OK, so I am one of those
fans. One of the fans who picked up the A Song of Fire and Ice
series after watching the HBO series based on the books, Game of Thrones
(hereafter known as HBO!GoT). Yep, I’m one of those.
And so instead of giving you your standard “OMG, this book is amazing” review (this book has been out for 15 years, there are a lot of them out there), I am doing something absolutely dreadful instead… I am comparing the show with the book!
Horrified? I know – but I’m dastardly that way.
Be warned, there are significant spoilers ahead! If you have either read the book or seen the show, you’ll be fine. If you’ve done neither, then just get to it already!
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
HBO!GoT / Librarything /Goodreads
Show Summary: You win or you die.
Book Summary: Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective wall. To the south, the King’s powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself.
Three things a HBO!GoT fan should know before starting the book:
- You will love it, because it is pretty much exactly the same as the show: I was stunned by how closely HBO stuck to the novels. I knew that all of the main plot elements had been included, but it is so much more than that. I’d say about 90% of the dialogue that is in the show is also in the book.
- All of the main characters are about 10 years younger in the novel. Yup, that’s right. A Game of Thrones is a lot more risque than its HBO counterpart. Dany is only 13 when her brother hands her off to the Dothraki. While it works in the book and is historically realistic, I really don’t think I could have watched that.
- The book is over 1000 pages long. I don’t want you to be put off by that, but it’s the truth. I don’t want anyone to think that A Game of Thrones is a short read – it’s not. It really really is not!
Three things I preferred the HBO interpretation of:
- Catelyn Stark. I had genuinely liked Catelyn in HBO!GoT. She wasn’t my favourite character, but she clearly had Stark qualities to her that made me warm to her. She didn’t sit to the sidelines, but neither did she try to jump in the driver’s seat. But book!Catelyn I very nearly loathe. How can I put it in a way fans will understand… there’s just not much of the North in that woman. She treats Jon 100 times worse than she does on the show, not to mention her inability to understand honour, justice and those other fantastic Stark qualities.
- The scenery. While I realise television has the clear advantage in this field, I found myself missing the beautiful landscapes and the gorgeous castles. George R.R. Martin isn’t all that big on descriptive writing about scenery, so while some places were extremely well described (the Wall and the Dothraki plains, for example), others had almost no description at all (King’s Landing).
- The Lannisters. HBO!GoT gives the Lannisters a bit more context – they aren’t necessarily my favourite group of people (*strangles Joffery*) but there were times when I genuinely felt for Cersei and Jamie. But in the books? They are the very definition of evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. And while I am certainly Team Stark, I would have liked to have seen a bit more Lannister in the book.
Three things I loved from the book which didn’t really translate onto the screen:
- Bran and the three-eyed crow. While HBO!GoT really did try to bring these scenes to life on the screen, they really didn’t make much sense. Mostly because, in the book, the crow actually speaks to Bran. And the truth of the matter is that talking animals never really work on TV.
- Jon Snow. While I certainly liked Jon in the television show, he did seem rather whiney. If anything, the younger novel version of him seemed much more adult than the actual adult that played him!
- How genuinely sweet Joffery was to Sansa. Even though Joffery is the anti-christ, there were times in the book when he seemed to actually like Sansa… none of that came through in HBO!GoT. It’s a real shame since it makes Sansa’s obsession with the evil blonde twit understandable.
One thing I really wish the show had included:
- How utterly unimportant Theon Grey is to Robb Stark. HBO!GoT turns Theon into Robb’s best friend and, considering how loathsome I find him, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was not the case in the books. Maybe their relationship develops further in the later novels, but in A Game of Thrones they are most certainly not BFFs. *shakes fist*
Temeraire by Naomi Novik
Bottom line? There is a reason this book has so many fans: it’s brilliant. Go forth and purchase.
Series: Temeraire #1
Published by Harper Voyager
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
Add to Goodreads
Also in this series: Throne of Jade
When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.
