Book Review: “The Last Wish”

Good, solid fantasy reading. Sapkowski has a genre veteran’s writing style, indulging in picturesque setting descriptions, while the characters and their interactions make up the bulk of the story. Introduces many of the characters met in The Witcher video game series, which as a fan was a treat. Fairly quick, easy read that would be a serviceable introduction to any fan of the games. I can imagine it confusing someone unfamiliar with the games as background, though. Also, the writing has moments of sloppiness in its transitions from combat, to dialogue, to description within a single scene; near the book’s end, it became difficult to keep track of certain events. Not for everyone, but enough for me to commit to reading the rest of the series!

Of course, examples of fatphobia and misogyny abound in this text, with Geralt at one point referring to his rival and lover Yennefer as a “fat woman… or a hunchback.” Misogyny comes primarily through the side character Dandelion, Geralt’s personal bard, troubadour, and Sancho Panza himself, but a little bit more mischievous and a troublemaker. Dandelion wishes to seduce pretty much every remotely attractive lady around him, and feels his inferiority complex sting him whenever a woman rejects his advances, which is always. It’s meant to provide a bit of humor, I suppose, but his repeated insistence gives the interactions a different tone. While I was by no means expecting a book based in the Middle Ages to be progressive and forward-thinking, it still stood out to me. I don’t think all this necessarily detracts from the book, considering the setting, but it does feel a bit more “current” than the rest of the story; it makes me step away from the book and view it from a more contemporary lens, and I feel less than sympathetic to the characters.

This all being said, The Last Wish is also full of remarkable, interesting, fleshed-out characters, many of whom are female. Nenneke, Geralt’s friend and high priestess of the temple of Melitele, is presented as the book’s “voice of reason,” giving the protagonist opportunities to recover, refresh, and reflect on his misgivings. Her story intersects each of the short stories, bringing the overarching narrative back to the present, in a careful way. Yennefer, though described somewhat grotesquely, is smart, wily, and full of charisma. Calanthe, the queen of Cintra and brief antagonist of chapter 3, speaks with a regal tone and diction in front of her guests, but lays down the mask in front of Geralt; this juxtaposition of styles helps the reader view Calanthe as a complete character, while also exposing the royal family’s corruption.

Overall, a fascinating story that I would recommend if you’re interested in the genre. Otherwise, it won’t convince you to fall in love with fantasy, unless you already are familiar with the games, in my opinion.

Three out of five stars!


#55: The Witcher

grayscale photography of two children holding hands together

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Since leaving my teaching job, I’ve had a lot of time to return to my hobbies, such as journal writing, blog writing, and of course, video games. It’s not a day without touching at least one game, whether it’s on my phone, the computer/laptop, or television. One such game I’ve taken an interest to recently is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Considered by many to be the game of the year in 2015, this game features a sprawling open world, a dark, unrelenting morality system, and the opportunity to slice, slash, and slay nearly anything you want to, whether it’s ruffians at the tavern or ghouls at your campsite. The Witcher 3 has helped me find new interest in open-world RPGs, especially modern, western-developed ones. I don’t think I’ve played a WRPG this consistently since beating Fallout 3 years and years ago. I’ve plugged 15 hours into it so far, and although I hope to beat

Speaking of witchers and witching, I’ll likely make a separate blog post about this sometime in the future, but I’ve recently gotten into reading the witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. Spectacular battles and raging warfare abound in the books, as Geralt of Rivia slays many a monstrous foe. So far, I’ve found The Lash Wish to be a wonderfully easy, digestible fantasy read, which is what I was looking for upon buying it a few afternoons ago. Whether or not it lives up to the hype by the end, I can say for certain that it captures the feeling of playing the games well.

Yes, I know the books came before the games, and yet the games gave the books popularity, in the same way A Game of Thrones had a cult following before bursting into the mainstream thanks to HBO’s hit TV show. I am a fan of the mantra, “the book is always better,” but in some cases, the book is not where my experience with the media starts. For those who have had that privilege, that’s wonderful for them.

