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Elspeth Flashman

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A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5)
A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5)
by George R.R. Martin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.95

550 of 577 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intricate, but Underwhelming., 17 July 2011
ADWD was a loooong time in the waiting, and since the previous book was a character-driven travelogue, it was generally believed that this would make up for it with plenty of action and plot resolution. Not so. This, like A Feast For Crows, is 1000 pages of scenic character study.

The characters travel about, and have immense conversations with other people. These conversations are fascinating, and you can see the characters develop (and not always for the best) as the book goes on. But action? Not that much. We have been invested with these amazing characters for 20 years now, so watching them develop is rewarding - but it seems to be at the expense of story momentum.

By the end, we're not much further along in plot than we were by the end of Book 3. But it's now starting to become apparent that GRRM's focus is on character first and foremost, and plot must fit in the small gaps whenever the character is allowed to plateau for awhile.

So the real standout storylines in this book are oddly, the ones with characters with the fewest chapters. Then, they have to be sharp, succinct, focused and dramatic. But the "Big Three" characters each get about a dozen chapters each, and as a result have bloated, fuzzy, rather impotent storylines, where they talk a lot and worry a good deal, and evolve or devolve as people, but don't get much further towards their respective goals.

A great many new characters are introduced, but oddly, are not detailed that well. An important new figure in Dany's storyline, Hizdahr, is sketched so vaguely that you never get a sense of him at all, and care even less. It seems GRRM is too fascinated by the Big Three to be much interested in the lesser roles.

GRRM's writing style can be visceral, beautiful, haunting, unforgettable. But his weakness is wandering away into asides that are full of description and backstory, and that tendancy seems to be getting much stronger with each passing book. His editor apparently reveres him too much to call a halt to the endless minutiae. Allowing for that, how he proposes to tie up all the myriad loose ends in two more books is beyond me. I can't see it happening. This feels at the moment like it may turn into a never-ending series.

I'm still a massive fan and would recommend the series as a whole - there are too many moments of beauty not to. But I may not be first in the queue next time, as I was for this one. I have re-adjusted my expectations somewhat.
Comment Comments (20) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 24, 2015 7:08 PM BST

Heartstone (The Shardlake Series)
Heartstone (The Shardlake Series)
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not entirely a triumph...., 3 Oct. 2010
I was slightly disappointed in this book, as the previous 4 Shardlake books had been undeniably getting better, more exciting, more nerve-wracking and more character developed with each instalment.

However this book, whilst superbly researched, lacked the heart-thumping tempo of the last book, Revelations. It takes Shardlake out of London - and whilst it may have been neccessary as Sansom obviously wanted him to be in Portsmouth - it means that the entire book is taken up with Shardlake trotting on his borrowed horse down country roads. He goes back and forth this rural area so much I started to get dizzy. And a bit frustrated. The Shardlake series IS London, and it suffered a great deal from getting away from it.

It also meant that there wasn't much plot urgency. At one point Shardlake berates himself for caring about his new case so much, thinking something like "After all, no one has died". And you find yourself thinking why you, the reader, should care either! Even if the case is interesting - it's not life or death like it was in Revelations.

I LOVE Shardlake as a character. I think he's a kind and well-meaning man. But I worry that he has plateaued a bit in terms of his character development. He has become nervous, paranoid, obsessive, unrelenting, and feels old. He becomes an annoyance, not only to the central family in the plot, but also at times, to us! I can only hope that this is building up to Shardlake deciding in the next book to (finally) get a life. I desperately hope so, as much as I love him I am becoming as exasperated with him as Jack Barack was throughout this book.

But I still commend this series, and Sansom, for some superb world-building. And he is still able to pull the heart-strings. I found the final scene with Jack and Shardlake to be very moving. And I will certainly be waiting with bated breath for the next one. And crossing my fingers it'll be the best one yet!

Revelation (The Shardlake Series)
Revelation (The Shardlake Series)
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Paperback

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best one yet, but needs an Editor and more sex!, 1 April 2009
Having read all the Shardlake books (and having started to get sick of the formula) I picked this up expecting much the same as before.

