Don’t worry if you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years – this article is spoiler-free.
On Sunday, 19th of May, it felt like the world came to a relative standstill as we all came together and watched the last ever episode of ‘Game of Thrones’. The ramifications of this show are so widespread that it may even affect viewers’ attitudes on politics – according to a study by Professor Anthony Gierzynski. However you feel about the final season, it is undeniably a cultural phenomenon. I think I may know one of the reasons why.
In a political world that seems precarious at best (and terrifying at worst), it’s no wonder this bloodthirsty epic no wonder became so popular. We face so many of the same issues daily, albeit on a much less showy scale. One of the key elements of the show is the battle for, and amassing of, power. Not only does it feel almost never-ending – the pursuit of power colours the decisions of most characters, as well as how we view them.
The idea of the nobility of ruling, that ends always justify their means; these are as familiar to us as they are to citizens of Westeros. We watch time and time again as innocents suffer in order to further a ruler’s political ideal. Mostly portayed as tyrannical, but occasionally seen as necessary evil, these losses feel distant, like another aspect of the fantasy. But that’s not necessarily true.
Real life democracies are already beginning to show the limitations of a system built on the of putting personal gain over policy. When highly-publicised elections roll around – such as the USA’s 2018 midterm elections – it feels like anything would be said or done by those in power in order for them to stay in power.
Let us not forget the alleged crisis of the migrant caravan, brought up close to elections to fear-monger and sway uncertain voters. Though American politicians already seem to have forgotten it, its effects have been long-lasting. Not only did it steal precious time and resources from issues that really mattered, it also publicly gave voice to xenophobic ideals.
Just like in Westeros, we may have to come up with a solution to the quest for control – or perhaps, we already know one. Limiting elected officials to one term could allow our governments to focus on their real job: protecting their people.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: a romantic fantasy that has stood the test of time and has been deemed a worthy read by the toughest critics; however, the conclusion of this epic saga brings the gruesome deaths of two adolescents and four others, thus begging the question – is it even a love story at all? While the author’s writing was exemplary and ahead of its time, certain key facts diminish how romantic and fantastical the adventure can be considered…
Firstly, what images does your mind conjure up when you think of a thirteen year-old girl? Innocence, probably, tinged with the colour pink. Passionate love – probably not. In this day and age, marriage between a thirteen year-old and sixteen year-old is considered scandalous and taboo, if not downright abhorrent. “There is nothing romantic or loving about this play, just lust, hormones, and teenage rebellion” is one reader’s firm opinion. Furthermore, many believe that the author was actually mocking the impetousness of teenage decisions rather than illustrating the beauty of “love’s light wings”. The only fact contradictory to this is that at the time of publication, both Romeo and Juliet would have been considered to be at a marriageable age. This toys with the notion that superficial characteristics can upstage the vast, magnificent idea of love, as the play shows nothing if not that true love should trump it all; these teenagers that let nothing stand between them and believe that love is worth death are the archetype of this ideal. After all, age is but a number.
Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor and Park, another ‘modern teenage romance’, provides her own opinion in the aforementioned book, by asking why it is that Romeo and Juliet has weathered the storm of time, to which the eponymous Park replies, “Because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?” William Shakespeare’s famous love story is evocative of an ardour that most associate with their passionate youth – while teenage love may be short-sighted, it is still a sentimental memory for most adults – a nostalgic feeling held close to the heart. Another popular author of a young adult book stated that “adults love in different ways, not the only way.” This is something that Romeo and Juliet teaches its audience time and time again. After all, how many millions of teenagers believe that their beloved “is the sun”?
Rosaline and Romeo’s love: one we get nary a glimpse at apart from at the very beginning of the play, in which Romeo talks about Rosaline, saying “she’s fair I love”. This is just lines before he meets Juliet and promptly forgets about the girl, whose praises he had been singing. This entire encounter far from romanticises Romeo and Juliet’s relationship, instead casting a suspect comparison with the similarly ill-fated love of Romeo and Rosaline and encouraging the audience to question: was Romeo ever in love with Juliet, or was it just ‘puppy love’, a meaningless infatuation? The depth of his emotions towards Juliet is immediately put into question, especially when he is willing to throw the word ‘love’ around so casually. Showing a fickle love interest is detrimental to the telling of this grand story; if Romeo was to lose his heart so thoroughly to Rosalind, only to forget her moments later, who is to say he wouldn’t have done the same to Juliet given the chance?
