Review: Stormlord Rising

Stormlord Rising
Stormlord Rising by Glenda Larke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Good stories poorly written seem to be a bit of a theme as of late. The story here, indeed, keeps on being interesting. The plot is overall a bit more innovative than the first book, which is only good. Indeed, the author also seems to have slightly given up on her tendency to feature every plot twist fifty pages ahead, settling mostly for about ten or five in this volume. One can only hope that this entirely disappears in the next book.

However, even with the above in mind, the story is weighed down by a lot of problems. The main one of these would be, for me, the number of contradictions in the world the story takes place in. The religious systems of the various factions are an example of this, but there are many others: the “‘Baster” accent is another one of the very annoying things, where an entire race (nation? faction?) is differentiated by the fact they use a single tense wrong and always say “Ye” instead of “You”. I mean… surely, the author could have thought of something more? Something imaginative perhaps?

The characters are likewise shallow and meaningless. Ryka’s ridiculous adventures strain my patience with the number of u-turns she goes through, especially with every fourth thought of hers being the same; Davim and his successor are fools, having no grasp of strategy or planning; Tarquar is ‘evil’ because he is bored (what a jolly good reason!); Terelle’s thoughts are articulated as if she was five; etc. The only person with a modicum of moral complexity is our stormlord, who is thereby also rendered incapable of acting. Overall, the only character who has managed to maintain being interesting is Iani.

I will only add here that I will read the third book, more because of I don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen rather than looking forward to the book, but that’s that.

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Sauron

After my recent reread of the Lord of the Rings, I also decided to watch Peter Jackson’s movies again. I didn’t get very far (yet), but I did get through the opening scene in the first movie. And that made me think of Sauron, and how he is portrayed in the movies and the books.

Surely, we see a brilliant villain in the character of Sauron. He is malevolent and devious, stopping at nothing but complete conquest. And yet, he is not entirely bad. He was once good and fell into the darkness as everyone else — no one is entirely evil in that world, or rather, no one began as evil.

The story and look into his history we get in the Silmarillion is really worth it, and I think that knowing that allows me to think a bit more critically of how Peter Jackson made him look in the movies, and I do not entirely agree with that way. The Sauron present in Lord of the Rings is only a part of the entire character, and I am not certain he is the better part (better as in more interesting).

Of Peter Jackson’s Sauron: I’ll start by pointing out that nowhere can we actually read that Sauron’s was as tall as they made him be. Indeed, there’s plenty to allow us to think that his human form looked as any man or elf would (at least in the earlier part of the Second Age before the Fall of Númenor). There is no reason to believe that his later malevolent form was any taller than that, and it seems to be just an easy way that Mr Jackson has followed : oh, he is the villain, let’s give him black armour and make him twice as tall as anyone else.

The black armour itself I do not object to: it is hardly likely that Gorthaur the Cruel would have worn anything else. The mace? Maybe. I am slightly uncertain about the weapon, although Melkor used a mace and it is not unlikely to have his apprentice follow in the very same footsteps.

Of Sauron himself, I quite enjoy him as a character. As I mentioned before, he appears now and then in Silmarillion and he is more instrumental there. He is also present in the Akallabêth, and we can see the more deceptive manipulative self of his in that record of the Second Age. I find that the Sauron we are confronted with in the Third Age, though being his own master, is the least interesting of these. This last one is solely bent on strength and power, and has seemingly lost the plotting side.

The Sauron of the First Age (that I would define and separate from the others by calling him Gorthaur) was an interesting creature. I like him best, and that solely comes from his encounter with Finrod Felagund where they fight each other. Indeed, the deceptiveness of this character makes him quite fun to read about. This same deceptiveness also works for him in the court of the kings of Númenor making that era quite interesting. It is somewhat of a loss that we lack that interesting side in the Third Age.

As a short aside, I quite like imagining what the force of Ar-Pharazôn the Golden must have looked like for Sauron to submit without trying to resist. That host must have been without equal at that time (or Sauron must have been so clever to know that submission would give him greater power — which is also very possible).

