chestnut book blog

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‘A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.’

I started watching series two of Game of Thrones last night; it reminded me that I have only read the series up to A Feast for Crows so far and so the two latest books were swiftly added to my wishlist. I really enjoyed Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin in general and the TV series is not too bad either. As I think I have mentioned before, my bedtime stories when I was small consisted of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings thanks to my Dad’s obsession, so I didn’t stand a chance when it came to avoiding fantasy novels as an adult.

For anyone who has missed the books or series, it follows three interwoven plots; a civil war for the throne of Westeros, the defence of the Wall in the North by the Night’s Watch and the return of Dragons across the sea. There is a huge list of characters, many well-developed and compelling. What I find particularly good is the complexity of characters. In Martin’s series, traditional villains and heroes do not exist, rather everyone is endearingly human with strengths and weaknesses, good decisions and bad decisions. My particular favourite characters are Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and Arya Stark.  When the story shifts to one of them, or to the Wall or Dragon storylines, I’m definitely more gripped than when the story returns to King’s Landing (the capital of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms) for example.

The Game of Thrones series did crystallise a strong opinion though that I had been brewing for the last few years: the demise of the literary editor. Game of Thrones is a piece of work that needs a jolly good edit in my opinion. It meanders, can be a bit aimless, it forgets threads and it has mistakes. I know not everyone would agree with me and Martin does mostly makes up for these faults with the quality of sentences, characters and the plot. However, try as I might to avoid it, one of the dominant thoughts in my mind whilst reading these books, particularly the later ones, is that these books could be half as long and twice as good with a little textual knifing.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Along with The Night Circus, this book was purchased in my recent supermarket book buying frenzy. I can’t resist a book bargain! When I settled down with it, I was on the East Coast Main line from Edinburgh to London and read it all in the four-hour journey. This shows it was both an easy read and that I enjoyed it, as that journey is so beautiful, particularly in the North East, that it is difficult to concentrate on anything but the view.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone did not start well I thought. If fact, it started in the same way as every other badly written supernatural teen romance. It did get better though – it is not without its charm and it drew me in. It was nice to experience a more feisty, capable heroine than usual and I am intrigued enough by the characters to buy the next installment when it is released. In short, what you see is what you get with this book; it is an enjoyable fantasy romp and a nice book for a bit of escapism, but don’t expect it to change your life.

The Night Circus

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Sunset over Kandy

Sunset over Kandy

I thought this photo I took of a sunset in Kandy, Sri Lanka had some of the magic that my next book has. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a remarkable book. I had been avoiding reading it for some time to be honest – I am always a bit suspicious of hype and a lot of marketing around a release as was the case here. I had also seen some quite mixed reviews of this book which meant it went down my list. However, when I saw it for £3.99 in Sainsbury’s, it just slipped into my basket! Since then, I have been absolutely glued to it – I finished it in less than 48 hours.

I have seen the genre of this book described as magical realism. I’d be more tempted to add it to the fantasy pile myself. I suppose some books just defy easy labels and so who are we to force them into a particular box? What The Night Circus did remind me of was Neil Gaiman’s books and also Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I’ve seen some reviews comparing it with Twilight. I think this is a little unfair as The Night Circus is much better written and plotted than the Twilight books in my opinion. However, that strange quality in Twilight of drawing you into a compulsive love story, despite yourself (and no matter how badly written or unfeasible it is),  is also  present here though.

The Night Circus is so enchanting and took me completely by surprise. It is a beautiful love story essentially, perfect for curling up with on a stormy night as I did. The imagery is so cinematic I’ll eat my hat if a film isn’t made of it as some point. Celia and Marco are both trained by their respective father-figures in the art of magic. They are trained in drastically different ways however, both growing up to battle each other in a perverted game of one-upmanship between the mysterious Mr A.H and Prospero the Enchanter. The stage for this game is the wonderful Night Circus, which travels around the world and is only opens at nightfall. My only real criticism of the book is that the time-slip device becomes somewhat confusing towards the end of the book, but not enough to spoil my enjoyment. For once, this was a book that lived up to the hype for me!