Like many of us who enjoy reading about the Amish, Jenny Burns has contemplated what it would be like to live amongst the Old Order Amish. Jenny, however, has taken steps to make this dream a reality — trading letters with a member of the Hickory Hollow Amish community to establish a connection, selling all her worldly possessions and leaving her job before moving to Hickory Hollow to join the community as prospective convert.

Given the premise, I expected to enjoy this story, but I found myself rather underwhelmed by Jenny and her transition into the Amish community. Maybe because Jenny, despite her affection for old-fashioned items and lifestyles, seemed unsuited to life as a Amish person? Her refusal to tell her parents or siblings about her decision speaks to how much she longs to escape, and the emphasis on how being a convert makes her unsuited towards marriage as she interacts with Andrew sets this as her main goal rather than becoming closer to god, which is the true basis of an Amish person’s life. In all, it sets this book up to be more of a romance novel than the self-realization I expected to find within its pages.

Furthermore, (spoiler alert!) the conclusion of the novel is rather rushed with Jenny fleeing the community with the realization the Amish are not perfect and returning when she realizes that no one is perfect. I wanted to shake her and tell her, well, duh. The lack of depth on the part of all the characters outside of Rebecca Lapp, who Jenny stays with, does nothing to expand upon Jenny’s journey.

Those familiar with Lewis’ work will know that this book is set in the same location at The Shunning, a series of books that started my interest in Lewis’s novels but that I ultimately found unsatisfying. This book, thankfully, provides some closure on the story first introduced in The Shunning as Jenny lives in Katie Lapp’s adoptive, Amish parents during her time trying to become a convert.

Book Mentioned:

  • Lewis, Beverly. The Secret Keeper. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2013. Print. 238 pgs. ISBN: 9780764209802. Source: Advanced review copy.
  • Lewis, Beverly. The Shunning. Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 1997. Print. 282 pgs. ISBN: 9780764224737. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Bethany House. Retrieved: December 6, 2013.

Running concurrent to A Feast for Crows, the fifth book in Martin’s series follows the characters traveling and living outside of Westeros. Daenerys Targaryen, in the land to the east, rules over the city she conquered with her Unsullies and her three dragons but is finding how difficult it is to reign rather than defeat in battle. Tyrion Lannister leaves King’s Landing following the murder of his nephew, King Joffrey, set on helping his niece seize the throne for herself, but his loyalties are directed away from his sister to Daenerys.

And, in the north, Jon Snow serves as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and spends the book dealing with power dynamics within the Night’s Watch, the struggle to remain neutral in the war for the Iron Throne as Stannis Baratheon gathers forces under the safety of the Night’s Watch, and the conflict with the Others beyond the Wall and the wildlings who live in the space between.

It is going to be a long slog to the end. I cannot be any blunter about it. Martin is, unfortunately, one of those people who likes to hear the sound of his own voice, and I would not be surprised to learn that the next books in this series end up getting split into multiple volumes as this book and the one before it were treated.

I wrote in my review of the previous book about how much I missed my favorite characters. Unfortunately, my excited over our reunion lasted only for the first three hundred pages. The next seven hundred were spent slogging through the travels of sixteen individual characters (plus two new narrators for the prologue and epilogue) who serve as the narrators to the march towards winter, and many of my favorite characters began to take on characteristics or act in ways I struggled to understand in the context of their prior characterizations.

Martin’s decision to rename his characters tripped me up once again with the exception of Reek, formerly known as Theon Greyjoy, and it was so very easy to forget about the events occurring simultaneously in Westros until they are poorly melded back into the narrative towards the end of this novel. Suddenly, the plot began to advance whereas the previous several hundred pages had been more of an exploration of the world Martin has created rather than the story he is trying to tell. Symptomatic of too many characters or too many stories or maybe, as I mentioned before, the sign of a person who loves to hear themselves talk.

No longer am I frantically turning page after page; instead, I’m wondering if I would be better off sticking to the show rather than waiting for events to unfold in novel format. Martin’s obsession with detailing his characters’ need to defecate is also less apparent (so far) in the television series than in the books, and that is certainly one thing I could live without.

Others’ Thoughts:

Books Mentioned:

  • Martin, George R.R. A Dance with Dragons. New York: Bantam Books, 2011. Print. 1016 pgs. ISBN: 9780553801477. Source: Borrowed from a friend.
  • Martin, George R.R. A Feast for Crows. New York: Bantam Books, 2011. Originally published 2000. 1060 pgs. ISBN: 9780553582024. Source: Borrowed from a friend.

Book Cover © Bantam Books. Retrieved: November 24, 2013.

