Saturday, 11 August 2012

Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree: A Storm of Swords

I've made mention before of that fateful April day that I met George R.R. Martin and had the hardcover copy of A Clash of Kings I bought that very evening signed. I won't say so much that I regret having that book signed, but...if I had known just how unbelievably EPIC A Storm of Swords was going to be, I would have bought a hardcover of that one too and had it signed.

Now I've been reading the paperbacks, so A Storm of Swords was really two epic books for me, subtitled Steel and Snow and Blood and Gold respectively. For the purposes of simplicity, I'm pooling my review together, so I'll be covering both books. Now as this is volume three in the Song of Ice and Fire, spoilers for A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings will likely follow. You have been forewarned.

As with every blog about the Song of Ice and Fire, I'll begin by taking stock and introducing the state of play as it stands at the beginning of the book.

A Storm of Swords slightly overlaps the end of A Clash of Kings, but here's what's happening - Ser Jaime Lannister, the "Kingslayer" and Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, has been released from captivity at Riverrun by Lady Catelyn Stark in the hopes that the Lannisters will release Lady Catelyn's daughters, Sansa (held pretty much captive at King's Landing) and Arya (last seen in the company of Lord Beric Dondarrion's raiders). His brother, the brilliant Tyrion Lannister, is recuperating from an impressive wound (a scar now runs across his face) gained during the battle outside King's Landing. He has been replaced as Hand of the King by his father, Lord Tywin Lannister, who is being hailed as saviour of the city after he arrived with a great host of southern lords, defeating Stannis Baratheon's army. But everyone forgets that it was Tyrion's plans that prevented the majority of Stannis' army, embarked with his fleet in Blackwater Bay, from landing and turning the tide of the battle.

Elsewhere, (i.e. in the North), Jon Snow has, under orders from ranger Qhorin Halfhand, gone over to the wildings and comes face-to-face with the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder. Bran and his companions, Hodor, Jojen and Meera Reed, leave the ashes of Winterfell behind to make for the Wall, where the three-eyed crow in Bran's dreams awaits.

Seaward now and Ser Davos Seaworth, loyal servant to Stannis Baratheon, is found alive and...not so much well, but definitely alive, following the Battle of the Blackwater. He returns to Dragonstone, intent of killing Melisandre, the Red Priestess who stands at Stannis' side, guiding his campaign. Before he can so much as flinch in her direction, he is arrested and placed in a cell. Further across the seas, Daenerys Targaryen has left Qarth after the Sorrowful Men (a guild of Qartheen assassins) attempt to kill her, journeying to Astapor to buy herself an army. A slave army...

So basically, that's where everyone stands. But over the course of the book...well, several of the characters are left distinctly less than standing.

A Storm of Swords is...good gods, it's a bloodbath. A cruel, twisted ingenious bloodbath. All through the reading of this book (/two books for me), I was in contact with Thief who was urging me on, continually ordering me to read faster and on the receiving end of some very astonished text messages when certain things happened. As much as I want to go into them chapter and verse, I don't wish to spoil too many things. So I'll perform my usual trick - babble about my favourite characters.

Ser Jaime Lannister. I never, ever thought, in the depths of A Game of Thrones, that I would come to like this smug son of a bitch. But in A Storm of Swords, Jaime becomes a perspective character and as a consequence of that, I came to a bizarre understanding of the man, how he lives eternally in the shadow of his label "Kingslayer". In his journey back to King's Landing, he is accompanied by Brienne of Tarth, who reminds him at every possible moment about the oath he swore and he broke it when he slew King Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King. In spite of the fact that it was probably one of the best things he's ever done, for reasons he elaborates. But it's this torment he seems to feel, the burden of being the Kingslayer that makes Ser Jaime Lannister, for me, a compelling character. He may not be the best Lannister, but...gods I can't believe I'm saying this, but he's all right.

