Deathless is an absolutely fantastic, wonderful, intelligent, beautifully-written book. A retelling of the Russian Fairytale,Marya Morevna a 4.5 Stars
Deathless is an absolutely fantastic, wonderful, intelligent, beautifully-written book. A retelling of the Russian Fairytale, Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless, Valente transports the story into the politically turbulent setting of 20th century Russia, and asks the very questions I asked myself when I read the original 'Who is Marya Morevna? And why and how the hell does she have Koschei the Deathless locked up in a closet?'
Instead of being simply a straight up retelling, Deathless tells the story of Marya Morevna, from her childhood in ever changing St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad, watching the city transform around her and each of her three sisters marry a bird that fell from the tree outside her window, to her capturing the attention of the mysterious Tsar of Life, Koschei the deathless, and everything that that sets in motion.
It's a hauntingly beautiful fusion of Russian folklore and history, figures such as Baba Yaga, Domovoi, Likho, and Koschei himself, walking the streets of communist Russia, playing roles and parts I'd never have imagined but that worked seamlessly. The turbulence and struggles in the strange and sinister fairy world reflecting the horrific struggles in the strange and violent real world, the wars, the poverty, the siege of Leningrad. For the first three-quarters of the book it is, unquestionably, a five star read. Unfortunately, for me, as the story moved away from its grounding in real world history and further into the fairyland and the twisted gothic romance between Marya and Koschei, it lost something of what made it so special. By the end it was still a beautiful wonderful story but it had shifted too far away from its roots and tried to be a bit too clever with it's allegories for me to feel entirely satisfied with the resolution.
I would, however, recommend it to anyone who's enjoyed Valente's work before and, really, to anyone with an interest in Russian history or folklore....more
My super-slow marathon of Percy Jackson continues and I have to say I’m still enjoying these books immensely. Might have to stop relying on the librarMy super-slow marathon of Percy Jackson continues and I have to say I’m still enjoying these books immensely. Might have to stop relying on the library soon and buy myself a set of paperbacks for whenever I’m in the mood for a fun-filled Greek-mythology fix. If you didn’t like the first two books this one isn’t going to convince you, it’s very much more of the same – Percy and his friends battling Greek monsters and deities in modern-day America. But if you’ve enjoyed the series so far this is a pretty solid addition to it.
The Titan’s Curse gets off to probably the fastest start of the books so far, throwing Percy and the reader straight into the action, and from there the pace doesn’t really let up until the very end. Although it retreads a lot of familiar ground – somebody Percy cares about has been kidnapped by a baddie and must be rescued, Kronos and his servants are getting more bold and powerful etc. etc. – there’s enough different that it doesn’t feel like a cheap rehash. The main story is moving onwards, new characters (a whole host of them!), both good and bad are being introduced and the world is beginning to feel more fleshed out than just Percy, Annabeth and Grover. And with the introduction of Artemis and her followers on one side and the sinister ‘general’ on the other, the struggle between good and evil is finally starting to feel epic in proportion instead of a teenage strop blown out of proportion.
Personally I again found elements of the prophecy pretty predictable, it has to be said. I called which of the five was to die, and how it would play into the larger prophecy, pretty quickly. But again this didn’t really hamper my enjoyment of spotting all the different mythological sources and giggling at the inventive ways they were reinterpreted. I enjoyed the new characters and I particularly enjoyed watching Percy interact regularly with people beyond his immediate friends from the first two books. It’s nice to see that he isn’t the centre of the universe and that interesting things can happen to other people too!
And that’s pretty much all I really have to say on this one, I think. It’s another that I picked up as a light easy read while I was sitting by my granny’s bed in the hospital and, to be honest, I read it in a bit of a daze with so a lot of the little details kind of escape me now I try to think back. General impressions, however, were that it was a highly enjoyable read; the characters were still fun, the ideas still clever, and the juxtaposition of Ancient mythology in modern America still frequently hilarious. I’ll be needing more Tyson in future books though, Tyson is awesome....more
A short but absolutely excellent novel. H.G. Wells is one of the fathers of science fiction and The Island of Doctor Moreau is one of those e 4.5 Stars
A short but absolutely excellent novel. H.G. Wells is one of the fathers of science fiction and The Island of Doctor Moreau is one of those early blends of science-fiction and horror that (like the best of both genres) also offers an uncomfortable insight into human nature. A bit like Frankenstien but better paces and without the tedious bits. I’m generally more of a horror person than a sci-fi one, so this was probably a good place for me to start with H.G. Wells too – it reads rather like a Robert Louis Stevenson.