However, Sauron the Great is also of some interest in his multiple roles as the Necromancer and the Eye. The manipulations that he plays upon Saruman and others are no smaller than the ones in previous eras although we learn of these through other characters.

So, when we look at Sauron in his evil black armour and twice the length of man, let’s remember that he used to be graceful and elegant, and that his cruelty was of a different kind in a bygone era. And, yet, even he was not entirely evil for in the beginning it would have been difficult to distinguish what later became Sauron from what later became Gandalf.

‘The Rains of Castamere’, A Game of Thrones

Speaking of television these days, I am sure that A Game of Thrones is in the mind of many a people. It is quite a good show, and it has managed to captivate an audience that numbers in the tens of millions (based on HBO viewing in the States, I would assume that there’s at least as many outside the States).

This Sunday we got to a pivotal point in the series — at least, I would look at it as a pivotal point. I am afraid I will have to avoid mentioning what exactly happens in case anyone reads this before seeing that episode or reading that section in the books, but I would like to emphasize that I was quite happy in how the producers managed to portray the events.

Generally, there is a far higher level of compromise in filming a TV series if it is based on a book. Right now, there were only a few changes that I had to disagree with. Namely, having the Blackfish and Talisa both at the Twins: it will be interesting to see if the Blackfish pops up in the next episode for that will be the determining factor in how much the series will start diverging (at least, that is how I see it).

Otherwise, ‘The Rains of Castamere’ is an excellent song. The songwriters for the show and The National have done a really good job of building an enjoyable tune that captures the emotions present. The scene in one of the previous episodes where Cersei quotes the poem/song to Margaery is a decent example of this. ‘The Rains of Castamere’ is what the Lannisters are right now, and it does a good job of telling the story of how little they like being defied.

What I was most impressed by was the reaction to this last episode. I really enjoyed it, I think it was well done aside from the points mentioned above. I am not entirely happy with Bran’s storyline although he saw more action here than in the previous season combined. Daenerys’ time wasn’t too bad either — I could actually stand her scenes in this episode. Plus, lots of good combat skills displayed by her sturdy warriors.

However, I think that people were somewhat surprised by the events in this episode, and that is what prompted them to yell out in fury. But, I would keep in mind that these are George RR Martin’s characters and this is his story. His word is the word of god for A Song of Ice and Fire. And, yet, he did nothing that drastic here. Old men are notoriously grumpy and this is what we see in this episode. The characters had to continue like they did here for this is who they were: their personalities allowed for nothing else.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised by Roslin Frey. It does look that the people in charge of the show took their time in screening even the most minor of the characters.

Overall, I think we’ve had a good lead-in to the season finale which will no doubt (hopefully, at least) feature the next wedding (Joffrey & Margaery) as well as many other things. I hope they’ve put as much effort in as they did here.

The one question I do wonder about is whether we’ll have an epilogue next episode…

‘Lord of the Rings’, J.R.R. Tolkien

‘And it is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world. We should seek a final end of this menace, even if we do not hope to make one.’
— Tolkien, J. R. R. (2009-04-20). The Lord of the Rings (Kindle Locations 6247-6249). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

As I generally quite enjoy reading some works again and again, I do embark on some journeys far more than a few times. ‘Lord of the Rings’ is one such book (and I’ll get down to defining it as a book again in a moment), and I have never regretted taking it up once more. There’s so much of a story in here that something new opens in my eyes whenever I take another look. I’ll hopefully be able to pinpoint some of this here and now, but I am also certain that if I were to read it again immediately I would notice something that I missed this time round. I think that is how it is meant to be for me.

What were the main parts that took me in this time round?

I’ve always been a fan of the journeying chapters, first in the Shire and then through the wilderness and the Realm of Gondor. This time round I think I allowed myself a bit more time to take the scenery in — with Mr Tolkien’s words, I never really have the problem of imagining certain scenes, and the descriptions we are given of mountain ranges and forests and rivers enliven my mind with the wondrous possibilities of other worlds.

The characters themselves have grown on me more than before. I know that I took a look at Boromir the last time I delved into the movies and the books, and I would say that a lot of his character was still very much with me this time round. His brother, Faramir, is another person who really has a very compelling story. I have always enjoyed Gandalf as a character, but if I were to name a few more names that were notable this time round, I would rather go with Imrahil and Theoden.

