February 15, 2015

Book: A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:29 pm

imageThis is the fifth and the last released book in the excellent The Game of Thrones series. The series, of course, is officially called A Song of Ice and Fire, but I do not think that anyone recognizes it by that name after the immensely popular TV series from HBO rechristened it as The Game of Throne Series. It is also one of the most shocking books in the series, even given his propensity to kill of important characters (Ned Stark in the first book, the Red Wedding in the third etc) and at least upset some of my ideas; it upset my apple cart.

We have already reviewed the first four books, which are The Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows earlier.

I understand that the last two books are to be named as The Winds of Winter and The Dream of Spring.

Our usual caveat applies here. It is impossible to review this book without telling some of the storyline. I have tried not to give away the shocking twists but if you are the type who does not want to know only what the blurbs proclaim, you may be better off skipping this review and coming back to it after you read the book, to see if you agree with the views here.

Let us move on to the story. The story continues from where The Feast of Crows leaves off. You also learn an interesting fact, in that this book and the fourth book start out as contemporaries, in the sense that the fourth book just carves out some characters to talk about and this book talks about what happened to the rest of the characters in the same timeframe until we are all caught up. And then it goes on to narrate the story as normal. Therefore you found no mention of Tyrion in Book Four but this book covers him. (He explains it in the preview and so it is not some kind of a brilliant detection on my part!)

For that reason, the story can get a bit confusing, as you wonder how come certain events that you already know happened in the Book Four seem not to have happened in Book Five, until you remember what the author has done.

Varamyr Sixskins, who can inhabit other bodies,  is dying and wants to get into another body at least to live as another being, even if he will forget everything and become that thing. After trying unsuccessfully to get into the body of his servant woman, he then gets to be One Eye, the leader of the wolf pack. His body dies and he can no longer be a skinchanger.

Tyrion gets sent to Pentos(?) and ends up with Illyris, he of the yellow painted hair and monumental obesity. You met him in the first book, when he helped Daenerys.  Daenerys herself is ruling the city she conquered with lots of resentment from the ex-owners and ex-slaves who were freed.

When Bran is rescued by Coldhands, the dead thing sent through Sam, we later realize that it is by the doings of Stoneheart, who used to be his mother!

Illyoro in Pentos wants to take Tyrion to see Daenarys! Meanwhile, Quentin is trying to reach Daenarys too, to marry her and take her back to Dorne.

Davos, in the meanwhile is stuck in Sweetsister. Learns of Tywin’s death and Tyrion’s escape from Lord Godric. He was betrayed by Sallador San and left to reach the island wet and bedraggled.

Jon teaches Janos Slynt a lesson on who is the commander of the Wall. When Janos loses his head figuratively, Jon makes it literal. He is viewed with suspicion as allied with Stannis too much.

Reek is released from his dungeon while eating rats and Ramsay Walder, restored to glory from Ramsay Snow (a bastard) asks him to accompany him while he goes to marry Arya, Coldhands, Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen are set upon by wrights and escape.

Jon asks Stannis for wildlings to defend tthe wall and Tyrion goes on a boat through scary landscape towards Dany. Dany herself refuses an “offer” of 13 ships from a Pentoshi and he declares war on her.

Tyrion tangles with stone men and drowns in the conflict. Davos, in the meanwhile does not convince the Walder Frey and is arrested by him as a spy. In secret Walder releases him after pledging support to Stannis, killing another man in his place to place ‘a head on a spike’.

Tyrion goes to get intelligence on Daenarys and after going to a whorehouse is captured by a knight, who means to take him back to Cercei. The knight turns out to be Ser Jorah Mormont.

Meanwhile Tyrion meets and befriends another dwarf girl. His ship is overwhelmed and captured by slave traders and so all of them become slaves to be traded.

Reek turns out to be none other than Theon Greyjoy, tortured by Ramsay Bolton and who has lost a few fingers and completely submerged in the identity of Reek. One of the most terrifying descriptions is what happens to Reek, who he is, and how he was tortured.

Jon takes wildlings to worship in Weirwood beyond the Wall and also sends Stannis to win over the Greyjoys, which he does. He gives hundreds of wildlings to join the Brothers in Black.

Thoeon Greyjoy is forced to give away fake Arya (Jayne) in wedding to Ramsay Bolton –  the most cruel man in the story perhaps. This takes place in the ruined Winterfell while they expect Stannis to attack there anytime.

Dany is in love with the sellsword captain Daario but is forced to marry Hizdahr to keep peace is her place. Alyssa comes to Jon for asylum against her own uncle who is chasing her.

Meanwhile, the real Arya is now Blind Beth, and goes around with her other senses heightened.

When she identifies the kindly man as the attacker, even without eyes, her sight is restored to her. Tyrion is sold as a slave to a massively fat man with Penny, the other dwarf. They are meant to be his personal clowns, entertaining him with mock battles on horses (mules). Tyrion ends up saving Ser Jorah Mormont. They are right outside the walls of Mereen, where Danny used to rule as queen. Now Hizdahr is the king and takes all decisions. He opens fighting pits and also allows slave traders to set up camps right outside Mereen’s walls (where Tyrion is).

Theon finally grows a pair and helps the fake Arya (Jayne Poole, remember her as a maid of Sansa in earlier books?) escape from the clutches of the vicious sadist Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow).

Tyrion and Penny are shown in the fighting pits for their comedy act on a dog and a sow, but unknown to them, lions are about to be released into the pit as well. Dany is watching. When that is averted, the biggest Dragon comes in and get the competition adjourned. Dany is carried away by the dragon in front of the whole auditorium full of people!

Jon is collecting freefolk at the Wall for help.

