How to Create a Fantasy World/Have No Friends in 6 Easy Steps

Hello again!

It’s Sunday, it’s spring and it’s sunny. Most people my age are catching up on their Vitamin D or relaxing at home, staring out the window at blue skies, secretly filled with dread for the work-week to come. Very few (if any) are wondering what the weather’s like above the palace in a land they’ve invented. But for those who’ve always yearned to write fantasy (or for those who are just curious to see the thought process of those who do), I’ve decided to make a quick list of everything you should avoid  stick to rigidly if your fantasy world is going to take its place among the Middle Earth’s and the Narnia’s.

1. Place

The first rule of creating a fantasy world is to take out a sheet of paper, draw two to three medium-sized landmasses and immediately determine which one is ugly enough to be the nation of Evil Villain. Label this country “Blackened McScorchBone” and fill it with dusty mountains. Then, pick the largest country and colour it green. This will be the home of all the nice people, plentiful water supplies and the only functioning agriculture in the entire known world. Over in Blackened McScorchBone, they eat….rocks…scorpions? I dunno.

Next, take out a blue crayon and draw rivers everywhere. In woods, in valleys, in mountains-EVERYWHERE. Ask google on at least four occasions where rivers are supposed to start. Once convinced, run them across the whole map anyway. To be safe.

Now that you have at least 1 x mountain, 1 x forest and 1 x river, you can start adding in cities and other places of interest. Most of them should be huge castles, far from any source of food, water, trade. They ought to have names like “King’s Tower” or “Elfdorm”. In Blackened McScorchBone, names such as “Clawtooth” and “The Dead City” are recommended. For good measure, call something “The Valley of Fear” and something else “The Grey Waste”, and don’t even remotely address the latter at any stage of your writing. Roads should be as-the-crow-flies, even if they cross hills, lakes, whatever. Outside of cities, pretty much the entire country should be abandoned, filled with a bit treasure here and there and a village if you look hard enough.

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2. People

The world might be max half-Europe in size but there should probably be enough races to make the Olympics feel small. If there are dwarves, throw ’em up in the hills or under some mountains. And make sure to put all the pirates and the ugly things in Blackened McScorchBone. Ughh. Everything there has yellow teeth.

In green-means-good country, cities roughly a stone’s throw apart should have entirely different cultures, languages, ways of life. Literally no two cities should share any sort of common value or commerce. There will be one trade per city, please.

If your hero is <18, they must grow up in the only village you’ve got round to. If they’re an adult, they either live in the royal palace or “grow up in sight of it”. None of your characters should be different than, well, you and your friends. Diversity has no place in DragonLand.

Half of all people must actively serve in the military. How a nation like that is supposed to feed itself? Damnit, man, I’m a fantasy writer not a politician. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Politics

All places will be monarchies except Blackened McScorchBone which is obviously ruled by  a dictator  evil itself. The Kings and Queens should be loved by all. Democracy should be shunned especially if it interferes with any sort of century-long conflict. There should never be peace agreements, only BLOOD AND WAR. Legitimately no ambassadors should exist between nations and there ought to be very little reason for anybody to be fighting in the first place. If there is, go outside and kick a football. You will never make it as a fantasy writer.

Have in place what you think is a “Medieval Economy” but under no circumstances actually research what that might entail. Just invent several peasants, as many knights and one lord who will be fat (*elbow* because he can afford to eat).

4. Politics (again?)

Everyone in your world should be religious. There are no atheists allowed. People should practice freely and there ought to be no clear link between religion and state (lolz why would there be?). Evil Villain should be his own religion and should have millions of ugly followers despite not offering much.

Twice per novel, there ought to be a festival celebrating some God. People that live in the mountains will pay tribute to their……Sea God? *Shrugs* Makes sense to me.

5. Purpose

It’s best practice to just drop things all over your world that have no discernible place there. A giant snake monster that evolved out of nothing? Can’t argue that’s not cool.

You might also place huge value on members of society such as poets and ship captains though *glances both ways* literally nobody in the world ever mentions the arts or talks about the importance of the shipping trade. Everyone should have a horse, a sword and a house to their name even if they’re poor and working as a farmhand.

6. Powers

Just dump whatever fantasy you want into the pot and stir for 30 minutes. Dragons, hands that shoot fire, lay-people marrying the Queen. Have as much magic as you like but still have everyone walk around like it’s just another day in the 15th century. Give Evil Villain enough power to destroy the world twelve times over and then just park him in a corner long enough for someone to figure out how to defeat him. Never use magic for everyday convenience. Only use it to solve plot holes and other sticky situations.

