Category Archives: A to Z Challenge
Posts in or about the 2014 A to Z Challenge
H is for
hobbitses hobbits. Whether you’re a die-hard fantasy buff or just plain don’t live under a rock, chances are pretty good you know what hobbits are. Those little fellows, also called “halflings” by some, who typically like to put their over-sized, hairy feet up <censored> and live quiet and contented lives in the Shire whenever destiny isn’t bothering them with quests to save the world and such.
Hobbits were invented by the great-grand-daddy of fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien, appearing first in The Hobbit in 1937 (which is currently being turned into three movies) and of course later in The Lord of the Rings. I believe they’re mentioned in some of Tolkien’s other writings as well, but, not having read any of those, I don’t know much more than that.
<censored> right! The most famous of them are Bilbo and Master looks after us Frodo Baggins, Stupid Fat Hobbit Samwise “Sam” Gamgee, Peregrin “Pippin” Took, and Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck. And us, and us! Even Gollum was once a hobbit.
sneaky little hobbitses good-natured cousins of humans live longer and mature much slower than we do (Frodo was 50 when he set out from the Shire to deliver my PRECIOUS! the One Ring to Mount Doom), and we hates the filthy little hobbitses are generally liked by the other races of Middle Earth. They spoilin’ nice fish have a strong sense of morals and, despite being rather mischievous in their younger years, tend to “do what’s right” when under pressure.
Hobbits should be given
to nasty Orcses a special place in her lair the heart of every fan of fantasy. <censored> <censored>, you <censored> <censored>-<censored>, my precious!
G is for George R. R. Martin. Too much sex, too much gore, too much wanton violence, and yet it’s storytelling of the highest order. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the TV series Game of Thrones is based (named for the first book in the series, just to confuse everyone), is polarising yet awesome.
Among GRRM’s less endearing attributes are these (don’t worry, I’ll praise him further down the page as well):
- He fills his book with explicit scenes (both sex and violence) that sometimes seem to be there more for the shock value than anything else. I’m sure many will disagree, but much of that could have been done more tastefully, in my opinion. (The guys at the “Finish the Book, George” blog don’t pull their punches like I’m doing when they point this out.)
- He takes forever to complete the next book and has, in the past, made and broken many a promise about release dates. “You’re not getting any younger, George, don’t you pull a Robert Jordan on us!” If you look at the release dates of the five books that are out (1996, 1998, 2000… so far so good… 2005, 2011… really?), you have to ask yourself what he’s doing with his time. The aforementioned blog is known for sticking it to him for pursuing all sorts of interests and hobbies (cynics would point out that many of them are earning him money) while he could be writing and while his fans languish. Who are we to tell him what to do with his time? True, but then, an author has to have some responsibility to his fan base, doesn’t he?
- He has no qualms getting his readers to identify with his characters only to kill them off with relish. (I actually don’t mind that one, personally, it keeps the readers on their toes.)
But, but, but, but… they’re still awesome books. I don’t want my writing to ever be that crude and explicit – I would feel smutty and cheap, and I’m neither squeamish nor prude – but I can overlook that fact for these positive traits:
- The worldbuilding and the historical background of the world of Westeros and Essos is extremely detailed and makes the setting very believable, an achievement that only the top tier of fantasy authors manage, and to which I aspire. Partially based on the Wars of the Roses (the medieval conflict in England, not to be confused with the film The War of the Roses), it is not hard to imagine that greed to control the throne would drive the characters to do what they do.
- The cast of characters is complex, but not for the sake of being complex, or because GRRM gets side-tracked in too many story threads as the late and great Jordan sometimes tended to do in the “middle books”. It suits the imaginary world they are in, and they all come with their own motivations that mean their actions make sense in the context of the story. So many of these characters are multi-faceted, that is, they aren’t all-good or all-evil one-dimensional gap fillers, making them very realistic. It is usually possible to find something sympathetic in the villains, and something to despise in the heroes, or at least to imagine that such a character could exist.
- It’s not the type of fantasy that waves magic stuff in your face; as with most well-written fantasy, the magic that sets it apart from our own world is merely one of the aspects of the story.
- Even though “not much happens” in many chapters, they are linked to the greater story in such a way as to maintain the reader’s interest.
- It’s just a good read. It’s the sort of long fantasy series I enjoy getting into.
- Even though major characters are getting killed left and right, and even though it seems like things get progressively worse, there’s always that hope that things will turn out right, that karma has to finally wake up at some point and give the characters you love to hate what’s coming to them (even though you know on some level that GRRM wants you to think that only to turn around and smite your hopes with a wave of his pen).
What do you think of GRRM’s writing, of A Song of Ice and Fire, or of the Game of Thrones TV Series (which, by complete coincidence, has just started season 4)? Do you agree about loving some bits and hating others, or are you a complete, unconditional fan, or think it’s tosh that shouldn’t be read by anyone? Let me know in the comments.
