A Game of Thrones: Illustrated

AGOT graphic novel

I love my library so much.  Not only did I just watch Frozen, borrowed on DVD from there, but I also just discovered and checked out the first two collections of the Game of Thrones graphic novels (or comics, as GRRM apparently likes to think of them).

In related news, my Reading History list of things I’ve checked out with my library card makes no sense.

The GoT comics were enjoyable but probably not something I’d ever actually buy.  In fact, I’m not entirely sure that they are something that even needed to be made.  A complex novel like GoT doesn’t seem ideally suited for comic book treatment, and we already have an excellently distilled adaptation in the TV series currently airing on HBO.

Now, I haven’t watched that series, and these comics aren’t related to it at all.  If anything, I would guess they are probably a more faithful adaptation of the original work.  The writing, done by Daniel Abraham (aka ½ of James S. A. Corey), is often directly from the novel.  GRRM also consulted on many aspects, including the interpretations of the Iron Throne and the White Walkers.

The storytelling is very good and will keep you entertained even if you know the story already.Vol2  I especially enjoyed the way Dany’s backstory is told–the page layouts are really nice.  I also liked Tommy Patterson’s artwork, in particular many of the character designs, his architecture, and his attention to detail in big scenes.

I am less a fan of how he does the action scenes, and sometimes facial expressions are awkward.  But if you read the “Making of” section at the end of the collections, the artist seems very cognizant of his abilities and what aspects need work.

My favorite part of these collections was actually the “Making of” sections at the back.  They show concept art, rough sketches, outlines, and some favorite things of the people who worked on the comics.  I really had no idea how American comics are made, so it was really fascinating to me.

The GoT comics are still ongoing; the third collected volume just came out last month and I think the fourth will follow once the last issue releases.  I think many fans will enjoy the series, and the comic medium might be a good way to get more people interested in the story without having to slog through the book.

 

 

 

Thoughts on A Dance with Dragons

ADWD

I’ve been trying to get through A Dance with Dragons for several months now, and finally finished last week.  I really wanted to finish the 5th entry in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series before the next season of A Game of Thrones begins on HBO; season 4 will likely start including some things from this book as well as the 4th book (A Feast for Crows), which take place mostly concurrently.  I don’t watch the show (too cheap to pay for HBO), but I can’t help overhearing some things and nobody enjoys being spoiled.

Speaking of which: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Tl;dr Great plot developments for favorite characters; unnecessarily long, 3.5/5 stars

Let’s start with the good: overall, I enjoyed this book more than the last.  The best characters are back and lots of exciting things are happening to them!

  • Tyrion is having all kinds of adventures all over the place.  I love the introduction of Penny as his travelling companion.  Tyrion is such a wonderful grey character: he’s a Lannister, he wants power, but he also has a sense of justice and compassion.  His friendship with Penny requires him to keep using his heart as much as his head while he’s across the Narrow Sea.
  • Jon has a big headache at the Wall: wights, wildlings, and Stannis and his women are making his life and command complicated.  He makes lots of bold decisions that will move things in the right direction…if they don’t come back to bite him in the @#$.  He’s still struggling to distance himself from his various emotional attachments the way he thinks he should, and this balance between love and duty is one of his character’s compelling features.
  • Dany is stuck in Meereen, trying to gain valuable political experience so she can add “Queen” to her résumé.  So we have less action, but lots of intrigue: marriages, murders, and plagues tend to keep interest.  Her “escape” with the dragons is one of the climaxes for this book and sets us up for a possible return to action in the next book.

And that leads us to the not-so-good:

  • Arya is still trying to not be Arya.  She does not intersect with other main characters, and my interest in her is waning quickly.
  • Quentyn Martell is a huge waste of space.  I like his character well enough, it’s just that his inclusion as a narrator has problems.  He has 4 chapters: enough to be distracting, but not enough to be important.  His journey to seek Dany’s hand parallels young Griff’s such that it seems redundant.  He does help move the plot along a little at the end by releasing the dragons, but he could easily have been replaced by some other mechanism for that.

Which leads me to the bigger issue with this book: it was a slog.  I had to work to read this book.  Sure, a lot of the best things in life require some effort, but I feel this could have been ameliorated with better editing.

