This is a companion volume to A Song of Ice & Fire, basis for the Game of Thrones TV series. It serves as a history and geography text for the world and is written from the viewpoint of a maester in the Citadel. Interestingly, it leaves a lot of ambiguity, which feels realistic because most historical “facts”, especially remote ones, are distorted by the passing of time, just as many geographical “facts” are distorted by distance. The “author” refers to this many times.
For any fan of the books or the TV series, this is an interesting read and an excellent reference. The maps and illustrations are gorgeous and greatly help set the scene not only for this book but for the other works in the Song of Ice & Fire universe. Reading on a Kindle doesn’t give the reader the full effect, but Amazon Cloud Reader can be referenced as needed.
This short story collection is set in Westeros one hundred years prior to the events of Game of Thrones. The protagonists of the three stories are a hedge knight called Duncan the Tall, or more commonly just Dunk, and his squire, a boy named Egg. Egg is actually Aegon Targaryen, a royal prince who later (and beyond the scope of these stories) reigns as Aegon V. Dunk started life as an orphan in Flea Bottom, the notorious slum of King’s Landing, and makes his living as a hedge knight, taking service with various masters. The stories are set against the backdrop of a Westeros still reeling from the aftermath of the Blackfyre Rebellion sixteen years previously.
The stories and the protagonist are charming and enjoyable. Unlike the monumental A Song of Ice and Fire, there are no myriad storylines or complex rivalries. Simply the adventures of two people in a vast world. The macropolitics of the era do encroach on the stories, and this is both a strength and a weakness. They give the impression that the world goes on around our two heroes, but on the other hand the historical infodumps sometimes become overcomplex for such short tales.
India one hundred years after nationhood is divided into multiple states. The monsoon has failed in the past several years, heralding an impending war over water between Bharat and neighbouring Awadh. Bharat is not a signatory to the international Hamilton accords limiting the intelligence of AIs, choosing instead to allow some development and self-police through its Krishna Cops. Bharat is a haven for datacenters but there is always the risk of a rogue AI ruining everyone’s whole day. Meanwhile, AIs are the actors in India’s premiere soap opera Town and Country, which harbours deeper complexities than anyone imagines.
The world of River of Gods is immensely detailed, chaotic and complex. Reading the first third of the book leads the reader into massive culture shock as he is forced to navigate the storylines of multiple complex characters. The characters are many. Tal, the “neut”, who has surgically eschewed gender and risks persecution by a mob too easily turned to violence. Mr. Nandha, a Krishna Cop bound to his duty. Lisa Durnau, a cosmologist who researches the structure of universe, only to find that the reality is far more intriguing and disturbing. Thomas Lull, Durnau’s mentor, who is sought out by a mysterious woman who knows everything about everyone and can control machines with her mind. Vishram Ray, the scion of a powerful family who escaped to be a comedian in Scotland and has now been forced back into the family business. And many more major and minor.
It is sometimes tough going through the first half of the book, as there seems to be no real story, but as the novel progresses the plotlines become more defined and come together. The underlying theme is the nature and meaning consciousness and intelligence, or “the meaning of life,” if you will.
The final triumph of understanding is deeply rewarding to the reader. Having said that, I did feel that the book was overlong and that some of the secondary plotlines could have been culled, no matter how much Mr. McDonald’s dazzling prose is a pleasure to read.