Posted in Celebrities, Fantasy

…And Now Our Watch Has Ended

Its Monday night and I’m sitting in front of the telly contemplating about how dreary the start of the week is going to be now that I no longer have a new episode of Game of Thrones to look forward to.

I wanted to write my own, very brief tribute to this amazing show that some say has lost its way in recent seasons. I myself did not know how to feel about some of the character developments and storyline outcomes; I too thought that the last two seasons were rushed to the point of madness.

But what I can’t deny is the power of a good story. And at the heart of it, A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic tale of dragon queens and bastards, of dwarves and cripples, of faceless men and cruel kings, of betrayals, death and redemption. It’s so big that I don’t think the tv adaptation could ever have done it justice, and the fans of the series are so diverse that no matter what the writers did they were never going to please everyone.

What they did in the end was the one thing that television was created for in the first place: they entertained.

Admit it, as much as you moaned and groaned about the terrible writing you were still riveted to the screen waiting with bated breath for what happens next. Is Daenerys going to descend to madness? Who will kill The Night King? Where in the name of all the seven kingdoms is my favourite character, Ghost?

I’ve watched all 6 episodes of the final season multiple times now, even those that I hated with a passion, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I will end this the way I began it: as a fan. No matter what direction it ultimately took its still better than any other show I have ever seen, and the journeys of each character will stay with me long after the end credits have rolled.

Now that the first phase of the Marvel Universe is over and Game of Thrones has wrapped up and The Big Bang Theory is ending, I feel like there’s about to be a giant void in the world of pop culture, and part of me feels sad that I no longer have an excuse to stay in and avoid going back into dating (and somehow we always come back to this).

But I tell myself every void is a space just waiting to be filled, and I’m hopeful that someday we will have another Game of Thrones, maybe even something better. Maybe someday I’ll get the Rhaegar and Lyanna prequel that I’ve always dreamed about (make this happen, HBO)

But for now, night gathers, but my watch has ended. Thank you, Game of Thrones, its been an absolute blast.

P.S. For those of you who have watched the series finale, wasn’t it great to see that in the end, Jon Snow did, in fact, know at least one thing? Just saying. And also, dracarys. ūüôā

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: The Ruin of Kings – Jenn Lyons

There’s few things I hate more than not being able to finish a book.

I tried with this one, I really did. I wanted to give up after the first few chapters but I persevered because the writing’s not bad, truly. I like the snarky humour, the sarcasm and I even came to tolerate the convoluted non-linear narration.

But writing fantasy is like telling a good joke. If you have to explain the punchline, you’re doing it wrong. There were a lot of telling and explaining in this book. Plot twists were “discovered” by the hero without any build-up whatsoever, and the backstories were so complicated that I gave up trying to keep up.

I’m not even sure what the premise was. I thought I was reading a book about dragons, something that I’m really into as I wait for the final season of Game of Thrones to finish. But there’s ONE dragon in this book and he’s as interesting as an Excel spreadsheet. I was waiting for a ‘Dracarys’ moment but he just went on and on and on about what he would do to the hero when he caught him without actually doing anything. Its very difficult to be bored out of your mind when reading about dragons but this book has achieved that.

The hero, Kihrin, was mildly interesting. He’s got a mysterious past, a somewhat conflicted sexuality and he’s got personality with a capital P. He’s got snark down to an art form and I like how he never lets anyone or anything get him down. He does what he can to get by and makes no apologies for the things he’s done to survive. I love survivors.

Kihrin is – from the little I understood about the backstory- in the centre of a great prophecy concerning the end of the known world. Good premise, maybe. But it all went downhill from there with all the deaths and subsequent resurrections, the massive cast of characters who can take on different forms which makes the cast even bigger than it already is…it was all just unnecessarily complicated.

I DNF’d at about 70%. It had taken me 2 weeks to even get that far and that point my to-read pile had grown too big for me to ignore the fact that I had simply lost interest in this book.

I don’t like giving bad reviews. This could just be all me, really. Other people seem to find it good and kudos to them for being able to keep up. For me, there’s a reason why they say simplicity is beauty. You don’t need all kinds of props and gimmicks in Fantasy, you just have to tell the story.

