I finally got around to reading George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” It’s a classic fantasy book with battles, intrigue, and fantastical creatures. When I first heard of the series, my original impression was that it was just a simple medieval setting without any fantasy creatures. I don’t know why I had that impression, but I did. As it turns out, I was completely wrong: It’s got the medieval armies and the fantasy creatures. Specifically, just in book one, it has direwolves, wights, and dragons. It also mentions a few other critters that may rear their heads in later books.
The story is complex and convoluted. There are quite a large number of point-of-view characters: Eddard, Catelyn, Tyrion, Danerys, Sansa, Arya, Jon, and Bran (I think that’s all). Things start out simply enough with most of the action taking place in the northern citadel of Winterfell. Soon enough, however, the storyline fractures. Eddard Stark is appointed the King’s Hand. As a result, one group of people goes south to King’s Landing, another group stays at Winterfell, and Jon Snow (Eddard’s bastard son) heads even further north to the Wall. There is also the building side storyline involving Danerys who, I think, is on an entirely different continent not shown on the book maps. I assume she’ll be crossing the water soon enough, but on the whole, it makes it difficult to follow the plot … not the major thrust: the assassination attempt on Bran and Catelyn’s investigation into such and Eddard’s intrigues at court. That went well enough, but the problem was the whole horde of characters in this book. There’s probably five or six or more characters for each point-of-view character, so very soon, the sheer numbers of such become unmanageable.
Also, this book should come with an adult warning. There’s incest, teen sex, and a six-year-old boy who still breastfeeds just to name a few eyebrow raisers. I also read somewhere that things go very poorly for the Starks in later books, which is a shame, because those are the characters I liked the most … particularly Jon Snow. Because of that, I probably will not read any further in the series. I read the first book and overall I’d say my reaction was lukewarm. It wasn’t bad; it was decent, but the eyebrow raisers listed above and the fact I was forewarned about a number of Starks dying does not inspire me to read more.
Strengths: I liked the direwolves and dragons, and the Night’s Watch. The writing was decent and the main characters were likeable enough. Weaknesses: there were too many characters, too many things done simply for shock-value, and for some reason or other, I never fully sank into the book. Sometimes, it was almost a chore to read.
Ultimately, I’ll give “Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin three stars out of five.
This review was originally published on Goodreads on 6/27/13.
“The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson is a much shorter book than many of Brandon Sanderson’s other works. The copy I have is only about 170 pages long. To me it came across as kind of a long short story, instead of a novel. Maybe it was intended that way; I’m not sure. Anyway, the story is set in the same world as Brandon Sanderson’s first novel: Elantris. However, it’s hard to tell that on first blush. The magic system seems different—which it shouldn’t be, as it is the same world. There is no mention of the Dor at all in this book, but there are a few references to some of the countries from Elantris, like Fjordell, but that’s about it. It says in the postscript that it is set in that world so I’ll have to take Brandon Sanderson word on that.
Like I said, the magic system seems different than before; I had to think about it to find a similarity. And, as far as I can tell, it is this: writing. The magic systems introduced in Elantris all involved some form of writing to invoke their power. This book introduces a new form of writing to invoke magical power. The main character, a young woman named Shai, is a master Forger. And the term Forging here, is more reminiscent of the term meaning copying something than it is heating steel and shaping. That had me confused on the back copy. When I originally read it, I thought she was creating a whole new soul for the Emperor from nothing… something I find, if not impossible, at least philosophically unsatisfying (although it is, of course, Brandon Sanderson’s book). Her actual task in the story is slightly different. The Emperor’s true soul is still there, it is just suppressed and inactive due to injury. She must, through the art of Forgery, construct a new history for the Emperor and his soul, allowing him to function. Because it is a Forgery, it won’t be a perfect method of “healing”—there will be gaps in his knowledge, etc…–but it will give the Empire its ruler back and allow him to function similarly to the way he did before he was injured. Hence, it will be as if he has a new, slightly faulty “copy” of his original soul. At least, that’s how I understood it.
There isn’t a lot of action in this book. It consists mostly of Shai being in prison and talking to/figuring things out about her captors. A considerable amount of effort is also spent developing and explaining the magic system.
I was having certain issues while reading the book, so that I had some difficulty concentrating on it. As a result I’m not comfortable giving it a precise rating, so I will give it a range. I’d say it is somewhere between three and a half, and four stars out of five. It seemed worth reading to me, but I won’t swear by that testimony.
I’m of the mind that characters are one of the constants of novels. I think it would be impossible to write a novel without having at least one character. If you were to write something without a character, you might be able to pass it off as a poem, perhaps, but certainly not a novel. An essay, maybe, or a dissertation, but not a novel. Also, realistically speaking, I don’t think you’d be able to limit yourself to just one character. You’d probably need at least one more. For what is a novel, but an exploration of human relationships and character development? How could one explore such without a selection of characters to delineate?
Since the above is true (or at least I regard it as true), it may be worthwhile to pound out a few thoughts on how novel characters come to be. What kind of effort goes into constructing one?