#35: The SAT

pen writing notes studying

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The SAT. Remember this? I sure do. Nowadays, I remember it as clear as anything else. In 2018, the SAT has returned.

As part of the job interview process, I will be taking a sample SAT, and will attempt to score in the 90th percentile on the test. If I do, and if I interview well, I can land another position, but if I don’t, I’m screwed. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that grand?

I recently bought a guidebook for taking the SAT, called “SAT Prep Plus 2019.” It’s wonderful that I can even afford large textbooks like this, but it wasn’t too expensive. The real expense is going to be mental; can I bear this test without my anxiety causing me to fail it? Basically, can I accomplish this task and still keep my sanity intact? I hope so. I’ve taken plenty of practice tests, scored well on each one, and feel fairly confident about this, and yet there’s a lingering part of me that rejects this whole notion of standardized test-taking as a measure of anything. Maybe it’s just my youth, and perhaps I’ll change my tune on this subject after more experience with the test, but right now I’m a bit bitter about this.

I have a lot of memories with the SAT. Whether it’s taking my first PSAT in high school and (falsely) judging my intellect based on how I scored compared to my peers, or whether it’s proctoring the SAT at North Haven High for the first time and almost botching the delivery of some of the rules in front of a lot of judgmental faces, there’s a decent chunk of my memory devoted to this elusive standardized exam. As someone whose expertise is in education and teaching, I encounter the SAT almost everywhere I go. It never seems to disappear, even when I want it to.

I still remember the room I took my first SAT in, and I remember being taken to the computer lab so the students could look at their PSAT scores. As a teacher, I now know that that was the first time my teacher had seen our scores, too, even though she pretended otherwise. As a teacher, I know that sometimes “pretending otherwise” is an important trait to master, to save face in front of students who don’t believe you. I never quite mastered that one in my time teaching.

One time, when I was in high school, I sought to take the SAT subject test for AP Lit and US History. I scored fairly well on the history test, but not so well on the literature one. I remember asking my parents to let me take these tests because I wanted to get into Williams College, which required subject test scores from two tests at the time. It was a long, long reach, and I was ultimately rejected. But it was worth a shot, as is this SAT re-do I am about to take.

#25: The Wide Ocean

white and black moon with black skies and body of water photography during night time


Black skies, night breeze, liquid moon. Darkness under, over, around you.

A fear re-experienced on a ferry, a cruise, a trip to the beach. No matter how harmless the location, it finds its way back. When your feet disappear in the murky sea, when the waves open up and swallow you under, when the motions beneath you grow louder, when your arms flail, helpless to keep oxygen in your lungs.

I am afraid of the ocean, I think because I have recognized how helpless I am while floating on the water. While I haven’t swam in a year or more, there’s a certain dread that falls over me when in the ocean. I remember going to Lighthouse Park and looking out to the water, but feeling disappointed in how inscrutable the world beneath the waves looked. Imagine childhood wonder and optimism, but twisted and made negative by the feeling of seaweed on your feet during your first trip to the beach. And then picture a cruise ship, sailing off with family and friends, where a majority of the time is spent in the cabin puking your sickness away. They say many of our more instinctual feelings and tendencies can be traced back to our childhood; for example, when I was young, one of my aunt’s meatballs got stuck in my throat, and I still to this day dislike meatballs because of it. I would bet that my aversion to the sea is also due to some childhood experience like the ones I mentioned.

Recently, I helped my sister by proofreading and offering suggestions on her high school English paper on Wide Sargasso Sea, a novel by Jean Rhys. The story’s setting, in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, places the plot in a stasis where it cannot move without feeling related to its setting. The setting thus dominates the conversation of the story, its themes and characters, their motivations and inspirations. I feel, in a way, that certain settings can dominate our lives; just as much as they dominate stories, they may also control storytellers.


