Book Review

Book Review: Kings of the Wyld

Last week, I posted about my nascent querying process. I made reference to Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames as one of my two “comp titles,” because every proper query must include two titles that your book is exactly the same as, but different from. It’s The Cat in the Hat mixed with Debbie Does Dallas.

Sorry, that wasn’t a very good comp. They have to be modern titles, you see. Other than that, the pairing works perfectly. Like Bordeaux and Kraft Dinner.

I struggled with my comp titles throughout most of the first two drafts of my work-in-progress. Part Star Wars, part Game of Thrones. Except it’s neither sci-fi nor epic fantasy. Oh, and set in the real world.

Can’t imagine why it took three drafts to figure out what the hell I was doing. 

I always had an idea for what I wanted to do with it, but when the words hit the page, I couldn’t make them go that way. 

Then I read Kings of the Wyld. Wow.

Forget comp title. This bad boy opened up my world as to what was possible in genre writing. I finally figured out how to fix that major ho-hum in my WIP. Turns out it was what I always wanted to do with it, but Kings of the Wyld finally gave me permission. 

Wait, is that why we’re supposed to find current books to comp? 

So consider this my book review, my book report a year or two late. And a desperate attempt to milk one more post outta that damned Work-In-Process.

Anything to avoid querying, amirite?

Kings of the Wyld and its sequel start with a simple premise that deconstructs an underlying trope of epic fantasy. You know that rough-and-tumble group of adventurers who put their differences aside and origins together to “band together” and save the princess/town/kingdom from the wizard/dragon/demon? Well, they’re basically rock stars. What if they were actually rock stars?

That’s the premise of the series: adventurers act like your standard classic rock band. The front man tunes his axe while the wizard in the background twirls his twin daggers a la drumsticks. The “band” at the core of this book, named Saga, goes through bards like Spinal Tap does drummers. They don’t even remember how certain ones died.

The trios and quartets and quintets go on tours, traveling from city to city to defeat the monsters, then sticking around long enough for the sex and booze before moving on to the next town booked by their agent. 

At least that’s how it used to be. But like our real rock gods, the members of Saga have aged. Retired, even. Nowadays, from their perspective, these glam-rock noobs stage arena shows predicated on flash instead of substance. They even use makeup! Imagine Duane Allmann showing up at a Twisted Sister concert. Or even better, Backstreet Boys.

Except there are manticores and walking trees and shit. 

The inciting incident occurs when one of the old dudes’ daughter joined a band of her own and now needs help. What more do you want from your epic fantasy than an opening salvo of, “Let’s get the band back together.”

So part swords and sorcerers, part music appreciation, with a healthy dose of us old farts adjusting to the fact that we can’t do what we once could. Of course, we have wisdom now, but is the increase in that attribute enough to counteract the loss of strength, dexterity, and constitution all at once?

Ugh, my constitution used to be so strong. The worst part about my school reopening is retraining my bladder and bowels. Ninetyminutes between pees, six hours without pooping.

Sorry, TMI? Well the good news is you probably won’t see that being discussed in Kings of the Wyld. It often toed the line, it often hinted it might go full camp, but it never does. Every time I thought they were going to abandon the fantasy element for the rock motif, it always steered back. 

One part that stuck out was a battle of the bands with one of these newfangled boy bands. The lead up felt about 70% Led Zeppelin vs. NKOTB” and maybe 30% “Roll a d20.” They went to a bar the night before, met fans of the new band, heard all the rumors of their own demise. Some of the patrons didn’t remember Saga, while others told rumors about the old band a la Ozzy Osborne. Pretty much nobody believes they are who they say they are until they damn near burn the place down. 

Do you think David Lee Roth has similar stories from, say, the mid-nineties?

When they show up at the arena for the Battle of the Bands, however, a griffin breaks free from its chain and almost kills everyone. All of a sudden, it’s standard sword-and-sorcery, battle-the-monster type stuff. The band works together like an experienced group of adventurers and save the day, all the while creating a new generation of fans. Even those young whippersnapper adventurers learned a thing or two about how shit was dealt with back in the day, when the circumstance presaged the pomp.

That’s what I meant by always choosing the straight path when given the option. Eames constantly approached the line between campy and serious, but he never crossed it. In fact, as the book went on, once the premise was laid, he didn’t lean into it as much. The second half of the book was maybe eighty to ninety percent something you’d read from Brandon Sanderson or Geroge R.R. Martin, although not quite as wordy. He’d established the premise, he’d hooked us onto the characters, now he was telling their story.

Aas I was reading it, I was continuously surprised at how dense it was. A lot of the fantasy I’ve read the last few years are in the vein of Critical Failures or NPCs, two series that don’t take themselves seriously enough to notice there was supposed to be a line between comedy and prose. They’re quick, fun reads. I kept expecting Kings of the Wyld to take on that pacing, but it didn’t. Two equally gratifying “fixes” to the glut of epic fantasy out there.