Several times we learn information from one narrator, only to be reminded of the same information in the next chapter by another narrator.  And there sometimes are huge gaps between where we leave a narrator and pick back up with him again, which is helpful for keeping the story moving, but still slightly disorienting.  And I was irritated by the use of varying epithets instead of plain names at chapter headings.

Martin’s prose is enjoyable to read, and I always enjoy his little details about what people ate for dinner, etc.  I certainly appreciate the complexity of his characters and plot-lines.  But distilling the story down just a bit would go a long way for readability.

Nerd TV

A common complaint among nerds is the dearth of sci-fi shows on TV, especially on the main networks.  Even worse, when they do get good shows, they are promptly canceled (see “Firefly”).  The networks have recently announced which shows they are renewing, and gave a preview of new shows for the fall.  For us nerds, the news is mixed.

“Fringe” (Fox) has been renewed for a final season, which is a relief given rumors of pending cancelation based on low viewer numbers.  My DVR still has about a month’s worth of Fringe episodes waiting to be viewed, so I can’t speculate on the direction the final season will take.  But I am glad both that it was renewed and that it will be wrapping up.  I feel like it is starting to become less focused, and suffer from the “Lost” syndrome where every answer creates 2 more questions to needlessly complicate an interesting premise.  This season has been especially confusing for me, because there are now essentially 4 versions of each character (2 dimensions in each of 2 timelines), and it is hard to keep them all straight.

Terra Nova (Fox) and Alcatraz (Fox) have both been canceled.  I never watched Terra Nova, but some are saying that this move is reminiscent of Firefly, with Fox axing the show before really giving it a chance.  And too bad about Alcatraz.  I have a few episodes saved up on the DVR also; it seemed really promising with an interesting premise and great actors.

But never fear, fans of JJ Abrams!  In the fall, we can expect a new show from him, teaming with “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau to bring us “Revolution” on NBC.  Check out the trailer here: http://www.nbc.com/revolution/  Something has happened to make all electricity on Earth no longer function.  The show is set 15 years after the blackout, when some secrets are starting to come to light about what exactly happened, and if it can be undone.  I will definitely be giving this one a shot.  Mostly lesser-known actors, including Giancarlo Esposito (Sydney Glass from “Once Upon a Time”), who looks great in this.  And who could resist a quasi-dystopian setting with a girl in a leather jacket shooting arrows? Ha.

Also, cable network TNT will be bringing back “Falling Skies” this summer for a second season.  I watched a few episodes last year and thought it was pretty good, but not enough to watch religiously.  But I’d watch just about anything with Noah Wyle and Will Patton.  If alien invasions and paying exorbitant cable bills are your thing, definitely check it out.

Fantasy fans have a little more to cheer about.  “Grimm” (NBC) has been renewed, as well as “Once Upon a Time” (ABC), which was my absolute favorite show this season.  I just watched the season finale, and I can’t wait to see the changes that will be coming to Storybrooke this fall.  Some highlights from the finale: some Huntsman action, true love breaking curses, and Rumplestiltskin doing what he does best.  If you haven’t seen this show yet, you really need to.  Great actors, decent special effects, and wonderful characters that expand on the traditional fairy tales.  It even feels a little like “Lost” in every episode there are interspersed flashbacks to the characters’ previous lives in the fairy tale realm, which have bearing on the current storyline taking place in Storybrooke.

Speaking of exorbitant cable bills, “Game of Thrones” season two (based on A Clash of Kings) is currently airing on HBO.  Although I am not watching the show, I am trying to keep ahead of it in my readings so I won’t have any surprises ruined by gabbing friends or spoiler headlines.  Maybe this time around Joffrey will get what he deserves…

Brief Book Reviews

I read a lot of books, and I intend to review a lot of them on this blog. Not only do I keep a Reading List of books I intend to read, but my library also helpfully keeps a list of all the books I have checked out.  Over the past year, I’ve read a lot of good books (and some bad ones), but I really don’t want to dedicate space for a full review of each.  So here are brief rating and comments for each (possible minor spoilers).

