A Feast of Ice & Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel & Sariann Lehrer

I love cooking, particularly hearty, flavourful foods. I love A Song of Ice and Fire. I also love Medieval Europe (touristing only, there is no way I’d like to live then). I think it’s rather obvious that A Feast of Ice & Fire is right up my alley. All three of my alleys, in fact.

The book takes us to the different locations of ASOIAF: the Wall, the North, the South, King’s Landing, Dorne, and across the Narrow Sea. For each location, there are several dishes mentioned in the books (all include a breakfast) with recipes. Even better, many of the dishes are presented with two recipes – one drawn from medieval sources (using the term “medieval” loosely, as they actually span the period from the Roman Empire to the Elizabethan period, and some of them are not European in origin), and one modern variation.

Some of the ingredients can be hard to find, but the book includes a list of substitutions.

The best part is that all of the recipes are fairly simple, most having only a handful of steps. It would actually be feasible to put on a multi-course Game of Thrones dinnerparty without running yourself ragged.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable cookbook, for regular use as well as for it’s novelty gimmick. It would make a great gift for a reasonably experienced cook who likes experimentation and trying new things.

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A discussion of how things were like “back then”

There’s a fabulous discussion going on at MedievalPOC about A Song of Ice and Fire, and the dismissal of criticism that “things were just like that back then”:

In all honesty (and I really hope I’m not the first person ever to mention this?) the atmosphere of brutality, abuse of power, personal violation, and lack of alternate mitigating power structures (like the Church), is entirely invented and would never actual work or function correctly as a society.

Go on over and read the whole post, and then check out the ASOIAF tag for some of the discussion that’s come out of the original post. And when you’re done with all that, add MedievalPOC to the list of blogs you follow because it is awesome.

Bit of a Game of Thrones rant

I feel really badly for all the people coming to A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) now, after all the memes about how George R.R. Martin (GRRM) kills everyone you’ve ever loved have become so ubiquitous. And yes, I do realize that I’ve been part of the problem.

A huge part of the experience of the series (the first book in particular) is in not knowing what the fictional “real world” is like, and getting tricked by Ned’s honour talk into thinking that you’re going to be reading a somewhat normal fantasy.

Then heads start rolling and you’re like “wait… what?” and then characters are corrupted beyond recognition, and there’s all these deaths that have no meaning or purpose, and everything just gets worse and worse and worse…

The journey of figuring out just WTF you’re reading mirrors the journey that many of the characters (certainly all the Starks, but several others as well) are taking. As readers, we being our journey naive about what lies ahead, and we must either grow callous or despair – just as our favourite characters must do.

But the people coming to the series now are coming to it pre-jaded, already afraid to fall in love. I think it changes the experience, and not in a good way.

I feel tremendously lucky that I came to ASOIAF just under the wire, narrowly missing the barrage (I began reading the series when the TV show had just started, before any fecal matter had hit the ventilation device), and I’m assuming that the furor will have died down long before my son (who is still just a toddler) is old enough to approach the series. In the meantime, I am saddened for the generation of readers who happen to be coming to the series at precisely the wrong time.

Game of Thrones and Philosophy edited by Henry Jacoby

Read: 14 August, 2012

I’ve been aware of the pop culture philosophy books for a few years now, but I’ve never actually taken the time to read one. But when they mentioned Game of Thrones and Philosophy on a recent episode of Sword & Laser, I reserved a copy from the library.

If you majored in Philosophy in college or enjoy reading Foucault in your free time, this isn’t the book for you. But as someone who has only had snippets of exposure to philosophical thought without much context or explanation, I did find this book useful. A few basics of thought are illustrated using examples from the Song of Ice and Fire series.

There were quite a few problems with the book, though. For one thing, it seems to be just a grab bag of articles with little organization. I feel that it would have been more useful to organize the articles into a sort of “history of philosophy,” or something along those lines. That would have made this a far more useful book than the current “hey, something this guy wrote kinda sounds like something this other guy wrote” higgledy-piggeldy mixture we currently have.