So how does this all play into my work-in-progress? I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s intended to be part alternative history, part low fantasy. It was intended to be more of the fomer than the latter, but as I wrote it, it felt more fantasy than history. Writing a “Middle Ages that never ended” lends itself to e Olde Tyme Language. I wanted to sprinkle in a bunch of modern references. The flash fiction from which it was born featured Zip-Lock bags, and while there were a handful of real-life people, as all proper alternative histories must, they were buried in the background. I was afraid to feature them.

As I was writing, the naive POV character trying to make sense of the world took over. When he’s knee deep in profound questions about the nature of feudalism and “the world is not what it seems” seems like a bad time to drop in a “Where’s the Beef?” 

Or maybe that’s the PERFECT time to drop in a “Where’s the Beef!” That’s what Kings of the Wyld taught me. Instead of toning down the tongue-in-cheek, I could lean into it and still not let it take over the narrative.

These toungue-in-cheek moments were always part of the plan, rarely in the execution. Among the first “scenes” that popped into my head, in fact one of the phrases in the original flash fiction, was turning the Prince lyric into olde tyme speeche: “Let us feast, frivol. Let us party like ’tis nineteen hundred ninety-and-nine.” 

But every time it came to dropping one of those into the writing, I got scared. The book must take itself seriously!

Except maybe it doesn’t.

I dabbed my foot into this Brave New World with a campy Spice Girls reference that I’d planned but shied away from. When I sent the first batch to a couple of beta readers, out of 10,000 words of introduction, with at least three bona fide characters to connect with and a myriad of worldbuilding mysteries, what was the one response that everyone had? “I really liked the Spice Girls part.”

Great. The only part they glommed onto was the throw-in that had little to do with the plot. Why should I bother writing the other 90,000 words if I could’ve just gone Spice Girls for 500 pages.

Except, of course, the Spice Girls only works as an accoutrement. Christmas ornaments only work if they’ve got a tree to hang on. 

Nicholas Eames did a great job of toeing that line. I knew when he was being funny and when he was being serious. At least, by the end I did. Early on, I thought there must be some jokes I was missing, and that feeling continued as he phased away from the rock references. In the second half, they became rarer as the conflict and the characters we’ve come to care about took over the plot. I find myself following a similar pattern. The first few drop-ins are lengthier, more developed. They need to hook the reader. In the later chapters they’re only there as a reminder. By then, the reader needs to care about the characters.

That’s what brought me to Kings of the Wyld. If it was reviewed as “old adventurers are forced to fight again when a daughter is in trouble,” I wouldn’t have sought it out. But “In a world where they are treated like rock gods, four retired adventurers decide it’s time to ‘get the band back together!’? Hell yeah! So if my book becomes known for the Spice Girls and nothing else… shit, I’d LOVE for my book to be known for something. Anything.

To be fair, I still worry when I drop in 1990s vernacular. Will the agent/editor/publisher/reader realize that a wee peasant lass dropping an, “As if!” is intentional, and not just the markings of a writer who doesn’t understand that modern parlances shall not grace Medieval literature. Not that “as if” is modern parlance, but you know what I mean. I’ve read far too many “period pieces” only to find myself diving for a dictionary to verify my assumption that that word didn’t exist until 100 years later. Sorry, your Civil War soldier isn’t worried that his life is going into a “tailspin” forty years before the first airplane.

But you gotta take some risks if you want to stick out of the slush pile, to say nothing of the thousands of published works that also found their own way out of it. 

The good news is I now know it can be done.

But it must be done well.

Shit. 

A Snarky-Ass Book Review

After a painstaking summer of long flights and long walks and quick, quick bedtimes, I’ve finally completed A Clash of Kings, the second book in the “A Song of Fire and Ice” saga, better known by its inaugural book, A Game of Thrones.

I know, I know. Super timely.

But I felt the need to blog my thoughts after finishing this book. I had a similar response after finishing the first book, but it was a bit amorphous. I was having a lot of the “it’s not you, it’s me” feelings, or the “am I missing something” thoughts after Book One. So this time I focused a bit more, and it turns out, over two thousand pages later, that my initial thoughts might have been right. It might not be me. It might be you, Game of Thrones. And while I’m not going to call all of the people who swear by you “liars,” well, if the foo shits…

But I’m still a bit amorphous on the whole thing. I need to talk my way through it, to purge a bit, if you will. And it’s a little too much to put into a Goodreads review, so I just stamped a 2-star review on that bad boy and I’ll try to flesh it out a little bit here. And if the fans want to get super angry with me and point out that I totally missed that reference on page 737 of Book Five, well then fine. You’re probably right. But I know I’m not alone in missing many of the obscure references.

