had the chance to tell stories, and when Wentworth, the man of her dreams, proclaims undying love for her a few short minutes after she makes this observation, you know you have a winning couple. It's enough to make you hop about on one leg in glee.

I’ve never really liked any of Austen’s male protagonists before. But the best thing about the narrative that leads up to this thrilling moment is that throughout the story, I didn’t resent Captain Wentworth at all. It’s easy to be distracted by Darcy’s tallness and darkness and taciturnity, sure, but in the end all her other heroes turn out to be patronising wankers, getting what they want because of authorial indulgence, a conquering of woman if there ever was one. But here is a man who suffers and wins out and makes mistakes and has a mind of his own and would probably offer his wife oral sex. GUH. I’m really not sure what’s up with Austen’s undue affection for the Navy – it’s not even like she makes sailor-boys kiss or anything – but it’s really very tolerable compared with her earlier tendency to crush on men with ten thou a year and an entitlement complex the size of Africa.