I felt that the connection to Game of Thrones was tenuous. Some of the articles did try to offer some insight from philosophical thought into the series (and visa versa), but for the most part, the chapters were simply explaining philosophy in layman’s terms while shoe-horning names and phrases from the series whenever grammatically possible – particularly in the early chapters.

I also got the feeling that some of the authors may have never read the Song of Ice and Fire series, or at least not in a long time, given that some of the errors were on rather egregious. For example, on page 13, the author writes that a character could “flee into exile with the surviving Targaryens, like Ser Jorah Mormont…” Except that Mormont’s exile had absolutely nothing to do with the Targaryens. Or on page 224, the author writes of Daenerys: “Fleeing King’s Landing, her mother, Rhaella, gives birth to Dany and Viserys aboard a ship and then dies.” Well, for one thing, neither Daenerys nor Viserys was ever born on a ship. Also, Viserys is many years older than Daenerys. But I suppose that at least the names and familial relationships were correct…

Anyways, as I said, I think that a fan of Game of Thrones who wants a quick introduction to a few snippets of philosophical thought set in a familiar context may get something from this book. Otherwise, give it a pass.

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A Song of Ice and Fire #5: A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Read: 30 July, 2012

At the end of Feast for Crows, Martin wrote that the book had grown so unwieldy that he had had to split it into two, separating the events in Westeros from those occurring at the Wall and across the Narrow Sea.

I hadn’t realized this until the very end of Feast for Crows, and had rather enjoyed the element of mystery that the lack of coverage of certain plotlines had received. The total disappearance of Tyrion added an element of suspense that I felt his tangential adventurings spoiled. As for Daenerys – who has largely been in a holding pattern since the events of Game of Thrones – I felt that hearing about her story through third hand reports actually made her plotline far more interesting to me than the more explicit coverage she received in Dance with Dragons.

This was also the first time that events were duplicated, narrated by two separate characters. The same scene was played out from Jon Snow’s POV as one that was given in Samwell Tarley’s POV in Feast for Crows. I don’t feel that this added very much that couldn’t have been conveyed through other means later in Jon Snow’s narrative.

All this is just to explain my general complaint about the series: that the pace has slowed right down since Game of Thrones. I get that there’s a lot of character development going on, but several characters are just having stuff happening to them for the sake of eating up time before they can be put back into play, and I do think that a lot of content could have been effectively cut without the series being much diminished. Certainly, when I think of how tightly Game of Thrones was plotted, it’s frustrating to see Daenerys continue to try to rule cities that don’t want her around, or to hear every dragging detail of Tyrion’s little boat trip. Again, I get that important (and potentially important) stuff happens, but I do feel like it could have been presented in a more concise manner.

That’s not to say that I’m unhappy with the book at all. Even though it mostly covered my least favourite characters, I was still glued to the page and eager to read through as quickly as possible. Now I’m just sad that I have to wait five years to continue the series!

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A Song of Ice and Fire #4: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

Read: 26 June, 2012

The epic story continues… The throne belongs to a child, the queen reagent is paranoid and keeps making terrible choices, an ancient man and a newborn boy are forced to take a long and dangerous journey to escape a Red Woman looking for royal blood to sacrifice, a once just and proud woman is leading a band of ruthless outlaws in her quest for revenge, and winter is coming.

I noticed that identities are starting to become muddled in this volume. Chapter headings, which had previously been the names of the POV characters, now sometimes reflect assumed names or descriptions.

While the other books in the series have been framed by one-off POV characters who die at the end of their chapter, Feast for Crows ends instead with a note from the author, explaining that the book had grown too long and he was forced to cut it in half. It’s a shame, especially given the amount of time he’s been taking between each book, that he couldn’t have made it fit the pattern.

In any case, I’m very much looking forward to reading A Dance With Dragons, albeit a little scared that once I finish it, I will have to wait several years before getting the next instalment.

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A Song of Ice and Fire #3: A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

Read: 28 February, 2012

I really can’t summarize the book without giving away what’s happened in the previous works of the series, but let’s just say that it’s more of the same. Stuff is bad, it’s getting worse, and everyone is too focused on their own concerns to see the bigger picture.

