Monthly Archives: December 2011

THE WINDS OF WINTER by George R.R. Martin

The king’s voice was choked with anger. “You are a worse pirate than Salladhor Saan.”

Theon Greyjoy opened his eyes. His shoulders were on fire and he could not move his hands. For half a heartbeat he feared he was back in his old cell under the Dreadfort, that the jumble of memories inside his head was no more than the residue of some fever dream. I was asleep, he realized. That, or passed out from the pain. When he tried to move, he swung from side to side, his back scraping against stone. He was hanging from a wall inside a tower, his wrists chained to a pair of rusted iron rings.

The air reeked of burning peat. The floor was hard-packed dirt. Wooden steps spiraled up inside the walls to the roof. He saw no windows. The tower was dank, dark, and comfortless, its only furnishings a high-backed chair and a scarred table resting on three trestles. No privy was in evidence, though Theon saw a champerpot in one shadowed alcove. The only light came from the candles on the table. His feet dangled six feet off the floor.

“My brother’s debts,” the king was muttering. “Joffrey’s too, though that baseborn abomination was no kin to me.” Theon twisted in his chains. He knew that voice. Stannis.

And so it begins. It’s a Theon chapter (who starred in many of the best chapters from A Dance with Dragons and the series, for that matter.) It’s probably one of the few tastes we’ll get of Westeros for the next few years, barring the next Dunk & Egg story and other excerpts from The Winds of Winter. Enjoy it. Savour it.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife

By Tea Obreht
Trade Paperback
Pages: 368 pages
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 01/11/11
ISBN: 0385343841


The forty days of the soul begin on the morning after death. That first night, before its forty days begin, the soul lies still against sweated-on pillows and watches the living fold the hands and close the eyes, choke the room with smoke and silence to keep the new soul from the doors and the windows and the cracks in the floor so that it does not run out of the house like a river. The living know that, at daybreak, the soul will leave them and make its way to the places of its past — the schools and dormitories of its youth, army barracks and tenements, houses razed to the ground and rebuilt, places that recall love and guilt, difficulties and unbridled happiness, optimism and ecstasy, memories of grace meaningless to anyone else — and sometimes this journey will carry it so far for so long that it will forget to come back. For this reason, the living bring their own rituals to a standstill: to welcome the newly loosed spirit, the living will not clean, will not wash or tidy, will not remove the soul’s belongings for forty days, hoping that sentiment and longing will bring it home again, encourage it to return with a message, with a sign, or with forgiveness.

As a book reviewer, I’ve read many novels that were easy to write about, easy to critique or praise because they’re definable and have recognizable strengths and weaknesses. I’ve read several novels that I enjoyed so little that I felt the reviewing them would add little to the overall genre discussion beyond some shit slinging. I’d sit at my keyboard, trying to formulate a balanced, constructive argument for and against the work, and stumble again and again. And then there are novels on the knife’s edge of perfection, that are so joyous and heartrending that to speculate on them, no matter how effusively, would be to mar their beauty. Stardust by Neil Gaiman is one such novel for me. The Tiger’s Wife is another. There’s magic in this novel and I recommend it with every ounce of my passion for literature.


Northern Ireland, 1977. Liam Kelly is many things: a former wheelman for the IRA, a one-time political prisoner, the half-breed son of a mystic Fey warrior and a mortal woman, and a troubled young man literally haunted by the ghosts of his past. Liam has turned his back on his land’s bloody sectarian Troubles, but the war isn’t done with him yet, and neither is an older, more mythic battle–between the Church and its demonic enemies, the Fallen.

After centuries of misunderstanding and conflict, the Church is on the verge of accepting that the Fey and the Fallen are not the same. But to achieve this historic truce, Liam must prove to the Church’s Inquisitors that he is not a demon, even as he wrestles with his own guilt and confusion, while being hunted by enemies both earthly and unworldly.

A shape-shifter by nature, Liam has a foot in two worlds–and it’s driving him mad.