So… uh…, spoilers ahead, and all. For a book that came out two decades ago. Which was turned into a season of a TV show a half-decade ago. No, you know what? You’re reading a blog about a book. If I spoil anything, that’s on you.

To start with, why the hell am I just now reading a two decade old book that was turned into a season of a TV show a half-decade ago? Well, I sort of had this idea that I wanted to read the books before seeing the show. Because I’m damn sure not going to read this drivel AFTER I’ve watched the show. Of course, this decision was made before the TV Show went ahead of the books, and that the books might never get finished, so the TV shows are now the de-facto, definitive version of the story. By the time all of that became apparent, I had already purchased the second book and it was taking up space on my bookshelf.

I read the first book twice. Well, I started it twice. I only finished it once. I actually started A Game of Thrones long before the TV show came out. I heard about this highly-touted new-ish series and asked a couple friends if they wanted to read it with me. My guess is the TV show had been announced but not premiered yet. Otherwise, I’m not sure how I would’ve known it was highly-touted. I’m not exactly up on the most recent books. For instance, have you heard that they’re making movies of Marvel characters now? Oh, and there’s some sort of seven-year wizarding school that brings all the boys to the yard.

My pop culture references are just as up to date as my reading list.

Anyway, my two friends said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” In one of their defences, the last time I had talked her into a new fantasy series, it was Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time,” a series that at last count, had around infinity pages, and that doesn’t even count the Brandon Sanderson completion of it after Robert Jordan died. By the way, I stopped that series after Book Five and my friend continued reading until the bitter end. So I don’t necessarily blame her caution when I approached a brand spanking new set o’ books.

The other friend that said no was just being a dick, I assume.

On my first attempt at A Game of Thrones, I made it about a hundred pages. One-hundred painstaking pages. Trust me, I did my due diligence. Every time a place was mentioned, I looked back at the map. Okay, I thought, there’s a wall that’s suspiciously in the same general spot in Westeros as Hadrian’s Wall is in Britain. So the evil, uncivilized Wildlings that live beyond the Wall and portend the end of the world is coming are basically the Scots. Okay, that checks out. .

And from the first few chapters of the book, I can tell that the Wall, and the evil Scots er, Wildlings, are going to be the primary focus of this series. Plus some winter and some games and some thrones, perhaps.

And when the second or third chapter didn’t make any reference to the Wall, I was okay with it. According to the map, Winterfell was a little south of the Wall, and I’m guessing those wolves they found are gonna help defeat the dastardly Scots. I’m sure we’ll get back to the main plot any time now. And if this fucktard can’t figure out if his name is Ned or Eddard, who am I to question him?

Then came a chapter in a completely different part of the map with some characters that hadn’t even been referenced yet, but that’s fine. I can find King’s Landing on the map. And I know it’s based on the War of the Roses, so if there are some York’s, there must be some Lancasters. And some dragons, because the real War of the Roses had dragons. And wights and midgets and Targaryans…

Wait, are the Targaryans the Plantegenets?

And yeah, I know the wights are called white walkers, but they’re just wights. I’ve played D&D. I’ll grant you your stupid way of spelling “Sir,” Mr. Martin, but using a homonym and putting the word “walker” after it doesn’t mean you invented it.

Speaking of the Targaryans, I know precisely where I finally gave up on my first read-through of A Game of Thrones. The first chapter from Daenerys’s point of view. Why? Because her shit takes place of the fucking map. If it was just a once-off, like the character is boarding a ship in a far of land en route back to Winterfell or King’s Landing or any one of the numerous other places on the wonderful map at the front of the book, I would have been fine. You know that wonderful map that you put at the front of your book? The one that looks suspiciously like England? The one that I’ve spent as much time with as your actual verbiage in the first hundred pages? Yeah, that map. Daenerys wasn’t on the fucking map. Why the fuck are you gThe one where I’ve spent at least as much time as I have in the actual verbiage of the individual chapters. I mean, the map is quite clearly England, so I can only assume she’s in France, waiting to cross the narrow channel.

And it was very clear that Daenerys, who hadn’t been mentioned anywhere prior to any point, was going to be spending her entire time completely off the map. And not, like, in France. She’s in fucking Asia with the Mongols. And she’s moving from spot to spot over there. Why the fuck are you going to put a map at the front of the book if there are sizable chunks of the book that don’t take place on the map? And you’re expecting me to follow her decisions on whether to go this direction or that, to this city or that port, via this desert or that grassy plain, but I can’t join her in this inner monologue because I have no fucking idea where she is!

So I put the book aside. I thought about throwing it away, or selling it to a used book store. Hell, I thought long and hard about burning the damned thing.

But instead, I just put it back on the bookshelf. The TV show would fail and I’d never have to think about it again.

Famous last words.