Now, for a classic, I had heard relatively little about the plot of this book beyond ‘mad scientist performs horrible experiments, creates human-beast hybrids’ and I was surprised by just how genuinely well written and creepy this novel proved to be. Unlike my experiences with Jules Verne, H.G. Wells’ writing has actually aged pretty damn well. The story almost races along – most chapters are only four or five pages (which makes it very easy to read even when the bloody phone won’t stop ringing) – and the tension is admirably ramped up and up right until (and then past) breaking point.
After being shipwrecked and then rescued, the narrator, Edward Prendick, finds himself on a mysterious island where the disgraced Doctor Moreau and his alcoholic assistant, Montgomery, run a secretive research centre. It soon becomes apparent that Moreau is vivisecting and experimenting on animals and that the results of these experiments are the bestial creatures that inhabit the island. Creatures that can walk and speak but are neither quite human nor quite animal. To keep their instincts at bay the Doctor has issued his creations a set of commandments, the chief of which is that none of his creations ever eat ‘fish or flesh’, lest they develop a taste for it and turn against their masters. But with creatures created from leopards, wolves, hyena’s and puma’s, the introduction of rabbits onto the island to feed the scientists proves a really bad idea.
It’s not just a horror story, though. It touches on a whole host of very real issues, most obviously the morality of scientific research; animal testing, the eugenics movement and the extent to which certain types of experiments can ever be justified by mere curiosity. Doctor Moreau’s hubristic experiments are, obviously, impossible, but the questions they raise are very real. But it manages to raise them (and touch on religion as well) without being preachy about it or disrupting the flow of the story. It's perfectly possible, should you want to, to ignore the subtext and just enjoy the plot.
What I didn’t like about this book though, in common with lots form this era, was the treatment of race. The use of words such as ‘savages’, the way certain of the beast-men were at first assumed to be black or eastern, and that the Gorilla-man, upon his creation was deemed to be (albeit by a mad scientist) ‘a fair specimen of the negroid type’. 'Little things' like that. The overall story, however, I really enjoyed.
This was my first Wells and I enjoyed it enough that I will definitely be trying some more of his stuff now that I have a taste for his writing style. War of the Worlds is sitting on my bookshelf and I believe there might be a copy of The Invisible Man lying around the house too…...more
I’ve been meaning to reread Persuasion for ages. It’s the last of Austen’s novels and the first time I read it was during a bit of an Austen 4.5 Stars
I’ve been meaning to reread Persuasion for ages. It’s the last of Austen’s novels and the first time I read it was during a bit of an Austen binge (all her major novels, back to back, in order of publication) and thus was feeling a bit romanced-out by the time I got round to this one and didn’t really ‘click’ with it. I’ve always suspected that my ambivalence towards it back then was a little unfair and that a reread would improve my opinion, and I’m happy to say that I was right. It’s still not my favourite Austen but I did really really enjoy it and predict at least a couple more rereads in the future (which is a lot more than can be said about Mansfield Park).
As most people talking/writing about Austen will tell you, Persuasion is the most ‘mature’ of Austen’s books, which, despite sounding totally pompous, I guess I have to agree with. It’s a more sedate novel than Austen’s earlier works; less full of sparkling wit but touching more overtly on social, gender, and class issues. It tells the story of Anne Elliot who, at 19, broke off an engagement to a handsome young Navy officer due to pressure from her friends and family about his lack of wealth and connections. Eight years later, age 27 and still unmarried, her own family has frittered away all its money when Captain Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars, rich, well-regarded, and determined to marry and settle down with anyone but Anne Elliot.