Eight-year-old Tommen Baratheon is now the king of the Seven Kingdoms, but his reign is mere puppetry because his mother Cersi Lannister rules in all but name. Without her father, Tywin, or her brother, Tyrion, to guide her, Cersei has become paranoid about the influence House Tyrell is trying to inject into her rule through the marriage of Tommen and Margaery Tyrell, which alienates the only two people from House Lannister who could help her properly rule a kingdom. Her brother, Jamie, has left King’s Landing for the Riverlands to assist Brienne of Tarth in honoring the oath they swore to Catelyn Stark by finding Sansa Stark, who is falsely believed to have aided Tyrion in murdering Joffrey and rumored to be hiding in the Eyrie under the protection of her maternal aunt, Lysa Arryn.

The rumor is only partially true — Sansa is hiding out in the Vale/Eyrie, but she being protected by Petyr Baelish, who has secretly murdered Lysa, and named himself Protector of the Vale and guardian of eight-year-old Lord Robert Arryn. Meanwhile, Samwell Tarly is traveling across the ocean from the North to the Citadel in order to study to become a Maester with Gilly and her baby and Arya, referred to as “Cat of the Canals” in the novel, has begun her training at the Temple of Him of Many Faces in the free city of Braavos.

“Crows will fight over a dead man’s flesh and kill each other for his eyes. We had one king, then five. Now all I see are crows, squabbling over the corpse of Westeros.” (pg. 237)

At the end of the novel, Martin explains that he chose to leave out the events occurring outside of Westeros  due to the sheer size of the novel. I wish he had included this explanation at the beginning of the novel because I spent the entire time wondering what was happening to the characters I have come to love the most, particularly Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Daenaryus. Rather than being engaged with the story unfolding in this novel, I became completely disengaged and had to force myself to read chapter after chapter.

The lack of consistency with the narrators’ names makes reading this book a complicated, messy game of “Guess Who?”. Arya now been referred to as Arry, “no one”, and Cat of the Canals, which is easily confused with Catelyn Stark, who is referred to as Cat, The Hooded Woman, and Lady Stoneheart in the span of a single novel. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Martin had stuck to naming all the chapters as the characters’ original names but he, unfortunately, chose to do otherwise. I had nothing to ground me as to where I was in the novel.

And while I’m excited to return to my favorite characters, I’m nervous about the way the next novel is supposed to occur parallel to this one. My understanding of the events in this novel is so superficial compared to the previous novels I’m concerned I will be completely confused when the characters of this novel join with the characters of the next.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Martin, George R.R. A Feast for Crows. New York: Bantam Books, 2011. Originally published 2000. 1060 pgs. ISBN: 9780553582024. Source: Borrowed from a friend.
Book Cover © Bantam Books. Retrieved: November 9, 2013.

This book, the third in Martin’s fantasy epic, covers all of the third season of “Game of Thrones” (including the infamous Red Wedding) and then delves into all new territory. Of the five contenders for the Iron Throne introduced in the second book, one is dead, another is near defeat, and the others continue to wage war, make and break alliances, and scheme within their own houses for more power and more prestige as they move closer and closer to the throne.

King Joffrey of House Lannister currently holds the throne thanks to his own brutality and the intelligence of his mother Cersei, Uncle Tyrion, and grandfather Tywin, but Robb of House Stark still rules the North and is mounting a campaign to defeat Joffrey, who holds his younger sister Sansa in King’s Landing. Beyond the Wall, a large group of wildlings are marching toward the Wall under Mance Rayder with only a small force of the Night’s Watch in their path — one of them being Jon Snow, who has to face the temptation of leaving the Night’s Watch — and, in the east, Daenerys Taragaryen is nurturing her dragons and trying to raise forces to retake the Iron Throne.

Winter is coming, warned the Stark words, and truly it had come for them with a vengence. But it is high summer for House Lannister. So why am I so bloody cold?” (pg. 794)

Of this three books I have read so far, this one is my favorite. I had wondered if my prior knowledge of the events given my familiarity with the television adaption would color my experience, but I was hooked by the detailing of each event even before I reached the point where I had no prior knowledge. I stayed up until three in the morning reading this book and then until two the next night in order to finish. It was that addictive, that much of an emotional roller coaster.

There are, of course, more narrators added to the mix in this novel — Ser Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer, Samwell Tarly of the Night’s Watch, a prologue by another brother of the Night’s Watch, and an epilogue by a member of the Frey family. The addition of Jaime Lannister was absolutely needed and my favorite new narrator of the bunch given how difficult it is to connect with and understand a man known as the “Kingslayer” who engages in an incestuous relationship with his twin sister. And I appreciated the opportunity to see the point of view for my three favorite characters — Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, and Tyrion Lannister.

