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review 2014-09-14 06:17
REVIEW: A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)
A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin

It took me two years to finish this book from start to finish. 

Two. Years.

In contrast, it took me about two weeks to finish (all of) Books 1-3 in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.

That alone should sum up my feelings for A Feast for Crows, but, lest I one day forget why I dislike this book so much and decide to give it another read-through, I'm going to put the issues I had with it into detail here.

For those of you that enjoy the ASoIaF series, like I do (did?), you may remember that A Storm of Swords ended with a bang. 

Tyrion freaking kills his father (and Shea) and escapes from King's Landing.

(spoiler show)


Naturally, the main thing I wanted to know going into A Feast for Crows is, what's going to happen to Tyrion? And, being the fan-favorite character that he is, I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

So, what does Martin do? Write a book that contains absolutely no Tyrion. Zero. Nada. None. And, beyond that, it's also lacking chapters about other main characters, such as Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Bran. Somehow, Martin couldn't seem to fit these characters into the 1,000+ pages he produced, because he had to make room for a bunch of slog instead.

Essentially, in A Feast for Crows, you follow the stories of:
-Samwell Tarly (zzzzzzz…)
-Cersei Lannister (urge… to kill… rising…)
-Sansa Stark (aka Alayne, aka zzzzzzz...)
-Jaime Lannister
-Brienne of Tarth
-Arya Stark
-A bunch of people from the Iron Islands (zzzzzzz...)
-Some folks from Dorne (okay, I admit, I actually kind of enjoyed these chapters)
-Occasional other random people (zzzzzzz...)

In writing, there's something known as the "Iceberg Theory," in which the author only presents you with a glimpse of the world (s)he has created - this being the 1/8 of the iceberg that's above water - while there's a lot of story and world-building beneath the surface that the author knows, which is omitted from the reader. 

I've come to appreciate the necessity of the Iceberg Theory after reading A Feast for Crows, in which Martin finds it necessary to substitute chapters about characters that we actually care for with chapters about everything else going on in Westeros. There's just so much stuff in this book that we really don't need to see first-hand. For example, are you curious about what's going on in the Iron Islands? No? Well, too bad, because instead of finding out what happened to Tyrion, you'll be getting a lot of krakenny antics shoved down your throat! Fun, right?

In addition to suffering through the entire iceberg of Westeros, you get chapters about total snooze-worthy characters, such as Sam Tarly and Sansa, as well as sooooooo many chapters from the point of view of Cersei. The Cersei chapters alternate between mind-numbingly boring small council discussions, to testing the reader's patience on just how much they can tolerate a loathsome character such as Cersei.

Then, when it came to the characters I actually do like (Arya, Jaime, and kind of Brienne), I honestly didn't find their chapters to be much more compelling. They just seemed so aimless. Really, for a 1,000+ page book, it seems that nothing interesting or significant happens until you get close to the very end.

The only thing that got me through this book was the urge to keep ahead of the HBO show, and encouragement from other ASoIaF fans, telling me that A Dance with Dragons (the next book in the series) gets the series back to its earlier glory. Spoiler alert: 

It doesn't.

(spoiler show)

If you can find a way to avoid this book (you can find out what happens on the HBO show, you can read the chapter summaries in the ASoIaF wiki, you can quit on the series altogether), then great. If you're going to force yourself to read it anyway… well, then, good luck. You're going to need it.

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review 2014-03-16 21:46
REVIEW: The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)
The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson
The Way of Kings ... well now, this book is kind of hard to describe. It's not an easy book to summarize, or review. I'm not even going to attempt to write a synopsis here. It's a book where a lot seems to happen, while not much seems to happen at the same time. What I mean by that is, I almost view this book as 1,000 pages of exposition for The Stormlight Archive series, which is meant to include 10 books in total, probably all of a similar length.

This is not the kind of book that necessarily feels rewarding to read in-and-of-itself. However, one of the recurring themes in the book is "Journey before Destination," and I feel like that is a perfect way to describe this book. It's not about the destination, whatever that will eventually be. It's about the journey. Once I was able to come to grips with that, and stopped expecting more of a standard book structure, I was able to enjoy the book a lot more.

And enjoy it I did. It's strange, as there isn't really much payoff - how can there be without a "destination," so to speak? There were just too many (intentional) loose ends here to feel satisfied with the conclusion. Yet, the book was satisfying in so many other ways. I was never bored, and I never felt that the story was dragging. I just enjoyed the ride, including the characters and their stories, the world and its magic.
“People see in stories what they’re looking for, my young friend.”
I grew very attached to the characters and their plights, even though it took me longer to warm up to some characters than others. As for the world, Roshar - there is so much going on, and so much is still unknown. I always talk about world-building when I read Sanderson, because I think that this (including the creation of his magic systems) is his true strength. Being a 1,000 page book, there is a lot of world-building (as you might expect), but there is also a lot that's still unexplained. The reader is ultimately left with many more questions than answers. The history of Roshar is a black hole, still waiting to be discovered, presumably in future books.