And there you have it. If you do all of the above (plus paint your map with coffee-it looks so old!), you too can create your own fantasy world and say goodbye to what’s left of your social life.

 

Mist Rock

When I was eighteen, I stood on a hill above the town of Ballyheigue, Kerry, and paused to look through a hedgerow. Far-off below there were houses, a beach, a row of mountains and a dark ocean meeting them. It was august; there was a cold wind pressed hard against me. Above, the clouds struggled across the sky, bloated with the promise of rain.

I stared at the mountains yawning over me and thought of the crown that they wore. Their peaks, so mysterious, knifed the blue-grey ceiling, disappeared from view as though to another world. And there, for a moment, that world was all my mind saw. A pale woman. A bright sword. Snow, blood, poison. A winter storm and a cloaked figure in it. A fortress ruined by time. 

To stop short of melodramatic, I kinda ran home to write it down. I didn’t even know what the idea was but thousands of words came with it. I kept them all, stored them, tried in vain to make some sense of them. It would be another two years before I sat down with it again, finding it by chance on an old laptop. That same night, I decided to start this very blog. Perhaps it’s fitting they one day met again.

The scene I saw in the hedgerow later became the first chapter of this novel, which for now is called Rise of the Exiles. It’s the first installment of Mist Rock, a fantasy series that all spiraled out of those five seconds on that hill in North Kerry. Of course that vision, six years old this summer, now has words to run with it.

Yet here he was now, his eyes as distant as a white winter sun, his smile as foreign as a strange summer flower. She could nearly pretend they were elsewhere and those features might have made sense, might have drawn her to kiss him, to love him, to know him as she knew herself. But they weren’t. They were in the depths of the forsaken mountains, breathing blue cold, waiting for her to die.

Over the next year or so, I’m hoping to edit the completed first draft, sending it out for feedback with the aim of deriving something worth publication. Yes, that is obviously a big ask, but the dreams we chase probably should be. Regardless of how it turns out, I’m currently just very excited to share this with you!

I’ll leave you with a map of this new world, a synopsis of the story and a quote from it that you can take with you 🙂

An empty throne is the best time for a war, they say.

 Farelia Aelia, Queen of Kraken, has been dead for nearly twenty years. The country she left behind, ruled by a council in Mist Rock, teeters on the brink of destruction. Saptors, a reptilian race long banished, look hungrily to their borders, as armies of Varen gather with them. Among these rebels, two claim a right to the crown.

 In Mist Rock, Marke Calin has his eyes set on a place in the Golden Lance Academy, a school that trains guards of the realm. His father was once a student there, though half the city now thinks he’s a murderer. But soon tension with classmates and exam struggles are the least of his worries; it seems the enemy has far greater plans for him.

 The dark corridors of the academy are not as empty as they look. Shadows are growing longer, students are being stalked, guards are sleeping in fear.  Something was lost with Farelia Aelia seventeen years ago.

 It appears the Exiles have come to find it.

You believe in a cause. Now give people cause to believe in you.

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A Post has no name

Before I begin a post like this, let me just start my paraphrasing House Stark: Spoilers are coming.

I’m writing this post to be friendly to both book-readers as well as TV viewers, as a lot of the theories dabble between both. That being said, if you don’t want to read something that discusses everything that is out there, now is your chance to run!

Last week, the penultimate episode of season 6 of Game of Thrones, entitled “Battle of the Bastards”, treated us to the kind of action we’d been baying for since the show started. It will no doubt go down as one of the series’ best episodes alongside fan favourites such as “Hardhome” and “The Rains of Castamere”. It brought a final, dramatic conclusion to the Northern story arc that had been building for years. Of course, if you’re a book reader, you know that we’re still waiting for the same action in the novel, which will be featured in “The Winds of Winter” if and when we should get it. The book’s version of events is far more complex of course, and if you are excited to see how George handles the whole affair considering the show has pipped him to it, I’d highly recommend you check out “The Grand Northern Conspiracy.” It’s available as a cluster of entries here. It’s a great way to see how all the little bits fit together since the death of Robb Stark!

Now, onto why you are here!

Who are Jon’s parents?

