A Dance with Dragons

The night was rank with the smell of man.

This is another book out of a series, and this time it’s (luckily) not the final one. The author took its time, but -on most parts- it was worth the wait. And, because it had been a while, it wasn’t all that bad that the first one/third of the book was a repetition of the previous one, only from other characters’ point of view. It refreshes the mind a bit.

A less refreshing thing is the lack of development of some characters. It seems like Martin wasn’t all that inspired or just didn’t know what to do with some of them, making their chapters exist out of little more than ‘She ate. She slept. She mourned. She didn’t know what to do.’ It’s not only a waste of paper (because come on, if you write a 1100 page novel, make every page count), it’s a waste of the coolness of the character.

The author turns some of the characters from likeable to unlike-able and vice versa but the Big Bad is clear and looming (and hereby giving some much needed excitement to the book). Sometimes A Dance with Dragons feels too much like filler, how second books in trilogies can feel sometimes, even though this is number five in the series ofA Song of Ice and Fire.

But besides that it was -for me- good to be back again in the wonderful, disgusting and colourful world that Martin creates. I just hope he doesn’t take too long before I can return there again.

 

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin, Harper Voyager 2011

The Night Eternal

On the second day of darkness they rounded them up.

The Strain Trilogy of Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan doesn’t give the reader an easy, fluffy experience. The story of a vampiric virus let loose on civilization isn’t a pretty one. The three books go through the stages of denial, fighting back and trying to survive a new world order. The Night Eternal shows that not every human being can or will be a hero.

The vampires and their Master rule the world, and yet, as it goes, there is a small group of rebels. They are looking for ways to end the vampire-reign, although the odds are very much against them.
This is one of my favorite things about this trilogy: Del Toro and Hogan paint an incredibly gritty, desperate and depressing picture. As a reader you’re pretty sure that there will be a happy ending (that’s how fiction works, right?), but both of the authors deliver you plenty of hints and pokes that you might be wrong. There is no One Hero, no MacGuffin that suddenly shows up in the second-to-last chapter. Characters are corrupted and self-centered, badly adjusting to being placed at the bottom of the food chain. It is ugly.

If you love that, want to be scared and get uncomfortable because of what humans turn into when society disappears, go for it. If you want an original version of the creature we can vampire these days, go for it (start with book #1 though) .  And enjoy, with delicious thrills and the feeling of ‘Oh no’, running down your spine.

The Night Eternal, Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan, HarperCollins 2011

 

Red Seas under Red Skies

Locke Lamora stood on the pier in Tal Verrar with the hot wind of a burning ship at his back and the cold bite of a loaded crossbow’s bolt at his neck.

Back to Locke Lamora and his (unintentional) (mis-)adventures. This time ’round he’s in a new country and spends a lot of time on the ocean. Because Lamora becomes a pirate. Sort of. And it wasn’t his idea either.

Red Seas under Red Skies being a sequel means there is less joy and surprise over characters, plots and world building. Yet again Lamora (and his friends) aim high, but have to stumble through a lot of hoops before they get it (sort of). This time he lands in the middle of a tug-of-war between the rulers of the underworld and ‘upper’-world. And some pirate captains.

But even without the surprises, there is another bout of gorgeous (and lethal) world- and character building. One of the things I liked best is that the women have numerous functions in high places without them being femmes fatale or butch masculine creatures. Equal opportunities don’t happen all that often in fantasy. Again, the tempo is high, a lot happens and -in comparison with the first book- there are more story lines.

And just like with the prequel, I breezed through it, thoroughly enjoying myself. If the other books don’t fail (and maybe step away from the ‘Big heist in a creative way’ plot), this could turn into one of my favorite fantasy series.

 Red Seas under Red Skies, Scott Lynch, Gollancz 2007

 

The Lies of Locke Lamora

At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately trying to sell him the Lamora Boy.

This is everything a (fantasy) story should be. There is gorgeous world building, well-rounded, fascinating characters, exciting plot lines (pretty much all of them), humour, excitement and so on. It’s a book you want to finish in one go and not to ever let it end.