There is such a strong aura that comes with Theoden King — all of the symbolism of standing up for his own fate in the very end; and that of there still being a glimpse of light and hope even if the sky is dark is a most befitting way to bring about a change in the man. And there is such a change: I am very deeply moved every time Theoden states again that he is better healed than anyone can guess, and that he will rather do whatever he can against the Shadow than hide in the mountains. It feels like a change for the better, and I can imagine the King being happy in his end.

Prince Imrahil is a very different character. He came to my mind during this read first when he brought his men and horses into Minas Tirith — the credit that the people of the city award him speaks volumes of what type of a man we are dealing with. And then the sally out of the city! The cry from the walls, “Amroth for Gondor!”, I can imagine that cry from the soldiers on the walls, and I can also imagine the depth of feeling that these men must feel for this great Lord who rides in the lead of his men to save their beloved Captain. Imrahil, as he is for me, is the embodiment of all this depth of emotion, and that gives him a presence that very few can match.

Now, I began with a small note on how I look at this book. That, however, is a difficult question for indeed I look at it as one book, as three books, and as six books. As the story is divided, I would probably prefer to comment on six books while reading one — the three don’t make as much sense to me.

To further the comment above, I would have to say that Book II could well be my favourite of the story. It has these descriptions of history and lands that can be easily construed as a hastily built world, but I rather tend to see the depth of history — the people who have lived and remembered the last six thousand years with all of the losses and victories that have come by in that time. And I also see that depth of history when our Fellowship passes by the lands of Eriador which used to be inhabited, and when they try to best Caradhras, or visit the Golden Forest of Laurelindorenan. There is an ample supply of detail and brilliance in Book II that is indeed rivalled later — but that rivalry is a mimicry of the beauty and purity that we first see here and that remains here.

This will for now suffice as my comment on this reading of ‘Lord of the Rings’. I’m sure that when I read it again, I’ll write something again. And I might not wait that long to say what I think of some of the characters.

“But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come.”
— Tolkien, J. R. R. (2009-04-20). The Lord of the Rings (pp. 788-789). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

‘Arkenstone’, Summoning

Summoning is a band that I would generally put into a darker category, and yet I really like them. I think it is the depth of sound in their tracks which makes me so well disposed towards them. As a brief introduction it is worth noting that the vast majority of their titles concern themselves with the world Mr Tolkien built and created, and this has also spoken well in favour of the band.

One of the tracks I really enjoy by them is called ‘Arkenstone’. Now, there’s a story that comes with this track as there is a story with every item and phrase from Middle Earth. In this case, the Arkenstone is the Heart of the Mountain and the most guarded treasure that has been found under the Lonely Mountain. It is quite literally the embodiment of the Lonely Mountain as I see it — the Arkenstone represents the collective hopes and wishes of the Dwarves who live under the Mountain.

That is at least how I see the Arkenstone — what Thorin Oakenshield’s actions in ‘The Hobbit’ have made the stone be to me. I think it could be described as the sole reason for the Quest to take the treasure back from Smaug and that would probably not be entirely wrong. In fact, I think it might be a more honest measure of the Dwarves’ goals than much else of what was said or done — even if everything else failed, they would have succeeded had they only glimpsed the Arkenstone!

What Summoning has managed to accomplish for me in this song is to make this sense of depth of the Arkenstone a reality. I can imagine the beauty and splendor of the Heart of the Mountain when I listen to these sounds, and I can see light reflecting back from it in a thousand fragmented rays. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine my hand reaching out to the Arkenstone and grasping it — but it would be slightly out of reach. Just slightly out of reach, because unfortunately it is too brilliant for our mortal realm. It is too beautiful to exist in anything but our wishes.

And that is the reason why we have to have our imagination run free!