Also, if you’re going to have a book with dragons, USE YOUR DRAGONS for more than just show.

Overall rating: 2 stars (and mostly because I like the cover!)

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, women, Women's literature

Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon

I’ve been trying to find words for the past 24 hours that will do this book justice and so far all I have to show for it are drafts that I’ve since decided were rubbish. Sometimes when a book comes out that is so ambitious in its scope, and just so damn interesting, words fail me.

Book like these are an experience. So much patience and skill went into the world-building, which we all know is the foundation of any good fantasy story. The Queendom of Inys, the mysterious Priory and the distant East all felt like real places, places that I would pay big bucks to visit I might add. Each separate location had its own language, religion, traditions and culture. Its a world that felt like it sprung fully-formed from the depths of the author’s imagination. She made it feel so easy and effortless, when it must have taken ages to piece all of it together.

The characters were as alive as the setting. First of all, I like that the members of the female population featured more prominently in this book than their male counterparts. I can see why its being called a feminist book. Its led by three strong women, each with their own distinct personalities, quirks, strengths and faults. One is a queen whose destiny is irrevocably tied to the fate of her country, another is a mage in hiding who’s been tasked to protect a queen. And the third? The third just wants to ride dragons.

Did i fail to mention there were dragons in this story?

They were such glorious, magnificent creatures in this book. You can tell how much enthusiasm Samantha Shannon had in writing them into the narrative, they totally stole each scene they were in. I loved how they were almost human in their portrayal, if that makes sense. Not only were they sentient beings they also had a a voice, a personality, and a sense of humour.

They were so involved in human lives that they even took part in war councils and contributed to political decisions. I know that having any sort of fire-breathing beings in your book will draw the inevitable comparison to Game of Thrones (intended to be a compliment I’m sure) but I think this book is a far cry from being any sort of imitation. I found it quite unique and original.

The story is rich and complex. A dynasty that was built on a lie is threatened by the arrival of an ancient enemy. Add to the mix some political machinations and betrayal, the formation and dissolution of alliances, and above all, the quest for the truth in order to keep a Queendom safe and what you have is a tale of epic proportions.

Despite the fantastical and magical elements though, this is a story that’s (strangely) very much grounded in reality. I certainly saw parallels with the current state of the world. Whether or not it was her intention, there were moments when the book felt like a social commentary on the times.

Finally, let me just say that its very rare to find a book that represents diversity in such an unobtrusive and casual way. For example, Samantha Shannon didn’t make a big fuss about the fact that several of her main characters have fluid sexual orientations, she simply made it the new normal. I think this book is a great testament to how evolved literature has become, and I’m glad that we’re at that stage where not only is everyone free to be who they are (and to love who they love), we’re also free to read and write all about it.

Don’t be put off by the weight of this book. Yes it felt like I could pound a nail through a two-by-four with it, and I gained biceps definition in the time it took me to walk home from the bookstore just by carrying it around. Its a hefty tome, but its worth it. Samantha Shannon has become one of the authors whose future works I will watch out for. The next time she publishes something, I’m going to hie myself off to my nearest Waterstones faster than you can say ‘Dracarys!’.

Amazing book! 4 out of 5 stars.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: Fire and Blood – George RR Martin

I sit here and write this whilst re-watching episodes from past seasons of Game of Thrones in preparation for the final season premiering in April. I can’t believe its been 10 years since this show aired its pilot, and even longer since GRRM published the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Since then, its become this massive phenomenon beloved by people all over the world, discussed in coffee rooms and workplaces across several countries; when a Game of Thrones season is in progress (airing on Sundays), you can bet your bottom dollar that come Monday people will be dissecting and analysing each episode for clues, easter eggs and foreshadowings of things to come.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: fantasy must be the most difficult thing in the world to write. It takes a whole lot of imagination. The concept of world-building alone staggers me; even as I nurture my small but growing ambition to become a writer I know I’ll probably never be able to write fantasy. I have imagination but its limited to the things that I know, to the world that I know.