The two are thrown frequently into each other’s company by mutual acquaintances (ignorant of their earlier engagement) and have to learn to deal with their lingering feelings, regrets, and resentments as well as their change in situations, ignorant comments from people who don’t know about their previous relationship, jealousies caused by various other suitors, and her horrible snobbish family. It’s a very one-sided romance for most of the book, however, which makes it hard for me as a reader to fall in love with Wentworth the same way I can for most of Austen’s other heroes. As the story is told almost purely from Anne’s perspective, Captain Wentworth appears to spend most of the early parts of the book ignoring her, getting in petty jabs when telling people about the qualities he wants in a wife (‘firmness of character‘ – just give that knife a bit more of a twist will you, Wentworth?), and paying more attention to almost every other female character. This is probably the reason I wasn’t such a big fan of Persuasion the first time round – I expected more romance and more interplay between the two characters – but that’s not really the focus here.
It’s Anne’s feelings, the heartbreak, the uncertainty, and the hope that form the emotional heart of the story, and I think they’re handled very well. I can only really say ‘think’ here because I have never been in love nor pined for an ex (I mean I have got back with one once, but that was a drunken mistake that shall never be repeated). But Anne’s jumble of thoughts and feelings at being suddenly thrust into the company of the man she loves, who she believes resents her, felt believable and genuine. She’s a quiet but complex character and rereading it, knowing not to expect the witty flirting of Pride and Prejudice, I was able to enjoy the book and feel for Anne’s situation a lot more than I did the first time round.
The other interesting thing about Persuasion is that it is much more critical of traditional class and gender roles than Austen's other works and reflects how these things were beginning to change in the early 19th century. Anne’s family may be titled while Wentworth’s aren’t, but her family spend away their wealth on frivolous, useless vanities and are almost bankrupt by the start of the book, forced to give up their few genuine duties as landlords by retreating to a cheaper environment and letting out the ancestral home to strangers. Meanwhile Wentworth and his brother in-law build significant wealth and respect by risking their lives in service for their country and return richer and on almost equal social footing with Anne’s father. The novel celebrates this social mobility achieved through military service (Austen’s brothers were both naval officers) while showing a more critical portrait of the aristocratic classes than in any of Austen’s previous books. While most of the titled characters, and Anne’s family especially, are so preoccupied with status that they are blind to the individual merits (or lack there of) of those they socialise with, Wentworth and his navy chums just hang out, have fun and act like real friends who actually care about each other – and it’s obvious which society Anne prefers. Then there’s Admiral and Mrs. Croft, possibly the only happy married couple in all of Austen’s novels, who do almost everything together, genuinely enjoy each others company, and serve a big ‘fuck you’ to everybody who tries to force women into traditional ‘delicate female – must be protected’ stereotypes – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”
Persuasion isn’t as overtly witty as some of Austen’s other books (though it definitely has its moments, Anne’s family are hilariously awful), the romance isn’t as up front as perhaps people expect from an Austen novel, but I really like it. It’s a quieter book with a nice feelgood story that also has a few things to say; both about romance, forgiveness, second chances, and about society in general. Not that that isn’t always there to varying degrees in all her works – I will scorn anyone who says Austen is nothing but ‘romance and finding a husband’ – but in Persuasion it’s just that bit more open. It also contains one of my favourite Austen quotes of all time:
“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.” “Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
You tell ‘em, Miss Austen!
