Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: A Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin

In the second book of the now-iconic Games of Thrones series ... nothing happens.

The book begins with four claimants to the throne of Westeros; it finishes with the same amount.  All the major political figures of the first two books start and end in the same place with only one major incident at the book's climax, but without much actually being accomplished.  A major inclusion is House Greyjoy, whose power was hinted at in the previous book, A Game of Thrones, but even they - point-of-view character Theon aside - are firmly sidelined.

A case in point: one of the would-be Kings dies.  It's intimated how, but never described.  On one page is a parlay, the next sees one of the delegates back home with scant reason.  The claimant is dismissed quickly and without the care taken in describing his encampment, feasting tendencies or plans for a new Kingsguard.  Martin obvioulsy felt he needed to spend those words elsewhere. Given the book's length, it was a a merciful - if odd - decision.

courtesy: cybermage.se
That's not to say that Clash isn't a remarkable book.  Martin must be special if he's drawn in millions of readers with a series that evolves slower than we did from the fish.  He writes interesting characters - the Onion Knight, Davos Sukar, took my fancy - some of which are added to an already teeming cast of third-person narrators.  This multi-party narrative device expands the saga to involve much of the general public rather than the isolated groups which dominate other civil war recounts (eg. Star Wars - where every single important person in the galaxy is linked in somehow.  The prequels can go to hell).

Unfortunately, this also means that the reader feels as if they are marking time until getting back to a storyline in which the plot actually advances.  It makes for a disjointed read that isn't nearly as gripping as the first installment.

In  many ways, the remarkable world Martin has created - like Tolkien before him - is his greatest achievement and a rod for his own back.  While we learn more of the Seven Kingdoms, this is not matched by the activities of the major protagonists.  Each POV character seems to have one task to accomplish - to meet parlay, to journey to the Outlands, to prepare for battle or to escape.  Once this task is performed, they slide into obscurity.

War is made up of myriad finite, intricate moments which combine to form a much larger picture.  This makes for some interesting times and some ... quieter ones.  A Clash of Kings is certainly the latter.

Tennis balls.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Peter Temple versus Peter Corris – Melbourne versus Sydney

Peter Temple – 'Jack Irish' series – Bad Debts, Black Tide, Dead Point and White Dog; The Broken Shore; In The Evil Day.

Peter Corris – 'Cliff Hardy' series – Taking Care of Business, Saving Billie, The Undertow, Appeal Denied, The Big Score, Deep Water and Torn Apart; Wishart's Quest.

Something different for the readers of Books with Balls. Have decided after having read a sizeable portfolio of writings by two Australian crime writers I will weigh them off against each other. The parallels between the writers are there allowing for comparison – both are Australian, both have a series based around a central character, both have won the Ned Kelly award and therefore inherit the title as being a 'Godfather of Australian Crime Fiction' and both write their work with an undoubted sense of place.

Let's begin with the works of each that do not fall into the single character based series they are known for. From Temple I have read two stand alone works – The Broken Shore and In the Evil Day. Both are thoroughly engaging pieces of writing; detailed, gritty, and leaving you as the reader desperate for more. Both works are very different, In the Evil Day an espionage thriller in the mould of Robert Ludlum set in Europe and The Broken Shore a dramatic tale of a divided small coastal town police officer in Victoria unravelling a chilling back story to the towns life. The latter being my undoubted preference, but both are great reads.

Wishart's Quest by Corris is a story of a former orphan, who became an esteemed academic, investigating the history of who his biological parents were. The quest takes him through racially divided communities in the NSW north coast and further into the deep underworld of Asia that was promulgated through the Vietnam war. The book is a good read however at times the story felt too far fetched to allow the reader to elevate it in their esteem above being 'a good read'.

Onto the more well known works, those around a central character and immediately comes a divergence. Whereas Corris has written prolifically (over 30 publications) on the adventures of his Sydney based private investigator Cliff Hardy, Temple has thus far elected to limit his use of Melbourne lawyer Jack Irish to just four novels.

At this point I the reviewer must admit to being of Melbourne, born and bred. Therefore anyone born north of the Murray will easily identify my bias, but I believe that the superior quality of Temple's books over Corris's (who incidentally was born in rural Victoria) is a metaphor for why I believe Melbourne is superior to Sydney.

Where Corris describes tales that have brash crash and bash episodes more often, Temple chooses a more subtle route. Corris's Cliff Hardy is a man's man who's passion is for the boxing ring in the inner city or the southern beaches of Maroubra or Bondi. Temple's Jack Irish is more thoughtful and cultured and chooses his leisure to examine horse flesh for his latest plunge or listening to Italian opera. Both appear well versed in the mysteries of females, Irish tends toward brooding good looks to attract them, Hardy makes his moves less subtly with a cocktail of booze and pick up lines.

In all seriousness both writers are worth reading if you are entertained by crime fiction. Temple is my preference however being less prolific than Corris in his writing (potentially a metaphor that those from Melbourne seek quality rather than the Sydney pursuit of quantity) I will be reading more of Cliff than of Jack.