In either format of the story, Jon’s parents are suggested to be Eddard Stark and a non-noble woman who he met during Robert’s rebellion. One is a fisherman’s daughter, but this is widely doubted. From an email from the author himself, we can see the relevant birth dates of some of the major characters around the time in question. While this confirms nothing in itself, it does allow us to speculate as to where Jon could have come from. When we look at the timeline of Robert’s rebellion that we can piece together from the books, we see one major candidate as Jon’s mother is Wylla, who was a servant of House Dayne. Eddard confirms the name as Jon’s mother in both the show and books to Robert on their way down the Kingsroad, but says no more about her.

However, Jon’s mother might also be Ashara Dayne, who was lady-in-waiting to Elia Martell and the sister of the legendary Kingsguard knight Ser Arthur Dayne. Show-watchers will remember Sir Arthur from one of Bran’s flashbacks, where guarding Ned’s sister for Rhaegar he is killed in combat. After this, Ned returns his sword to House Dayne in his honour, and there it is suggested he may have brought home the child of Ashara Dayne, who committed suicide shortly after hearing the news of her brother’s death (and was known to be with child around the time). It was rumoured Ned and Ashara conceived Jon at the tournament of Harrenhal which preceded the war (which is also suggested by Ser Barristan Selmy), where they were seen dancing together. The time between the tournament and Ned bringing news of Ser Arthur’s death is within the window of a pregnancy. As a theory, it is perhaps second only to the big, infamous R+L=J.

This theory suggests Jon’s parents are Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister) and Rhaegar Targaryen, who was believed to have abducted Lyanna sometime after the Harrenhal tournament. This is after all, one of the major instigators of Robert’s rebellion. Many believe Lyanna actually went willingly with Rhaeger, but regardless she was held at the Tower of Joy during the war, guarded by three knights of the Kingsguard (two in the show). Ned brings five of his northern bannermen to rescue her, with only himself and Howland Reed surviving the combat. It is widely believed the presence of no less than 3 of the 7 Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy, and not at major battles such as the Trident where Rhaegar was killed suggests they were guarding his heir. In the book, Ned recalls her lying “in a pool of blood” asking him to make “a promise” repeatedly which isn’t expanded on. As well as this, it is often noted Jon does not have the “Tully” appearances ascribed to Sansa, Rickon, Robb and Bran, but instead him and Arya look more like Lyanna. While Ned contemplates Robert’s bastards in Season 1/Book One, he also drifts towards Jon and his sister in the thought process. When Daenerys visits the House of the Undying, one of her visions is one a winter rose (noted to be liked by Lyanna) growing from a wall of ice, which would indicate Jon, a relative of Dany in this theory.

The show also plays with this theory at times. In Season One, one very smart viewer caught the initials RL edged into a a piece of wood propped directly behind Jon.

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We were tragically cut off during Bran’s flashback to the Tower of Joy, but it’s only a matter of time until we get the rest of that story. If it is as we expect, then it will point to the long held belief that the title of the series: ” A song of ice and fire” referes to Jon himself, who would have both the blood of the wolf and the dragon.

The only living person, of course, who could confirm this theory is Howland Reed, as he was with Ned Stark when they found Lyanna. Ned would never have revealed Jon’s parentage while Robert was alive, for fear his friend would kill the Targaryen heir (as was seen with Dany). In both books and the show, Howland is alive, and so is his daughter Meera….

Is Meera Reed Jon’s sister?

Meera is described as of an age with Jon, and they both share similar features. If Meera was to have been born in a set of twins to Lyanna Stark, then it’s plausible Ned allowed him take Meera, as it may have hid the truth better. It’s a sort of Luke Skywalker/Leia style theory, and definitely far out there in terms of what happens. After all, if R+L=J+M, then another fan-favourite theory is corrupted, and that’s that the dragon has three heads.

Who are the three heads of the Targaryen dragon?

This theory has widespread support. Rhaegar was known to be obsessed with the idea of the dragon having three heads, so much so that people say he got Lyanna pregnant as he could no longer father children by his own wife, Elia Martell.

See this passage from the book itself

The fifth room, finally, shows a man very much alike her brother Viserys, except that he is taller and has eyes of dark indigo rather than lilac. He is speaking to a woman who is nursing a newborn babe, telling her that the child’s name should be Aegon and saying that “What better name for a king?”. The woman asks him if he will make a song for the child, and he replies that he has a song and that “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”. He appears to look at Dany then, as if seeing her, and then he adds that “There must be one more,” and “The dragon has three heads.”.