Still not my favourite Austen, but probably the one I will revisit the most often. I think it’s one of those books that every reread provides something slightly different. I liked it the first time but felt slightly disappointed, this time I enjoyed it a lot and got more into the characters and the quiet unshowy romance, next time… who knows? Maybe I’ll finally start to fall in love with Captain Wentworth – the 1995 and 2007 film/TV adaptations are certainly pushing me that way already with their delicious depictions of him....more
I love J.K. Rowling so fucking much. Harry Potter, her ridiculously huge donations to charity, and then this. Now, I’ll admit I probably woul 4.5 Stars
I love J.K. Rowling so fucking much. Harry Potter, her ridiculously huge donations to charity, and then this. Now, I’ll admit I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at this book if it wasn’t for the name on the cover (certainly not this cover anyway, it’s fucking bland – the original illustrated red cover on the hardbacks I would totally have picked up) and I was prepared for anything from mild disappointment to vehement dislike, judging on the mixed reviews it recieved, but actually I really really liked it. It’s not going to be for every Harry Potter fan of course, and I can understand why so many of them really didn’t like it – it’s bleak, it’s depressing, it’s full of swearwords and sex, it’s very very mundane, and none of the characters are really ‘likeable’. But that’s actually what I liked about this book. It was 'ordinary', but it felt incredibly realistic. And doubly so because I actually live in a town very very like the fictional Pagford myself.
I’m not in the West Country, like Pagford and Yarvil, and my hometown’s probably a bit bigger, less chocolate-box pretty, and less self-important than Pagford, but I am in a staunchly conservative, overwhelmingly middle class, almost entirely white town in rural England. I even have old-schoolfriends (so guys only in their twenties) who do fucking door to door canvasing for the tories – it’s that sort of place. So yeah, lots and lots of the social issues this book examines, and lots of the characters and attitudes felt familiar to me. The classism, the disdain for people in council housing/on benefits/dealing with addiction, the ignorance surrounding other cultures, the ridiculous self-importance of local politics, and the general smug, superior attitude of some of the characters.
And those characters, though not always likeable, were brilliantly complex and realistic. The Casual Vacancy is in fact almost more about the character studies than about the story. There are no ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’. Like real people, everyone has their own flaws and motivations. So Krystal, the sixteen-year-old who brings up her baby brother on a council estate, constantly trying to get her mother to quit drugs, is no self-sacrificing saint but is also a foul mouthed teen who will beat you up for being related to the wrong person. And Parminder the parish councillor and local GP who gives everything to the community is a pushy parent completely oblivious to her own daughters utter misery or the racist bullying she faces. While Samantha; loud, brash, snide, and obnoxiously petty, can sometimes be very sympathetic in her utter hatred of the place and the people she spends time with. The only character I could find absolutely nothing to like or sympathise with was ‘Fats’, the middle-class teenager determined to find himself and be ‘authentic’ by being a total shit to everybody.
The story starts with the death of popular Parish Councillor, Barry Fairbrother, and follows the reactions of individuals and the community, to his death. But as well as leaving behind a grieving widow, children, and friends, he also leaves a seat on the parish council to be filled – and it isn’t long before both ends of the local political spectrum are pushing for their own candidates to give them the winning edge in the debate on whether to cut off the local council estate and close down the addiction centre. As I said, it’s a pretty mundane in terms of story and setting. But what it does do, the characters, and the way it peels off the veneer of ‘pretty little quaint english town’ to highlight very real social issues, it does very very well.
I can imagine this is quite a divisive book, but I loved it. And I’ll definitely be lending my copy to my best friend next time I visit her in London. Because I just know that it will remind her of home (and certain people here) too.
Of note – for those that have already read the book – the goodreads exclusive Rowling did on crafting her characters for this book is a really interesting read. Warning: contains massive spoilers for those who haven’t read the book yet....more
I seem to be going on a bit of a supernatural binge recently; first Dracula, now this, and next it’ll probably be that werewolf book that’s been gathering dust on my shelves. If this isn’t your thing, sorry, I’ll be back to reviewing other genres again soon, I just need something easy but fun while I get through the last of my exams. And onto the book… I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting but what I got was a modern (if we can call something written in the 1980s and set in the 1850s modern) vampire novel that didn’t make me pull a face in disgust, roll my eyes, click my tongue, or hurl the book across the room. For that alone it should get at least four stars. Extra marks for being a damn good yarn and just the sort of book I was in the mood for. It’s not a perfect book but it left me with a happy ‘just what I needed right now’ afterglow.
