Archive for January, 2015

George R.R. Martin – The World Of Ice And Fire

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

This is not an ‘official’ review to my intent, but I do want to make some comments on a somewhat peculiar but beautiful work. I don’t count books covering backgrounds on a series as true novels (and I won’t do so for this one either). They are usually encyclopedic in nature, with no story and mainly infodumping. I do like to buy them if it is of a series I like. This particular background work I want to say a little bit about is The World Of Ice And Fire (2014) by George R.R. Martin and two of his fans. They deserve credit, but Martin remains the inventor and the one who decided the events and names (for as far as I know). Such collaborative works are fairly common if I look at the other similar works that I have. In most case a dedicated fan or assistant has kept track of all the details and then was allowed to expand it to a full published work.

What makes The World Of Ice And Fire different is that it is not presented as a large set of infodump but as an account written by a character from the world of the books. The background and history is thus more presented in the style of the classic historians which present their view on history with some comments on the credibility of the events described. The work is not unique or the first to do so. I have A Visual Guide To Castle Amber and Midkemia: The Chronicles of Pug as works which were set up in a similar way. The first has however a very limited focus and his more of a tourist guidebook while the second is summarizes the novels of the series (unfortunately in a rather poor way). What makes The World Of Ice And Fire different is that it gives a history of the world told in a series of stories containing a large number of mostly new characters which are now given flesh. Not in detail but sufficient to create a good picture. What makes it even more better is the large amount of stunning artwork of places and characters. There has been put some real effort into it and it looks amazing.

Even if you are not much into histories this work is a must-have if you are a fan of A Song Of Ice And Fire. I took my time reading and enjoying it because it is something that does not pushes you on to read but it is very enjoyable to discover the rich mythology that Martin has crafted.

 

E.R. Eddison – Mistress Of Mistresses

Friday, January 30th, 2015

The first novel of the Zimiamvia Trilogy by E.R. Eddison is actually the second book that I’ve read and it is in fact not completely wrong to do so as the first book was the second book of the trilogy although the events described take place after that of Mistress Of Mistresses (1935). Peculiar? Indeed. However, this is a fantasy novel written in a time when fantasy novels were still a relative rarity and no clich├ęs existed yet. Eddison, in a way, was pioneering, unfamiliar and unbound with how a fantasy novel should be set up, so he did it in his own way.

It is hard to describe Mistress Of Mistresses. While the world it takes place in is not our own, there are many references made to earth culture. It is a mediaevil world that is nevertheless a mixture of a learned society and brutal intrigue. The reader is early on thrown into the thick of the matter. A critical event has thrown the country into turmoil. Some sides are clear but others remain doubtful. While one man is a force of chaos two others are opposities of order around whom all rotates. Eddison spends much time setting these characters up and puts them together to create sparkling interaction. In fact, what is most remarkable is that the action scenes are rather short. These great events are pretty much summarized unto the highlights. Eddison is mostly interested in the character interaction. The dramatic events almost seem only to be added so he has reasons to bring characters together and provide some tension to the dialogues.

There is more to these dialogues and character interactions. While there are three central main protagonists there is a fourth force working in the background. It is the mistress of the title although it remains rather unclear what her intentions are. There are several long scenes that revolve around her and all of these are surrealistic and metaphysical. Eddison uses these scenes to present certain philosophical ideas and concepts. As much of philosophy is to me just a bunch of abstract reasoning on the meaning of life and the universe much of these scenes were hard for me to grasp. Nevertheless I did enjoy the fantastical essence of these scenes as they make this novel even more peculiar than before. I did like the different characters who defined their behavior in very strong and sometimes strange ways. I was a bit disappoined with the summarized action, which I had not expected as the earlier fantasy work The Worm Ouroboros had plenty of it. Mistress Of Mistresses is however a more conceptual work. The world is a device to display persons and scenes which resonate with his thoughts.

Mistress Of Mistress is to some extent a complicated work in a very stylized but still readable prose. There is plenty of intrigue and the behavior of the characters is sometimes hard to grasp. While reading you can feel there is a lot of history and hidden motives which are unknown to the reader as Eddison does not openly explain or describe these. The reader has to build a picture of his own from the actions and words of the characters and that is a challenge that I do not shrink from. I do have to admit the novel left me rather puzzled at the end, which is somewhat open. Having read the second novel first did not help me. It was some time ago and I could barely recall the details. I could have read it just as well again.