The Targaryens who came across the sea were three siblings led by Aegon the Conqueror, each riding a dragon, and they took all of Westeros. Safe to say it’s iconic there are three dragons again.

Daenerys will of course be one of the dragons, as a daughter of Aerys. It is also said the Mad King had a daughter by Joanna Lannister, the wife of Tywin Lannister. It has been noted throughout the past that Targaryen’s have been known to breed  what they call “monstrosities”, and as a dwarf Tyrion certainly fits the bill.

The similarities between the three supposed relatives of Dany, Jon anf Tyrion are striking. Just consider:

  1. All three belong to a different group in Westeros history: Andal, First Man, Valyrian
  2. All three are outcasts in their own right
  3. All three are third children
  4. All their mothers died in childbirth
  5. All three have dead fathers
  6. All three have a tragic lovestory (in some way each of them actually murdered their love)

There are other candidates of course, such as Aegon (book only), but these three have stood out the most.

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What’s going on with Bran’s visions?

To see Bran’s visions slowed down, just look here. They’re slo-mo’d and commentary is added from his flashback splurge in the forest beyond the wall. Another question commonly asked about Bran’s visions is what effect he is able to have on the past? After all, there was a definite interplay with Hodor in the past and present, and at one point during the Tower of Joy scene Ned Stark of the past seems to hear his as yet unborn son.

If you want to gain an understanding of this, check out this video. It goes through the time travel mechanics and gives some handy examples of other works such as Back to the Future!

Will Cersei’s prophecy be fulfilled?

It’s fair to say of late Cersei’s luck has turned. It seems the words of the prophecy she received from “Maggy the Frog” as a child are coming to fruition. Already, two of her children are dead, as was predicted. One of the biggest parts of the prophecy was that she would be killed by what Maggy called “the Valonqar”, which translates to “little brother” in High Valyrian. Now, given the plot, you wouldn’t even blame Cersei for believing this referred to her brother Tyrion.

The next candidate would be Ser Jaime, her own lover and brother. Though they are twins, it is noted that Cersei was born first. Importantly, in Bran’s flashbacks we see the Mad King Aerys and his plot to burn the city and the Lannister forces. This was stopped by Jaime, the “Kingslayer” and the theory suggests he will have to do it again to stop his sister. It should be noted it was mentioned some of the Wildfire was stored beneath the Sept of Baelor, which is where Cersei’s trial would be.

It should be remembered in a wider sense that Valonqar, as with many Valyrian words, may be gender neutral and non-specific.

Could it refer to one of the Stark children?

Could it refer to Dany?

Could it refer to Loras Tyrell, the sand snakes or the Hound (all can fit in some way)

Most interestingly, could it be Tommen Baratheon, the little brother of her own children?

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Tales from the Ramen Bookshelf: A year in reading

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2015 is slowly drawing to a close. With exams officially over I now finally have a bit more time on my hands. Even so, my aim is to get 5 blogs done by New Years, with three dedicated to the J1 and two towards reading and writing. I know. I’d want to get a move on.

I wouldn’t say it has been an amazing year for reading. It’s probably a year where I read more random books than I’m used to, much of this due to being on a J1 and not wanting to bring any books I would be distraught if I lost. You might wonder how I could lose a book, but there were eight of them and they were all being lugged around in my carry-on bag. In airports like JFK and Heathrow this isn’t exactly standard practice. When security at San Francisco wanted a look in my bag, the last thing I was expecting was for him to hold up Game of Thrones and say “Oh, is this good? I love the show.”As you can tell, San Diego was my prime reading time. With no internet and a work schedule that meant I might be alone in our apartment for hours at a time, books fell like dominos. Also, I simply love reading. I wouldn’t say that’s a cliché, more so a “well obviously Kyle you’re writing a whole blog on it”. Still, there were many times on the J1 where I wanted nothing more than a book in my hand and a seat by the pool. While I’ll always remember the nights out, working and mayhem around the apartment, it was during these quiet moments that the J1 really became a therapy. Sometimes you need a break, and if you need a break within a break, it’s handy to have a book nearby. For this blog, I’m just going to give a quick review of my 2015 reading list to the best of my memory (those first few months were neither productive or memorable but I’ll try my best).