Sometimes the most challenging part of my day is fitting my thoughts into a shoebox by the closet before I fall asleep. You don’t start thinking until your shoes are on, Ms. Crawford, my sixth-grade gym teacher, would say. She would complain to us when Richie wore flip-flops to class. “Weren’t you in class last week when we talked about this, Richie?” She would then repeat how clothes, and most importantly shoes, kick-start our brains. Better than coffee, she said. “What you wear reflects how you feel, how you feel reflects what you wear! LeBron James doesn’t practice in his sandals!” My mind would race with questions.

When you wear a tuxedo, do you feel rich?

When you wear jeans, do you feel tough?

When you wear nothing, do you feel nothing?

But she never told us what to do when it’s bedtime, and our shoes lay carelessly on the floor, and our restless thoughts like barbarians pillage and scour our heads, searching every room for something torturous to remind us of, something sacred to latch onto with tear-soaked arms, or something comforting to keep them safe from the lurching quiet of the night.

Outside my door, cannibals rave about how I might want to feel tomorrow, when I have to slide into my ill-fitted suit jacket and dress pants for my first job interview. They know there’s no sneaky excuse, no way out of this one.

Eight people in a room. Intelligent, distinguished, experienced, exhausted. They have seen enough people like me. Staring from across a half-circled table, fiddling through paperwork and folders and binders. In a dark room, decorated with half-imagined paintings, charcoal walls, thin suits, thin expressions. One of them leans their hand forward, not to shake mine, but to motion for me to sit.

Why are you qualified for this position?

I freeze. But then I collect myself, remembering my rehearsed lines.

I love teaching: the constant need for adaptability, validation, interaction, and academic learning; the growing community among teachers, among students, and throughout the school; the insightful, pure brilliance of youth; the latent potential in every student to succeed their own way, and the satisfaction when you see it happen; and the unbelievably polarizing highs and lows each day can bring.

Terribly cliche. Didn’t answer the question. They have already given up on me. It was a mistake to come here. I shouldn’t have done this. I sound too prepared. I can’t catch my breath. I feel my chest burst through the suit.

I reach down through my imagined undershirt, unbuttoning the middle button, and feel the shame nesting, growing inside and outside as one waits for their body to ignore the belt’s usual and terrible sensation when around waists too large now to contain. I worry for when wardrobes are not malleable enough to impress any more.

I worry and cry, and they shuffle their papers, and I am escorted away. I scramble for the reset button. It’ll be at least three minutes until I am back to normal. I’m not wearing shoes, but I feel everything all at once.

It’s 2 AM and the sound of an ambulance brings me back to life.

Sometimes all you can do is think, but my thoughts, too, want peace. If I were in debt, owing money to the Bank of Sanity, I would pay my bills in one sitting, no interest statements, no follow-ups, no deferred action plan. One sitting would be all it takes, and then I’m freed.

Sometimes I forget to put my thoughts in their shoebox, and so they run like hell until I realize I can’t sleep until they get to sleep, too. Sometimes I forget about the equitable treatment of thoughts.

Story of the Week: “The Awakening”

Hello fellow bloggers! I ought to stop calling it Story of the Week if I haven’t been writing an entry every week, right? It’s a catchy title, though, and it’s fun too.

Today, I will take a look at The Awakening by Kate Chopin. As a feminist and proud supporter of women’s rights, this novel strikes a chord in me. Published in 1899, it functions as a wondrous starting point for the literary theory of feminism, as well. Feminist studies, as they developed and grew in prominence through the 20th century, owe some of their significance to Chopin, whose novel attracts readers of all perspectives through its strong protagonist in Edna Pontellier. However, it would be a crime against the novel’s intrinsic greatness to study it solely as a piece of feminist criticism. With that said, I will be discussing The Awakening as a psychological piece, as the psychological side of the novel tends to also attract readers.

After the break, I will begin with some feminist criticism.


The Awakening‘s protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is the focus of the novel, as she partakes in an internal journey to “awaken” from the social structures that she, and thus by relation women of her time, have suffered through by the  patriarchy. Thus, the narrative largely focuses on Edna’s journey of enlightenment, and how she reaches that point. Ultimately, the way in which she becomes enlightened makes the story so sensational and intriguing. The plot details add to the social commentary that Chopin is arguing.

