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Monthly Archives: January 2019

“Fire and Blood” by George R.R. Martin

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ASOIAF fans suffering through their own personal Long Night waiting for The Winds of Winter got something of a reprieve with the publication of Fire and Blood. Set in the world of ASOIAF, it covers the history of the Targaryen dynasty from Aegon’s Conquest through the beginning of Aegon III’s rule following the Dance of the Dragons.

The book is written from an in-universe perspective, purporting to be a history tome penned by a master. While this makes the tone somewhat dry, it allows Martin to comment on the difficulty of compiling a “true history” of anything. The narrator acknowledges that some of the historical sources he’s consulted contradict each other, and that some were written by people who might not be entirely trustworthy for one reason or another. It’s a great reflection of the way history is really written and the difficulties scholars can face in evaluating historical sources.

A character briefly mentioned in The World of Ice and Fire, Septon Barth, is a major character for a good chunk of the book. Following a disturbing incident that I don’t want to spoil, he becomes keenly interested in the mystical side of Planetos. As we know from TWOIAF and some of the narrator’s comments here, some maesters and septons found his work too willing to acknowledge the setting’s occult history. Given that this history is coming back with a vengeance in the main storyline, Barth’s work may turn out to provide important clues for the characters. I liked Barth, and I also loved the hints at the deeper mysteries of Westeros.

Most of my books are in electronic format, but I made sure to buy this one in hard copy, and I recommend that other readers do the same. There’s some beautiful artwork here, and a lot of the detail would be lost on a screen.

Fire and Blood is the first volume of two, with the second being planned to take the reader all the way through the fall of Mad Aerys. While I certainly hope TWOW comes out in a reasonable timeframe, I find myself also looking forward to Part 2 of the Targaryen history. The dragonlords are fascinating to read about, and it’s interesting to see how the events of Westeros’s past planted the seeds for the story we all know and love.

“Elevation” by Stephen King

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The second of the two books Stephen King released in 2018, Elevation is very short, probably novella-length. Like his previous novella, Gwendy’s Button Box, and several of his bestselling novels, it’s set in the Maine town of Castle Rock. One of the residents, Scott Carey, has become the subject of a mysterious phenomenon. As he grapples with its effects on his life, he also becomes aware of the more mundane—but no less damaging—struggles afflicting the lesbian couple next door.

The story of Elevation takes place on a much smaller scale than most of King’s other works. Even when there was a claustrophobic setting (The Shining) or a focus on a single character (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon), King’s books have usually given the sense that the protagonist is caught up in a much larger conflict. But while some larger force may be behind what’s happening to Scott, we never see it directly, and human-scale projects like winning a footrace or running a small business are treated with equal seriousness.

The tone of this book is also much lighter than the rest of King’s oeuvre. While the good guys do win sometimes, there’s an overall impression that evil can never be truly vanquished, just kept at bay for a time. (Which is not to say that efforts to do so are meaningless, of course.) That may be true of Evil as a metaphysical force, but Elevation’s centering of human-scale problems allows for the possibility of a more permanent happy ending. It may not be what Constant Readers expect, but it’s a worthy addition to the lineup.

“Spectral Evidence” by Gemma Files

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I’ve read several short stories by Gemma Files in multi-author anthologies and found them to be consistently excellent, so I was excited to pick up her new collection, Spectral Evidence. The nine stories contained in this collection were engaging, interesting, and sometimes thought-provoking.

Three of the tales follow the same set of characters: the half-demon “holler witch” Allfair Chatwin and the monster-hunter Cornish sisters. The Chatwin stories have a very distinctive voice and do a good job of explaining the magic system to the reader without info-dumps. I enjoyed reading about these characters, so I’m hoping Files will continue their adventures in future collections or a novel.

It’s generally accepted in the horror fandom that the three classic monsters—vampires, werewolves, and zombies—have been done to death (pun intended). Files manages the impressive accomplishment of presenting original takes on two of these. “Imaginary Beauties” shows us what happens when a designer drug has unexpected side effects that mimic some (but not all) traits of the zombie archetype. As with the Chatwin stories, the strong narrative voice is one of the things that makes the piece so compelling. “When I’m Armoring My Belly” focuses on a human man who pursues relationships with vampires in hopes that one of them will eventually turn him. Again, this is something that could easily be cliché, but Files makes it work, in large part because it’s such a character-driven piece.

I’ve always loved stories about the Fair Folk, and “Guising” is an excellent modern-day fairy tale, with a creepy atmosphere and vivid imagery. Probably my favorite story in the book, though, was the title piece, “Spectral Evidence.” At its heart, this is a mystery story where all the clues take the form of various paranormal or psychic phenomena. Files does a remarkable job with the pacing, doling out information that allows the reader to gradually piece together what’s going on.

Overall, this is a great collection, and it makes me want to seek out more of Files’s work.