Sometime after the first season, I decided to give it another go. Both of my friends who had no interest in joining me on my first sojourn had since read the whole fucking thing. Now they’re the snooty ones who are posting thinly-veiled spoilers to the TV show watchers. “Oh boy, that Red Wedding’s going to be an absolute blast!” “Oh, did that surprise you? Maybe you should read the book.”

Yeah, I TRIED to read the book, mother fucker, and you wanted nothing to do with it until you could lord it over the masses.

Anyway, I finally decided to give the book another try. Only this time, I went in the complete opposite direction of my normal “read before watch.” Instead, I watched the first season, then read the book to see if I could make more headway. And, I’ve got to tell you, it really helped! It helps to put faces with names. I mean, Peter Dinklage is fucking brilliant. So being able to see his smirks and hear his sarcasm in my head whenever I read Tyrion’s actions and dialogue make me much likelier to get through whatever current scene he’s in. Even moreso in the second book, when everyone underestimates him, and I’m like, “Hey, Tywin, quit whining about Jaime. You’ve got Peter fucking Dinklage on your side.”

The other reason watching the TV show before reading the book helped is that George R. R. Martin, um, how do I put this… isn’t all that clear in his writing. Seriously, even when I was reading a scene I remembered from the TV show, I couldn’t fucking figure out what was going on half the time. I specifically remember the scene where the dragons are born. I knew the dragons were being born because I had seen it on TV. But if I were reading it without that experience, I would have no fucking clue that anything of the sort was happening. There was all sorts of stuff about fire. She was walking into the fire. I thought maybe it was metaphorical, because her husband, Aquaman, had just died. Maybe it was a cleansing fire or something. But no, it was a real fire, with real dragons being born. You just have to dig really, really deep into the words to guess that. I’m glad I had seen the show, otherwise when I started A Clash of Kings, I’d be like “Whoa, where the fuck did those baby dragons come from?”

I wish I had some individual passages to point out how confusing George R.R. Martin’s writing can be. Perhaps the precise paragraph where the dragons might or might not be being born. But as soon as I was done with the book, I burned it. I sent it through a shredder. I wiped my ass with it. I threw it from the highest parapet into the depths of Hell itself.

Okay, all I really did was sell it to the used-book store. It’s the same general idea. I knew I never wanted to see it again. It might have been as painful as the four years it took me to read Les Miserables, but the battered copy of Les Miserables  is a much starker badge of honor upon my bookshelf. Nobody’s going to look at me like a martyr for making it through George R.R. Martin like they do about Victor Hugo.

And really, the two books are similar. Nobody would read Les Miserables if not for the really good musical. Hell, had I known that Eponine was really a tiny side role, not a tragic martyr, I still might’ve skipped it. So fuck you, Cameron Mackintosh, for making such a lovable character. And while I’m at it, fuck you, Victor Hugo, for not being able to get to the fucking point. I mean, really, Victor? Fifty pages on the Battle of fucking Waterloo in order to advance the plot one page? Thenardier steals teeth from corpses at the end. There, I did it in one sentence. Scoreboard! Maybe if you had fit Les Miserables into the five-hundred or so pages that would’ve been plenty, then asshats like George R.R. Martin wouldn’t automatically assume that you need to write 1,000 pages to be considered a real author.

Sorry, where was I? Oh, right. I was writing about how brevity is wonderful and that writers should not be prone to frivolous, tangential excursions from the point. Okay.

So yeah, I sold A Game of Thrones to the used-book store and decided to never look into Westeros on the printed page ever again.

So where did my version of A Clash of Kings come from? Well, you know how women forget about the labor pain? And drunks forget the hangover? Pain becomes more distant in the rear-view mirror. So six months later, when my wife needed an extra ten bucks to get free shipping on the Amazon order, I obliged her with a “Throw that second Game of Thrones book on there.”

It then sat on my shelf for three years, as I waited for a time when I would have enough time, and enough will to live, to tackle the next thousand pages. This summer proved that time. And now, after four months of focusing on one book, of a continuous struggle of “fuck, I really need to finish this shit,” I’m pretty much at the same place as I was in 2012. I’m fucking done with this series. I cannot envision a time when I will want to put the rest of my literary

So yeah, get ready for my review of A Storm of Swords in about five years.

But this time, I decided to do it right. Read the book before I watch the show. See if I can follow what’s going on. Good news is that I was able to figure it out. Even after many years, I could still envision Sophie Turner and Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage. To say nothing of the dragons that I had seen born on TV, but not in a book. So in a scant four months, via many long airplane rides and even more long walks, I made it to the end.

I was even able to follow the plot a little bit. Arya was pretending to be a boy, then she wasn’t. She went north, then was captured, then led a rebellion in her new city because nobody knows who she is. She had some companions, the only one of which I remember was Hot Pie. I imagine at some point they explained why he was called Hot Pie, but it was probably in a passage where they explained the nicknames of seventeen other characters. But you have to wait four hundred pages to figure out which ones survive and/or get mentioned the most.