Edna first moves to New Orleans with the hopes of escaping a familiar structure that would normally force her to live and survive on a farm for the rest of her life in Kentucky. She realizes that that kind of life is not ideal for her, so she makes a change. She marries Leonce Pontellier, a man whose social status attracts her. In reality, Edna harbored no love for her husband, Leonce, and wanted to escape the monotony of Kentucky in the only surefire way.

By the middle of the novel, Edna is experiencing some mental difficulties, so to speak. Leonce begins to worry for his wife, who begins to distance herself from New Orleans culture and society. While New Orleans is usually depicted as a partying place with happiness and carelessness abounding, the novel takes a secondary perspective of the city. In a similar way that Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire analyzes New Orleans, The Awakening focuses on the outskirts of the city, and the depression that comes from underneath. Edna begins her transformation here, while she distances from society. It is while she is away from the world that she realizes how much control society has in enforcing its norms and standards. Thus, Edna serves as a feminist icon for trying to alter the societal corruption of females.

Edna undergoes a series of tests that ultimately serve as stepping stones on her journey of enlightenment. Most importantly, Edna learns to swim. By learning to swim she is learning to survive in a world separate from society, the natural world. Edna’s ultimate ending once again pays attention to Edna’s learning to swim earlier in the novel. It is a sort of reciprocal ending, but even the most uninsightful of readers can realize that her suicide of sorts is a symbolic way for her to finally escape society, through water and nature. By drowning at the end, Edna manages to escape the patriarchy. Otherwise, she would not have been able to live the way she wanted to, which was her “feminist goal.” Being able to do whatever she would want to would prove to the reader that she has achieved freedom and equality. However, Edna realizes that it’s impossible for her to achieve that desired freedom. For one of the first feminist novels, Chopin really shines and illuminates the struggle that late-19th century had to endure to achieve basic human rights, the kind of rights that white men have had for centuries.

One of the biggest conflicts for Edna involves her marriage to Leonce. Originally, she had married Leonce to escape Kentucky and head to a more lively place where she could live a vibrant, free life among the party-people of New Orleans. Unfortunately, her ties to Leonce burden her ability to be free. She first experiments with a known-womanizer named Alcee while Leonce is on a business trip in New York. At this time, Edna wishes to experience the different kinds of love available to her. One of the most important aspects of being free, she believes, is the freedom to love. Her marriage impedes that freedom. Marriage, a social custom, impedes Edna’s sexual desires. Whether she is justified or not may come up for debate, but on the feminist interpretation of the novel, Edna should be able to experiment how she likes such that she can defy the dominant, patriarchal, systematic society that controls her every move. Would a man be punished equally for the same crime? Even the partying atmosphere of New Orleans doesn’t seem to promote her freedom, as her friend Adele, who represents a sort of societal conscience for Edna, denies she meet Alcee, who has hooked up with just about every other girl in the city.

A better question to ask in this situation is, do Edna’s restrictions and limitations reveal a greater problem for female equality? In the late-19th century, women were forced into roles, while men were able to choose their destinies, so to speak. Women were bred to be mothers and caretakers, stay-at-home parents who raised their children and made their husbands happy. Edna is a proper example of a female lead who neglects that role, and searches diligently for a new one in New Orleans. The character of Edna Pontellier played a large role in establishing different gender roles for women in the United States. While The Awakening was censored upon publication for its stark portrayal of a strong female protagonist who defied the roles she was intended to fit into, it became a popular hit regardless of its censorship.

Another important question to ask regarding the novel would be: For how long has female sexual desire been revealed and explained so openly? In America, the answer is simple: since Kate Chopin. In her short story “The Storm,” Chopin pays further attention to sexual desire in women. Previously, both male and female authors tried to limit their depictions of females desiring anything aside from the pleasure and happiness of their husband and children. Is that fair? Not really. For years and years, authors of all origins have written freely about male sexual desire. The Awakening seeks to awaken America, and the world at large, and show them that females can crave and lust for things just as freely and openly as men. At the time, the novel was considered unethical and immoral. Now? The times have changed, and a new appreciation for The Awakening has developed. The times have certainly changed since Chopin’s era.