Well, it is similar, in that Sansom still urgently needs an editor. There's still far too much of "The next day I went....." and "The day after that I visited....". Shardlake has THOUSANDS of conversations. There's meant to be a BBC series in the works, and it may actually be a bit of an improvement dramatically, as they certainly won't be afraid to cut out a lot of the waste.

But this book ramps up the action in that there are a vast amount of murders, and they're grisly enough to satisfy anyone. This means that there's a murder every 20 pages or so, which is pretty good fun and makes it quite a page-turner. I didn't guess who the killer was at all, which I liked, and even the day after finishing the book I was turning the plot over in my mind.

Shardlake still comes across as quite a kind man, principally, so you do like him throughout. I thought his character came out of this book in particular quite well. He's a relucatant hero, but he tries to help his friends and he's not a coward.

His romantic wistfulness though is getting ridiculously repetitive now though. How many times is he going to have an unrequited attraction? And it's all so CHASTE! Sansom really needs to amp the sexual tension up a bit. We need to think Our Hero isn't completely unfanciable!

The Death of Achilles (Erast Fandorin 4)
The Death of Achilles (Erast Fandorin 4)
by Boris Akunin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I don't think I was meant to be rooting for the Murderer....., 10 Oct. 2007
The Fandorin series is marked by being pretty inconsistent in style and this one is no exception. It's almost as if Boris Akunin is "trying out" different styles but for the reader, it makes it a little erratic. The second book was a pure Death on the Nile rip-off, the third had a young woman as the main character, with Fandorin sidelined as an enigmatic figure she's trying to figure out, and this one chops the book abruptly in two, the first part being a murder mystery Fandorin is trying to solve, and the second half being of all things, a biography of the Murderer.

It starts out promisingly - a famous figure is murdered and there's a cover-up. But then the old Akunin problems show up. Too much plot and sub-plot so that the reader becomes confused, too many characters with similar names and titles, and actually too many characters full stop. At times it seems that everyone Fandorin meets is allowed a scene, down to the most irrelevant people. Do we really need two scenes with the deceaseds weeping sister? Maybe Akunin has now become too famous to be edited.

Just when your brain is starting to hurt though, it abruptly stops and you're thrown into the biograpy of the Murderer. Then things start to look up. We see his terrible childhood, see his first murders, hear his internal monologue throughout. He's not a monster, he's just amoral. And has a sense of mercy, in his own efficient way. He eventually, tentatively, starts to form hopes and dreams unconnected with his grisly past, and maybe he's even capable of love.... I was gripped by his character and his story, and as it uncovered the events of the Murder we've already seen - but from his side - I couldn't put the book down. Akunin's obviously enjoying fleshing out someone different so completely and he's certainly his best character creation yet. Eventually of course, there has to be a showdown.

And therein lies one of the main problems. Surely you shouldn't be rooting for the Anti-Hero? But then he's such a sexy character, Fandorin is not. Our Hero has come back from Japan more Japanese than Russian, but it just serves to make him even odder. He's covered in shooting stars and nunchucks and takes ice-cold baths. He claps his hands sharply eight times to aid concentration, even in public. You have a sneaking suspicion that at something like 28 years old, he's a virgin. There's nothing wrong with his personality, really. He's moderately pleasant if socially a bit inept, incredibly clever and capable of friendship, but he's starting to buckle under the weight of "characteristics" (read: tics and eccentricities) that Akunin keeps adding on. He's becoming a bit of a cartoon. And he didn't really gain my sympathy. Even when he's in high emotion (for him, that means blushing), he seems as cold as a fish.

I will continue with the rest of the series - I've invested in it now, and they are intelligent reading. I can't resist a whole series of clever books just waiting to be read. I don't think they'll be better edited, unfortunately. And God knows what format each will take. But I can put up with that. I'm just praying he makes Fandorin more man, less idea.

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