Jon Corrigan, in the meanwhile is taking his old kingdoms one by one.

Asha, who is a prisoner with Stannis and is just outside Winterfell (Roose and Ramsay Bolton are inside) meets with escaped Theon and is shocked to find him transformed.

Meanwhile, Arya, after gaining her eyes back, gains a new face and a mission to kill in the service of the One With the Thousand Faces. The face she gains is of an ugly hag for the deed.

Meanwhile, Cercei faces her public humiliation bravely.

When Barriston Selmy decides to arrest the king Hizdahr, he learns that the dragons are loose. They are loose because the Frog (Quentyn, prince from Dorne) tried to tame them like Daenerys could and he could not, with disastrous results. Jon tries to take on Ramsay when he gets a note saying Stannis is dead but the men in black, already upset about his siding with the wildlings, decide to take matters in their own hands. Shocking twist almost near the end as far as Jon is concerned.

Danny now is lost in the Dothraki Sea, trying to survive and find her way back to Mereen, unaware of the fate of Hazdahr.

Kevan now tries to unite Tyrrells and Lannisters as the Hand, and sideline Cersei. When he goes to answer a raven’s call, an old familiar face appears to put an end to him. Shocking endings, nicely done.

Like most of the people who have read the books, cannot wait for the next one to be published.

Definitely a 9/10

  • – Krishna

February 1, 2015

Book: Candide by Voltaire

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:45 pm

imageThis is a classic. Many of us have heard of it, but not many have studied it. I decided to give it a go. The overarching impression I am left with is one of puzzlement. This is a satire and Voltaire definitely ridicules the notion of the Grand Scheme of Things and the idea that Everything Happens for the Best. You get it loud and clear when you read it but the story goes all over the place with gut wrenching changes that leave the story’s plot in tatters often, and you wonder whether it is intended.

A bit about Voltaire himself first – he is one of the most recognized names in literature. Francois-Marie Arouet was Voltaire’s real name and he adoped the nom de plume when he was arrested and jailed in France.

It is a comedy romance? Look at even the place names. Where Candide was brought up with a Baron, the city is called Thunder-ten-tronckh and the next down where he goes when driven out by the baron is Waldsberghoff-trarbk-dikdorff  .In fact the weirdness starts right there, and does not let up until the end.

It is not just the place names that are odd. Even the story is. Why was Candide  driven out? He dared fall in love with the baron’s daughter, the fair Miss Cunigonde and she reciprocated the feeling. Master Pangloss teaches what in the castle? Wait for it… he teaches metaphysico-theologico-cosmolonigology. Come on now!

Heavy sarcasm permeates the narration – heroes in one army destroying villages with mass killings and mass rape and the heroes belonging to the victim’s side doing the same thing to another innocent village belonging to the victor of the previous raid.

Candide  hears that his beloved and the Baron were killed when he meets Pangloss in a near skeletal state. Then a whole pile of things happen. Pangloss recovers, they go on a voyage for no good reason (I mean to do with the story), get shipwrecked…. Oh boy!

He meets Cunigonde when he least expects it and learns that she is not dead but is the object of desire by a Jew and a Merchant and kills both! He runs away with Cunigonde and her servant on horseback.

He is then separated from Cunigonde because a Governor desires her. Candide then meets her brother. And after shedding tears of joy seeing him, kills him! Wait, what?

It gets weirder. Runs away dressed as the priest (Cunigonde’s brother is a priest and a colonel at the same time!) He acquires a squire called Cacambo and then goes to Peru, which is supposed to be the El Dorado of ancient myth. It is bordered by ‘a river so swift that none could cross over’ on one side and ‘mountains which have perpendicular sides’ on the other so that it is in splendid isolation. (You wonder, if it is that impregnable, how did Candide himself, never mind his servant, manage to reach it? They themselves reached there through the river. Oh I see –  everything is now crystal clear!).

There the streets are all gold – not paved with it but full of it. Their sand is gold, their pebbles are gold nuggets and children play with it. No rich, no poor, no crime… Your practical side rises its pesky head again and you wonder  how they earn their income. Obviously gold is of no value right? (No explanation. This is not an economics text book).

Then if the gold are worthless (dirt and stones) and the gemstones are used as playthings, what are the houses constructed of? Not a clear explanation. But beds are made of hummingbird downs (what? how many millions of these have to be slaughtered to make one bed? )

They decide to return despite the king’s plea for them to stay but the king, of course, can make carriages that are capable of taking them out of the country despite the formidable obstacles mentioned. (Helicoptors? you wonder cynically). Candide  promptly loses almost all his wealth.

Voltaire is unconcernedly irreverent about all nations: the French for instance are monumentally stupid and violent and they laugh at everything, even when in a rage and are slitting somebody’s throat.

On with the story : Candide  meets Pococurante in an inn. Pococurante seems to think every famous author is bad… no, everything in the world is bad. But to learn that you have to go through every author in the world at that time, and learn why he or she is awful. It gets so boring after the first two.

Then comes narration of seven kings who have lost their kingdom but who congregate in the same inn, disguised, and each one tells a story. What is this? Adolescent’s literature?

Then there is this: None of the characters who die stay dead. They keep coming back, like a cartoon Wyle E. Coyote which gets crushed with his own Acme equipment. Even a person who was seen to be hanged comes back later, not to mention a person that Candide killed and his own sweetheart, who was supposed to have been raped and killed.

The beautiful become ugly, the ugly were once beautiful, the pauper becomes rich and then again a pauper. All of these are told in jumbled sentences that make your head spin.

Intended as a parody but is too juvenile and confusing to have the intended effect in these modern times.


  • – Krishna

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