Closely associated with the idea of Romeo’s ridiculous recklessness, is the possibility that the entire play was intended as satirical comedy. Satire is characterised by the ironic parodying and subversion of the quintessential tropes of a popular genre – in this case romance – and many elements of Shakespeare’s ‘great love story’ seem to do this. Eleanor, Eleanor and Park’s other protagonist, isn’t as convinced of the play’s charms: “Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they want. And now, they think they want each other”. Supported by the fact that Shakespeare’s humour often scorns his own characters (see: Mercutio’s cruel pun on his own death), it is entirely possible, and very probable to many, that this entire drama solely serves to highlight and mock the luckless decisions our captivating teenagers made due to the misguided bravery, or idiocy, that often accompanies passion.
Teenage rebellion is a key source of ignorance and stubbornness in the world, but is it conceivable that Juliet’s hasty head-over-heels love was simply another of its effects? A metaphorical statement is declared to the audience by Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. The purpose of this quote is to remind the audience that Juliet’s passion was not due to the pain that this particular boy caused her family, nor to the inane impulsivity of young nonconformity, thus setting the stage to introduce love as the mythical force behind their infatuation. It does not matter to Juliet that her Romeo is a Montague: their attraction is all that she allows to influence her decisions.
It is undeniable that there has been a recent rise in stories mistakenly suggesting that the price of love is pain (whether this is emotional, such as in The Fault in our Stars, or physical, such as in Fifty Shades of Grey), but this idea has been around for centuries. The play Romeo and Juliet poses the issue of whether romance can be diminished by the toll it takes on its recipients – is their love diminished by the price they paid? More significantly, it must be considered that their motivation for loving each other may in fact have been a fundamental psychological need to torture themselves in relationships that would inevitably end tragically.
This is a tragic tale in which the two “star-cross’d lovers” are destined to be apart, kept away by family, social constructs and, eventually, death, and that is why some people love it whilst many others detest it. As the world’s style of literature and entertainment evolves, modern love stories (or as they are now called, ‘romantic comedies’) are most commonly found at the other end of Shakespeare’s writing spectrum: comedies. A typical Shakespearean comedic ending, just like a contemporary love story, would have a happy ending in which the blessed couple would marry – as we have clearly seen is not the case with Romeo and Juliet. Simply put, the fact that our two suitors did not get their happily ever after sets modern audiences ablaze rather than eliciting dreamy sighs. This is a love affair that bucks traditional stereotypes of love necessarily leading to a happy ending, a volatile entanglement with high stakes that only make the tale all the more intense. Most importantly, the fact that the play ends at the height of their passion ensures the audience never has to witness their falling ‘out of love’ – their story will never tarnish.
Though readers’s impressions are important, it’s also crucial to consider the real-life implications of considering a gory tragedy the greatest love story in history. One such implication is adolescent suicides in the name of love; Victoria Kish-Donovan and Raymond Oswell, two young British lovers, 19 and 24 respectively when they first met, are just two examples of delusional souls who (seemingly unable to be together, and believing it to be a fitting end to true love) made arguably reckless decisions and ended their own lives, leaving behind grieving parents, siblings and children. Despite the fact that their story is not quite as famous, the fact that it is non-fictitious just makes it all the more tragic and taints the undeniable adoration of the many masses for the play.
Whether or not you consider the ending fitting, or the characters unbelievably spectacular, it is at its heart a shocking and astounding love story that withstood the test of time due to the fact that it astounds with every new page. It accurately shows just how young minds, including the darkest and most undisclosed parts, think, and gives an unforgettable rendition of how teenagers can not only fall in love, but change their worlds as they do it. Repetition of astronomical references (particularly the wishes for a night never-ending) cast them in a sympathetic light: the control they seek over their universe and their story is, alas, just beyond their grasp.
Note: this post was written prior to the publication of The Queen of Nothing, and reviews only previously released content.
Diving into this series felt like the most natural thing in the world – Young Adult fiction has its fair share of faerie novels. That being said, one of my favourite parts of it was that it feels like an acknowledgement of how most of us know much of this mythology already. For the unprepared, it may be a system shock if you haven’t previously heard of brughs, changelings or selkies.
“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.”
Holly Black, The Cruel Prince
What worked for me
The political side: expecting a love story with some beating around the bush, I was extremely surprised to find that major portions are dedicated to power – both the obtaining and maintaining of it. The books speak to its heady nature, so it’s no surprise that a major recurring theme is betrayal, and exploring characters would go to in order to rule. As someone who loves a good political drama, this was undeniably riveting.
