Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Review: Game of Thrones Season 3 DVD

The third series was something I’d been looking forward to since I finished watching the second. But could it match the heights reached by the first two?

This review will necessarily have spoilers for seasons one and two, but I’ll try and keep them to a minimum for the third.

Although there’s a very strong (and large) cast, the first two series both had what I would consider lead characters (Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister respectively). Season three seemed to depart from this. Several new characters are introduced (Diana Rigg as the Tyrell matriarch and Kristofer Hijvu as Tormund Giantsbane probably being my favourites) and, as you would expect, not everyone survives the whole season.

There are some fantastic performances, particularly from Charles Dance, who is perfect as Tywin Lannister. The confrontational, domineering scenes with his own children are particularly good. Varys and Littlefinger are a bit less prominent, but they also have one of the very best subplots, when they engage in some rather serious underhanded jousting.

To an extent there’s a lack of progression with the ‘main’ plot (the war). There's certainly plenty at the end, but it feels like a bit too much skirt and not enough leg earlier on.

We see much more from Daenerys and Jon Snow (Kit Harington and Rose Leslie as Jon and Ygritte have great chemistry). There’s also more character development from perhaps the best odd couple of Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth.

I believe the series parted ways with the previous approach of one book equalling one series. This is necessary (if not now then later) because the fourth and fifth books deal with only half the cast, and that would never work for a TV series.

A bit more action and drama regarding the central plot would have been welcome. It’s hard to be critical, because the acting, costumes, writing and so forth are all excellent, but that’s what I think. It’s still well worth buying.

I also don’t understand how this is not rated 18. It’s not a serious issue, but given the degree of fairly graphic violence I found it quite surprising.

An aside: this has many low ratings. However, these are almost entirely due to two factors. The first is that, for some reason, the programme will not play on an Xbox One. I have no idea why not. The second is that the ‘limited edition’ does not seem to have gone down well (sounds more like a cheap tat issue rather than the discs not working).

DVD extras are not something I’m too into, but I did watch them all/listen to the commentaries. The deleted scenes are interesting, especially one with Pycelle and Tywin. As before, the commentaries are generally good and pretty variable. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gwendoline Christie and Bryan Cogman are probably the most entertaining to listen to.

In short, perhaps not quite as staggeringly good as the first two seasons, but still well worth buying.




Saturday, 22 February 2014

Review: I, Zombie, by Jo Michaels

I, Zombie is a bit unusual, for me. It is, as the title suggests, about zombies and is aimed at a young adult audience.

The story is split into 26 (or so, I forget if the author managed to find a Q chapter heading) chapters based on the alphabet. It begins with a scene from halfway through the story, which paints the main character as a zombie. After this we shift back to the beginning and go through the plot in chronological order.

This approach works very well. It took me a short time to work out that the protagonist was actually a zombie, and having the story told from the perspective of the undead was a nice change of pace. Moving from that back to when she was a healthy human also works well, as we see her descend into decay and the impact of zombiefication on her friends, family and self.

The writing style’s nice and easy to read. The tone generally is relatively light. There are moments of slightly grim physical descriptions as bodies fester away, but nothing too bad. I must admit that at times I would’ve preferred a grimmer approach. This isn’t a criticism of the book, as it’s clearly written for and labelled as young adult, but my own preference is for a darker slant.

One aspect I wasn’t too fond of was the main character’s special ability. I feel that would’ve made more sense just as an unusual development of the disease. The world generally is painted realistically, so having something supernatural before the zombies arise felt a shade off.

Going by the Amazon approximation of pages, it’s a little bit shorter than Journey to Altmortis (95,000 words), but it felt shorter, in a good way. Whenever I sat down to read it I’d take a fair chunk out of it, and it didn’t take me long at all from start to finish.

So, if you like zombies and/or young adult books I would recommend I, Zombie.




Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Review: Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome

I just finished Three Men In A Boat, and it’s worth mentioning the version I had (a Christmas gift) had many annotations by Christopher Matthew and Benny Green. Very often the annotations helpfully explained certain things I was unfamiliar with, or elaborated upon interesting periods of history. Sadly, this edition is out of print, so if you want the annotations second hand is the way to go (I can recommend AbeBooks.co.uk, where I bought Philippe Contamine’s War In The Middle Ages for less than half the list price).

The book tells the tale of three men (and a dog) travelling up the Thames in a boat, during the late 19th century. Boating had become something of a popular pastime, and so J, George and Harris spent a fortnight or so on a riparian break.

The style is very charming, and suitable for people of any age. It’s effortlessly warm-hearted, and quite a joy to read. Despite its distant publication (over a century, now) the sentiment of three chaps messing about on a river has entirely survived the passage of time.

Sometimes the author drifts into a melancholy, wistful and slightly more serious tone, but this bubble is usually pricked by a swift return to wry and witty remarks.

The book is liberally peppered with photographs and illustrations, the former particularly interesting as a window into a bygone era. It’s easy to see why this is rightly considered a timeless classic.




Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Review: The Military Institutions of the Romans, by Vegetius

The edition I got was for the Kindle (unusually for history, for me), and translated by John Clarke. It cost the princely sum of 49p.

The book is a sort of cross between Sunzi’s Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince. It was written by Vegetius to the emperor. In it, Vegetius pleads for a return to the virtues (in a military/moral sense) of the ancient Roman army, to help return the ailing Empire to its former rude health.

It’s a fairly short book, and is quite concise. Vegetius looks at the Roman army (as it was back in the ‘good old days’) in some detail, and compares it with the usually inferior modern day equivalent (the exception being cavalry, which was woeful in antiquity but later became good).

The arms, armour, recruitment, training and tactics of the army are all considered. It’s very easy to read and no previous knowledge of the Roman army or empire is needed to appreciate what Vegetius is writing about.

It is, perhaps, slightly niche in the same was as the books I mentioned above are. If someone is seeking to compare military organisations of different times and peoples, or consider how the Roman army evolved and declined over time it is a worthy read. It’s also worth remembering that this book was often read and revered by medieval leaders, who applied (as best they could) the advice of virtuous antiquity in their own wars.

Because of this it’s a book of three times. It harks back to the ancient valour of the Roman, when they were pathologically patriotic. It exhorts a contemporary of Vegetius to emulate the practices of the past in order to restore the empire to its ancient strength. And, it was highly influential on the states that followed the empire’s collapse and arose from the Dark Ages.