The Lies of Locke Lamora tells the stories of Locke Lamora and his adventures as growing up from a little orphan to a Gentleman Bastard, stealing from the rich in elaborate ways and ..doing nothing with the majority of the bounty afterwards. He and his ‘brothers’ are small parts of the mob-like constitution that rules the underworld of the city, pretending towards them and everyone else that they’re just small fish.
Of course things go wrong. A dark figure attacks the constitution and Locke Lamora seems -somehow- to be involved. The tempo picks up and the whirl-wind starts.

I would recommend this to a lot of people. Look past the fantasy tag if that’s not your thing and dive head-first into this delightful experience. Only one warning: it’s part of a series (up to seven books) and the author isn’t finished yet. So there might be a time that we will have to do without Locke Lamora and his adventures.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch, Gollancz 2006

Intouchables

112 min.

Uneducated poor person meets over-educated rich person and the meeting and following friendship changes both of their lives. It isn’t a very original premise.

Intouchables makes it into a very entertaining, heartfelt, bitter-sweet, social film.

Quad Productions

It’s a joy to watch Omar Sy and his interaction with François Cluzet. The knowledge that the film is based on true life doesn’t make it sappier or drag with scenes that rub ‘This Really Happened’ in your face. There isn’t a scene that feels like it’s in the wrong place or unnecessary and less than five minutes in you can feel this is a very special relationship (while laughing over some inappropriate jokes).

The man that did a little introduction before the film ‘warned’ that everyone would leave with a big smile on their face, and it was true. The little questions that you leave with (for example: why was film-Driss a black man while the real-Driss looked Arabic?) don’t leave spots on the shine of the film. This film deserves the compliments it received.

Intouchables, Quad Productions 2011

Slaughterhouse-5

All this happened, more or less.

Two people close to me told me they weren’t sure this was a book I was going to like. One of them said I shouldn’t count the ‘So it goes’. The text on the back warned me for potential philosophic babble.
This all accounted to me expecting an not-understandable mass of deliriously written paragraphs without a (satisfying) end. I braced myself.

For me – and I realize that I might be looking at this story in just one dimension – Slaughterhouse-5 wasn’t a mess. In fact, it was pretty coherent and I enjoyed several parts of it.

Protagonist Billy Pilgrim survives World War 2 and a plane crash, travels through time, is abducted by aliens and is -by a lot of people- seen as an idiot. The reader follows his travel and his thoughts and as Pilgrim isn’t much impressed with either, nor is the reader.

What I like most, or can appreciate about this book, is that you can take several things from it. Is it but a fantasy in the mind of the ‘I’ person? Is Vonnegut ‘I’ or Pilgrim? Is this nothing more but a War Is Bad message with a lot of pomp? Do you believe Billy Pilgrim or is he sorriest sod alive? Is this even a book? If the reader wants to, it can create different puzzles from the same pieces.

I recommend this novel. It isn’t too crazy, too plain, too fantastical or too boring. It’s a nice puzzle, for the reader to decide what to take away from it.

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut, Dell 1991 (repr.)

The Great Gatsby

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

There were two reasons why I read The Great Gatsby. I like to read a Classic from time to time (to see what the fuss is about) and I really liked the trailer of the film Baz Luhrmann is making, based on the story. And -maybe subconsciously for a third reason-  it is quite a thin book, so even if it would be utterly shit, it wouldn’t be a big waste of time.

It wasn’t utterly shit. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald creates an attractive, vibrant world without drowning the reader in detail and pointers. I managed to not have been ‘spoiled’ about the story and therefore could enjoy it without already knowing how it would end. To let other people enjoy the story without any knowledge about it as well, I’ll just say that -in the beginning and for me- it’s a love story. A love story with life and the world intervening.

As it is a little story, there is not much more to say. Even though the story is written over eighty years ago, the age doesn’t show in language. The characters are sketched with just a few lines and words, but aren’t card board characters. I would recommend it, not only so you know what The Great Gatsby (and its fuss) is about, but for the small, bitter sweet experience you get from hanging out in those 156 pages.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scot Fitzgerald, 1926