The vampires are no Draculas – like almost all writers, Martin gives his own spin on the realities and fictions of vampire lore – but they are wonderfully dark, seductive, and chilling – with the emphasis where it should be; ‘dark’ and ‘chilling’. Simultaneously both more complex and far more simplistic than Dracula, these are the sort of vampires to run away from really really fast. But they’re not all the same either, there are distinct personalities among them that make them relatable, in their own way – no ‘all vampires are soulless and identical’ stereotyping to make it easier for humans to guiltlessly eliminate them. Although I wasn’t too keen on some of the changes Martin made to vampire lore – the physical differences between human and vampire anatomy for one – I did approve of the handling of the vampires personalities. Even the idea of whether a vampire could go ‘vegetarian’ if they wanted was floated in a way that didn’t make me rage too hard (which is an impressive feat) and some good mileage was gotten from the ‘are we really any different from humans who eat meat’ line. You can see the inspiration from Stoker there, of course – Dracula has his ‘brides’ (who are quite frankly pretty ineffective), the bad guy here has a whole mixed gender entourage, Dracula has Renfield, the vampires here have Sour Billy and Abner Marsh to do their bidding and assist their aims during the daylight hours. The details and mythology are changed but the ideas remain – and I thought the idea of having the vampires as pack creatures with an ‘alpha-vampire’ was a lovely, and very sinister development. People who can calmly command others to do horrific things are almost always more scary than those that do horrific things on their own (in fiction at least)
What really suckered me in though, as well as the refreshingly dark vampires, was the setting. New Orleans is one of the few places in the USA I really really want to visit and somehow it just seems the right place to dump vampires, and the slave-trading 1850s the perfect time period for it. It’s not just the vampires; the whole society of the place is rotten and festering and violent and ugly, hiding beneath a thin outward veneer of beauty. And the Fevre Dream herself is the same – beautiful and grand and hubristically opulent, it’s almost asking for the trouble it gets. As her journey downriver just gets worse and worse and the boat travels deeper and deeper into slave trading county towards New Orleans, the tension and foreboding atmosphere is almost palpable. And there’s a certain simple genius in the idea too – vampires on steamboats, travelling up and down the country able to stop off and kill at any point along the river, all the while living in complete luxury…it just fits somehow.
The one thing I had misgivings on after reading the blurb, some of Martin’s stylistic tendencies, didn’t actually bother me in the slightest. Yes, Martin does list everything that ends up on a character’s plate, but here it works far better than it does in A Song of Ice and Fire because his main character is an overweight glutton. He’s also brilliant and brave and stubborn, but he loves his food and it makes perfect sense for it to be mentioned so much in the third-person limited narration. And the clothes descriptions…thankfully few and far between, or at least it felt that way, mainly reserved for first impressions and significant outfits.
The characterisation is well, what you’d expect from a George R.R. Martin book really – pretty solid for the main characters, a bit simplistic for some of the side ones. I loved that the hero was a fat warty old(ish) guy. There aren’t enough ugly protagonists and I really loved Abner Marsh not just for that but for being a straightforward, slightly slow but not unintelligent, normal bloke. Joshua York I was less enamoured with, but he was more interesting than your standard vampire even if he came off a little cliché at times. Few of the other vampires were really given enough pagetime, Julian was a monster, but a suave one, Valerie was flighty and romantic, others you ot a general impression of, but there were a number of names that I’m not sure ever did get paired with personalities or faces. I would really liked to have seen a bit more of Jean and Catherine in particular as they both seemed interesting characters in their own right, but I understand the limits of the narration style and the character relationships didn’t allow for that. A good enough job was done in establishing the vampires as not all being of the same temperament and opinions that I can’t complain too hard that not all of them got intricate backstories. Sour Billy, though…he’s written to be hated; a nasty racist, sadistic, little shit of the highest degree, but to be honest I spent a lot of the book feeling pretty ambivalent towards him and seeing him more for his role in the story rather than taking his character too much to heart. Probably because his brand of violence is true to the setting and time period, I reserved almost all of my disgust for the concept and history of slavery and the real life people who abused and still abuse others they view as below them, rather than for Billy, who is only a fictional character. When he does horrific things to the black slaves, and non-slaves, I didn’t feel the surge of hatred towards Billy that I should; just shock and outage for the more minor characters and all the people who really went through that experience.