George RR Martin is a man whose imagination has no limits. He’s not only written five books about the current events in Westeros, he’s made Westeros into something so rich, concrete and solid that it now comes with its own history, folklore and legends. This country feels so real you can almost taste the weirwood or feel the melting of the ice on The Wall.

Everyone knows about Jon Snow who knows nothing, about the misfortunes that befell the Starks, the cruelty of the Lannisters, the sandsnakes of Dorne and, of course, the journey of Daenerys Targaryen towards reclaiming the Iron Throne. Westeros as it stands is in turmoil, and everyone waits with bated breath to see how it will all end.

Which is probably why fans made such a hue and cry when, instead of moving forward, GRRM chose to look backwards. With his new publication he’s written a sort of prequel, and fans were not happy because they think he should have been working on the next book in the Game of Thrones series instead.

As someone who’s always loved history, I think that fans are really missing the whole point here. Any GoT fans worth their salt would appreciate Fire and Blood for what it is: a chance to have a glimpse into the history of Westeros’ most notorious, enigmatic and legendary rulers.

With Fire and Blood, GRRM explores a dynasty whose bloody history rivals that of the Romanovs, whose wars are as devastating as the War of the Roses, whose relationships are more complex than anything we’ve ever read about in medieval history, which is thought to be the inspiration behind Game of Thrones.

The history of the Targaryen kings have all the makings of something truly epic: battles, romance, rivalry, betrayals, family secrets, politics, incest, and most of all, DRAGONS. The Targaryen dragons are every bit as important as the riders they bore on their backs, and they play just as pivotal a role in the shaping of Westeros as we know it.

At times when reading this massive tome, I did feel as if I were back in a classroom studying for a history exam. Having always been a geek to the core I did start to stress out over the dates and notable names mentioned in the book. I was almost tempted to get a pen and paper out so I can start making notes. But then I told myself to get a grip and to simply enjoy what was truly an incredible story. Let me tell you, if they taught stuff like this in school more people would be getting A’s on the subject.

William the Conqueror would have been so much more interesting if he also rode a dragon when he set out to conquer England, I’m just saying. 

There was always a risk that this book would turn out to be dry and boring, but GRRM has written this with flair and an almost self-deprecating humour. He made reading about wars and bloodshed fun, and it was clever of him to write as a fictional maester of the citadel who had been tasked to compile the history of the Targaryen kings, so that he can explore both historical facts and historical gossip,

And there were a lot of salacious gossip; those Targaryens were as lusty as they come.

I still can’t believe that one man has held all these complex plots in his head. How in the world does he keep all of them straight? I’ve yet to find plot holes or instances where he’s contradicted himself. I do think that his pacing has suffered somewhat in the later books, and I sometimes wish his characters could just get on with it rather than linger overlong in some godforsaken free city like Pentos or one of those stupid places in Slaver’s Bay.

But I think I’ve become such a fan of the show and the book series that I really just want to linger in this world he’s created, and seeing it again through the eyes of some of my favourite characters feel like catching up with an old friend. I, for one, will gladly purchase anything that is written about Westeros and in me, the genius that is George RR Martin has a fan for life.

Rating: 5 stars.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: Heroes – Stephen Fry

I’ve found myself living in Ancient Greece this past week, which is perhaps the best compliment that I can give to Stephen Fry’s works on Greek mythology.

For me, he has brought these stories and characters to life in a way that has had me transfixed and immersed in these pages almost to the exclusion of anything else in my life right now.

Heroes is a volume that can be read separately from it predecessor Mythos but one gets a much better experience with the former if you’ve read the latter. It shifts the focus away from the Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus and on to the mortals (or fools) that dare to dream, that are in the possession of an incredible amount of self-belief (or hubris), and have the boldness, brawn and brute strength to accompany it.

Stephen Fry makes it very clear that the history and interrelatedness of the characters in Greek mythology are so tangled that one will simply go mad if one tries to memorise all the kings, queens, sons, daughters and, of course, incestuous unions and offsprings. He makes a valiant effort, though, to highlight and cross-reference important ones in what is undoubtedly my favourite part of this book and the last one: the footnotes. 