Next in the story, Edna meets Robert Lebrun, the true source of her “awakenings.” In Robert, she sees something unique and charming. Robert represents what she really, truly desires outside the realm of marriage. Robert presents a tough task for Edna, to decide what she wants in life. From there, she awakens. Her enlightenment begins from meeting Robert and partaking in sexual relations with him. Those relations intensify as her awakenings become more apparent and real; the paralleling of these two is intentional. The more Edna meets with Robert, the more she neglects her children as well. Is it okay to neglect your children, even if it is to prove a point?

At this point, in my opinion, Chopin begins to shine as a writer. Her style really takes shapes as she describes the massively changing feelings which Edna experiences. Edna’s complications with her marriage and Robert add for great content to write about, especially as Chopin’s lyrical narration shows it all. If you are interested in a unique narrative style, Chopin’s The Awakening is worth the read. While reading, I felt as if the author really enjoyed what she was writing about, as if the social issue of gender injustice was clawing at her throat for so long and the only way to present her argument came in the form of a creative novel. And what an argument she presented! So incendiary that it caused censorship upon its initial publication!

While Edna’s relationship with Robert escalates, she is visited by her dear friend, Adele, who I mentioned earlier. Adele clearly symbolizes the perfect female ideal of that time period. Despite their friendship, Adele and Edna butt heads in direction. While Adele cares for her husband and children, Edna would prefer to stay with Robert, and pretend they never existed. It makes for a great side-conflict, and by the end of the novel the side-conflict comes to the forefront of the plot. Adele and Edna are clear symbols, in this case, which Chopin must enjoy manipulating through her intricate plot of self-discovery and awakening.

Robert eventually flees to Mexico, under the guise of a business opportunity. He is a hard-working businessman and, at times, he must leave on a whim and pursue such ventures. However, unbeknownst to Edna, Robert uses the business opportunity as an excuse to leave New Orleans, as he sees their relationship as a failed endeavor because of Edna’s marriage. Meanwhile, with Adele telling her to conform and Robert gone for the foreseeable future, Edna turns to Mademoiselle Reisz, who is receiving letters from Robert. Reisz serves as an ideal for Edna to strive for, as a foil to Adele. Reisz plays music, acts freely, and enjoys life. Eventually, Reisz reveals to Edna her letters…and in them, Robert proclaims that he is still thinking about Edna! What a surprise!

With renewed hope, Edna perseveres. Eventually, Robert returns. At the same time, Adele is having a baby in the hospital. While Robert proclaims his love for Edna, Adele is going through the final stages of childbirth. Robert explains to Edna why he left her, but then Edna is called to by a letter from Adele. She leaves Robert and visits Adele at the hospital, as she had promised she would do. Edna returns home to find Robert gone, with a letter telling her that he has left forever.

Then, she swims out to the Gulf of Mexico and drowns in the same waters she had awakened from earlier in the story. Tragic ending! Does this decision promote the idea that there is no room for a free, independent woman in that society? Does it promote depression, tragedy, and conformity? Ultimately, I believe that the ending serves as a glimmer of hope. Obviously, Chopin used the setting for Edna’s first awakening to show a sort of reciprocal turn of events. The hope comes from Edna, who is now free from the world. Although she is dead, she successfully managed to escape everything she wanted to escape from. Adele would no longer want her around, and the love of her life had disappeared forever as well. It’s a tragic ending, but it leads to, in my opinion, a mature decision on Edna’s part to finally escape the world she so wanted to live without. Does that decision make her weak, or strong?