In the first draft of my first book, Drasmyr, I wrote everything stream-of-consciousness, revising as I went along. The characters only existed in my mind. I had a relatively small number, I was much younger with a more energetic brain (I think) so I could keep such things straight. I had no need for character description sheets, or anything of the sort. Nowadays, I’ve changed my approach. It’s kind of an approach-in-progress—because I’m constantly adding new things and tweaking things in a chaotic, disorganized way—but currently, I have notebook filled with character information sheets.
What’s in them, you ask? Well, start with the basics. First, you need a general description of the character. Height. Weight. Eye color. Hair color. Muscular? Thin? Etc… Keeping a good physical description in one place is a very good idea (I’m actually learning this the hard way, because I wrote the rough draft of book II before I wrote the character sheets—a silly mistake, but a painful one—but I intended to reread the thing a million times before I published it anyway), that way you can refer back to it whenever you need to and you don’t have to worry about making a mistake describing the character with blue eyes in one place, and brown in another, or what have you. That’s probably one of the simplest ways to save yourself some headaches. So, whenever you are writing and you introduce a new character, do yourself a favor and make up a character information sheet (unless that character is just a walk-on), put it a neatly organized folder for easy access later on.
Of course, characters are much more than their physical descriptions. They have personalities with conflicts and hang-ups and what have you. Their outlook on life changes as they progress through the story. All these things must be kept straight in order to tell a good story.
So, in order to flesh out the character, I include a section on the character’s history (birthplace, parent’s names, etc…), their clothing preferences (although that is hardly essential), their general personalities, and the crises, evolutions, or aspects of human nature I wish to explore while developing them. If the character is a religious fanatic, I include it here and try to explain why. If they hate goblins, well, what led to that bias? Recording changes in a character is probably the most important aspect of character development, but is also the hardest to convey in a single blog post. Characters evolve and change, they learn new things, they change their minds. That’s what the “development” in character development means.
Of course, this is very complicated particularly when there are multiple characters (I suddenly see the wisdom in limiting a novel to one main character—that definitely makes things easier). You have to track the changes and interactions. Generally, I do this on a separate sheet, in outline form only.
I’ve found that the easiest approach to character information sheets is to start each character on a fresh piece of paper. If you try to use the same piece of paper for multiple characters, you’re apt to run out of room. I’ve done this. I know. If they are separable, you can alphabetize (for easy reference) and also expand upon previous notes. You don’t have to write a character’s entire background the first time you use him or her, and you can always add additional sheets as you see fit.
Okay, I’ve blabbed about characters for quite a bit now. Time to end the post.
I stumbled upon this concept while traipsing across the Internet the other day. The blogger was talking (here’s the link) about vampires in Magic the Gathering and the like. She mentioned how vampirism, although it affects humans most commonly, can affect other species. She mentioned dragons as one such species. And that just gives me shivers.
Why, oh why, would you want to take two things as powerful as a dragon and a vampire, and combine them? I mean, I can’t imagine anything worse to fight short of a deity. I mean, a fire-breathing, spell-using, killing machine, plated with armor and possessing deadly claws and teeth. Then, you add the abilities of a vampire on top of that? A dragon that can only be killed by a wooden stake through the heart? I mean, seriously, how do you stake an armor plated dragon with a shaft of wood? Please, Mr. Dragon, remove the scaly hide that protects your heart so I can drive this flimsy shaft of wood in. Oh, and the dragon can become a cloud of mist; it can polymorph into a variety of forms… look at that tiny little bat. What do you mean, it’s not really a bat? (Of course, in some traditions dragons already have the ability to polymorph, or can even assume gaseous form)
I remember in AD&D there were these creatures called Dracoliches, which were a form of undead dragon. And as a lich was pretty much the most powerful undead, a Dracolich was one of the most powerful creatures you could encounter. We fought one or two in our day. Nasty critters. Reminds me of the days when all I ever rolled for saving throws was a 1 or a 2. Anyway, a dragon vampire would be pretty much about the same thing. Maybe not quite as powerful, but I certainly wouldn’t want to face one. In 2nd edition AD&D, vampires drained 2 levels with a touch. Could you imagine fighting a dragon that did that? With multiple attacks? Claw, claw, bite (and wing buffet, wing buffet, tail lash for complete measure). In one round, your 13th level butt-kicking warrior prince is reduced to a first level greenhorn. Next thing you know, you’re a snack.
I suppose the balancing factor would be the weaknesses. A dragon that is destroyed by sunlight or running water would have to be very careful. He wouldn’t have to worry about invitations, though. He could just destroy any building he couldn’t enter, so no one could hide in it. And, of course, there’s holy objects. It would be nice to have a powerful high priest around when facing a dragon vampire.
But the real mystery of the dragon vampire is: where did the first one come from? A normal vampire couldn’t kill a dragon (well, if you have level draining, maybe), so how did the first one come about? Was it just some crazy wizard doing foolish experiments? That seems the most plausible explanation to me. But you would have to be really crazy, and a little stupid, to dabble in that!