The best Lannister, of course, is Tyrion. The Imp. His size may be small, but his wit and brilliance are great. If only someone would actually recognise that and stop putting him down so much. Removed as Hand of the King by the arrival of his father (who was actually named Hand of the King, but sent Tyrion to act in his stead while he waged war on Robb Stark), he is named Master of Coin as Lord Petyr Baelish ("Littlefinger") has been sent to the Vale to woo and seduce Lysa Arryn, to keep the Vale and all its forces "in the King's peace" and thus out of the war. Or deep in it, so long as they're on Joffrey's side. But it seems that no matter what job he has, Hand of the King, Master of Coin, Tyrion Lannister is hated and misunderstood. And has a big mouth that gets him into A LOT of trouble. But it's that big mouth and its witty quips that we love so much.

Moving away from the Lannisters, it's time to take a moment to talk about some of the Starks. First off, Robb Stark. Never a perspective character, but man do I want this guy to win. Through Lady Catelyn's eyes, we see that Robb shares his father's sense of honour and the burden of leadership - especially when he arrives back at Riverrun...with a new wife in tow. Who is not of House Frey, despite Robb being betrothed to a Frey daughter of his choosing. Now that causes some friction, but allows Robb to forgive his mother for freeing the Kingslayer.

Now when I talk about the Starks, I can't help but talk about Arya. She's the stubborn little warrior girl and my favourite of all the Starks. And the poor girl never seems to catch a break. So far, every time she's come even a tiny bit close to getting what she wants, it's all snatched from under her. But credit to this little firecracker, she keeps going and going. And oh my, where she's going...I can't wait to see what happens!

And finally, Jon Snow. Gone over to the wildings. I must admit, I feel Jon Snow's initial epicness in A Game of Thrones has diminished somewhat, but I still like him. But mostly because, if not for his perspective, we wouldn't have a brilliant chapter where we finally get to meet the fabled Mance Rayder. And believe me, Mance Rayder does not disappoint for a second.

When I babbled about A Clash of Kings, I mentioned a theory about the Red Priests/Red Priestesses being behind a conspiracy. I've seen re-thought that theory and it's been a tiny bit proven wrong. Which is a shame, because I like a good conspiracy, but alas there isn't one that I know of. But I wouldn't bet on anything at this point. Especially in A Storm of Swords.

So I mentioned at the beginning it's a bloodbath. Oh gods, such a bloodbath. George R.R. Martin is an evil genius. Not many books will have me screaming at them, jumping for joy or giggling maniacally, but A Storm of Swords (especially book two, Blood and Gold) had me doing that all the time. So far, I think this is my favourite instalment of the Song of Ice and Fire. But I'm only two chapters into A Feast for Crows so far, I'll let you know how that goes in a week or two. Depending how fast I read. I expect I will have Thief standing with her bow and arrow to make sure I read faster.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Do what I do. Hold on tight and pretend it's a plan!

I'm going to begin by saying "Quantum Mechanix, this is all your fault!" You can't escape this, QMx. You posted the link. On your head this whole thing lies! For you see ladies and menfolk, my mind is being the 1978 disco-style remix of the Doctor Who theme tune. In this article from, re-posted by QMx, therein lies the video with the aforementioned funky tune. I mean FUNKAY...oh dear gods, the funk. It won't leave my brain.

In order to distract myself (even though I have the video playing in the background because it's frakkin' addictive), I have decided that this will be the perfect opportunity to blog about that great stalwart of British science-fiction, Doctor Who.

I'm a geek and I'm British. It follows in bizarre logic that I am, of course, a fan of Doctor Who. While I imagine you could probably, somewhere, find a British geek not a fan of Doctor Who, it would likely be rather difficult. I will conduct a poll about this at work with all the geeky regulars, but until then, I want to talk about Doctor Who to get my mind off the brain-melting funk. That addictive, funky goodness...

Let's face it. As a science-fiction writer, I have toyed with the idea of writing about time travel. Come on, we all have. In fact, I dare any science-fiction writer who's watched an episode of Doctor Who to put their hand up and say they haven't dreamed about writing an episode themselves. While tied to a polygraph. With a bunch of kittens dangling over a shark-infested pool, to be dropped in at the first sign of a lie.