Now, there are many symbols, aside from the characters, that are worth talking about in this novel. Throughout the story, the narrator relates Edna to that of a white bird. That bird flies freely above the world, above society, and does what it pleases. At the onset, Edna is compared to a bird that is imprisoned. If the bird is able to escape the prison, it can fulfill its dreams. However, while stuck in that prison, the bird cannot fly, nor can it move or interact with others. Even at the start, while Edna follows her family through Kentucky, she is tied down by social constraints. She escapes Kentucky only to be put into a larger cage, in a marriage with Leonce. Has she escaped? No, not yet. In her house, away from family, Edna keeps birds of her own. She is visited by birds, too. The influx of avians and more seems to prove that the protagonist really dreams of becoming just like them. Or perhaps she is one of them, but is limited by a broken wing, thus making her weak?

When Edna commits suicide by drowning, she uses courage to do the deed. However, as she passes downward into the depths of the sea, the narrator says: “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.” The bird, in this case Edna, has perished completely.

This story is truly intense and worth reading yourself. I hope my post here has helped you all understand the story better, or has convinced you to pick it up. Until next time, friends!

Story of the Week: “One Hundred Years of Solitude”


This is going to be a long one.

Throughout my time reading books, I’ve stumbled upon three that mean the most to me. These books have been, above all else, of paramount significance to me; one has shaped how I read, one has shaped how I write, and one has shaped how I think.

The first book, the one which has shaped how I read, is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The second book is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The third one is the masterpiece I’m about to analyze and review here.

You’re probably wondering, how can a story like One Hundred Years of Solitude change how I think?

You probably haven’t read it, then.

The book takes place in the small town of Macondo over the course of one hundred years. The Buendía family settles and resides in this town in the middle of nowhere, expecting prosperity and homeliness. Originally, the settlement has zero contact with the rest of the world. The Buendía family, with its patriarch José Arcadio Buendía, makes this settlement with high, almost utopian hopes after leaving the town of Riohacha. But there is so much more to it than that!

From there on,  José Arcadio Buendía and his wife, Úrsula Iguarán, ensure that the utopian land of Macondo becomes a positive place for their family to be born in and live in. Along the way, many, many new people join the town, and it grows to a point that they had never dreamed of. The town becomes a representation of not just a utopia for their family, but the Latin American world at large. It comes to be a place of immigration, emigration, and innate prosperity all through itself.

Macondo, the setting of the story, is an interesting, confusing place to the people who live there. Rarely does anything stay the same. At its core, it is place where growth occurs. The inhabitants of Macondo seek refuge, but also security and growth. It experiences all that the world has to offer it, in terms of what a story can handle. It changes, progresses, grows, matures, develops, and becomes every bit as real as any other place. The world centers on Macondo.

As a note, because this book takes place over the course of one hundred years, you meet many people with many names. The book chronicles many generations of the Buendía family as they live and prosper, so to speak, in Macondo, which is intended to represent a fictionalized, fantastical version of the country that Gabriel Garcia Marquez grew up in, Columbia. Probably the most confusing and limiting part of the book is the usage of similar names. For example, you meet a host of Aureliano Buendías and José Arcadios, as well as some Aurelianos and Aureliano Josés. It’s a confusing book at first, but you grow into it as you read and immerse yourself further into the story. It is worth your attention to naming, regardless of how confusing it may seem at first. The confusion, even, may add to the reading because of how things may seem to blend together, as they should after a certain point in the book.

Obviously, I admire this book. However, it deserves your attention because of everything it does right. The author, the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez, writes beautifully. A lot of his great, romantic-style writing blends from the translation of the novel from Spanish to English. (If you can read Spanish, it is worth reading as a companion to the English version, I think. I’ve studied Spanish for five-six years and know it reasonably well, and reading both versions has enlightened my perception of the language used in the novel. I recommend that to anyone.) As well, the plot is brilliant. It delves into political complexities, emotional and familiar controversies, the magical and mystical fantasies of the people, and more. It studies the way people behave, human nature, the nature of a community, Jungian & Freudian psychology, theological studies, postcolonialism, imperialism, impressionism, modernism, postmodernism, family structures, militarism, and an innumerable amount of other ways to perceive it. In the end, though, the story is about the nature of solitude and isolation. Everything else, then, stems from that. A study of one seemingly simple concept turns into a study of the entire human race in a masterful, almost mystical story of a family that’s just trying to live.