As I work to assemble my year-end ‘Best of…’ list, one novel that continually demands inclusion is a relatively quiet debut novel from Stina Leicht. It’s called Of Blood and Honey and it’s beautiful.

From my review of Of Blood and Honey:

Not since Jim Butcher’s Storm Front have I read an Urban Fantasy that has felt so relevant to the overall discussion of Fantasy literature. Of Blood and Honey is Fantasy that deserves to stand alongside the best that authors like Powers, Gaiman and De Lint have to offer. It’s not perfect, but Leicht blew me away with her debut and has the potential to become a very important name in the annals of Urban Fantasy. If you’re bored of the same ol’ Epic Fantasy, or you need a break from spaceships, hyperdrives and anti-grav suits, cleanse your palette with Of Blood and Honey and find out just how good Urban Fantasy can be.

The cover for Of Blood and Honey first caused me to pick up the novel, and I think this cover is even more haunting and eye-catching. And Blue Skies From Pain is one of my most highly anticipated 2012 releases.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING by JRR TolkienWell, isn’t this wonderful?

Seventeen years ago there appeared, without any fanfare, a book called “The Hobbit” which, in my opinion, is one of the best children’s stories of this century. In “The Fellowship of the Ring,” which is the first volume of a trilogy, J. R. R. Tolkien continues the imaginative history of the imaginary world to which he introduced us in his earlier book but in a manner suited to adults, to those, that is, between the ages of 12 and 70. For anyone who likes the genre to which it belongs, the Heroic Quest, I cannot imagine a more wonderful Christmas present. All Quests are concerned with some numinous Object, the Waters of Life, the Grail, buried treasure etc.; normally this is a good Object which it is the Hero’s task to find or to rescue from the Enemy, but the Ring of Mr. Tolkien’s story was made by the Enemy and is so dangerous that even the good cannot use it without being corrupted.

The New York Times, a long-running and respected newspaper (that, you know, shapes the book industry with its list of bestselling books), has dug out and posted the 1954 review of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of his legendary Lord of the Rings.

There’s a fair bit of space devoted to simply retreading over the plot, which is mildly amusing now that Tolkien’s ideas and archetypes are now so staid and need no explanation in this day and age.

In addition to the Hobbits, there are Elves who are wise and good, Dwarves who are skillful and good on the whole, and Men, some warriors, some wizards, who are good or bad. The present incarnation of the Enemy is Sauron, Lord of Barad-Dur, the Dark Tower in the Land of Mordor. Assisting him are the Orcs, wolves and other horrid creatures and, of course, such men as his power attracts or overawes. Landscape, climate and atmosphere are northern, reminiscent of the Icelandic sagas.

The Dwarves are skillful? Orcs and horrid creatures fighting on the side of the evil lord? Oh my! It’s interesting to see that the author of the review picked up on Tolkien’s regard for Iceland and its myths, something that anyone who’s familiar with Tolkien will know influenced him significantly. As a hivemind, we Fantasy fans always like to point to Toklien as the prototype for creating a faux-medieval European Fantasy world, so it’s curious to see that this wasn’t an immediate distinction upon the publication of the novel.

Also catching my eye:

Lastly, if one is to take a tale of this kind seriously, one must feel that, however superficially unlike the world we live in its characters and events may be, it nevertheless holds up the mirror to the only nature we know, our own; in this, too, Mr. Tolkien has succeeded superbly, and what happened in the year of the Shire 1418 in the Third Age of Middle Earth is not only fascinating in A. D. 1954 but also a warning and an inspiration. No fiction I have read in the last five years has given me more joy than “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

A high-falutin’ newspaper that recognizes one of the main strengths of Fantasy literature? Say it ain’t so! If only the ‘literary’ critics in the 21st century were so perceptive. Thank goodness for the Lev Grossmans of the world.

The whole review is worth reading and a fun way to re-acquaint with a genre classic.