torsdag 19. november 2009

On The Dog of the North

After not really being keen on reading for about a month, I suddenly finished a book again. The book was bought on an impulse on some sale thing, and was largely chosen by the cover/cover info, and as we all know what happens when you base purchases on what the book tries to say to you... The Dog of the North shows off some kind of battle on the cover, and at the back you get the impression that it will have "epic battles and sorcery" amongst other things. Oh please.

The book is built up very similiar to Angels of Darkness: there are two storylines set in time periods about 10 years apart, and the further the book progresses the more the two storylines are woven together. And disregarding the cover fully, the book has no epic battles and the only sorcerer is more inclined towards charlatanry. This book feels mostly like some kind of feudal european tale, perhaps heavily inspired by italy, france or the holy roman empire or something, and some of the romantic stories of the period, converted into the fantasy genre. The two storylines follow two pretty different people; Arren, some lowborn boy in his teens who gets sponsored by the lord of his city to get an education and be an advisor to the lord's heir (due to his father doing good in his service, mostly) and The Dog of the North, who is raiding the countryside around the city Arren lives in, aiming to sack it and exact vengeance on the ruling family. When first started reading it, I was in for some kind of culture shock - after reading so many books lately with deeply flawed characters, often "mature" language and fighting/battles that was bloody and graphic, this is back to the rather more innocent language (everyone in the book, except for a couple of people perhaps) are fair spoken and the worst word in the book used has to be "arse", and the use of that word can be counted on one hand. Fighting and such is never spent much time on, and the most graphical bit is when someone gets stabbed at the end of the book, and you'd get worse from watching shakespear at the theatre. Therefore, most of the book is mostly about power - Arren tries to blend in amongst nobles struggling with statecraft, and the Dog tries to get sponsors amongst his superiors to be allowed to try to assault Croad, the city the book centres around. On top of this, there is of course the usual horde of pretty and way too clever women, while they are stuck in the "political marriage and kept as a trophy" role, they try to influence everything, and one also has a religious struggle that reminds at least me of christianity in the same period, with priests trying to get as much mundane power as possible. But the red thread is still the fate of Arren and the Dog, will they be able to get their rather different goals done?

The best part of this book, although weird to say perhaps, is in my opinion on how easy it was to put a face on the characters. The language everyone uses is at first something that caused me a lot of eyerolling, but once I got past that most of the characters in the book actually started reminding me of someone I know - which was what made me read 75% of the book in one sitting, or as it were, nearly asleep in bed. (Not a good idea, staying awake at work now will be a struggle). None of the characters harbor what most fiction characters I read about represent - they have no massive flaws, no superhero tendencies or out of the loop goals and whatnot. Again, strip away the language and they are believable, in my mind. The power struggles also works for me, perhaps one of the better fantasy books in this regard, it's easy to see how the diplomacy bits spans out as the lords have some tough decisions sometimes, and not just "Huzzah, the elves and the dwarfs turned friends again so good side wins!". So the best bit is that it was so different from most stuff like that I read, and it being good to boot.

However, there was not one action scene in the whole book I liked. Even the two big battles was dulled down. Perhaps I have just turned into a spoiled action junkie after the books and games the last few years, but oh well. That being said, at least the author kept them short and didn't draw em out, so they served a function (and thus was just mediocre instead of horrible). I am also struggling with the Dog's motivation somewhat, but as he ends up coming across somewhat erratic (he seems very intelligent, resourcefull and chivalric at times, just to have bouts of being an idiot) so I guess he can claim burst addicition madness of a sort.

Entertainment: 7/10
Thought Provoking: 4/10

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