Thoughts: This book was absolutely, positively lovely. It’s elegantly written, in that detached-yet-emotional style I’d attribute to Jane Austen (in other words, Novik adopts a style that ordinarily makes me yawn). But, despite the style, this novel really really worked for me. Novik doesn’t go out of her way with flowery text – instead she keeps true to the Napoleonic period she is writing in, and allows the characters to speak for themselves.
And what characters. Laurence is not exactly the warm and cuddly type. His strict, rule-abiding nature (along with his tendency to be outraged by the slightest breach in protocol) at first made him rather hard to relate to. He is a product of his environment – a symbol of the age, and whatnot. But as he grows closer to his dragon Temeraire and meets the fascinating cast of characters that make up the Bristish aerial fleet, he starts to loosen that stiff upper-lip of his. It was wonderful to see him come loose, while keeping all the gentlemanly qualities with which he was raised.
I also loved the aerial fleet. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I had been afraid that they would be the same upper-crust and bigoted types that made up Britain’s historic armies. That’s one of my main problems with historical war novels – even though I know they are depicting things in a certain way in order to be historically accurate, that doesn’t make it PC. Novik had the advantage of being able to logically insert a more “modern” group of armed forces into history.
But what really carries this book is the bond between Laurence and his dragon Temeraire. It is an extraordinary, beautiful relationship that made me gush more than any romance could have. It’s a difficult relationship to describe, as Novik’s dragons aren’t pets but neither are they “equals” to the humans that become their captains. Since they can speak, they can become a captain’s best-friend as well as their constant companion. There’s little room for family or relationships when you captain a dragon, yet you would want for nothing.
I found myself thinking about this book whenever I wasn’t reading it. Imagining what the characters were getting up to, and dreaming of their future endeavors. It was a rare pleasure.
Bottom line? If you’re looking for detailed fantasy/alternative-history novel, Novik is a must. If you’re looking for a fantastic novel about dragons, Novik is a must. If you’re literate, Novik is a must. Just don’t be put off by the formal style!
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Bookdepository / Amazon UK / Amazon US
Librarything / Goodreads
Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 2/5 stars
Summary: “I can steal anything.”
After Gen’s bragging lands him in the king’s prison, the chances of escape look slim. Then the king’s scholar, the magus, needs the thief’s skill for a seemingly impossible task — to steal a hidden treasure from another land.
To the magus, Gen is just a tool. But Gen is a trickster and a survivor with a plan of his own.
Thoughts: The Thief was an such disappointment.
Ok, ok. I know it is practically sacrilegious to criticize Megan Whalen Turner in the YA community – but I honestly didn’t enjoy this book. Despite being well crafted, I simply couldn’t engage with the characters or the plot.
At heart, The Thief is a road film: an all-male cast makes their way against the odds, through dangerous, unwelcoming lands, in search of a too-good-to-be-true mythical item. It is all rather long-winded – and frankly, quite boring. The quest goes on pretty much as you imagine up until the last dozen pages, where we reach a rather surprising twist in the tale. Hell, you might as well skip the middle.
Now, while I found the twist unexpected and rather good at explaining why the hell the ludicrously selfish Gen would allow himself to go along on this bizarre mission, I also had some issues with it. The noblemen that take Gen out of prison are rather evil. Ok, maybe not evil, but certainly selfish and egotistical. They considered themselves above Gen because of their supposedly superior birth-right. Gen was born scum, and he will always be scum – no matter how intelligent or talented he is.
*SPOILERS* I had thought that, at the very least, Turner was proving that Gen could be a hero despite his low-birth. But the ending completely stripped that away! Instead, he was a secret nobleman – which made all of his trickery against them acceptable. Instead of threatening to kill him for his deception – they laughed it off as “a good one”. I felt like I was watching Mad Men – the black man gets fired for stealing a pencil, while the white man gets a pat on the back for so successfully tricking the company out of thousands.