So, yeah, The Way of Kings. You're either in it for the long haul, or you're not. You'll either enjoy the journey, or hate the lack of destination. You'll either trust Sanderson to take you on a great ride, or you'll resent the fact that he needs 10,000 pages to be able to accomplish this.

I won't lie. There is a part of me that craves the answers and conclusions that weren't provided in The Way of Kings - hence the four stars and not five. For the most part, though, I'm putty in Sanderson's hands. It definitely helps that I've read and loved most of Sanderson's other works, and so I trust him as an author. If this was my first Sanderson book, I think that I might be a lot more annoyed, skeptical, or angry. So, I don't recommend this book for people as their first Sanderson work, and I certainly don't recommend this for people who don't want to go on a 10,000 page journey with him. Also, I should warn you that this entire book has a depressing tone and feel to it.

I do, however, recommend this to people who love epic/high fantasy, and who don't mind a "slow burn" type of storytelling.

Journey before Destination, indeed. And I'm ready to continue the journey with Sanderson in Words of Radiance.
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review 2014-02-17 02:27
REVIEW: The Walking Dead, Compendium 1
The Walking Dead, Compendium 1 - Cliff Rathburn,Charlie Adlard,Tony Moore,Robert Kirkman


Okay. I wish that this book hadn't pushed all of my big, red, ragey buttons (to be detailed below), because there was a lot of engaging stuff in here. With that said, rage issues aside, I'd still think that these comics are quite a bit overrated. But yes, they're generally commendable, with some excellent commentary on the true nature of mankind.

Let's start with the good, then.

Like many people, prior to watching the show or reading the comics, I had always thought that the term "The Walking Dead" referred to the zombies. Truly, though? It's the survivors of the zombie apocalypse that are "The Walking Dead."

It's hard to imagine how any of us would act if put into a zombie apocalypse-type situation. If we were thrown into that situation, however, we would have to adapt to survive, and The Walking Dead is a story about humanity's adaptation.

The commentary on this is dark, and let's just say, the results aren't pretty. At some point, it even becomes difficult to tell the difference between the zombies and the monsters that some of the survivors have become. But, are humans and zombies really all the different to begin with?

"We can learn so much from them, y'know -- just by watching them. They've been at it all night. They just don't stop -- they're resilient. They eat until it's gone and then they're content.

I almost admire them.

The thing you have to realize is that they're just us -- they're no different. They want what they want, they take what they want, and after they get what they want -- they're only content for the briefest span of time.

Then they want more."

The questions that these comics pose are fascinating. Is this what humanity would become in a zombie apocalypse? Is it necessary to become a monster to survive? Can evil actions be considered evil when they're necessary to survival? And, once you cross that line, where do you stop?

I feel like the comics press these issues even more than the television show. In the show, I feel like Rick (the main character) tries to hold on to his morality, and struggles greatly over the tough, morally questionable decisions that he's forced to make. In the comics, however, I think that Rick is more of a pragmatist, and although he may not be happy with what he's become, he doesn't anguish over it.

Even though the message posed by the comics is compelling and thought-provoking, there are quite a few dull moments throughout the book. The pacing is just very slow, and while that works sometimes to set the eerie survival-horror mood and atmosphere, it's also sometimes just downright boring. It took me ten months to finish this compendium because I was never dying with need to know what was going to happen next.

I also have some issues with the art - mainly, that a lot of the female characters look too similar. I often had a tough time telling who was who, and had to make a point to remember hairstyles since the facial features looked the same.

Finally, let's get ragey.

I just could not, could not stomach the sexism in these comics. The Walking Dead promotes the idea that, in this kind of survival situation, mankind would adopt more "natural" gender roles. The offensive part is the implication that having the menfolk be in charge is "natural." For example, the survivors create a committee of four men who are in charge of making decisions for the group. It's not the fact that the committee is all men that's offensive, but rather, the way that the women's reaction to this is described.

Rick: “No women?”

Dale: “No, that’s how they wanted it.

Patricia said something. She wanted Lori [Rick's wife] on the committee instead of you. Of course, as soon as she realized on one else, including Lori, agreed with her — she shut up.

I don’t know how Michonnne really feels about it. She’s just happy to be here. She went through hell out there a lot longer than any of us. Lori, Carol, Andrea, Maggie — they all said they wanted us in charge. They figure the four of us have pretty much been making the decisions anyway — but making it official would lift some of the burden off you. But yeah. They’re fine with us making the decisions. Truth be told, it’s not just the women, Glenn [an Asian-American male] feels the same way.

I think they just want to be protected.”

If you don't find this to be incredibly offensive while reading it, then there's probably nothing that I can say here to convince you otherwise. My personal preference in the books I read, however, derives enjoyment in having strong female characters.

Now, that's not to say that there are no strong female characters in The Walking Dead - Andrea is the group's best shot, and Michonne is a true badass. But, the overall message regarding gender roles is, quite frankly, bullshit. I found this to be incredibly frustrating, and it definitely soured my overall enjoyment of the comics.

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