I haven’t read fantasy (aside from a Terry Pratchet book or two) for over two decades… but I really enjoyed the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. I was so shocked by the penultimate episode… that I decided to read the series. I thoroughly enjoyed this first book and have moved onto the second. Excellent plotting and development of characters. Solid prose too. Loads of fun… although I do have to say that the lives of every single character completely suck. The entire universe of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic is in dire need of an age of enlightenment (as perhaps is our own dark era). The story leans toward the grim… but I tend to like grim, especially in fiction, where lack of conflict means death of story.

I’m going to spill story beans after this sentence. Stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens. The death of a major character is pretty shocking for a television show. I can’t think of many (or any) major character deaths that enhance televised stories. So, when Ned Stark was beheaded, I was shocked. Until the sword came down, I was saying, to myself, “Something will happen… this won’t happen…they can’t kill Ned…” and after the sword came down, my immediate reaction was negative. He was the cornerstone of the series; its solid, moral core. Without him, how could the show continue? It is perhaps the riskiest death of a television character that I’ve ever seen. I had such a negative reaction that I thought perhaps I’d skip the final episode. I voiced my concerns on twitter and the kind folks at the #Baelor hashtag talked me off the cliff.

In the book, Stark is but one of many major point of view characters. Not to diminish his importance, but while his death is shocking in the book, it is tempered by the ongoing narrative, by the other characters points of view and their reactions. The thrust of the story, in Martin’s capable and well-plotted execution, immediately shifts to other characters and the story moves forward.

Although it made for exciting television, the more powerful telling of the story remains in the prose. Never has the difference between the written story and the televised (or filmed) story been so apparent to me. Stark’s death, near the end of the HBO series, provided a punch to the gut. Stark’s death in the book was the a catalyst toward an even larger epic–the boundaries of the entire endeavor increased with Ned’s death, the epic’s canvas grew even larger.

Now I’ve moved into the second book, A Clash of Kings, and I’m impressed with Martin’s vast vision of this strange, dark, violent world. At least when season two of HBO’s adaptation rolls around, I’ll won’t be surprised by who Martin kills off next.

Reading, late

On Chesil BeachOn Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It would be easy to rank this book as a small McEwan book in between two “important” McEwan books, but it is quite large in it’s own way. The action of the book takes place mostly on one night of the two protagonists, but the scope is huge. He is wonderfully generous to his characters, creating people heartbreakingly trapped in their respective roles. Although Saturday and Atonement had a larger palettes, On Chesil Beach is lyric and lucid as it chronicles the paths of Edward and Florence as defined by their actions on their wedding night.

View all my reviews

A little note on Bradford Morrow’s fine new book…

I’ve just finished Bradford Morrow’s book, The Diviner’s Tale. It’s a wonderful read. Literary–mystery–supernatural–suspense thriller: it’s the rare book that can unify the sometimes very disparate elements of those genres, but The Diviner’s Tale does an excellent job. I don’t think of this as a genre work in the traditional sense, but it certainly uses conventions of different genres as it weaves its way towards its very satisfying end. Ultimately, it proves the “genre” tag to be a sham. It’s a rousing story containing a mystery, but the mystery is only a part of the whole. It isn’t “about” the mystery so much as it is about the characters that surround the mystery. The main character (Cass) has nearly supernatural intuition, and comes from a long line of “diviners”–people who dowse for water. Cass has always divined more than just water. What really elevates this book into top-notch page-turning literary quality fiction is the absolutely beautiful/spooky journey that Cass undergoes as she traverses both her past (family, loss, grief, fear, love, childhood trauma) and her present (missing children, lurking predators, sick father, single-motherhood). Ultimately, it’s a story about whether or not Cass can learn to trust her inherited intuition. Her whole life, she’s doubted herself, thought of herself as a fraud–but her visions/divinations demand attention and in some ways, her visions debunk her doubt, but it’s a tough thing for a character to admit. The book has classic spine chilling moments–I won’t tell you at what point they arise–and the eerie quality of the supernatural moments works so well because Morrow provides a concrete foundation of detail and landscape–it never spins into the abstract. Pay special attention to the way he utilizes fog and shadow and the unexpected appearance of people who may or may not be of this world. Highly recommended.

Julie Doxsee’s “Objects for a Fog Death”

A magical book (in the truest dark and layered and mysterious sense of the word–not in the saw-the-lady-in-half sense of the word, although that might work too). A concise book with sentences that snake surprisingly through multiple couplets and end up in unexpected places. Take this line from “Architecture” for instance:

If lightning is just more
heat, where is the cyclone

to entwine us until our
veins take down all

the trees between here
& seven days ago?

Doxsee writes in a way that feels like you are actually seeing the poems through fog–they aren’t muddy or unclear or hazy by way of craft, it’s not that sort of fog–but there always seems to be something swirling up and around the objects at the heart of her poems, or up and around the poet, or maybe the reader. The poems ask a lot of me–they required my vision, too. Or perhaps the fog is a constant and maybe the objects are swaying. Either way, there is lots of movement, and either way you end up thinking you are watching one thing before you realize that you have been looking at something different all along. In “Kitchen Tour” she writes:

Those are
old teeth marks

in the water from
when I bit

all the ice
cubes in half.

The poems are told in a sort of gloaming. That time of night when everything is floaty. It did take me a few poems to become comfortable in Doxsee’s universe–that doorway into her poems required a certain patience to open, but to me that is a good thing. There are a lot of easily opened doors. A like a door that requires a bit of focused attention, a bit of study. Because once that door is open? It doesn’t close. I can’t go back. Once I stopped trying to fan away the fog, and just dove into Doxsee’s surprising lines, vision be damned, I felt both lured further and sorry to turn the page on the last poem. Toward the end of the book, she writes, in a poem titled “Dear Sparrow”:


pretend my door
is your skyload

of leaves, a new
kind of air

you sail.

That pretty much describes it better than I ever could. I recommend the book, especially if you are looking for a new kind of air.