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23-year old history student who really wants a Tardis. Wanna-be/aspiring writer. Reader of books. Wanderer of fantastical realms. And other doses of common craziness.

Currently reading

Greek and Roman Political Ideas: A Pelican Introduction (Pelican Books)
Melissa Lane
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
Chris Hadfield
Peter Washington
The Wanderer: Elegies, Epics, Riddles (Legends from the Ancient North)
Michael Alexander
The Book of Legendary Lands
Umberto Eco
The Bone Season
Samantha Shannon
A History of the World in Twelve Maps
Jerry Brotton
The Casual Vacancy
J.K. Rowling
The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes
Ruth Rendell, Arthur Conan Doyle
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson

A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings  - George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire’s massive surge in popularity due to the recent HBO series finally got me, like many others, to start George R. R. Martin’s epic journey through the Seven Kingdoms. I enjoyed A Game of Thrones, the first volume in the series. It was well-paced, had a complex and intriguing storyline and had some of the most complex and interesting characters I have encountered in fantasy literature so far. How does the second instalment continue this excellent start then?

As in A Game of Thrones our point of view characters (Catelyn, Arya, Sansa, Thyrion, Bran, Jon, Daenerys, plus the new ones: Theon and Davos), scattered throughout the two continents, deliver us news of all the various and complicated events they witness, forming a well-developed picture of the world Martin created. This series lives through its characters and it is a great fortune that George R. R. Martin is excellent at creating compelling and complex cast to inhabit his story. I am especially impressed with the female characters and how different types of female strength are portrayed in this series. It is extremely refreshing to have such well-written, fleshed out female characters around in great numbers and in main roles. I did miss Daenerys in this volume though. She had very few chapters and compared to the other story lines hers did not progress much. Davos is not as interesting as the other narrators but it was nice to get Stannis Baratheon’s view on the conflict.

The language continues to be very good as well, with a fittingly archaic tang in its vocabulary but very easy to follow, and the dialogue is well-adjusted to each character. The world building is extended further with fantasy elements. Whereas A Game of Thrones might have easily been classified as a political thriller/drama if not for its setting (and one or two scenes), A Clash of Kings makes more use of fantasy genre elements while remaining realistic and believable as well which work well for the story. One leaves with a feeling of a more in-depth knowledge of the world into which one just tread.

But after so much praise, I did have a major issue with this book: pacing. The story took very long to get going at the beginning which was a real shame because the opening chapter was amazing. After that it took me a few hundred pages to get as invested in the plot again as I was at the beginning. While the pacing did pick up in the middle and was just right through to the end, the slow start dented an otherwise great story.

Overall A Song of Ice and Fire’s second volume A Clash of Kings was a good continuation if not a perfect one. This is a book filled with great characters, good writing and world building, but with some pacing issues. If you can live with that and enjoyed A Game of Thrones go ahead and read this. I for myself definitely will continue reading this series, especially after the massive cliff hangers at the end.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch - Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman Apocalypse is nigh. And it’s going to be hilarious.

Good Omens combines the talents of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman into a fun take on the apocalyptic scenario. The plot is quite straightforward and linear but at times it diverts for a random joke or two. Those scenes were amusing but they did not contribute much to the story’s progress which might be a bother if (like me) you have certain favourite characters you want to get back to. Unfortunately Gaiman and Pratchett make us spend most of the first third of the book with Aziraphale and Crowley (who are my favourites) and then suddenly switch to a variety of other characters (such as: the Anti-Christ and his friends, the four horseman of the apocalypse, the descendant of Agnes Nutter, witch hunters and various others) for a long stretch, some of which I enjoyed less than others. They are still fun to read, but I think it is likely that each reader will develop his or her preferences as to which story line he/she likes to follow better than others.

Having read at least two or more books of both authors, I can say the writing styles mesh well together, I could not find any inconsistencies or jumpy paragraphs in which style suddenly changes. I believe I did hear Pratchett’s voice a lot more than Gaiman’s in certain passages though.

Yet even though I might have this small gripe with the book: this is one of those rare books where I laughed out loud while reading it. The characters, scenarios and jokes are consistently funny and if you like Terry Pratchett humour (I cannot comment on Neil Gaiman’s humorous writing, I have not encountered it so far) you probably will like them too. Also the typical cast and events of apocalypse are cleverly twisted and subverted aiding the overall humour of the story.

Overall this is a simple, fun and quick read with memorable characters and good humorous writing and a good story. Not ineffably good, but very solid.

Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary - Michèle Roberts, Geoffrey Wall, Gustave Flaubert Oh, Madame Bovary – you and your ennui. I could not care less… but still I cannot help but admire this book.