‘The Dragon is Withered…’, J.R.R. Tolkien

There is a very nice poem (this sentence would probably be more accurate if I had said “There is another very nice poem…”) in ‘The Hobbit’ that I noticed on my recent read of the book. I took some time to look into whether Colin Rudd, Anois, or the Tolkien Ensemble had turned those words into music, but I’m afraid that does not seem to have happened (if I am mistaken, please do enlighten me). However, I discovered another promising singing voice who has sung the words into a tune.

Here it is:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj_Grl0dc9o]

And here’s the lyrics to this poem (note that while you can find the full poem on that site, only the latter half was made into a song, and since that part is the one I like better it is also what I’ve copied here).

The dragon is withered,
His bones are now crumbled!
His armor is shivered,
His splendour is humbled!
Though sword shall be rusted
And throne and crown perish,
With strength that men trusted
And wealth that they cherish,
Here grass is still growing,
And leaves are yet swinging!
The white water is flowing,
And elves are yet singing!
Come! Tra-la-la-lally!
Come back to the valley!

The stars are far brighter
Than gems without measure,
The moon is far whiter
Than silver in treasure:
The fire is more shining
On hearth in the gloaming
Than gold won by mining,
So why go a-roaming?
O! Tra-la-la-lally!
Come back to the Valley!

O! Where are you going?
So late in returning?
The water is flowing!
The stars are all burning!
O! Whither so laden,
So sad and so dreary?
Here elf and elf-maiden
Now welcome the weary!
With tra-la-la-lally
Come back to the Valley,
Tra-la-la-lally
Fa-la-la-lally
Ha ha!

Mind you, in my mind the tone is slightly stronger with more force and power, but then again in the books it is sung by the good Elves of Rivendell so maybe my interpretation is less accurate than it could be.

But I think that no matter what tone we apply, these words can bring about a smile and make a day brighter… which is, after all, what a poem is meant to do. So, there we go… ‘The dragon is withered…!

Empire trilogy, R. Feist & J. Wurts

This book, or rather, series of books was my introduction to both Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, and to the magical world that Mr Feist has created in the Riftwar Cycle. I had heard very little of these things before, and even after reading the Empire trilogy I’ve been unable to pursue further interest in these works although I would say that has come down to time more than anything else.

I obtained these books first from a friend of mine who wanted to acquaint me to the main character of the series, Mara of the Acoma. Mara is a young Lady, only a priestess in the beginning of the first book — and yet the most powerful person in the Empire by the end of the third. It is this rise that we are brought in to observe — how a young woman can make a political house ascend through all sorts of trouble — and I would say that the authors do very well in the one thing I enjoy: there’s plenty of political intrigue and thought that has gone into these books.

This may be mainly due to the traditional way of the Empire which has managed to ritualize much of life, including the time honoured question of how exactly should we kill the sworn enemies of our house, but it does not take away from the fact that death is close. Always. Mara, young girl as she is, is cast into a potentially lethal rulership (aside from being the main character) and all of the troubles that come with it — never being trained to lead she has to take it up on the go, and her not-quite-traditional upbringing seems to give her a hand in all of this.

I find her rise enjoyable if sometimes incredulous, but there is a fair bit of backstabbery and treachery so all is never as rosy as it seems. Our characters experience pain and loss, and that is what helps them to remain real. Sure, Mara is incredibly lucky all throughout the series — but she pays her price, and that price is often high. Maybe a more realistic version would have made the price even higher, but I guess that world-renown luck must do something to help people along…

The society and life of the Empire are maybe detailed not quite as much as I would like, and there are a few details which could always be expanded upon in more detail, but I feel that this series was a very good way of bringing me into the Riftwar Cycle. For, as I said, even though I have not been able to read further into it, I have wanted to for a long while. Indeed, every time I walk by Mr Feist’s ‘Magician’ in a Waterstones, I think “Is today the day I buy that book?”. It hasn’t been thus far, but that day is getting closer. And, in the end, the day will have been brought about by Mara and her Empire.

‘The Hobbit’, J.R.R. Tolkien

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”
— Tolkien, J. R. R. (2009-04-20). The Hobbit (p. 48). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

‘The Hobbit’ has been a very special book for me for such a long time. I first read it years ago as a child and since then I’ve returned to it every now and then. I wouldn’t know how many times I have read it, but I know I’ve done it in two languages (Estonian and English) and I think I have managed to keep preferences out of those languages (although I’d go for English right now if I had to).