Is Mistress Of Mistresses a worthwhile read? Within the frame of original and old fantasies it certainly is. It won’t be a novel you can do in an easy read. You have to take your time for it and immerse yourself in this peculiar world. There is much to enjoy as Eddison does things very differently from any other fantasy work. That nobody has been inspired to follow his style does say something about the impact it has had although his first work The Worm Ouroboros is much better known. This series does seem to fall into a special category within the genre. Readers who like to explore all kinds of different fantasy stories certainly should not miss this one.

Good intentions

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

What better way to start the new year than by buying some new books? First off I picked up a up a trilogy by G.W. Dahlquist. The three novels are supposedly a hybrid of fantasy and science fiction. The style and approach of the novels caught my interest. I’m not sure how good they will be but my gut feeling is positive. The three novels are The Glass Books Of The Dream Eater (2006), The Dark Volume (2008) and The Chemickal Marriage (2012). Now that I think of it; I have bought complete series just before or after the new year the past few years as well. At least reading a completed multi-volume series will improve my mood for the novels of the plenty ongoing series I am following.

The second thing I bought were two volumes containing the Lives (ca. 120) by Plutarchos (or Plutarch for those who prefer popularized names). I have had the Dutch translation for some ten years, but that translation only cover about two-thirds of the biographies of the great Roman and Greek men of antiquity. This particular edition is one of the few complete editions and set up according to the original structure in which a biography of a Roman was partnered with a biography of a Greek that shared certain similarities. It was not that expensive and I don’t mind having something duplicate because for classical works I prefer to read the Dutch translations when the material is about the most famous times in Roman history as pretty much all English translations use the ugly popularized versions of the names instead of the actual ones.

With these books I can enjoy some good reading for the coming weeks, although I should spend a little more time catching up on my reviewing. Another ‘good’ intention. One knows how those go.

 

2014 Revisited

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

2014 has gone by and before I start for the coming year I look back.

Like last year I am a bit behind on my reviewing activity. I lacked a bit of inspiration and time, being occupied with other things. The latter has been rather prominent in the last quarter of 2014, which saw a bit of a drop in my read and reviewing activity. Overall however it has been a good year regarding to my reading despite the fact that I feel like I am struggling to find new books and series to read. I am waiting more and more for favourite authors to publish new work. One reason for this feeling is some hard times hitting on some of my local bookstores here in the Netherlands. I used to visit those at least every 2 weeks or so but mergers, closures and reorganizations have left the book collections shrunken in size and what they have is mainly the popular or mainstream stuff, leaving me with very new interesting books to discover. I am left with the internet and checking out other review sites which is not entirely the same as holding the actual book in your hand.

To some extent it is thus quite amazing that I have read 13 more books than in 2013; that is 63, which is also one more than in 2012. Even more stunning is the total page count: 31.450. This means the average page count is 499 per book (I don’t count sections with notes, glossaries and extra’s, but as a sort of compensation I just take the pagenumber of the last page of the story). Funnily enough this is much less than last year’s average of 529 but it still means I prefer hitting the bigger tomes although I do not aim for them. As I like reading fantasy and science fiction this average probably won’t change that much. Because of that reason the number of different authors I have reviewed this year is relatively low. Many series and a couple of others of whom I have read several works.

As always the book count only covers those I review. As always I’ve read a bunch of non-fiction works as well. Those usually take more time to read but they are great if I can’t find anything to my liking.

Fortunately I am not lacking on my book pile. I still have much to read. Some books have been on my Currently Reading list for most of the year. Sadly this is because I am simply not in the mood to read them much. They are such specific works (in the matter of style) that simply prefer reading something else most of the time. I have more of such books and I need to watch out starting with more because it make me feel a bit disheartened. It’s not a good way to treat a book. It does not (always) mean they are bad, just particular to my (current) taste. Some stuff I would have read much more quickly 15 years ago.

I hope to add some reviews this weekend (obviously not one today anymore) and keep the flow going. Happy readings!