Arya still isn’t reunited with her wolf. I guess that’s a plotline to be picked up in book three. Or maybe book four. When she sent the wolf away, about a third of the way into book one, I assumed the wolf would show up at the end to save them all. But it was left to linger, almost forgotten about. So I assumed it would pick up in book two. It’s hinted at a lot, but nothing happens. I guess I’ll find out in book three. Or four… Or five.

Not that I’m going to read those books. Maybe the TV show will answer my questions.

Sansa was still in King’s Landing for, like, the whole fucking book. She seems particularly unconcerned at her sister’s whereabouts. And even though their parents sent emissaries to deliver a message, evidently they didn’t bother to look for the daughters, because nobody on either side has any clue where Arya was. Or maybe the emissaries did look but were told a cover story. I don’t really remember.

The Baratheon brothers were fighting each other. I thought for sure that Renly was going to beat Stannis, because Renly’s storyline introduced a character that was being given way too much backstory, so clearly she’s going to be a major character. See above: “Pie, Hot”. But then Stannis has a priestess that sends a shadow out of her hoo-haw that kills Renly. Then Brienne, the new character, joins Mrs. Stark.

And then they make up some bullshit about how the Vagina Monster can’t cross city walls, but I don’t know. It seems a little deus ex machina if Pussy Demon can kill anybody and a little deus ex machina to have some bullshit barrier to not make the books end immediately. But whatever.

Oh, and there’s a major battle at the end. Something with ropes in the bay and fire. I can’t really explain it. Tyrion was on one of the boats, all of which burned and sank, but he somehow ended up back home. Oh, and he has a whore he really likes.

Oh, and Theon wants to bang his sister. And might or might not have killed Bran.

Did I miss anything? Did I totally misunderstand something? Probably. I could look it up. I haven’t traded it in for store credit yet. But I wouldn’t necessarily be able to figure it out the second time, either.

Because, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll spell out my review. George R.R. Martin is a very opaque, obtuse, unclear writer. Did I just use three words that mean the same thing? I did. And if George R.R. Martin were reviewing this blog, he’d wonder why I was so brief. The thesaurus has at LEAST ten more synonyms I could’ve thrown in there. You’re not going to fill ten thousand pages THAT way.

But it’s not just about using ten words when two will do. It isn’t only a case of meandering to get to the point. He’s also unclear when he gets there. I referenced the Waterloo portion of Les Miserables earlier. Yeah, it’s a fifty page diversion that barely advances the plot at all. However, when it finally does advance the plot, it only takes a few pages. And it’s clear as day. There’s Thenardier, and there’s Marius’s grandfather. And here’s their conversation, completely contained on pages 357 and 358. The conversation doesn’t start twenty pages earlier and contain thirty-five flashbacks and descriptions of the interior of the castle and that one whore that Tyrion lost his virginity to, before finally returning to the next sentence in the conversation, leading to a somewhat obscure ending.

For instance, take the chapter where Theon wanted to sleep with his sister. He didn’t know it was his sister, although it was obvious to the reader. One or two references would’ve been plenty, but dude is hitting it HARD. Describing in graphic detail what he’s going to do to her. Even though she claims to be pregnant and uninterested. The first exchange was insulting, the second one was skeevy, and by the seventh time, in a ten-page span, it’s like, dude, take a hint. And the “dude” I’m referring to is Martin, not Theon.

And then we’re led to believe Theon’s killed Bran. I knew he hadn’t because I looked at all of the upcoming chapters and noticed the last chapter was a Bran chapter. After pretty much every chapter, I would scout out the next few chapters, just to see if I would ever get back to a certain character or story. Although really, all I wanted to know was how much closer I was to the end. Just like when I’m grading papers. Twenty left, and then I grade one and have to count again. Let’s see, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen… Hmm… Let me read one more and see if the count changes to, like, three left.

But had I not been impatient to be done with the book after a summer of sluggish progress, I don’t know that I would’ve realized that Bran wasn’t really dead. Sure, we never saw the body. And in the last Theon chapter, he realized he was on the wrong path, then turned back to look in the other direction. Then all of a sudden, everyone in all of Westeros thought Bran was dead. His head was on a pike. Odd to not show that scene, but whatever. I’m sure there’s a rape scene that needed vital page-space.

I think there was supposed to be a hint to the reader, even the patient reader, that Bran wasn’t really dead. At the end of a ten-page, mostly inner-monologue Theon chapter, wherein he’s just, in general, looking around all of Winterfell and commenting on lots of things, he looks at the heads on the sticks. And thinks, “The miller’s boys had been of an age with Bran and Rickon, alike in size and coloring, and once Reek had flayed the skin from their faces and dipped their heads in tar, it was easy to see familiar features in those misshapen lumps of rotting flesh.”