The Walking Dead: Descent (Jay Bonansinga)

If I’m being entirely honest, I don’t remember much of this book. I’ve previously read (and reviewed) four books in this series, and by and large this installment was much the same. It’s a niche book (I enjoy the Walking Dead TV series, as you might guess) where the writing is intended to be tense, fast-paced and not at all verbose. It’s the kind of book you could knock out in a day if you really wanted to, which in some cases is a good thing. I liked Descent, it was an improvement on its predecessor “The Fall of the Governor” even if it was weaker than the first two books in the series. Again, it’s about Woodbury and at this stage differs largely to what Walking Dead fans are seeing on screen. This is good, because unless a TV show is amazing I really don’t care to read the book version of the plot (see Game of Thrones later for when I really do care to). That’s not to say The Walking Dead isn’t a brilliant show, but it’s a plot that works best on Sunday night on AMC, and considering the source material is a comic, you can be pretty sure nobody is going to want to read the same plot in a third and weaker format. Overall, a solid edition to the series and I’ll be buying the next one

Rating = 6.5/10

The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)

I’m not keen to review this book, if I’m being honest. It’s not that it’s a bad book – quite the opposite. It’s more, I have issues with this book that are unusual, and explaining them isn’t easy. I digress.

The Name of the Wind came highly recommended to me, and of course people threw up the name Tolkien places and I’ll admit I got quite excited. I actually started this book in August 2014, but it dragged over to 2015. The main character Kvothe, a legend in his time now posing as a simple innkeeper, recounts his story to the fabled Chronicler, who has sought him out to find the true version of events. What follows is a sort of in-book autobiography, which at first I hated but soon grew to love with the constant change in location, characters etc. It was fresh, ambitious and the author controlled it. And I’ll concede, the worldbuilding was excellent. For the first fifty pages it was a little jarred but once the autobiography portion started I really felt part of the world. The dialogue was snappy, clever and witty. The characters for the most part were memorable, and for a plot that spent a lot of time detailing ordinary events, the story seemed quite extraordinary.

My biggest problem with the whole book was the main character. Yes, I’m aware, that’s bad, and it was. I simply hated Kvothe for large portions of the book. He was arrogant beyond measure, talented at pretty much everything, and loved to convince himself he was having a rough time of things. Yes, his life was tough, but given how much luck came his way I found it very hard to sympathise with him at all. This all manifested through the author’s excessive use of detail, sometimes spending pages showing off whatever he had popped into google on the day he wrote that chapter. It is clear the research was meticulous, but delivery is important in terms of how much you tell a reader. And Kvothe, the super-intelligent sponge, just had to tell us all of it. On a side note for all men, Kvothe also insists he is terrible with the ladies, but with his outcomes I’d have to call him a liar. He’s that type who sells himself as socially awkward and an introvert even though he is a master of small-talk, flirting etc. Overall, the Name of the Wind is brilliant. The above is a huge flaw, but damn it the book is good. Again, I digress…

Rating = 8/10

RED – my autobiography (Gary Neville)

Considering this was the first book of the J1, it may be already apparent that the first 6 months of 2015 were fairly poor in terms of reading. RED was a book I’ve owned for a quite a while now, but never got round to reading. As I said above, it’s those kind of books that came to San Diego with me by and large. I flipped the book open 8 hours into a flight to LA, when it was clear I wasn’t going to watch a fourth movie after the shambles that was “Exodus Gods and Kings”. As a United fan, I of course enjoy any story that involves the treble, the premier league titles, the wonder teams, the class of ’92 etc. And RED didn’t fail to deliver. Gary Neville is a clever man who has always worn his heart on his sleeve. He’s a face value sort of guy and for an autobiography that’s pretty pivotal. Outside of just the football, I enjoyed RED for the tale that it was. Neville recounts his upbringing with a sort of fondness and humour we would all be jealous of. For the entire novel he seamlessly blends the life on the pitch with the life at home and the world in his head. To my surprise, I found his stories of the England team some of the most interesting. Neville’s outings for his country give an insight into the sort of questions we constantly pose of one of football’s greatest nations. I would consider this a must-read for a United fan, and something you might look into if you like a good autobiography in any case.