Now I realise I haven’t said much about the plot other than what can already be inferred from the blurb; that’s because it was surprisingly unpredictable, taking a couple of turns I hadn’t quite expected, and I don’t want to spoil anything. This makes saying what I didn’t like so much a bit problematic. I’ll just say that the rating reflects purely how much I enjoyed the book rather than how wonderfully well written, fully fleshed out and likely to become a classic it is. I had several mostly minor quibbles with Joshua’s backstory when we finally get it, but it was written before a lot of the newer vampire stuff that’s turned that storyline into such a cliché, so I’ll give Martin some leeway there. I’m not entirely sure everything always played out in the best way but it was enjoyable and that’s all I really asked of this book. The only scene I have to say that I genuinely disliked was when, to show off how lawless a place was, a random background character stripped an unconcious girl naked and started unbuttoning his trousers only for someone to intervene – by telling him to carry her upstairs and do his business there. It served the purpose of showing how unconcerned everyone there was very well but I didn’t like it, and the later back-reference of ‘it’s ok, she probably woke up and slit his throat’ just seemed to trivialise the rape/intended rape a bit too much for my liking. I know Martin was pulling the ‘nobody is innocent, and everyone here is a criminal’ card by turning the implied rape on its head but it was such an offhand comment it didn’t really work for me.
Apart from that one bum note, however, it was a really enjoyable read. Not something I would recommend to anyone who passionately dislikes vampires, genre fiction, or George R.R. Martin - but if you’re willing to give any of those a try and you like your vampires pretty dark, it’s worth giving this one a go. Sure, it’s not ‘great literature’, but for what it is, it's very good - and a damn fun way to spend a few hours (especially just after a very stressful exam!)....more
A wonderful book, spoiled, in part, because I already knew the story. It’s (deservedly) a very famous book and the plot is one that is hard not4 Stars
A wonderful book, spoiled, in part, because I already knew the story. It’s (deservedly) a very famous book and the plot is one that is hard not to know, even if you’ve never read it. Normally this isn’t a problem for me, I read classics I know the story to or have seen on film/tv/stage all the time. The problem is that with this book, like The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Rebecca, knowing the basic plot essentially robs you of the ‘aha!’ moment when the twist is revealed, and all the uneasy suspense and questioning you should be doing leading up to it. It worked for me in the same way rereading does; knowing the big twist, I could spot the hints and the foreshadowing, and appreciate just how good a writer Charlotte Brontë was and how well plotted and put together that bit of storytelling is – but I felt robbed of that ‘first read’ feeling and as a result the book wasn’t an unputdownable five stars. Perhaps that's unfair, but I can't help that.
In fact I found the middle section quite tedious. Without that mystery and suspense to sustain me I found the Jane and Mr Rochester relationship rather lacking and some parts of the dialogue downright irritating. What works so damn fucking beautifully in Jane’s narration simply doesn’t when put into dialogue – nobody needs that much extraneous detail when having a normal conversation. I could totally buy why these characters fell for each other and the immense attraction of their opposing personalities – but I felt it more natural and real when reading each other’s thoughts on the other than I ever did in any of their scenes or conversations. In other words, for once, the ‘telling’ was much stronger and more effective tool than the ‘showing’.
But that’s a small quibble. Whatever you may have heard about this book I do not think it is, primarily, a romance. It has a hell of a lot of romance in it but, essentially, it’s about Jane herself; the story of her progress from an unloved, orphaned, child into a strong, confident, and happy young woman – the romance is only a part of that, albeit a major one. The first ten chapter glimpse into her childhood shows how much her character’s journey goes from a girl who lets her passions best her to a woman who, though still passionate, knows how and when to temper them and when to speak out. I will put in a disclaimer here though to say that I loved this look at Jane’s childhood a lot more than my friend who was also reading the book did, she saw it as a slow start to overcome before she could get to the good bit. Personally though I adored how Jane (though her dialogue sounded a bit too articulate for a ten-year-old at times) so totally summed up the childhood frustration I always had (and still have to some extent now) of being unable to find words to express thoughts as correctly and coherently as she would like.