But I think that readers shouldn’t approach this book as they would an academic exercise. There is no requirement for you to recall who Heracles‘ father was, or to remember that he had a twin, for you to enjoy the tale of how he tricked Hades into lending him Cerberus, the literal hound of hell. The only fundamental requirement to reading this book is that you, as a reader, have every information you need to understand and enjoy these stories (and very helpfully, the book comes with a glossary to ¬†help you with that).

Because believe me, this is a book with an extensive cast of characters, each of whom play a role one way or another in the events that unfold. There are a few standouts, apart from the heroes themselves. I found myself intrigued by the role that women played, or how they were portrayed and perceived in greek mythology. There is a hint of misogyny that is typical of that time period I suppose, but I’d like to think that Jason would never have gotten the golden fleece without Medea’s help, and that Theseus would still be stuck in the labyrinth were it not for Ariadne’s love and life-saving advice.

Some of the stories here will be familiar to readers. Like, who hasn’t heard of Icarus and his failure to follow his father’s advice to not fly too close to the sun? It’s like the mother of all cautionary tales. I think they teach it in school so that young impressionable minds will know from the get-go that there are consequences WHEN¬†YOU DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR PARENTS.

The tale of Icarus, as well as that of the heroes in this volume, is also a testament to the saying that pride cometh before the fall. The gods seem to take a particular delight in punishing heroes when they overreach and overstep, perhaps out of jealousy but perhaps to remind them that whatever else they achieve, they are still in fact human.

And I guess that’s an important thing to remember when we talk about heroes. They are human just like us, and there’s two important things I’d like to point out in addition to that.

One, anyone can be a hero. Think about it, a hero is someone who finds himself under difficult circumstances and chooses to do something about it. We do that in our every day lives. For me, a nurse who stays beyond her shift in order to see to a trauma patient is just as much a hero as Perseus, and believe me, its easier to deal with Medusa and her hair of snakes than it is to placate a patient who’s been waiting in the busy A and E for four hours.¬†

The second thing is, perhaps, just something I’ve come to realise about us and our entire belief system. I’ve said this so many times before, that the saddest thing in the world is to see someone who’s lost the ability to dream and have hope. I think that’s why Hollywood (and Disney) have chosen to gloss over the more unsavoury parts of greek mythology’s so-called heroes. We don’t want to know about the tragic end to their stories, or that they weren’t the men we always thought they were when we placed them so high upon their pedestals.

I certainly don’t want my child to know that Mr. Zero to Hero Hercules (or Heracles, which is his proper name) killed Megara AND his two kids. Or that ¬†Perseus and Jason were in fact considered murderers by many who knew them. That did not make it into the final cut of well-known movies, did it?

I think that the reason for that is because Hollywood and Disney recognise (and cater to) man’s innate need to believe in the extraordinary. We need to believe that somewhere out there are people who can rise to the occasion and rise above human flaws to fight the battles that we cannot fight. We will always need to believe in that, and for as long as we do, we will always need to believe in Heroes.

Great book and just as hilarious and entertaining as Mythos. Four out of five stars!

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, Reviews, Steampunk

Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

When my parents and I visited my cousin in Switzerland last year, she bought us these made-to-order truffles that came in a gorgeous gold box with a blue ribbon around it. At first it looked and tasted like your ordinary run-of-the mill chocolate, and then you kept chewing and chewing and chewing, and suddenly all sorts of flavours explode in your mouth, and its like you discover everything that’s good about the world in that one piece of chocolate truffle.

I know it sounds random, but that is the closest metaphor I could find to describe what it felt like to read this book. 

First of all, I don’t know what Steampunk means, okay? As a blogger and wannabe book reviewer, I should be able to provide a definition for that genre on request but I can’t.¬†This book apparently falls under the genre, and as far as I can tell steampunk is a general term for something that’s set in the Victorian era but contains futuristic (and even fantastical) elements.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I don’t know what steampunk means, because I have never read any novel as hard to categorise and put into a box as this one. It defies genres, it defies explanations, and, at different times while reading it, I thought it defined all common sense in the best way possible.