Rating = 7.5/10

I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Zlatan Ibrahimovic)

Where to start with this one? Basically, it would be nice to see Kvothe and Zlatan have a conversation. Zlatan, is for all intents and purposes, the most self-confident man I’ve ever read about. And yet, I loved it. This wasn’t some made-up character spouting rhetoric the author fed them, this was a real human being taking on the world as they saw fit. What surprised me about this book was how deftly Zlatan dealt with his upbringing. While we are constantly hearing of wonder kids raised in Favelas and going on to be football legends, I didn’t expect the same social history for one of Europe’s greatest footballers. Zlatan is funny in every page, maybe every paragraph. He pokes fun at the world, at opponents, at himself. Nobody is safe within the confines of this book, with huge names like Pep Guardiola being ripped to absolute shreds. Like a Conor McGregor of football, Zlatan talks a lot but has never failed to back it up throughout his time in football. Capable of changing a game in a second, of tearing through defences, of sublime skill typical of a Brazilian, he has an illustrious career to regale across several countries. Even those with little interest in football would enjoy this book, which is as much Zlatan painting you a picture of the high-life as it is a look at his moments on the pitch.

Rating= 8/10

The Big Fight (Sugar Ray Leonard)

At this point in San Diego we had just moved into our apartment, with this being the first book I sprawled out on our then clean carpet to read. This was perhaps my favourite of the three autobiographies, not only because I knew little of Sugar Ray’s career, but also because of the backstory. Neville’s introduction was heartwarming, Zlatan’s was surprisingly full of hardship, but Sugar Ray’s was king of them all. There’s something about reading about life growing up in America that stirs you a little. Sugar Ray probably had it harder than both Zlatan and Neville, and certainly had knock-on effects from his childhood for the rest of his life. One of the greatest boxers in history, this was him peeled away to nothing and laid bare over 300 pages for all to see. Before, I knew Sugar Ray as a king; an Olympian who went professional and became a master showman while demolishing some of the greats. After reading, this image seems 2D at best. It’s a story of addiction, sex, fame, money, divorce and finally, and most poignantly, redemption.

Rating = 8.5/10

The Woman in Black-Angel of Death (Martyn Waites)

You can surely see now that I had strict criteria for “books I wouldn’t be distraught if I lost”. By the middle of June, I had reached this book, and looked forward to a few nights reading by my phone light in the dark of our apartment scaring myself half to death. Sadly, this was not the case. I should have seen the problems with this book in that it was a sequel wrote by a different author and worse, was only published to tie in with the movie of the same name. Adapting a movie into a book is shaky, very shaky. This was Richter Scale shaky. I love the original Woman in Black story. It’s so menacing, so tense and full of dread. This was a diluted version of that. It still had a haunted feel to it, and was scary for short periods. Based around children moving to the “empty” house during WWII, it had strong potential to be chilling. It floundered in the writing, and then ultimately met its demise in the very predictable ending. It’s strongest point was the manner of deaths, which I guess given the genre will earn it some salvation in my rating.

Rating = 5.5/10

Theft of Swords (Michael J Sullivan)

Every year, I’ll find a book that I especially like for some reason. In 2014, it was Stella Gemmell’s “The City”. I recommend that book to everybody. This year, it’s Theft of Swords. Given this was book five of the J1, and the first fantasy book, it’s fair to say I was highly looking forward to reading this. I’d got it as a gift a month before I left, after spotting it in what was then Porters, Wilton. What was obvious right from the off was how different this was from Name of the Wind. Whereas the latter was clearly heavily researched, detailed and mastered over a long time, this was far more….fluid? Lost for words there. Fluid suffices. Theft of Swords had far more room to breathe than Name of the Wind did. It didn’t over emphasise anything, it just ran with the story and asked you the small price of keeping up. The opening scene was brimming with clever dialogue. I loved the two main characters, a pair of mercenaries known together as “Riyria”, who through a wicked conspiracy get caught up in a case of murder. The book follows their attempts to reconcile this which unearths larger events in their world. To be honest, some people may read this book and criticise the plot or the writing or some of the characters. But at the heart of it all, it’s simple adventure. It’s what’s asked of fantasy novels right from page one. It doesn’t lean on a crutch of memorable description like some successful novels do, or build a world almost freakishly real, but what it does do is give us two main characters that we can care about. It puts them in simple plot lines and then injects the odd twist, a good deal of action and a constant change of scenery. Overall, I was just “content” reading this novel.