A general guide for ratings:

5/5–I would buy this
4/5–I will re-read this
3/5–I might read this again
2/5–I have no interest in reading this again
1/5–I couldn’t finish this

YA Fantasty

Princess Ben (Catherine Gilbert Murdock)  5/5–A fun adventure with a likeable protagonist
Wisdom’s Kiss  2/5–This companion is a trainwreck of too many viewpoints and unlikeable characters

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) 5/5–A dystopian page turner, destined to be a classic
Catching Fire 5/5–A nice sequel with some twists
Mockingjay 5/5–Not as enjoyable as the first two; Collins tries too hard to make the “arena” scenario fit a 3rd time.  The ending is pitch perfect.

Beastly (Alex Flinn) 4/5–I love “Beauty and the Beast” retellings, and this is a nicely modernized version

I am Number Four (Pittacus Lore) 4/5–A little bland (especially the love interest) but points for an interesting backstory, setting in Ohio, tons of action, and a dog named Bernie Kosar
The Power of Six 4/5–Great sequel, continues to introduce interesting characters

Matched/Crossed (Ally Condie) 3/5 for the series–Bland characters sink an interesting idea.  The Giver does it way better without the unnecessary love triangle. But I am planning on reading the 3rd one, Reached.

Entwined (Heather Dixon) 4.5/5–Nice take on “The 12 Dancing Princesses,” although I like Princess of the Midnight Ball better

The False Princess (Eilis O’Neal) 3/5–A nice twist on the standard princess theme; decent characters, plot, writing

Dragon Slippers/Dragon Flight/Dragon Spear (Jessica Day George) 5/5 for the series (the first is my favorite)–These books are more for middle-grade readers, but are really enjoyable thanks to a kick-butt protagonist (among other awesome characters), great writing, and dragons

The Silver Bowl and Bella at Midnight (Diane Stanley) 4/5 for both–Again, more for middle-grades.  Good writing and characters. “Bella” is a nice reworking of the Cinderella story.

Warped (Maurissa Guibord) 2.5/5–A fairly generic fantasy with bland characters

A Tale of Two Castles (Gail Carson Levine) 4/5–Much better than Levine’s last few efforts. Great characters and a mysterious plot with twists.

Pegasus (Robin McKinley) 2/5–Not my favorite McKinley. Struggled to get through this; I assume there will be a sequel based on the extremely sudden ending.

Shipbreaker (Paolo Bacigalupi) 5/5–More dystopia; great characters and conflict

Tuesdays at the Castle (Jessica Day George) 5/5–Keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel; these characters are just too good for just one book!

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede) 5/5–A witty female protagonist and dragons; can’t ask for more. (But who names their kid Daystar?  Really?)

Nonfiction

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) 5/5–A MUST READ for any scientist.  I work with cell lines all the time and never had any clue about what is written in this book.  Some of the science may be too technical for some readers, but the Lacks family’s story is really what shines.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan) 5/5–To be honest, I had to check this book out two or three time before I finished it.  But it was worth it.  Totally changed how I think about food.

The Wilder Life (Wendy McClure) 2/5–The author wants to see how Laura Ingalls Wilder lived, because obviously her life was much more interesting than the author’s.  It was just an ok read, and that’s from someone who loves Little House. The books, not the TV show.

Fiction

The Help (Kathryn Stockett) 3/5–In a rare turn of events, I liked the movie better.  It was more focused.

The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) 5/5–Narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany, this book a life-changer.  Like I felt about The Giver in 6th grade.  This is the only book from this list that made me cry, and oh, boy was I sobbing at the end.

The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) 3/5–This book sets an incredible tone and atmosphere (I can’t wait for a movie), but the lovely visuals are hampered by a vague plot and slightly limp protagonists.  It’s her first novel and it shows.

The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas) 4/5–Haha, I honestly didn’t know that this book is actually about FOUR musketeers.  Great characters and a slightly crazy plot keep it entertaining, both serious and light in the right places.

A Game of Thrones/A Clash of Kings (George R. R. Martin) 3.5/5 for both–These two books took me months to read, and I am glad I did,  but too much graphic sex, violence, and politics for my taste.  A few truly excellent characters will keep me plugging through this series.

Austenland (Shannon Hale) 4/5–A fun, well-written rom com.  Recommended for any Austen fans.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) 4/5–The characters and “mystery” aspects of this book were really excellent and had me hooked.  However, as a thriller it was a little too intense for my taste, and has put me off reading the other two books until I am in the mood for something so dark.

The Lions of Al-Rassan (Guy Gavriel Kay) 4/5–Interesting characters in a fictional setting of Moorish Spain