On ‘Game of Thrones’, Piracy and Fantasy Books

Kal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen
                                                   Kal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen


Before this week I had never seen  a torrent with over 100 000 seeders (i.e 100 000 people connected to the internet sharing the same file ). Yet at one point the finale of season 5 of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones‘, the wildly popular TV adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series, had over 200 000 seeders on KickAss torrents.

It became the most pirated series in history, breaking a record set by its previous season. I spent a few minutes on popular torrent sites just looking at the unbelievable numbers of seeders and marveling at the impact of technology. You see, I’m a proper geek.

The popularity of Game of Thrones and the extremely high levels of piracy also show how technology has changed our lives, both in positive and negative ways. The benefits of the internet can hardly be argued, instant access to information, sharing of data and social media are just a few examples. Without the internet many people who watched Game of Thrones would have had to wait for DVDs. In this part of the world that would have meant a really really long wait.

Of course the makers of the series will see things differently. They will, quite rightly, argue that those who download the series are criminals who should be arrested. After all, they are in the business for profits and the millions who watch the series without paying for it are defrauding HBO of millions of dollars.

So yeah, if you downloaded GOT you basically committed a crime. I’m not too sure about getting it from friends who illegally obtained it, or buying those fake DVDs in the streets. Not that you have much to worry about here anyway. Is piracy even a crime here?

Oh, and the reactions on Twitter were priceless. People seemingly haven’t come to terms with Martin’s highly unpredictable writing and his penchant for killing (or appearing to kill) well loved characters while letting wretches like Cersei Lannister live. There was outrage over the “death” of Jon Snow, Arya’s blindness, and the death of Stannis. In the books I don’t think Snow dies, he’s stabbed but it’s not explicitly stated, Arya’s sight returns and Stannis was alive in the last book (and the early chapters of the yet-to-be released Winds of Winter ).

I haven’t watched any of the seasons yet but I still think the books are better. In addition to giving you the characters’ thoughts and feelings you also get a deeper and more comprehensive view of Westeros, the East and the history of that world. And I’m told some details from the books are left out- for example I’ve heard there is no Strong Belwas in the TV version. What can be worse than that?

Whether one watches the series, reads the books or does both I think Martin’s mastery cannot be disputed. He wrote one of the finest fantasy series ever, and his gritty, dark and unpredictable style has become a template for modern fantasy writers who are changing from the traditional sword and sorcery, boy comes to age and villager to hero world saver story lines such as my favourite of all- The Wheel of Time. My only problem with him is the pace- it’s been four years since book five and no one knows when the book six is coming out.

If you like the series and want to read similar works, or just want suggestions of good fantasy series then I recommend Glen Cook’s Black Company, Anthony Ryan’s “Blood Song”, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle, anything by Joe Abercombie, Brian Staveley’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne and if you really want to read complex stuff try the Malazan series (about 15 books in total)

For the record, I did not download Game of Thrones- I’ve read the books and I don’t watch the TV series (yet).

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Book Review: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

I just finished reading The Providence of Fire, Brian Staveley’s second book in his gripping and epic debut fantasy series The Unhewn Throne.

The Providence of Fire picks up where the first book, The Emperor’s Blades left. The Emperor, Sanlitun, is still dead and his three very different children are suddenly each thrust into vast struggles where their training hardly proves adequate.

Kaden, heir to the throne, and a pupil in a mountain monastery saw the monastery – his home for eight years – destroyed and the monks killed. The murderers of his father seem intent on destroying his whole line.

Together with a monk named Rampuran Tan, who is far more than he seems, he sets out to find the answers and on the way meets even stranger people. Unable to physically fight like Valyn his younger brother and without any allies and lacking the political shrewdness of his sister, Adare, Kaden turns to his training in the mountains for the solution. If he cannot save the empire, he will break it.

Then there’s Valyn, the Emperor’s youngest son and a highly trained warrior, part of the famed Kettral- a warrior unit which rides huge birds. Risking banishment and labeled a traitor for saving his brother, Valyn finds himself in hostile lands where a barbarian host is massing and travelling towards the empire. Valyn is a skilled warrior and able leader but he soon realises that the training at the Kettral island is inadequate to fully understand the world of politics and betrayal in which he finds himself.

Adare is the oldest of the emperor’s children, and the one most familiar with the political processes of the empire. After discovering that her father’s killer is her lover and the general of the empire, she flees the capital to raise her own army.

Staveley also offers a fourth viewpoint, that of the Kettral demolitions expert, Gwenna, a tough young woman who gives a new and interesting perspective.

In The Providence of Fire Staveley improves his character development, particulary Adare, who we see more of and whose shrewdness gives the story unexpected twists and turns.

The Providence of Fire also expands the world of the Annurian Empire, historical titbits are revealed and the geography of the world is covered more broadly as the characters travel unlike the first book which focused on Kaden at the monastery, Valyn at the Kettral island and Adare at the Palace.

A bigger picture also starts to emerge with new players who cast doubts on what the reader may have deduced or guessed. Il Tornja, who murdered the Emperor, is shown to have many sides and nothing is ever what it seems.

The book also introduces new powerful characters with their own agendas and offers glimpses into the working and thinking of the mysterious non-human Csestriim .

One of the problems I had with Staveley was that he seemed to reveal his secrets a little too early. While he does this still in The Providence of Fire, Staveley has the ability to weave a complex tale and the revelations will only reveal to the reader how little has been reduced. The complexity of his characters, particularly Adare, make them unpredictable and nothing in the book is ever what it seems.

The Providence of Fire is a great book one which I found hard to put down. It is arguably better than the first and a more compete read though it ends with a lot of questions unanswered and leaves the reader desperately waiting for the next volume. In The Providence of Fire Staveley cements his place amongst epic fantasy’s new greats such as Anthony Ryan, Patrick Rothfuss and Joe Abercombie.

A must read.

Rating: 5 stars

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