Rating: 8.5/10

No Safe House (Linwood Barclay)

While Theft of Swords was a brilliant book, it was also a long one, and came right at my busiest time of San Diego. So it was not until July that No Safe House came out of the book shelf my room mates had “constructed” from a Ramen Noodles box. When it did, I was apprehensive. No Safe House is not a fantasy novel. I know, who cares? People always say to read outside your comfort zone. Who knows, you might find something you like. Writers are also told the same. But your zone is comfortable for a reason, and we humans like comfortable things. So when I bought No Safe House as a sort of homage to the above advice, I felt all grandiose and like I was finally expanding my view. I was wrong. No Safe House wasn’t a bad book, I’m not being fair. It was an OK book, but I’m not on this earth to read OK books. I like thrillers, I’ve read a lot and so I expected a big name in the genre was going to blow me away. I just sort of wasn’t though. I tried to like this book for 200 pages, and with a plot of “woman who has disturbing past finds herself in new nightmare”, it wasn’t overly hard. But with time, the book wore on me. I felt like it was taking too long to get to that “Oh my God that’s what happened” moment, and when it did it wasn’t enough for me to appreciate the wait. The best portions of the book were the “setup phase”, as I call it, where some character inadvertently sets a chain of events in motion. Cynthia, the woman described above, has a daughter who along with her boyfriend find themselves in the wrong house at the wrong time. All of this part was good. It was the second half of the novel that just didn’t do it for me. How characters resolved things was predictable and boring rather than rash and exciting. If you like a crime thriller, this might be for you. If you, like me, prefer Middle Earth and Winterfell, then I’d perhaps give it a skip. And next time, think twice about leaving the comfort zone.

Rating 6.5/10

Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)

I feel a little guilty reviewing this book. It’s a re-read, and one of my favourite books by a longshot. In fact, outside of Tolkien, I would say this is the best fantasy I’ve ever read. Now I know there are still plenty I have to read, but coming back to this book a second time was an enjoyable as the first. I read Game of Thrones for the first time nearly four years ago, but this time instead of poolside in Gran Canaria I was poolside in San Diego. It’s the last book of the J1, and I only finished it once I got home to Ireland. To put it quite simply: read this book. I am jealous of those who will be reading it for the first time sometime soon. Game of Thrones is addictive as a book. I brought the first one on holidays for a week and after two days was coming to an end. The use of multiple view points is not exclusive to GoT, but it’s a great example of it being done well. Unlike Theft of Swords, this plot really is complex, with more going on than you can keep up with at times but each chapter tense, thrilling and riddled with mystery. Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell, is called to be Hand of the King by Robert Baratheon, his old friend who sits on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. Ned is to replace Jon Arryn, who died mysteriously. The next 700 pages are incredible, with characters larger than life who all interact within the labyrinthine Red Keep, where secrets are hard to keep and political conspiracy and betrayal are rife. This is all mixed in with action far to the north at the Wall and at Winterfell. For any fan of the show, I think the book towers over the TV series, and have yet to meet someone who read the book after and disagreed.

Rating = 9.5/10

On Writing (Stephen King)

I only just finished this book recently, and so it just makes the list for 2015. Obviously this is a different sort of book, but out of curiosity I wanted to read it (you shouldn’t turn your back on advice from Stephen King). To my surprise, King manages to use his own life story to perfectly give you a look into the writing process. I thought this autobiographical approach made the advice more palpable, more relatable and easier to digest. King doesn’t nit-pick or focus too heavily on grammar, structure etc. He works with what he knows best about the art, and brings it to life through his story of becoming the world renowned writer he is today. I didn’t expect anything less of him, and for anybody interested in writing, I would say it is worth a read. It’s an easy read, not something you get bogged down in like you would expect.

Rating = 8/10

So, a good year for reading overall I suppose. I’m looking forward to 2016, with my current book being “The World of Ice and Fire”, and I already know I’ll be reading “The Three Musketeers” sometime soon too. Perhaps I’ll stray again outside my comfort zone, though there’s definitely enough books within it to keep me going for another year.

The City by Stella Gemmell-Game of Thrones meets roman history

It was curiosity that made me pick up this fantasy novel. Firstly, the cover was shiny and well designed. Granted that’s the worst reason ever to buy something, but I stand by it. Secondly, and probably more importantly, the name stood out. Gemmell, a name not unused in the fantasy novel world. So it came as no surprise when I found out the author, Stella Gemmell, was wife to the late fantasy best-seller, David Gemmell.