I’ve said before that Jane’s narrative voice was ‘damn fucking beautiful’, so I’ll elaborate here. I have genuinely not read a first person narration that allowed me to understand the character in this much depth and detail before. Jane is an amazingly fully fleshed out character and she tells her story beautifully; even when I didn’t agree with her actions or would do a different thing myself, I could understand completely why she would make them. She also acknowledges her faults – and the faults of those about her – without ever falling into angst, self pity, or petty bitching that so often seem the hallmarks of first person narration. She might seem passive and mild when first compared to other women in the story, but she’s as passionate as any of them and braver and more decisive to boot - she’s just less showy about it. The action she takes partway through the book would have won me over to her completely, had I not already been on her side, for the sheer guts of it.
It’s a genuinely brave and unselfish decision and it leads to some real suffering – not least to her meeting with the absolutely vile St John Rivers. While I was underwhelmed by Rochester (according to my edition’s afterword one of the strongest characters in English literature) I was overwhelmed by St John. Whilst I flagged in my reading of the Thornfield chapters I could not put the book down in this later section, so fueled was I by my desire to see St John get thumped – unlikely as I knew it was to happen. I haven’t hated a character this much since Theon Greyjoy (which was admittedly only last month) and I hate St John even more than him. Jane might have some affectionate words to say towards his better qualities but I have none; for someone who purports to be doing god’s work he’s a cynical, bullying, selfish, hypocrite and I don’t believe he has any redeeming qualities at all. That Charlotte Brontë makes the man who’s lived a life of sin and cares more for himself than others the hero, and the missionary vicar who puts aside love for duty an emotionally abusive villain is one of the best twists in the book.
And it’s a book surprisingly full of social issues – not just the difference between preaching a Christian life and actually practicing it (St John’s not the only vicar attacked for that) but the treatment of orphans and te vulnerable, the shameful Victorian cost-cutting measures taken at the expense of human lives, the way higher classes (even Jane, on occasion) look down on the poor, the difficulty for a woman to exert her independence in a male dominated society. It brings up traditionally villanous or buffoonish traits – alcoholism, sexual temptation, infidelity and treats them sympathetically. Jane’s a moral character but even she does not see things in black and white – that’s a trait solely reserved for the hypocrites on the book (just like in real life). I will say that there is some unfortunate but generally mild ‘England is best, ra ra!’ patriotism (mostly at the expense of the French) and I don’t like the implication Rochester, at least, makes that Jane is the paragon of womanly virtue and any woman who doesn’t have all of her qualities is deficient – but I can accept that the character has that opinion.
The treatment of a certain character does distress me, and I will be reading Wide Sargasso Sea – a prequel by another author depicting Rochester’s early life – as soon as I’ve finished my massive to-be-read pile, to see another angle than the one portrayed in Jane Eyre. But I’ll save my discussion on this aspect for people I know have read the book.
In short though and without getting into spoilers, I thought this was a wonderful book with a quietly charismatic narrator and, despite not loving it enough for five stars I really enjoyed it and will be putting the rest of Charlotte Brontë’s books straight onto my wishlist....more
I love love love this series but I really don’t think I’ll ever be able to give any of the individual books five stars. A Storm of Swords was4.5 Stars
I love love love this series but I really don’t think I’ll ever be able to give any of the individual books five stars. A Storm of Swords was a huge improvement on A Clash of Kings but, like the previous book, the writing sometimes grated and it lacks a defined plot. Of course, the later is simply the nature of all epic fantasy series – the middle books aren’t intended to be cohesive stand-alone stories, they’re about moving the pieces around, getting the characters in position for the next book and setting up new plot threads – and it’s something this book does exceptionally well, so it probably comes as close to a five star book as this series is ever going to give me.