F is for Fitz, for FitzChivalry, for Farseer, for friendship, and of course for The Fool. If you don’t know, please go and have a quick read of three trilogies by Robin Hobb (Farseer, Liveships, and Tawny Man), then come back here (oh, fine, read the Rain Wilds Chronicles as well, while you’re at it, what’s another four books between friends… I’ll wait). Otherwise you’d be missing out. Plus, there may be spoilers.
You’d be missing out on knowing and understanding what I consider to be the best-written friendship in literature. No, I don’t mean just in epic fantasy. In literature. Ok, maybe that’s overdoing it a bit – after all, I haven’t even read more than two gazillonths of what’s out there. (Do you think you know one that’s better? Let me know in the comments… but have you read those three trilogies I mentioned?!?) Personally, I can’t think how any friendship of which anyone has ever written could compare. I set no boundaries on my adoration for this friendship. None at all. Do you understand me?
I set no boundaries on my love. None at all. Do you understand me?
— The Fool, in The Golden Fool
Here’s your chance to go away if you don’t want to read any spoilers… [cue elevator music while you scroll down].
The reason I say it’s the best friendship ever written is that it is not really a romance, nor a bromance, nor yet is it entirely platonic. (Well, one of the reasons. I can see I’m making myself very clear here.) I suppose it has a lot to do with the question of the Fool’s gender, an issue that is never fully answered*. It is exactly that lack of a definition of what the Fool is that leaves the nature of his/her/its friendship with Fitz open to the reader’s interpretation. Fitz and the Fool, Catalyst and Beloved… it’s a complicated relationship, to say the least. Fitz has a brilliant mind, but he can be thick as a plank at times. Yet you can’t entirely blame him for wanting to define what the Fool is and what their frienship is, or could be.
You are confusing plumbing and love again.
— The Fool, in Assassin’s Quest
Had the Fool’s gender ever been fully revealed by Robin Hobb, I doubt my memory of it would be as positive, or my joy at re-reading the series as great (I do hope this won’t be revealed when the next book comes out later this year). If you’ve read all three trilogies, I’m sure you’re aware that the Fool’s appearance and persona as he presents it in the Six Duchies (i.e. the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies), changes significantly, though not completely, when she (I don’t think there’s a way of doing this without mixing pronouns) becomes Amber, the mysterious carver of beads (I’ll never forget that “OMG!” moment when it finally clicked after so many hints). The Fool is a masterful actor and can slip into any role without much effort. The only thing the reader knows for sure is that the passion with which the Fool fights for what he believes is the destiny that is best for the world, is unfeigned and constant.
As a White, he is not the same as a human, although he appears much like a somewhat feminine man, or a somewhat masculine woman. Unlike Fitz, the Fool considers “plumbing” to be unimportant, often teasing Fitz about his fixation with it and about wanting to know the Fool’s gender. Only towards the end of Ship of Destiny do we get to see an expression of Amber’s love (however that is defined) for Fitz, when she carves Fitz’s features onto the Paragon, including the earring that is laden with such meaning throughout the series. My interpretation is that she is choosing between carrying out what she believes is her duty as a White Prophet, to guide the “wheel” of the world into a better rut, and giving in to her love for Fitz. She is very young for her kind, but always chooses the former, yet a part of her is always considering the “what ifs” of the latter.
Love isn’t just about feeling sure of the other person, knowing what he would give up for you. It’s knowing with certainty what you are willing to surrender for his sake. Make no mistake; each partner gives up something. Individual dreams are surrendered for a shared one.
— Amber, in Assassin’s Quest
Later, as the Tawny Man and Lord Golden, he is more mature, but being reunited with his Catalyst also brings back the dilemma. Fitz is also more mature and seems more willing to accept the friendship without fully understanding it.
Beloved, I have missed your company.
— Fitz, in The Golden Fool
The friendship even endures after Fitz carries the naked, unconscious Fool to safety in Fool’s Fate. Does he find out the Fool’s gender (or lack thereof)? You would have to assume so. Yet he has the class not go blabbering about it to the reader, nor even to reveal it tactfully. I sincerely hope Robin Hobb’s upcoming trilogy, The Fitz and the Fool, will continue not to spoil my ignorance in this matter*. Sometimes, not knowing can be more delicious than knowing.
I have waited patiently for many a sequel to finally be published. I have cursed George R. R. Martin for making excuse after excuse and delaying publication of a book that was supposedly “almost finished” for years. (At least now he has the TV series to prod him along to finish the books in time.) I have lamented Robert Jordan’s passing and fretted to find out whether his epic series would ever be completed. Never have I anticipated any book anywhere near as much as the next in the story of the Fitz and the Fool, The Fool’s Assassin.
* Update: See my post “Thank you, Robin Hobb!” for the great answer the author gave me when I told her I was hoping she wouldn’t reveal the Fool’s gender in the upcoming books…
E is for Endings. All good things must end, even our favourite books. (Though, thankfully, the ones that are part of a series only end temporarily….) Just like it is said that a fighter is only as good as his last fight, readers’ opinions about a book are often heavily influenced by the way it ends. A very good ending can salvage what may have seemed like an average-quality book when you realise that plot threads that didn’t make all that much sense at the time were just expertly woven into an intricate ending. Conversely, a book that was a great read but has a disappointing ending will leave you with that bitter feeling of disappointment as the last impression.