That’s it. That’s the only reference in the entire book, until the last chapter, that Bran is alive. This was baby dragons all over again. Had I not cheated, I would’ve had no fucking clue that Bran wasn’t really dead.

So that’s really what it comes down to. Too fucking confusing. And sure, there are times that Martin, like any good writer who wants the readers coming back for more, is intentionally obtuse. But I feel like, even when he’s trying to be straight-forward, his wordiness and writing style lack clarity. The English language has rules for a reason. And when you have two people engaged in conversation, each person is supposed to get a new paragraph every time they speak. There are a few times in A Clash of Kings where two people are speaking in the same paragraph. With scene descriptors in between! At other points, there will be five men in the room and the dialogue tag will read, “he said to him.” Umm.. Who said to whom?

A number of people have told me they stopped reading the book because there were too many characters. And while that’s a valid criticism, I don’t feel it’s the number of characters as much as it is how they are used. There are name dumps with seventeen different people listed in one paragraph. Ser Fucktwat walks in with his retinue of Jim and Fred and Bobby and John and Paul and George and Ringo and Stick-up-ass Boy, followed by Velma and Ricky and… well, you get the point. Then, a hundred pages later, Bobby’s doing something and I’m left wondering if this is the first time he’s been introduced or if I’ve just been a lousy reader. And then, ten pages into his next appearance, it’s mentioned that he once worked with Fucktwat, who is no longer known as Ser. And then I have to decide if I need to re-read the last ten pages now that I know who he is. And inevitably, I will say no, and then, a hundred pages from now, when Velma shows up, I’ve not only forgotten about her time with Fucktwat, but also that Bobby has since showed up.

But there’s no context clues to help us. That’s on the writer, not the reader. If Bobby is the one that we’re supposed to remember, give him something noticeable. Like Hot Pie. Or Stick-up-ass Boy.

But if it was just about crappy writing, I wouldn’t be devoting 4,000 words to this, right? Here’s the problem: plotwise, George R.R. Martin is awesome. As frustrating as he is to read, the characters are intriguing as fuck. Which makes it worse because, dammit, I really want Arya reunited with her goddamn wolf. And I guess her family, too. But it’s mainly Nymeria that I’ve been waiting for fifteen hundred pages to see again.

So maybe I should just watch the TV show now? Did I really feel I was missing anything when I watched season one? There really wasn’t anything I picked up when reading the book after watching the season. And I doubt I gleaned tons more by reading book two before seeing season two. At some point, when you’re years behind, you lose the smug satisfaction of knowing what’s going to happen before it happens on the screen, right? I’m the one avoiding spoilers. We were recently talking about the new X-Men movie in the lunch room and someone referred to Sophie Turner as “Sansa, the Queen of the North,” to which I responded, “Aw, fuck. Robb’s gonna die?”

And I seem to think that something is going to happen at the Red Wedding.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe I’ll just try to get caught up on TV. I’ll decide after I get around to watching season two. Cause, dammit, watching ten episodes of adult TV in between the constant stream of “Vampirina” and “Muppet Babies” at my house is tough. I hope I don’t forget everything that happened first. Maybe I should just head on to book three. Audio book this time? I spend two and a half hours in the car each day. I should get through that fifty-hour audible file in.. let me see…

Holy shit, fifty fucking hours? For one book? All of a sudden my four months doesn’t seem so bad.

But still, the way Audible works, fifty hours costs the same as eight hours. I bet my economics textbook would have something to say about that. If I can ever get around to reading it.

Everything After Album #1 Sucks

I’ve been on a trend of reading biographies of famous musicians lately. And by trend, I mean I’ve read a whopping two. But I’m contemplating a third. And if “two with a potential third” doesn’t count as a literary movement unto itself, I don’t know what does.

I read “Petty,” by Warren Zanes, which is obviously a book about people who hold on to every slightest offense and fixate on trivial ways in which they’ve been wronged. No wait, I’m sorry. Different kind of Petty. This particular book was about a musician named Tom Petty. No, I didn’t read it as a result of him passing away. In fact, he died shortly after I finished the book. I hope I wasn’t responsible. I probably could’ve dragged out the last chapter had I known a life was on the line.

By the way, Tom Petty died on my birthday. Tom Clancy died on my birthday a few years earlier. I don’t know who thought “dead celebrities named Tom” was a good birthday present for me, but Messrs. Hanks and Cruise would like to stop that trend at “two with a potential third.”

More recently, I read “A Good Life all the Way.” by Ryan White, about a young pup named Jimmy Buffett. I hear the young kids love that guy. I wrote about him once before. A lot of his songs seem to have fun stories behind them. Either they’re autobiographical or he’s just a damn good poet. Turns out it’s a bit of both.

