Monday, 23 June 2014

The Valley of Fear - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Looking for something a little lighter to read next I returned to the world of Sherlock Holmes.  This represented a complete change of pace from my last book, which was exactly what I needed.  My progress with the collection so far had led me to the final novel.

The Valley of Fear is a murder mystery that, once again, sees Sherlock Holmes finding clues that no one else does and making a mockery of police work.  Sounds kind of repetitive but actually it's not.  After all, the details are always what make the difference in these cases.  The murder takes place in an old manor house that is surrounded by a moat, somewhat changing the balance of options available.

As with the first novel, the story is split into two parts.  The first covers the 'present day' mystery solving and the second tells the past story of how the key players ended up in that position.  The format worked a little better for me this time round for two reasons.  Firstly, the change in scene is announced a little better.  But secondly, I'd glanced at the Notes page my Kindle showed before the story and it said the book was split.  Always helps.

Both parts worked quite well for me.  The mystery itself was interesting enough.  The solution was fairly straightforward but isn't it always once you know the answer.  As for the back story, I found it difficult to relate to, however it was an enjoyable read.

Overall the book fulfilled the exact purpose I wanted it too.  My brain had it a bit easier after trying to keep track of the last book I'd read, and my wrists got a nice light break with my Kindle.  Only 2 short story collections left and I'll have finished a mini-reading project.  It'll have to wait a bit though, there are other books begging more urgently to be read.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

I've never been that great at keeping up with crazes - I either seem to arrive at the party once everyone else has left or stubbornly refuse to turn up at all.  With the cult following that Game of Thrones has generated it was destined to be the latter.  My husband owns and has read the books that have been written so far, and is catching up on the TV series, but it wasn't for me.  Until I got really resentful of all the non-fantasy readers accessing this world I hadn't experienced.  So I thought I'd give the first book a go.  Just to say I'd tried.

A Game of Thrones is the first book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire.  Based in the lands of the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond) it follows the inter-woven lives of some very influential families grappling for justice, riches or power.  With friends not quite so friendly as they may first seem, stability is a fragile thing, with betrayal and fights almost inevitable.

As fantasy books go there's not a huge amount of fantastical activity going on, which is probably something that has helped it to secure a more mainstream TV following.  For the most part it could easily be set in a foreign land several hundred years ago.  This means that, unlike some fantasy books, it can't rely on wowing the reader with detailed explanations of magical sources, it needs to do that another way.  Like with the sheer volume of characters.

Not unusually, I've been quite tired while reading this book.  So much so that I commented to my husband I might have to restrict reading it to during the day, so that I didn't lose track of all the characters.  He assured me that I will never be able to keep track of all the characters, you just have to go with it.  He was right, of course.  The scale of the different houses involved is immense, and it is very easy to see how the detail will only get more complicated as more characters come to the forefront and allegiances change.

The storytelling style works well with the inter-woven experiences.  While the writing throughout is in third person, each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the characters.  For that length of time you experience only what they do, but are also privy to their thoughts on all those events.  This style has the effect of drawing you in closer to the characters' lives, and makes it very easy for the author to pick which side you are drawn to.

My intention was always to judge this book on its merits.  If I liked it, great, if not, that was fine too.  Unfortunately, at times it has been difficult to judge it truly.  I've been in the room for odd bits of selected episodes of Game of Thrones, and while at the time the scenes meant nothing the meaning of certain potions became very clear very quickly when characters were introduced.  Given I had previously decided not to read the books no one is to blame for this, but it would be nice not to spend the whole reading experience trying to match up references.

Still, there's a way to ensure my reading isn't tainted further.  I'll just have to catch up on the books before I walk in on any more episode watching.  And given how much I was absorbed into the first one, it's only a matter of how much free time I have in my day.