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a simple story about a clerk who works for the Home Office in Whitehall during the Victorian era who was  saved by Рof all things Рa pocket watch from becoming a victim of a terrible bombing. He traces the origins of this watch back to a mysterious and enigmatic watchmaker on Filigree street, and from there, all sorts of mayhem ensues.

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WARNING: HEADING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY HERE. 

I didn’t quite know what to make of this book at first. By the time I thought to wonder what the hell I was reading, I was already halfway through the book. And that is a testament to the author’s talent as a writer. She can make even the most mundane of things seem interesting.¬†

And let me tell you, its very easy to judge this book as – as one reviewer on Goodreads so eloquently put it – a one-way ticket to Snoozeville. Those looking for heart-stopping action or a fully-formed plot would find it difficult to get through this book. On the surface, nothing really seems to be happening. Or at least, nothing important anyway.

I think this is one of those books that is more character-driven than plot-driven. The strength of the book lies not in its narrative but rather in the developing relationships between the characters, particularly that of Thaniel (said clerk) and Keita Mori (watchmaker).

There was a very clear chemistry between these two men, a kind of alchemical attraction that is evident in every interaction, even when they’re just sitting around sipping green tea. Their conversations were rapid fire and rife with secret glances and inside jokes; it felt like we, as readers, were being treated to a glimpse of something so unbearably intimate.

It was all so very subtly done that I didn’t even realise I was actually reading a love story until I REALISED I WAS READING A LOVE STORY.

Confession Time: I reread this book last night because it was one of those books that I sort of whizzed through because I was just so impatient to get to the ending. I was never really quite sure that I wasn’t just losing my mind and literally reading too much into things, such that I was seeing and feeling sexual tension where there was none.

But nope. No two ways about it, this book is a bloody romance novel, albeit a really subtle and well-crafted one.

Finding the romance amidst everything that was going on plot-wise was like, I don’t know, that first bite of chocolate truffle, or as Katy Perry once wrote in one of her songs, like eating hard candy with a surprise centre. I didn’t expect it, and it somehow felt more magical to find it because it was so unexpected (kind of like love itself, I suppose).

And the romance was just one of the many pleasant surprises in this book. There were endearing touches of whimsy everywhere, especially in Keita Mori’s clockwork inventions. Everything about the house on Filigree Street feels enchanting, amazing and well ahead of its time.

In fact, my third favourite character (and Thaniel and Mori win by a very narrow margin only by virtue of the fact that they’re ACTUAL human beings) is a mischievous sock-loving clockwork octopus named Katsu.

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Photo credits to Brian Callahan (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rNDra)

That’s not to say that the book didn’t have its darker moments. It calls to question everything we know about time and the future, specifically our ability to predict it.

Don’t you guys find it mind-bending sometimes how one simple decision can alter our lives forever? Like how, if we decide to take the later train instead of the one we usually catch because we were running late because we decided to party on a weeknight the night before, we end up missing the chance to meet our future husband and therefore all our future children end up being unborn?

Doesn’t it freak you out sometimes how life seems to be made up of all these infinitesimal moments of chance and missed opportunities?¬†

It sure as hell freaks me out.

Anyway, I’ve gone on and on as usual when all I really wanted to say was that you all should give this book a chance. The reviews have been hit-or-miss so far, and I suppose its all a matter of taste, but I personally would vouch for it. And also, the cover is TO DIE FOR.

Keep an open mind dear readers and fellow bookworms. Open your heart to a lonely Japanese man with a mechanical pet octopus, and you will find yourself wanting to journey to Filigree street, and just like Thaniel, want to stay there forever,

FIVE STARS.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Young Adult

Book Review: Monsters of Verity Duology – V.E. Schwab

She tried to swim to the surface but it kept stretching out of reach. It was like the cusp between waking and sleep, where you couldn’t hold on to your thoughts. Couldn’t hold on to anything.

But she held on to him.

Once in a while, you come across the kind of written work that makes you wish you had the talent to craft something so beautiful out of something that’s so dark and twisted.

I’ve loved V.E. Schwab ever since I picked up the Shades of Magic trilogy last year. As an author, I think there are no limits to what her imagination can conceive and what she can put into words. In a time where everyone seems to be writing about love triangles and sparkly vampires, she dares to be different.