Madame Bovary is the kind of story that is not up my street at all. I find most romance quite dull, and stories about unhappy marriage and the escapism from it seem even more boring to me. But I decided since I had read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as well as Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest, I might just as well complete the canon of the greatest 19th century adultery novels for sake of comparison.

Now, Gustave Flaubert – what can I say, this man does understand the beauty of language. This fortunately also clearly shines through in translation. The writing is what I enjoyed most about the read.

But oh, the plot! And the characters! They are so frustrating for me to read about. A part of me truly despises the ungrateful Emma Bovary, constantly bored because of her unreasonable lack of realism, her frankly not only mediocre but quite pathetic husband Charles, Emma’s opportunist lovers and all those proud yet uninteresting villagers surrounding them. Same with the plot: why should I care about the kind of story that I normally could not care less about? Why should I enjoy following characters I do not even like? Is language and writing style, however beautiful, really enough to save this work for me?

Yes, it is. The reason I did not throw this is the corner is because of Flaubert’s ability to be humorous about and at the same time antagonizing you to all these incredibly ridiculous characters he creates. He leaves you standing with no one’s side to be on, no one can be taken truly serious. Are the ‘immoral’ fallen characters who stray from the norm not better than the boring and passive conventionalists (those who also attacked this novel when it was first published)? But can you really side with people like that? Also, can you blame them for being the way they are? Who are you to judge?

It is hard or even impossible for me to see through Flaubert’s intentions even though he himself said: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi”. This is far more complex than an idealization of a female literary self. This is realism and the romantic in an inconclusive battle, exalting the ideal while still criticising it. A novel so wonderfully and cleverly written is one I cannot completely dismiss because of its choice of subject. It is truly worthy of being called a classic and a masterpiece.

Kingkiller Chronicle: The Wise Man's Fear

Kingkiller Chronicle: The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss So, first of all – I absolutely adore The Name of the Wind. It is probably my second favourite fantasy book of all time, after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which says a lot. So naturally I could not wait to read The Wise Man’s Fear. I postponed it to the summer holidays after uni was done so I could fully enjoy the experience without disturbance from essays and exams.

So did it live up to its predecessor? Well, not quite.

Let’s start with the positives though: Patrick Rothfuss is an amazing writer. I adore his writing style, I think it is beautiful. Except for a few small nit-picks where I thought he was not a subtle or clever as he intended to be, this book is a joy to read.

The biographical narrative approach which Rothfuss utilizes to tell his story continues to work as effectively as it did in The Name of the Wind. Kvothe continues to be a fascinating character to follow through his steps of life. As in the first instalment, I have a love-hate relationship with Kvothe as the main protagonist. I know if I would meet him in real life, he would be the kind of person I would deem as the arrogant, hot-tempered guy who admittedly has great talents and is not unfamiliar to the darkness life brings to us, but who desperately needs to learn what modesty means. But it is Kvothe’s exceptionality that at the same time keeps you hooked. You are drawn in by the want to know how he became the man of legend, the king killer, and the broken man in the small village tavern he is now. Piece by piece we are given the material to solve that puzzle.

And here is also why I was not as enthralled with The Wise Man’s Fear as I was with The Name of the Wind: The puzzle pieces just keep on accumulating; more questions are posed than answers are given. This is essentially a building block book. Many events happen in this book, we are given more information, we are heading towards the Kvothe the songs sing of – but it feels like we are not much nearer at all! There is still so much to tell! It felt like much has happened, but too little at the same time. How on earth is everything I still want to know going to fit into that third book?

This feeling of course can be interpreted in two ways: I simply want to read more and can’t get enough of what I’m given. The Wise Man’s Fear was a great read and I can’t wait for part three, The Doors of Stone. But at the same time I am worried that the start to a brilliant series might be marred by its conclusion. Therefore I find it hard to judge The Wise Man’s Fear without knowing how the whole trilogy ends. If the third part resolves everything satisfactorily, I am sure the second part will sit much easier with me. Until then I can only hope my fears will be dispersed as soon as The Doors of Stone arrives.

Mr. Rothfuss, take as much time as you need to make your next book so fantastically and overwhelmingly brilliant that The Kingkiller Chronicle might enter my definite second favourite spot in fantasy literature!

Foundation (Foundation, #1)

Foundation (Foundation, #1) - Isaac Asimov Isaac Amisov’s Foundation series is hailed as one of the classics of Sci-fi, visionary for its time and has even received the Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966. Naturally my expectations were high with these claims of greatness surrounding the series.

But unfortunately the book did not live up to my expectations.
Before I start with the problems, I will begin with the positives though. This is a book written in the 1950s. I am sure it must have been pretty impressive for its time and it has influenced much of later coming Sci-fi greatly. Even if you are only vaguely familiar with European history, but especially if you know Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it is obvious that the author applies these historical concepts to his created future in an interesting fashion. One might describe it as an adaption of a cyclical view of history where all the previous events return again, just in a different context.

This, though, at the same time might be the books greatest downfall. It is extremely predictable. You know what is going to happen from the start because of the nature of the story’s construction. This is not helped by the very similar story set-ups: we see the Galaxy’s history happening mostly from the top, and the visionary great guy is always outsmarting the traditionalist reactionary, only in different decades. The insight we do get into this massive imperial world is far too little for my taste: the first part describes the fascinating sights of Trantor, but after that there is little description to find despite the fact that other places are visited throughout the novel.

Some of the visionary aspect of it does not hold up well either unfortunately: the psychohistory idea was very intriguing but Foundation’s scholars write on paper (!), atomic power is the main source of power etc. In our modern world which has far succeeded these trends, this all becomes largely irrelevant and leaves you merely thinking: ‘outdated’.

As for the writing style: it is quite simple and very straightforward. It’s not difficult to read at all. But this book is heavily based on dialogue between, in my opinion, not well enough fleshed out characters. As I said, the traditionalist vs. the innovators and most of those are basically Machiavellian characters with different titles and cloaks.

Overall, this was unfortunately a disappointing read. I can see how this might have been better 60 years ago and it sure was impressive seen in its context. But there other problems mentioned weigh the book down as well. I might have a look at the sequel to see if it gets better though. But this seems like a classic that has not held up well.

Herr Nakano und die Frauen: Roman

Herr Nakano und die Frauen: Roman - Hiromi Kawakami Ich kann jetzt von mir behaupten, alle auf Deutsch übersetzten Werke von Hiromi Kawakami gelesen zu haben. Normalerweise bin ich nicht für Liebesgeschichten zu haben – Kawakami ist da die große Ausnahme.

Warum? Nun, zunächst ist da wohl meine japanophile Seite, die mich zum Kauf meines ersten Kawakami Buches bewegt hat. Viel wichtiger ist aber wie Hiromi Kawakami ihre Geschichten erzählt. Sie fließen, ruhig wie ein kleiner Bach, am Leser vorbei mit einer erstaunlichen Leichtigkeit. Unter Vermeidung jedes Klishees, das einem unterlaufen könnte, geht Kawakami ihre Szenerie, Charaktere und Handlung mit einem ungewöhnlichem Blicke und mit viel Poesie an. Da ich bisher keine bessere Beschreibung hierfür gefunden habe, würde ich ihre Gabe am ehesten als „das Außergewöhnliche und Schöne im Alltag erkennen zu können“ bezeichnen: mit der Beschreibung eines einfachen Essens in einer Bar oder einem Fetzen eines scheinbar belanglosen Gespräches wird hier überaus subtile Charakterisierung verübt.

Dies ist auch die Stärke von „Herr Nakano und die Frauen“. Man folgt den interessanten, skurillen und liebenswürdigen Charakteren durch ihren Alltag im Trödelladen des Herrn Nakano einfach nur, um die Atmossphäre, die kleinen, normalen Geschehnisse und das Zusammenspiel zwischen den Charakteren zu verfolgen. Dafür lohnt sich das Lesen allein.

Lediglich vier Sterne gibt es nur, weil ich finde, dass „Der Himmel ist blau, die Erde ist weiß“ die eben beschriebene Kunst doch immer noch am besten ausgeführt hat.

The Spider King's Daughter

The Spider King's Daughter - Chibundu Onuzo Started with 17 and published with 22 years old – if that is not the dream of any young writer, I do not know what would be. Chibundu Onuzo is the youngest writer so far whose debut novel was released by the acclaimed publishing house Faber and Faber. Deservedly so: this is a great read that distinguishes itself by daring to stray from the norm.

As simple as this story might sound there are enough twists to the plot and novelty in character and setting to make this is an extremely engaging book. The story is told in two voices, Abike’s and the hawker’s, both of which are written in their distinguished style and mindset. The book is well written and easily and quickly read.

The characters are held ambiguous and are not clear cut: they may be likable but they will act in ways that can repulse you. Especially Abike is very interesting - a strong female lead, but not without the definite flaws of being a product of her environment (and that is not your usual ‘being spoilt’, but being forced to know how to ‘play the game’).

The setting suits the story’s environment very well. Nigeria is a country I personally am not very familiar with, so it was great to be able read about it and experience Lagos from both extremes views which are illustrated very well by use of language and the inclusion of Nigerian dialect and slang.

Above all, though, I would like to praise the book for its realism, which I greatly appreciated. This is not a sugar-coated story. Rather, it is very human. It does not shy away from realistic action or outcomes and characters reacting naturally and not always perfectly to these. This makes for an unexpected and very good, satisfying overall plot and conclusion.

I really enjoyed The Spider King’s Daughter and hope to soon read more from this talented new author.