In fact, a few people from the class I studied this novel in originally had written a paper and presented a thesis proclaiming that Marquez illustrates Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, the Big-Bang theory, and includes studies of black holes. It was so convincing that it floored me. With an author like Marquez, anything is possible.

Marquez writes in a way akin to many of the other writers of the Latin American Boom of the 1960s: he writes about the magical, but portrays it in such a matter-of-fact, realistic way that it seems every bit as real as anything else you read in the novel. The term magic realism stems mostly from Marquez’s writing because of its popularity to readers.

Magic realism is astounding at first, but it will grow on you as you read it. I recommend reading a few of Marquez’s short stories to get a hold of his writing, too, if you have the time and motivation to truly understand this man’s genius.

In the end, One Hundred Years of Solitude holds a special place in my mind when it comes to literature. If I have hyped it enough for you, I hope you get the chance to read it as well. It’s worth your time, I’m sure. If not, perhaps in the future you will read it!

Until then, that’s all for now. If you’ve read the book before and would like to chat about it, drop a comment and I’ll gladly talk more!

Next week…Gatsby! Stay tuned, folks. See you next time.

My Experience with Game of Thrones: Part 1


Alright, I need to get this one part off my chest: I love George R.R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. It’s epic fantasy at its grittiest and most morally ambiguous. Watchers of the TV show and readers of the books know how much Martin enjoys playing with his fans’ minds by either killing off main characters or putting the “good guys” in unending, unfortunate situations while the “bad guys” seem to prevail.

From this point is where readers discern the moral ambiguity of the series. While the thought of only good guys and bad guys may interest certain readers who prefer simple, clear-cut definitions of characters, I am in the camp that believes that no characters are necessarily good or bad, but aligned based almost entirely on personality and environment. However, while I may think this way, it does not sway my opinions that Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, and Joffrey Baratheon are evil and despicable.

But even those three have their reasons, I think. No one is bad simply because they relish in the ideal of following in the footsteps of other evil villains and villainesses.

The “good” characters may suffer often, but it is because they, to an extent, are blind to the hidden circumstances that govern whether they live, die, or suffer, aka the “Game of Thrones”. After seeing many of these ignorant, but honorable characters either die or learn from their mistakes through harsh punishment, you begin to understand how the game is played and what this world is really like. It is gritty, it is realistic, and it is ground-breaking. It forces readers to redefine the way they read fantasy, and so-called “realistic fiction” as a whole.

As well, magic is at a minimum. Much of the series is about political battles. But don’t find the lack of magical powers and the prevalence of politics in play as a deterrent: Martin finds a way to make the feuds and conflicts intriguing and always enlightening. Because he is a master of dialogue, Martin as well is able to make chapters of entirely dialogue into some of the most interesting pieces of fantasy you will ever encounter.

As a reader, I enjoy characters. I enjoy seeing characters development into humans, into fleshed-out figures who replicate human interaction. In this series, you get it all. You get an immense cast of characters that exceeds anything I have ever witnessed or read. And, among that massive batch, many characters shine. In the books, the story is told through viewpoints. The reader receives the information through the viewpoint of a significant character. Whether you are reading about Daenerys Targaryen’s quest to reach Westeros and claim the Iron Throne or Tyrion Lannister’s struggles to stay sane and protected among a family ridden with incestual, power-hungry fiends (who, admittedly, through a stroke of genius storytelling, are developed into characters ranging from lovable all the way to semi-tolerable), you are receiving consistently great writing.

After finishing A Storm of Swords, I can say with certainty that Martin is a modern master of description and the genre of fantasy. I indulge readers to watch the TV show or read the books because, whether you enjoy epic fantasy or not, the books are creative pieces of literature worth your time. The world is sprawling, open, and epic. The scope of the story is beyond what you may think at the moment, but as it develops you will see what I mean.

Read it. Watch it. Experience it.