It’s incredible that Martin is keeping me at the edge of my seat through the audio equivalent of 3,000+ pages, and leaves me craving more. Even more incredible is that he is able to keep hitting air circulation devices with human waste without it ever feeling forced or giving me anxiety fatigue. It’s become a running joke in our household – D will ask how the book is going and I will say: “Everything’s gone to hell!” To which my dear gentleman friend replies: “Isn’t that what you said last time?”

In Storm of Swords, Jaime Lannister is given a POV and quickly earns his way into my good graces. Martin has done an amazing job at creating convincingly grey characters, and allowing for multiple interpretations of the same events. By giving the reader insight into Jaime’s motivations, Martin shows us a man who wishes to honour his vows, and who was willing to break them and sacrifice his reputation to protect the innocent.

Tyrion Lannister is still one of my favourite characters, and we see quite a bit of his development in this book, but there’s something that’s been bothering me. From the start, he is played as “the clever one.” Jaime is a great fighter, Cersei is beautiful, and Tyrion is clever. Yet from the start, he’s never struck me as especially smart. He’s borderline witty, although he seems to simply subscribe to the buckshot school of wit (make as many japes as possible and hope that some of them land). And, quite frankly, his mocking jokes are frequently ill-timed and just get him into trouble.

I’ve read a couple reviews mentioning Sansa Stark and how weak and annoying she is. She’s no Arya, certainly, but is she really so weak? Arya and Brienne of Tarth are both aberrations in Westeros, and not really an option for females. Sansa is the more realistic of the three. She is a woman and she is acting within the female sphere to survive. Far from being some passive little china doll, I found her to have incredible strength and an active agent in her own right whenever she sees the opportunity. Consider, for example, how she uses Ser Dontos Hollard to escape King’s Landing, or how she tries to escape Joffrey by marrying Willas Tyrell. She’s afraid, to be sure, but so is Arya. The difference is that Arya survives by using her sword while Sansa survives by using her courtesies. Personally, I admire Sansa’s strength, all the more because she carves out her survival in the “woman’s domain” (historically speaking) rather than pushing herself into the “man’s sphere” as Arya does.

One final note, I am “reading” this via audio book (because it’s a hands-free way to stave off boredom while nursing) and it needs to be said that Roy Dotrice is amazing. He makes the characters come to life by giving each a different voice. It was hard for me at first because it shaped my perception of the characters – something that I like the written medium without – but it’s grown on me. And Dotrice’s range is truly impressive.

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A Song of Ice and Fire #2: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

Read: 6 February, 2012

Picking up where Game of Thrones left off, Clash of Kings jumps right into the action. The series reads like a unified whole, separated only to appear less daunting to potential readers (and to prevent back injury, I suppose), so it was hard not to take up book 3 immediately after finishing. I think that says a lot about the quality of this series – 2,000 pages and I’m still hungering for more!

All the plotlines from Game of Thrones are still present, and this next instalment adds more. So by the final page of Clash of Kings there are enough plots and subplots to fill several series. Certainly, the Daenerys, John Snow, and Iron Thrones lines could all easily have been separated. But it speaks to Martin’s expertise that he’s able to balance all three (including their respective subplots) and interweave them enough that they enhance each other rather than detract. The subplots are sufficiently connected to the main plots to make the world feel even more alive and to heighten suspense without becoming overwhelming.

Game of Thrones had very little magic. That was great for me because I have a lot of trouble getting into stories that are heavy in magic. But although there’s quite a bit more in Clash of Kings, I was already so engrossed in the story and the world by the time it was introduced in earnest that I didn’t find it jarring.

What’s impressed me most about the series so far is how alive the world feels. There are thousands of background characters, and each is given enough detail to seem real, to feel like they could have their own stories to tell. The setting, too, is filled with history. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book – even contemporary fiction – where the world seemed so populated.

I’m still fairly early on in the series, but it has really impressed me and is shaping up to be my favourite fantasy story, if not one of my favourite stories in general. The audio book makes the length far more manageable, which is great if you’re reading time is limited, so there’s really no excuse not to give it a try!

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