My journey with Doctor Who...well, I can't actually remember where it truly began, though I know my mother, something of a geek like myself, was an avid fan of Doctor Who in its glory days. One of my earliest memories of Doctor Who is a bizarre one. It was 1999. I can tell you that for a certainty because I saw this episode just before I went to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace for the first time. Before I truly understood the genius of the first three films and how Empire Strikes Back is the best by far.

But I digress. It was 1999. And it was perhaps the most epic of classic Doctor Who episodes to watch. It was, at the very least, the first part of..."Genesis of the Daleks". It was years later that I was talking to my mum about these episodes and she told me her favourite part...the part, which, as a child, had her on the edge of her seat screaming at the screen.

For those who have not seen "Genesis of the Daleks" and would prefer to watch it without knowing what happens...I'd stop reading about least just skip over the next paragraph. Or two.

It was the Doctor. (*The* Doctor for all you Tom Baker loyalists out there). Holding two frayed lengths of wire. All he had to do was touch the wires together and *BOOM*, that's it, no more Daleks. But he hesitates. Two wires. Staring at these frayed copper conductors, he realises that of all the things he can do as a Time Lord, he cannot do this. He cannot destroy the Daleks. It would undo too much, destroy too much history, too much of the timeline. Too much of his timeline. Even though his companions are urging to do it, to end the most terrifying threat the Universe has ever known, the Doctor...spares the Daleks.

A part of me wishes I could go back and tell my ten year-old self just how incredibly important a moment that was, just how brilliant the writers were for putting the Doctor into that position.

Of course, six years later (2005), Doctor Who made one heck of a comeback. In the clever guise of Christopher Eccleston with the brilliant line "So? Lots of planets have a north!" to explain his accent, Doctor Who once again caught the hearts and minds of the British public. And in those last seven years...well. We've had Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith, all fantastic Doctors with wonderful companions but...


...a lot of my friends will be rolling their eyes here, but...well...'s totally all about Amy Pond.

I'll hold my hand up and admit it - feisty red head with a Scottish accent and a knack for being...well, fiery, determined and thoroughly Scottish? You're godsdamn right I went head over heels when this girl stormed onto our screens in 2011 screaming lines like "Twelve years and four psychiatrists!"

But that isn't the finest moment in Doctor Who. As much as I love Amy Pond and think she is wonderful (and Karen Gillan a fantastic actress), there is one episode that stands out above all others, that for me marks the high point of Doctor Who.


It's 2007. David Tennant is the Tenth Doctor. Freema Agyeman is his companion, Doctor Martha Jones. And yet this episode, this brilliant, brilliant episode features for them for probably a grand total of five minutes. For there's two things that steal the show - the beautiful, incredible leading lady Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan) and one of the most terrifying nemeses the Doctor has ever faced.

The Weeping Angels.

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but as a writer there are things you read or watch and you're thinking "Oh gods, why the frak didn't I think of that first?" I can honestly say, the Weeping Angels are up there. In fact, I might do a top ten list of things I wish I had thought up first in terms of genius storylines/ideas. And the Weeping Angels are definitely up there.

While their appearance in the 2011 series dulled their fire just a tad, the Weeping Angels remain one of the finest creations to come from the mind of head writer Steven Moffat. And when I was reading China Miéville's Perdido Street Station, the central "villains"/monsters, the slake-moths...they reminded me a little of the Weeping Angels. Insofar as when I was reading Perdido Street Station and the excitement that gripped me when the slake-moths were introduced convinced me that China Miéville should write an episode of Doctor Who.

Of course, no one would ever, ever sleep at night. Ever again. Yet I can't help feeling it would be *SO* worth it. Anyone else with me on this one? Might be a bit late for series seven (the trailers for which look EPIC), but maybe series eight, eh? I think it would be an epic idea. Neil Gaiman wrote an episode, why shouldn't China Miéville? *Sod's Law follows that China Miéville hates Doctor Who...*