Next up might or might not be “Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography.” He’s a little bit Tom Petty, a little bit Jimmy Buffett. Not sure I’ll read it, though, because I’m starting to wane on the whole rock star biography thing. The first two were both a bit lackluster.

There are definitely things to like about both the Petty and Buffett biographies. The first half of each book did an excellent job of describing the musician’s upbringing and difficulties breaking into the music business. Both describe how the bands came together and struggled through adversity well. I doubt it’s much better now, but man, the music business sucked in the 1970s. They wouldn’t promote you unless you had multiple albums coming out each year. Tom Petty might’ve fit a little bit of a mold, in the vein of an Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Jimmy Buffett was really screwed. Too country for rock n’ roll, too gaudy for good ol’ boy country.

I knew Tom Petty for most of my upbringing. I was the MTV generation, and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was one of the definitive videos of that decade. Jimmy Buffett, I discovered later in life, first in college, but not really catching on until well into my thirties. Evidently, I’m not the only one who caught him late. His career has really only taken off in the past decade or two.

Not that you would know that by reading his biography. But more on that later.

My first gripe about these books is minor and might only affect me. They each assume I know all of the members of Petty’s and Buffett’s band. Look, I bought these books because I like their music, they seem to live interesting lives, and I want to know a little more about how those lives and songs intertwine. I don’t really know who all of their band members on, and I know you devoted a full page to them fifty pages ago, but just dropping their last name here isn’t helping me distinguish who is who.

I spent half the Tom Petty book thinking, “Wait, is this the drummer that is going to stick around?” or “Tom Petty has a bass player?” I’m sure that’s on me and and a simple trip to Wikipedia could’ve told me who would matter in the end. But if I wanted to read the Wikipedia entry for Tom Petty, then I wouldn’t have bought your book? So maybe assume I don’t know the difference between a Stan Lynch and a Benmont Tench, and give me a little context when you’re throwing out five names in a row. They’re called “and the Heartbreakers” for a reason and they weren’t even present on Petty’s most-successful album.

Not that you’d know that by reading the biography. More on that later.

As an aside, did you know that Jimmy Buffett’s “Coral Reefers Band” pre-dated anyone actually being in said band? He was a solo act, but he would act like he was talking to band members on stage. He was leery of adding actual humans to the band because he had such a great rapport with the imaginary ones. That being said, I just finished the book and can’t tell you the names of any of the real Coral Reefers except for Mac McAnally, because he has his own career outside the Coral Reefers. I think there’s also Marvin Gardens and Kay Pasa. Wait no, those were the fictional characters.

But here’s where the two biographies fell apart. After the acts are discovered and start making a name for themselves. The Petty book used the phrase “album cycle,” where the band writes and records an album, then tours to promote said album, then is expected to go back into the studio and record another album. “Their A & R Man said I don’t hear a jingle…” Did I mention the music industry sucks?

That quote was from a 1991 Tom Petty song. Not that you’d know that from the biography. More on that… um, right here.

The Buffett book doesn’t explicitly mention the album cycle, but Buffett also didn’t have hits like “American Girl” and “Refugee” that he needed to follow up on. Buffett always had a smaller, but more loyal fanbase. His concerts were much more well-attended than his album sales or radio airplay would indicate. And with fans that knew all the lyrics! So the record companies didn’t really know what to do with him. That being said, they still expected one to two new albums per year, whether he had new ideas for songs or not.

Buffet’s an odd case. He became the granddad of laid-back, despite never really being the daddy of it. He’s in the top ten of wealthiest musicians despite never having a number one song. “Come Monday” barely made it up to number thirty, and “Margaritaville” topped out at number eight. “It Five O’Clock Somewhere” did make it to number one on the country charts, but that’s primarily listed as an Alan Jackson song. Not that you’d read much about it in the biography. His first, and only, album to reach number one was his twenty-fifth album, which came out just before his sixtieth birthday.

Not that you’d know that from the biography.

Because it’s at this point, with both artists running through a mundane repetition of forced creativity, that the biographies decide that the story’s not worth telling. I’m pretty sure the Buffett book put the entire 1980s and 1990s in one chapter. The Petty book muddles together the recordings of “Southern Accents,” “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough),” “Full Moon Fever,” and “Into the Great Wide Open.” The video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” gets a mention or two, and “Free Fallin'” gets a paragraph, despite it being the longest charting single of his career. I think there’s more mention of an attempted concept album for “Southern Accent,” in the vein of “Quadrophenia,” that didn’t happen, than there is about the actual album. There was supposed to be a song on it about southern racism. That didn’t make it on the album and was never recorded. “Make It Better (Forget About Me)” was actually recorded, and released as a single, with a video that was a failed sequel to “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” but it’s not mentioned at all. Why would the reader want to know bout an actual song that they remember, when there’s so much cool information about something Petty decided wasn’t a good idea to record?