The relationships: though side plots for the longest while, the two major relationships were incredibly interesting. With the elitist behaviour of faeries, it should be expected that power dynamics are common in relationships with mortals: this manifests in love that feels, to its core, both toxic and understandably hard to end. The series truly depicts couples who are fundamentally flawed, yet so addictive. One in particular is sure to have you alternately screaming at the page and jumping for joy.
“Kiss me again,” he says, drunk and foolish. “Kiss me until I am sick of it.”
Holly Black, The Wicked King
And… what didn’t
The pacing: though this issue wasn’t prominent in the Wicked King, the Cruel Prince read like two wildly different books, to the extent that a division within the book is labelled ‘Book Two’. Not only is the plot line much less gripping until this point, this first part takes up the vast majority of the book. The beginning feels unnecessarily drawn out, leading to a conclusion that you could blink and miss. Some of the key moments in the book come from explanations of previously unanswered questions; in her rush to end the book, the author seems to have foregone setting up a mystery, and instead given the seemingly
Underdeveloped characters: I want to take this moment to remind any budding YA authors out there that ‘feisty’ is not a nuanced character for a female character, nor is ‘snarky’ for a male. While the fleshed-out backstories give us some insight into character’s personalities, this series lacks the dialogue (think Six of Crows) and thought processes (à la Heroes of Olympus) that allow us to fully understand them. I’d go as far as to say you can predict that this will be an issue when you notice that the characters spend much of their time alone, rushed from one action scene to the next, with almost no time to play off each other.
I received the best news I could imagine last year – my school was entering me (little old me!) in a competition to write a piece for a national newspaper. Naturally, I got straight to work brainstorming. By the next day, I had come up with no fewer than five fleshed-out ideas, and was buzzing with energy; that is, until I found out what it was that we would be writing. In a twist that would have shocked no one else but me, the newspaper was government-affiliated – and there was no way I was writing any of my ideas.
Rather than give us free rein of the articles, allowing us to eloquently convey what we, the people, felt to be most important, a topic list had been given to us. Every word on it spoke of patriotism, of national strength and how my country was doing its utmost in practically every field. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Living in a monarchy had always felt pleasant enough – in large part due to the luck of having a benevolent ruler – but that wasn’t always the case, and I knew it might not be in the future. I had a jarring realisation that of course, the biggest newspaper in the country would be censored. Of course we wouldn’t have true freedom of speech.
In a world with the internet and where information feels so easily available, it’s fighteningly easy to forget the truth. Blocking critical websites, using public media as propaganda, and outright lies online are still issues we face today. And maybe we’re not doing enough to solve them.
I thought long and hard about what book would receive my inaugural review, and it came down to this one. It was a tough one to finish, and is proving even harder to review. After all, it feels deeply personal: as a Keralite whose first language has always been English, I never grew up reading books about character anything like me. This was the first full novel I’d ever read by an Indian author in fact – and with that came the natural pressure to like it.
“If you’re happy in a dream, does that count?”
What worked for me
The culture: had you asked me 10 years ago, I doubt I could’ve imagined an English book so eloquently describing the minutiae that makes Kerala what it is. To see Indian history (the so-called ‘Love Laws’, from the outdated but still prevalent caste system) and Keralite politics (including the move towards communism) was both shocking and revealing. It reads beautifully as an ode to the state much in the same way ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is a love letter to Colombia. I would recommend this without a doubt to a friend who wanted to get to know my country, as long as they’re willing to have Google on hand!
The writing style: though this one is undoubtedly subjective, I’d say the focus on description over plot or character works in this book’s favour. Even devastating experiences – like one child fearing losing love – expressed in Roy’s stunning prose become small marvels. Throughout my reading, I was sure that with a hot cup of chai, sitting on porch swing, I could’ve pored over my novel word-by-word and been delighted each time. Artfully crafted statements are why this book was recommended to me; on that front, it did not disappoint.
“That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.“
And… what didn’t
The sequence: I can admit that this book hit at a pet peeve of mine. I detest the common trope to include both perspective before and far after a murder. Books that fall in this all too common trap seem to me as if they wouldn’t be worth a read, were they in chronological order. It feels like a cheap emotional hook – but a good enough mystery will keep readers guessing without resorting to two confusing timelines. To make matters worse, ‘The God of Small Things’ follows three main timelines (before the murder, directly after, and several years in the future), as well as many main characters. Perhaps this is for some, but it was definitely not for me.