“You’re mine,” she whispered. “Mine, as I’m yours. And if we die, we die. All men must die, Jon Snow. But first we’ll live.” (pg. 560)

But those of you familiar with the show know how much Martin loves to throw plot twist after plot twist and commit mass murder of his characters. The events of the Red Wedding are not the only shocking moments in this book, and I turned page after page with nervous anticipation and tears in my eyes. Both in the good way and the bad way because Martin will kill characters for what I can only imagine would be for a laugh because why, why, why, Martin? As the friend who recommended the books to me said, “he may actually survive via the energy released by sobbing fans”. But sometimes the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching experience of reading this book is actually what you need and I cannot wait to see how this book continues to live up to the label of “epic” I keep seeing attached to this series.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Martin, George R.R. A Storm of Swords. New York: Bantam Books, 2011. Originally published 2000. 1177 pgs. ISBN: 9780553573428. Source: Borrowed from a friend.
Book Cover © Bantam Books. Retrieved: November 2, 2013.

The second book in Martin’s fantasy epic series titled A Song of Ice and Fire depicts the war and strife as the four men who claimed the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms are joined by a fifth — Balon Greyjoy, father of Theon the former ward of Ned Stark and the self-declared king of the Iron Islands. Theon, for his part, wages war on the homeland of the now deceased Ned Stark capturing Winterfell and murdering two anonymous peasant boys similar in size to Bran Stark and Rickon Stark after the boys disappear. In between explanations of the multiples battles waged during this civil war, the book also delves into the life of Daenerys Targaryen and her three newly hatched, rare dragons as she continues her quest to return to and conquer the Seven Kingdoms and Jon Snow and the rest of the Night’s Watch travels north of the Wall only to interact with a allegiance-free tribe known as the wildlings.

This one paragraph summary can never capture the amount of detail packed into this novel and, to be perfectly honest, I had a hard time keeping track of the details included in this novel despite having already seen the show upon which this novel is based. The battle between Joffrey Baratheon (or, in reality, Tyrion Lannister) and Stannis is supposed to be an important turning point in this novel, the catalyst for action both here and away from King’s Landing, but it was so difficult for me to understand what was occurring that passages were reread and scenes from the show were rewatched in order to make sense of it all.

Some characters’ point of views are more interesting than others — Jon Snow continues to be my favorite and I wasn’t expected to meet Ygritte the wildling until the next chapter; Sansa Stark impressed me with her ability to play the delicate game of politics; and Tyrion helps me make sense of those battles that are not being waged in the traditional sense. But, unfortunately, those characters I wanted to learn more about — Stannis, Theon, Renly Baratheon — seemed to get the same treatment they are given in the show. I understood Theon’s motives better, but he still seems stilted compared to some of the other characters. The book also introduces readers to yet two more narrators — Ser Davos Seaworth, a knight and former smuggler in the service of Stannis Baratheon, and Theon — after starting with a prologue written from one of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered so far, Maester Cressen of Dragonstone (Stannis Baratheon’ holding).

I mentioned in my review of the first book how jarring the reminder of the characters’ young ages were given the activities and events they engage in. That doesn’t change with this novel, but the point I felt most revolted was what some would probably call a minor moment in the story. King Joffrey, Sansa, and other members of his royal court are besieged by hungry residents of and immigrants to King’s Landing , and their hasty escape separates Sansa and another young woman from the protection of the King’s guard, known as the gold cloaks. Sansa is rescued before she can hurt, but Lady Tanda’s daughter, Lolly, is described as such:

“Lady Tanda’s daughter has surrendered her maidenhood to half a hundred shouting men behind a tanner’s shop. The gold cloaks found her wandering naked on Sowbelly Row.” (pg. 600)

Surrendered? Really? What a deplorable and revolting way of describing rape! After this moment, I set the book aside and ranted to the friend who recommended me this series. But she explained how Martin “plays with the line between sex and rape” and said he changes his tone with Lolly in the next book. (Update: I’ve started the third book in this series and I can see support for and contradictions to this assertion.)

At just under the halfway mark with this 1,000-paged novel, I wrote on GoodReads “I find this book to be slower and less engaging than the first. I keep waiting for something to happen, but all I’m getting is a massive amount of set up for (what I hope will be) future events.” That changed slightly as the novel moved on, but I also wonder if its due to how familiar I am with the basic plot because of the television show? Details change and more information is given than I ever thought possible, but I’ll be curious to see how engaged I am with the story once I reached the point in the story I don’t already know about.

Others’ Thoughts:

Books Mentioned:

  • Martin, George R.R. A Clash of Kings. New York: Bantam Books, 2011. Originally published 1999. 1009 pgs. ISBN: 9780553579901. Source: Borrowed from a friend.
  • Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2011. Originally published 1996. 811 pgs. ISBN: 9780553573404. Source: Borrowed from a friend.
Book Cover © Bantam Books. Retrieved: October 31, 2013.
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