It might lack the narrative drive which the first book had in the form of Ned’s quest to uncover Jon Arryn’s murder, the characters might be scattered all over Westeros and beyond, but Martin does an excellent job of moving all the competing storylines forward and ending the book with every point of view character in a really interesting place. This is the book that is often lauded by fans as the ‘best of the series’, and I can see why. A lot happens in this book – like seriously, a lot. And not just small things, huge, game changing ‘woaaaah!’ things.
The writing, I’m not going to lie, is still not great. The prologue, in fact, was an abysmal mess of terrible fantasy writing and poorly sketched stereotypical cartoonish villains (there’s the ugly cunning one and the big childish one who takes orders but is really a gentle puppydog deep down). But once I got past that and onto the characters I actually cared about from previous books it improved vastly. The tables have turned since A Clash of Kings and fewer point of view characters are in positions of power and luxury, so the ridiculous lists of foods, jewels, and clothing have been mercifully reduced. They still appear on occasion, but it’s not every single Tyrion chapter anymore. There’s still the odd phrase Martin is inordinately in love with such as ‘in his cups’ and Ygrette’s catchphrase of ‘you know nothing, Jon Snow’ but, for the most part, the writing, like the plot, is way less waffly and repetitive and much better than it was in the previous book.
But onto storyline and characters! A Storm of Swords adds in two new point of view characters, both of whom I really enjoyed: Jaime Lannister and Samwell Tarly. Jaime was one of the main villains in the first book, so it’s great to see things from his side and, for a would-be child murderer, he’s a very fun character. Not necessarily sympathetic, at least not in everything, but he’s amusingly arrogant and provides a much-needed voice of reason against those characters who keep calling him ‘Kingslayer’ as if killing a crazy monarch who routinely burnt people to death for fun was a bad thing. And Sam provides another voice on the wall and amongst the black brothers while Jon’s away.
Of the returning characters Jon and Tyrion probably get the most interesting storylines with Jon off adventuring beyond the wall, playing the turncoat to the Wildlings and trying to inform his brothers of their invasion plan, while Tyrion remains the main eyes and ears for the constant backstabbing politics in King’s landing. Now I’m probably almost alone in this but I don’t like Tyrion very much. His chapters are definitely among the most interesting but that’s because of his position, not because I find him very interesting himself. He’s neither as clever or funny as either he or the people who love him seem to think and he always, always, seems to repeat things repetitively in ways that gradually get me more irritated. Last book it was ‘I’m in love with a whore’ or variations of, which got repeated ad nauseam. This book it’s ‘my sister tried to kill me’/'my sister is evil’, after about the fifth time it’s mentioned in his introductory chapter I kinda got the point. Dany is also finally doing something interesting! Unfortunately she’s still waaaaay oversexualised, but she is doing something – which is a major improvement on the last book.
For me though, it’s all about the Stark kids. Arya is still bumbling around running into one nasty character after another, creating a kill-list that’s a mile long, and providing the ‘what normal people make of all the civil war’ perspective. But even there there’s also some real plot movement for her in this book, even if it isn’t in the way she wanted. She’s one of my absolute favourite characters and the ending left me intrigued as to what will happen to her next. Sansa continues to grow on me as well. Like many people, I have to confess to finding her irritating in the first book, but with every shit thing that happens to her and the way she deals with it I end up liking her more and more. She’s way up in my favourites at this stage and I really hope things get better for her soon. Poor Bran was probably the most shortchanged of all the characters, getting the shortest and most simple storyline in this book – but the promise of a very important part to play in later books, so I guess it balances out.
And to be honest, I can’t really say much more about the plot and events without worrying about spoilers, so I won’t. I was spoiled myself on one of the big plot points and it ended up being a huge anticlimax, which was disappointing, but there were many, many other scenes which took me completely by surprise and I certainly wouldn’t want to spoil for others. What I will say is that it’s miles better than A Clash of Kings (which I enjoyed), the overarching plot progresses a hell of a lot and questions from the first book (who tried to assassinate Bran? What happened to Jon Arryn? Where did the guy who was meant to kill Gregor Clegane go?) are finally answered. It also contains some of the most memorable scenes in the whole series so far, and all the characters end the story in a very different place from where they started out. The ending alone was just…brilliant....more