I am certain that a lot of people will not notice this when they read The Thief – after all, it is fantasy and fictional universes are allowed to have as many social inequalities as they like. However, I felt that Turner wasted an opportunity with Gen and it honestly unnerved me. *END OF SPOILERS*
But even before the uncomfortable ending, I wasn’t enjoying The Thief. There wasn’t a single character I liked, the universe was rather stale, and the writing – although perfectly fine – was not enough to keep me hooked.
Bottom line? Decent enough, but I’d give it a miss. Keep your money and buy a latte.
Blood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon
Amazon / EternalPress / Goodreads
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Received for review from the author
Summary: A tale of murder, betrayal and comeuppance.
King Theodicar of Borgund needed an heir. When his wife, Queen Piacenza, became pregnant, he’d hoped for a boy. His wife, along with her nurse, Salvagia, had other plans. With each cast of the runes, Salvagia’s trusted divination tools yielded the same message: “A girl child must rule or the kingdom will fall to ruin.” As such, the women were convinced that the child would be a girl.
When the queen finally gives birth, the nurse and the king are equally surprised. The king is faced with a terrible choice, and his decision will determine the fate of his kingdom. Will he choose wisely, or will he doom Borgund to ruin?
Thoughts: Blood Soup is an absorbing novella of sinister high fantasy.
Writing a good novella is no easy task. Authors have to establish characters, location and develop a plot in a very short peroid of time – and to top it all off, they have to make you care. It’s no easy feat! Honestly, some authors just can’t pull it off. But Kelly Harmon? She can.
Blood Soup starts out bloody and brutal – pretty much framing the tone of the morbidly magical kingdom. I loved the setting, plot and the social commentary. I was also seriously impressed by Harmon’s ability to create full 3D characters in the span of only a few sentences. Blood Soup spans decades and half a dozen POVs, but didn’t feel rushed. All the joy of a full-length novel in under an hour.
I only wish Blood Soup had been written as a full-length novel! A few of the characters – Fabrizia in particular – I would have loved to have read more about. I will certainly get my hands on whatever work Harmon comes out with next.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Bookdepository / Amazon UK / Amazon US
Librarything / Goodreads
Rating: 4.5 stars
Genre: High Fantasy (although it has been promoted as YA – I really don’t think it is…)
Summary: Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight — she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme, and in her case horrifying, skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace — or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away… a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
Thoughts: Graceling reminded me of Poison Study – only with better writing. And considering how much I loved Snyder’s book, I’d say that’s a pretty big compliment. The novel was so well crafted and, honestly, I am astounded that it is Cashore’s first book.
Katsa is a complicated character. She’s a rather tortured heroine – her killing Grace made her emotionally isolated, and was exploited by her none-to-kind uncle. On the other hand, her romantic lead Po, had his head screwed on the right way. Sure, he had some emotional baggage, but he was stable. Strong. Secure.
And for some reason, I still found him swoon-worthy. That takes serious literary mojo.
But let’s not forget: this is high fantasy. While the romance is important – the universe takes centre stage. As in all good fantasy novels, the world of Graceling is as familiar as it is magical. The kingdoms are corrupt, their leaders cruel, and the gracelings (those with magical powers) exploited. But, of course, there is good in every world.
Despite my love of the novel, it did fall short in a few respects. I felt like the main villian wasn’t at all developed – we got a lot of answers to the “what?” but none to the “why?”. But besides that minor complaint, Graceling was perfect in every way.
And by the way, Kristin Cashore? I have yet to forgive you for making me cry on the tube.
Bottom line? Brilliant, beautiful book that you will fall right into. If you are a fan of Maria V. Snyder, this is a definite must – hell, it’s a must for any reader!
(BTW, if you are looking for a book that is not a first-in-the-series, here it is! Although there is a companion novel, everything gets wrapped up in this book.)