What is it about Bilbo Baggins? Is it the cheerful tone that carries throughout the book? Or is it the comparison between the dwarves and the hobbit? Or how Bilbo goes on to be from this measly burglar to the near-leader of the group?

The good ending of the story is never really in doubt (especially if you know how to read the hints which are in the book), but there are plenty of moments where it is easy to think that not all will end well — and, well, not all does end well. And yet, the overall outcome is probably not as bad as it could have been yet causing ‘sufficient’ sorrow and sadness. I think that only adds to this elusive charm of what this story is.

“You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”
— Tolkien, J. R. R. (2009-04-20). The Hobbit (p. 54). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

So, what is this charm? I have a hard time defining it, but I can still say that I have not gone for the option of watching what Mr Peter Jackson has made the book. I have preferred to keep to my own imaginary devices, and they work fine. I do wonder though, what will prompt me to watch Mr Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’ and when that will be…

I think what I like most about rereading ‘The Hobbit’ is seeing the tone that the author has employed. It is friendly and soothing, and it can probably be called escapist. But I wouldn’t do that. The narrator is a friend and ally here, he is invested in the story — he wants Bilbo to come through and so do I. Because, in the end, who would I be if I didn’t want Mr Baggins to best that dragon and to return to his hobbit-hole?

“And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”
— Tolkien, J. R. R. (2009-04-20). The Hobbit (p. 272). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

‘Artemis Fowl’, E. Colfer

“Ambition had a price, and that price was friendship.”
— Colfer, Eoin (2010-06-03). Artemis Fowl (Kindle Locations 2176-2177). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

I heard of ‘Artemis Fowl’ a long time ago but got around to reading the book only recently. While my general impression of the novel is rather favourable, I am not entirely confident I would continue with reading the rest of Mr Colfer’s works immediately — but I’ll tell you why — and I would return to the good author in due time.

To begin with, ‘Artemis Fowl’ is an amazing book in the simplicity of style. It is written as a children’s book, I would expect, and this would be a part of why the book is so friendly and inviting as well as easy on the eye.

Despite this style, I would not, however, say that it is necessarily easy on the mind. I had great fun trying to figure out what Artemis and the LEP would do next, and I didn’t mind the somewhat fantastical setting which seems to have been created in the most well-intentioned manner possible. “Fairies?”, one might think. But, yes, ‘Fairies’! And not the good fairies that never do wrong, but fallible fairies and ones who are rather human in some of their traits. And what could be more fun than noticing the humanity in others?

I think that the very similar yet strange world-setting is what allows this book to be so simple and yet not off-putting. Yet, I can imagine many a person looking at it and shying away, but I do believe that it has a charm that should be recognized.

Now, if all of what I’ve said above is so positive, why was I not so positive in the beginning of this post?

I think I would have liked this far more had I read it ten years ago or ten years from now. At the present, this style looks to me in a way as a mimicry of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, and there can only be one of those in my heart and mind.

The same charm that the simplistic yet clever style that consults the reader every now and then, this very same charm can also be a bullet which rebounds upon the weapon that launched it in the first place. I am not of a mind to wish that the rest of Mr Colfer’s works were any different in their writing, but I do hope that they make me think less of what could have been in this book and more of what there already was.

‘Confidence is ignorance,’ advised the centaur. ‘If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.’
— Colfer, Eoin (2010-06-03). Artemis Fowl (p. 44). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

‘Game of Thrones’ [Season 3 Trailer]

There’s a trailer for the Game of Thrones soon-to-debut season 3, finally. It looks promising.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzI9v_B4sxw]

What makes me like the show so much is that they seem to have kept the majority of what is good in the books. In this trailer we see the best of that side by the philosophical saying that Bronn puts forward, and I am sure there’s plenty more to come in the episodes when they start. The best part about them: they’re memorable and true, generally. Maybe somewhat harsher than we like our truths, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

In addition to that, the soundtrack seems very good — I truly hope that song (from the trailer) is somewhere in the series.

There’s a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand.