Playing the “Game of Thrones”

Epic read. “A Game of Thrones” is one of the few novels that wore me out (in a good way) after reading it. The gripping plot, the evolving characters, the overlapping deception, and the picturesque narrative of George R. R. Martin took me to a series of emotional highs and lows. Martin led me deeply to the land of kings and queens, lords and ladies, heirs and usurpers, even traitors and allies.

I didn’t watch the HBO series because I don’t want to miss the opportunity of conjuring my own images of the kingdoms and the characters depicted by the author. Actually, it was only when I finished the novel that I searched for the pictures of the actors and actresses in the series. Some actually fit the character I had in mind like Ned Stark, Daenerys, Drogo, and Cersei Lannister.

It’s hard to do a review when there’s so much to tell. I’ll probably do this the character sketching way. 🙂 All the characters playing in the game of thrones have one thing in common. They all gambled. They all risked something valuable to them. Some of them won, others lost. Not all of the characters wanted the throne but all of them swore allegiance to someone.

Ned Stark

Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell is the epitome of honor and loyalty. He became the right hand of King Robert Baratheon and stood by his side to the very end. His devotion to his family is poignant. He tried to protect them as much as he can even if it meant having to do something against his will. He is husband to strong-willed Catelyn Stark and father to Jon, Robb, Bran, Rickon, Sansa and Arya. Each of his children stood out in the novel. I love the feistiness of Arya, the faithfulness of Jon, the determination of Bran, and the coming of age of Robb. Sansa’s blind naiveté is intolerably annoying while Rickon’s innocence is heart-melting.

Cersei Lannister

Queen Cersei Lannister is married to King Robert. She is a blatant schemer and a very effective antagonist. She is twin to Jaime Lannister with whom she is having an incestuous affair. Her son Joffrey is the heir to the throne. He is a brat prince who knows nothing but make decisions to bloat his ego. Her other children are Myrcella and Tomnen, both of whom played minor parts in the story.

Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen, also known as Dany, is the last surviving member of the Targaryen dynasty. For the longest time, she has been used as a ploy by his brother Viserys to bring about his revenge to King Robert, who usurped the Iron Throne from them. I fell in love with Dany’s character. There’s strength in her vulnerability and tenacity in her distress. She married Khal Drogo, the chieftain of the Dothraki. Dany loved him with reckless abandon to the point of crossing realms that she shouldn’t cross for her beloved’s sake. The growth of her character was significant in every turn of the story.

Cersei aptly said, “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” Characters were pushed to both sides in this game. No one stayed in the middle ground. As a reader, I’ve won and lost as I took sides with some of the characters. It was an intense game to play and the element of surprise never ends. I’ll probably take a “breather book” before I continue with “A Clash of Kings”. It’s a hefty 800-page novel but I’m most definitely sure that it will be as epic as “A Game of Thrones”. 🙂

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Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy

Maggie Stiefvater created a world of wolves that draws readers deep into the lives of the wild and the resilient bond that tie them together.

The trilogy starts with “Shiver” where we are introduced to the character of Grace Brisbane and Sam Roth. Grace was attacked by a pack of wolves when she was a child. She was saved right on time before the wolves can do further damage to her. She distinctly remembered seeing a wolf with golden-yellow eyes who snarled at the pack to back off. Since then, she has been watching the wolf that saved her from her bedside window. For years, she tried to communicate and draw near to her wolf but she can only go so far.

Little did she know that the wolf that rescued her is also human and he is Sam Roth. On one hunting spree, Sam was shot and he turned human. The house closest to where he was shot was Grace’s house. Upon seeing him and looking at his eyes, Grace knew that Sam was the wolf who saved her. It was then revealed how wolves turn into humans during summer and they turn back to being wolves when winter breaks. The cold weather triggers the change. The struggle to keep Sam human to be with her and the unrelenting love of the two characters consumed most of the story.

I must admit, when I was reading half way through the novel my mind was screaming “Twilight!!!” The love story between Grace and Sam is sooooo “Twilight”!  The stubbornness of youth mixed with their impulsive love is like reading Bella and Edward all over again. But this time, it’s the wolf version. I was at the brink of giving up when the novel amazingly started to pick up! By the time I was down to the last 70 pages, I was so eager to know what will happen—if the cure for Sam will work or not. So there, the ending saved the novel. The science behind the paranormal gave a new twist to this growing genre. The end was so good that I decided to immediately read the sequel, “Linger”.

In “Linger”, a cruel reversal of fates happened. Grace is starting to show signs of being a wolf through the deterioration of her health. While Sam is struggling to find out how he can help her. An interesting character also enters in this novel, Cole, front man of the famous band Narkotika. Cole is a new wolf trying to find his way in this new world of wolves. Linger begins with a gripping plot and ends with unexpected changes in the characters. For me, this sequel saved the trilogy. It kept my interest (and perhaps the interest of the other readers) and compelled me to open the pages of “Forever”.

“Forever” is the final part of the Wolves of Mercy trilogy. In this novel, lives are threatened, a complete annihilation of wolves is at bay, and humans are showing no mercy. As I was reading the book, the image of the dogs in the movie “Eight Below” came to mind. The way the wolves communicated with each other to save the pack felt so real and believable.  I love the way the story ended, the maturity of each character along the way, and the unconventional resolution of conflicts. It took a few days before I was able to part with the characters of Sam and Grace. After reading the trilogy for 4 days, it felt like I was living in Mercy Falls, too, and they were my friends. It also made me want to have a wolf as a pet. Well, come to think of it, I already have my own wolf (canis lupus) all these years. Now, that’s interesting. 🙂

Never Let Me Go: Beautifully Disturbing

It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving spoilers. It’s a story filled with intriguing clues that lead to one discovery after another. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “Never Let Me Go” is beautifully disturbing. Set in England around the late 1990s, the novel takes place in Hailsham—a special boarding school where students are raised for a sickening reason.

Kathy H. is the voice of the novel. It is from her memories and point of view that the plot develops. The way she tells her story keeps you wanting for more. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the rare authors who know the craft of leaving inconclusive details without pissing off the reader. He gives you an insatiable discontent for the unknown, which can only be satisfied as you keep turning the page. From the very first chapter, Kathy’s job as a “carer” is not described at length, which begs the question “What does a carer really do and who do they care for?” Donors and donations were also mentioned in casual terms as if implying that the reader ought to know what those taboo words mean.

As Kathy drives along a familiar road, she starts to narrate her life at Hailsham and the story of two significant people who became her closest friends—Ruth and Tommy. Kathy describes in detail the almost impeccable education system they receive from Hailsham. They were even substantially provided for their needs and even wants. But since nobody lives in a perfect world, certain clues emerge here and there implying that there is something terribly wrong in this boarding school. At one point, a teacher resigns for reasons that the so-called principal cannot disclose; a certain character called “madame” gets the best art work of the students; and “donations” are mentioned in crucial moments in the story. Slowly, the innocence of these students is shattered as they gradually discover why they’re there in the first place.

SPOILER ALERT (do not proceed if you don’t want to miss the novel’s turning point)

Here’s the spoiler I’m not supposed to say but I can’t help but divulge. Kathy, along with her friends Ruth and Tommy, are all created to be organ donors. They are raised well so that when the time comes that they have to give their donations they are perfectly fit to do so. Not only are they organ donors, they are also clones. Sickening, right? You raise a human person—not a machine—then end his life regardless if he wants to or not. Even if he is a clone, that person has life and he has the right to decide what he wants to do with it.

My heart went wild as I was reading this. I felt pity for the characters, I felt rage for the cruel people behind this sinister project, I felt sorrow for the lives that were lost and the hearts that were broken. Although this novel is fictional, it shows the reality that men are capable of the most depraved things when push comes to shove. Never is deception portrayed ever so delicately yet menacingly the way Kazuo Ishiguro did in this masterpiece. This is one novel worth shelf keeping. 🙂

The Help

I like reading first-time novelists. There’s something about fresh raw talent that produces exceptional piece of literature. Some of my favourite debut novels are Aravind Adiga’s “White Tiger” and Audrey Niffeneger’s “Time Traveller’s Wife”. These novels were unique in all aspects and Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” is no exception. I think I’ve done my fair share in recommending this book to my friends but I guess doing a review will even encourage more readers to pick up this good read.

Allow me to share with you why the USA Today named it “Book of the Year”, why Oprah picked this for her book club, why it’s been in the New York Times bestseller list for the longest time (since it was published in 2009), and why I’m raving about this excellent book.

I won’t spill the beans for those of you who plan to read this book. I’ll just share the reasons why I LOVED it and what’s pretty challenging about it. To start off, “The Help” is a novel about the poignant intertwined lives of Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Set during the early 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi, this book gave a voice to the silent cries of black maids during that time.

The Characters

Aibileen, a middle-aged black maid, is probably the noblest help in the community. Raising her 17th white child, she is compassionate and devoted to the kids entrusted to her. It was at Aibileen’s voice that the novel began and ended. She is not your typical black help, Aibileen is wise and in her own way, regal. Minny is not your typical tongue-tied black maid. In fact, she has the biggest mouth in the neighborhood. Her humour stands out in the novel yet it is her strong outspoken character that differentiates her from the rest. Skeeter is a 22-year-old aspiring writer, who is expected by her mother and everybody else to be married at that time. She is white but that did not stop her from exposing the debilitating situations of black maids in their town. Skeeter was also raised by a lovely black help named Constantine who apparently left their household and no one would tell why. It is in this process of discovery and brave exposition that these three women uphold each other to free themselves and the rest of the black maids from the prevalent social injustice.

The Technique

Kathryn Stockett wanted to preserve the voice of the black maids by using their language when they are the one’s narrating the story. With that, I found it very challenging when I read the first page of the book, hearing it from Aibileen’s voice. Here’s an example of one of her dialogues,

And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice seeing the kids grown up fine.

I find myself going slow on those parts where it is either Aibileen or Minny’s narrative. This is what I specifically like about the book; it is true to its origin and very organic. Never mind going slow, it is the raw voice that you will actually hear as you do that.

A true page-turner, this book piqued me in a way that it opened my eyes. It also made me laugh and pleasantly surprised me in many ways. The story line was seamless. The characters were distinctly memorable. The language was prolific regardless of the point of view. The author’s bravery in writing this piece is purely exceptional. “The Help” is BOLD, MOVING, and for a fiction read, it is ironically REAL.