There are many ways stories can end, from Hollywood-type happy endings to ones that destroy all the hopes the author made the reader build up for the main character(s). Books can end in a manner that makes it clear that this end was as final as it can be, or they can leave the details of what happens next up to the reader’s imagination in an open ending, or they can hint at a continuation in a sequel. Short stories typically have a twist of some sort at the end, all the better to the reader if she didn’t see them coming. Endings can be bittersweet; they can leave the reader wishing for a happier ending while understanding that it was perhaps more realistic the way it was.
(Aside: speaking of endings, have you discovered the End of the Internet yet?)
Which type of ending do you prefer as a reader? Would you rather weep with joy at a happy ending after the main character has been put through the wringer, or have a gritty, realistic ending, no matter the cost to the character? Do you like open endings, final endings, or “temporary” endings? If you’re a writer, do you want the best for your characters, or do you enjoy shocking your readers with their misfortune, or something in between? Let me know in the comments.
Book One – more than anything else, that is what I look for when I’m at the bookstore searching for the next great read to sink my teeth into. I’ll admit it – I’m a sucker for series. A book that ends after a few hundred pages without hope of ever encountering its characters again? Hmm, if it’s really well-written, great, I might read it. Personally, though, I’d be much more reluctant to invest my emotions in it than if I knew it’s just the start of a series.
There’s a reason that, these days, a larger and larger section of the Blu-ray and DVD shelves is dedicated to TV series. And even when it comes to films, many studios see the allure of producing sequels. In my genre of choice – fantasy – what are the great films people know, what are the best-selling books? Feel free to give counter-examples in the comments if you disagree, but to my mind, they mostly consist of multiple parts. From Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time to Robin Hobb’s series to George R. R. Martin to Patrick Rothfuss. Too many more to name.
Maybe it’s a bit too melodramatic if I say something like, “A truly great story doesn’t fit in one book.” Some really great ones are very short. Nevertheless, I enjoy intricate character development, following a character’s convoluted trains of thought without being rushed from action scene to action scene like a tourist on a bus tour. “Got a photo of that building? And that tower? Good, let’s go, we’re on a tight schedule, people!” Life moves pretty fast, but (thankfully) it isn’t like that.
What about you? Do you prefer epic series of doorstopper-sized books like me, or shorter, more succinct, more poignant, stories? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
A is for Assassin’s Apprentice. During my first A to Z challenge post, I might as well reveal that “Amos M. Carpenter” is the third pen name of the author also publishing as “Megan Lindholm” and “Robin Hobb“. So, it should come as no surprise that I’ll shamelessly plug the first book I published as Robin Hobb back in 1995: Assassin’s Apprentice, Book 1 of the Farseer Trilogy.
Before you go running off to tell anyone about this revealed identity, may I kindly (and with my tongue firmly in my cheek) point you at today’s date. April Fool’s! (Sorry, couldn’t resist – of course I’m not really Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm. I wish….)
Assassin’s Apprentice begins slowly. Robin Hobb manages to draw the reader into the well-crafted world with rare skill, setting the scene and developing unique characters. The initially nameless character, dubbed “Fitz” because he is a royal bastard, tells his story in the first person from when he was a bright six-year-old until he is a young man by the end of Book One. Along the way, he discovers that his affinity for animals, which he always thought normal, is due to a magic called “the Wit”, despised and misunderstood by most. He also tries to learn the “royal” magic called “the Skill”, but his illegitimacy causes some to consider him to be dangerous to the throne (or to those who aspire to sit on it) and that he should be eliminated, while others believe that he is a tool that should be trained and used for the good of the crown. Thus, he learns to read and write, courtly manners, and, secretly, the fine art of assassination.
I wish I had more time to delve into the intricate details of the plot, the depth of each and every character, whose ideas and ambitions are incredibly believable within the context of the world, but I’m afraid I’ll have to keep this post relatively short. Let me just say, though, that Assassin’s Apprentice is not only an awesome book (whether you’re a fan of fantasy fiction or not, I’m sure you’ll love it), it is also the introduction to Robin Hobb’s “Realm of the Elderlings”, in which three partially interconnected trilogies are set, plus another tetralogy, plus the next series fans are eagerly anticipating:
- The Farseer Trilogy
- Assassin’s Apprentice
- Royal Assassin
- Assassin’s Quest
- The Liveship Traders Trilogy
- Ship of Magic
- The Mad Ship
- Ship of Destiny
- The Tawny Man Trilogy
- Fool’s Errand
- The Golden Fool
- Fool’s Fate
- The Rain Wilds Chronicles
- Dragon Keeper
- Dragon Haven
- City of Dragons
- Blood of Dragons
- The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy (yet to be released)
- The Fool’s Assassin (due August 2014)
Warning: do NOT begin reading Assassin’s Apprentice if you do not have much time to spare. You will want to pick up Book Two, and Book Three afterwards, and although they will not leave you wanting, they will leave you wanting more.