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This Savage Song, the first book in the Monsters of Verity series, opens up with our “heroine” committing arson by burning down the chapel in the Catholic school she was attending. Talk about something starting with a bang. The opening chapter alone made me sit up and take notice. Right out of the gate, I knew this was not going to be a typical YA fantasy novel.

The concept behind this series is simple and yet strangely complex at the same time. Verity is a city teeming with monsters that arise in the aftermath of horrible crimes and savage acts. There are three known kinds: Corsai, who are born out of violent but non-lethal acts, like to prey on flesh. Malchai, born out of murder, feed on blood.

And last but not least, the Sunai, who are born out crimes so horrible that they take out the lives of more than one person, feed on souls. However, they can only feed on the souls of sinners, and to hear their song is to feel your soul being reaped from you one note at a time. They are considered to be the worst kind of monsters because they look, walk and talk just like humans, until you look into the bottomless depths of their eyes.

The city itself is divided into two factions: the North City, ruled by Callum Harker, who “controls” the monsters and who makes the inhabitants pay for his protection; and the South City, ruled by Henry Flynn, whose small band of soldiers patrol the streets in order to keep humans safe from the monsters.

And because this is some kind of retelling of Romeo and Juliet (in like, a sick, distorted kind of way), OF COURSE, Callum and Henry have  two offsprings that meet somewhere and get to know each other in a way that makes readers hopeful that some kind of love story will arise from the gruesomeness of this tale.

Right.

If you’re looking for happily-ever-after, you might want to move on to the new Stephenie Meyer novel or reread Twilight. There are no cutesy, holding hands in the dark and chasing each other down the beach moments here.

Kate Harker is no Juliet. And while August Flynn may have the looks of someone who would spout sonnets in the moonlight and liken his lady love to a summer’s day, he would just as likely kill someone with his violin than he would make love to a woman.

I love atypical and imperfect main characters. I think they’re so much more relatable than those characters that are perceived to be perfect by everyone around them. I think the fact that these characters are neither purely good nor evil makes them more compelling and interesting, and it mirrors the truth of what it means to be human.

Its not always black and white. We are defined largely by the sum total of our life experiences and the choices we’ve made and have stood by. I think what I realised while reading this book is that life tends to be one large grey area most of the time, and no one really has the right to judge anyone by what they do when faced with an impossible situation.

Apart from being thought-provoking, this two-book series is also action-packed and gruesome in the best way possible. It is not afraid to be graphic and descriptive about mankind’s capacity for violence, and it just makes me think about how we’ve come a long way from the days when YA was synonymous to Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in the Sweet Valley series.

There is a lot of violence in these books, but the good thing is that it never feels gratuitous or senseless. The violence feels like an integral part of the story; it feels like we NEED to see and get past the bad parts in order to get to some kind of resolution, just like real life.

Some part of me always knew how this series would end, and I wasn’t far off in my predictions actually. Still, when I came to the climactic conclusion of ‘Our Dark Duet‘ (the second book in the series), I found myself sobbing like a baby and crying ugly tears, even as I knew it could not have ended any other way.

The author allows you to develop such a personal connection with her characters. You are able to share in their joys, sorrows, triumphs and loss. But it also means that the ending of the story packs a real punch because you feel like you’ve gone through this roller coaster journey with them.

So no, it wasn’t a happy ending, but what it was was hopeful and redemptive. It leaves you with the feeling that this is a story that is just beginning, and that there is so much more work to be done before there can be real and lasting peace in Verity.

People were messy. They were defined not only by what they’d done, but by what they would have done, under different circumstances, moulded as much by their regrets as their actions, choices they stood by and those they wished they could undo. Of course, there was no going back – time only moved forward – but people could change.

For worse.¬†For better.¬†It wasn’t easy. The world was complicated. Life was hard. And so often, living hurt.

So make it worth the pain. 

I am under no illusions that this is an unbiased review. I love love love this series. To me, it is absolutely faultless, and I would really recommend it for people who love world-building, fantasy and a taste of something different. Happy reading, bookworms!