You know Traveling Wilburys? The supergroup with Bob Dylan and a former Beatle or two? You can read between the lines and find it in there, but you have to really know what you’re looking for. But Mudcrutch, the first band Petty formed, that didn’t succeed, gets a chapter.

I understand part of the reason this happens. If you’re interviewing Petty or Buffett, or the people around them, they might not have much to say about a random 1983 album that they produced to fill a contract that peaked at number seventy. The first few albums had a lot more time and heart and soul invested. The problem with that logic is that most of the people reading the book probably discovered the musician through some of those throw-away songs and albums.

I read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” which is more or less an autobiography. He focuses on what it was like to sell that first manuscript but not most of the others. He finds it ironic when people say “The Stand” was his best book, because they’re saying he peaked in the first ten percent of his career. But then he proves their point by ignoring most of his other books.

That being said, Beatles books don’t gloss over everything after “Love Me Do.” But according to “A Good Life All the Way,” a song from “Coconut Telegraph,” written by a thirty-something Jimmy Buffett, is interchangeable with something from “Songs From St. Somewhere,” scribed by a seventy-year old.

Hey, speaking of which, Jimmy Buffett’s album names don’t always correlate with the songs that have that lyric. The line “I gotta fly to St. Somewhere” appears in “Boat Drinks,” released in 1979, but the album “Songs from St. Somewhere” came out in 2013. Even more impressive was when the album name came BEFORE the lyric. The song “Nautical Wheelers,” containing the line “Living and dying in three-quarter time, was on the album “A1A,” which came out ten months AFTER the album named “Living and Dying in 3/4 Time.” Pretty impressive for a guy to think “How should I end this song? How about with the name of my last album?”

It’s a good thing those songs and albums came early in Buffett’s career or else I might never have read about that in the biography.

With Tom Petty, I gave the author a pass on the last twenty years. It’s not like Petty did anything of note after “Wildflowers.” And even “Wildflowers” was a little lacking after “Full Moon Fever” and “Into the Great Wide Open.” I’m going to arrogantly speak for ninety percent of Petty fans and claim that “Last Dance with Mary Jane” was Tom Petty’s last dance with, um, memorable songs.

But Jimmy Buffett is a different story. He became more successful as time went on. His first number one album, “Licence to Chill,” came out in 2003. It gets a few paragraphs. He runs a nationwide chain of restaurants. They get a couple of pages. Satellite radio station? It’s mentioned briefly. Even that number one hit, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” gets less mention “The Christian?,” an unsuccessful song from an unsuccessful album from his unsuccessful attempt at an unsuccessful country-music career.

The book does (briefly) talk about the rest of the world finally catching up with where Jimmy Buffett had already been for thirty years. Garth Brooks and Toby Keith might have gotten the credit for making country music fun and mainstream, but Jimmy Buffett had paved the way for them. But the chapter (yes, one chapter) that covers the last twenty years gives almost as much ink to Kenny Chesney as it does to Jimmy Buffett.

I was really curious about “Bama Breeze,” a song about a bar he frequented in his teens. Did he really have his twenty-first birthday there? Don’t know. It was written in 2004. I don’t think it was mentioned once in the entire book. What about “Fruitcakes?” Did the term for his fans come from the song or did the song come from the name for his fans? Wouldn’t know. It came out in 1994 and is not explained. The book does talk about where Parrotheads came from and some of their annual meetings of Parrotheads, including the ones that Jimmy Buffett has nothing to do with, but nothing about Fruitcakes. He almost got shot out of the sky by the Jamaican authorities, and even wrote a song about it, but it only gets a brief mention, even though a story of boating through dangerous waters outside the island of Bemini gets many pages.

Jimmy Buffett fell off the stage in Australia and added a verse to “Margaritaville” about it. It’s not in the book, but some broken legs in 1981 are featured prominently.

“Delaney Talks to Statues”? “Semi-True Story?” “Nothin’ But a Breeze?” Nope, nope, and nope.

I know it’s a biography of the singer, not a book of song reviews. But for his first six albums, the book pretty much went song by song, explaining the significance of each. Even the obscure songs that get virtually no play on Radio Margaritaville. Then it switches to a “nobody really cares about the details” theme.

Did you know that the album “Take the Weather with You” has a number of tributes and homages to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? Including the aforementioned “Bama Breeze”? Neither did I. I just found that out on Wikipedia. It wasn’t referenced in the book.

So next up might or might not be Billy Joel. I’m torn. Fool me once, shame on you. Is the third book going to follow the same pattern? Am I going to get twenty pages on “Piano Man” and a paragraph on “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? Will it treat “Uptown Girl” as an afterthought? Will I get a detailed menu of every breakfast he ate in 1972 but then have all four of his wives clumped into one sentence?

Only time will tell.

Hey, I think that’s the name of a Jimmy Buffett song. Not that you’d know that from the biography. It came out in 1996.