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The City is the debut fantasy novel of Stella Gemmell (though granted she has worked on some of David’s books in the past). Coming into the game as a former journalist, the question as to whether this could succeed was just as intriguing as the summary itself. At circa seven hundred pages in this re-published edition, the book seemed to justify purchase. The premise of the story was basic enough at first glance; a large city is at war with its neighbours, but deep beneath it all, something else could be going on. The City is ruled by the omniscient emperor, a man they call the immortal, and one who is rarely seen outside the palace. Five noble families, claimed by some to be god-like, govern the city in its entirety, and help to raise armies to fight the war that is raging on all fronts. But below the city something else is stirring. We first meet Elijah, Emly, and the old man Bartellus, each of them living in a sewer world where the forgotten go to die or the remembered go to hide. The underworld teems with rats, murderers and conspiracy. Outside on the mainland, characters like Fell Aron Lee and the warrior woman Indaro are locked in combat with the enemy, known widely as “Blueskins”.

With flood waters rising, the foundations of the city begin to crumble, but its the people’s belief in their emperor that is truly showing the signs of faltering. The reader is cast forward eight years, where each of our characters is now on a path unknown to them that will lead them all to a plot to end the war. Our characters now fight their beliefs, their virtues and their morals, rather than the multi-national enemy which is pressing its advantage in the field of battle.

Personally I found the opening to this novel compelling. Gemmell succeeds in giving us an interesting setting to start with; that of a subterranean world haunted by cannibals and the ever potent darkness. Many of the author’s characters achieve independence in the mind of the reader, though later on when the novel propels eight years into the future, earlier characters now lose their distinctive flavour as we leave the sewer world in favour of the nation’s battlefields. The chapters of Fell Aron Lee and Indaro make this transition easier, as their world is interesting enough to help us keep going. Fell Aron Lee, now a leader of his own battalion is given a fascinating backstory which really ties the whole piece together, and perhaps marks him as one of the primary characters.

Characterisation of the emperor is done in such a way as to always leave the reader guessing, a purposeful act I would assume. The other noble families emerge to the reader in the middle of the book, and take on a very “Lannister” feel-the reader never certain exactly what it is they want. Gemmell done this for both factions of the war, a feature which makes our opening premise that The City is the good side increasingly doubtful.

The third quarter of the novel, when the writer skillfully weaves her separate threads into one piece is easily the best part of the novel. At this point we really feel the ‘oh so that’s why x happened’ surfacing, a knack I always appreciate in a good fantasy novel, as it shows the writer’s aptitude for controlling their story. Here, Gemmell also begins to blur the edges of her timeline, so events happen out of sync with one another, and as multiple characters now show up in each chapter, the pace seems to quicken and the tension comes across quite well.

The climax, for me, was the only disappointment. Well, perhaps the loss of individualized characters near the end was also  cause to complain, but this is a common aspect we overlook in the fantasy genre. The ending seemed far too dragged out, with my eyes alarmingly noticing there was a hundred and fifty pages left when I felt things should have been wrapping up. I imagine Gemmell wanted the ending to be significant, and not just end in a chapter or two as is common when writers see the finishing line in sight. That being said, I feel Gemmell lost control of her conspirator notions at this point, and segments of the story that probably should have showed up earlier if they were at all significant jumped right into the closing stages. The fighting scenes at the climax came across as languid and only present to chop down some of the less pivotal players in the game. given the third quarter of the book, I think Gemmell unfortunately gave the reader too much freedom in imagining things as they wanted,so that the alternative ending she actually wrote did not fit what it feels they were promised. For example, George RR Martin,who promises you pretty much from the start that you had best not get attached to anything or anyone, avoids disappointing in this sense after the first novel. Gemmell however, had the task of keeping the reader interested in her characters, while also providing the bitter-sweet ending the novel probably needed for realism, all in one book. Thus, we kind of leave with a sour taste in our mouth, as though we were betrayed. It’s features such as this that spur on the world of fantasy fiction, where spurned readers lash out with their own alternative ending. But some aspects of the finish did keep me satisfied, and overall even a shocking ending would not have diminished the respect which was already building up in me for the author on her maiden voyage in the fantasy realm.

So, if asked, I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in fantasy/historical fiction. It avoids outlandish fantasy for much of the book, so that you don’t need to be #GandalfsNumberOneFan to enjoy the plot. Given the third quarter may have been one of the best I’ve read since Martin had Ned Stark snooping around King’s Landing, I would give this book an A, and hope Gemmell churns out something else soon.

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