First up was A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell and I have to be honest and say this story didn't work for me. The language was cumbersome with long sentences that forced me to start the story over again several times before I got into it. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, of course, I do like a challenge, but the challenge here was never met by a payoff I felt was worth the investment. There are some very neat concepts in this story, but I never felt attached to it, maybe because I didn't warm to the main character. I was at times confused by what was going on (and no wonder, considering the subject matter of 'optional worlds') but I did like the setting's alternate history and thought it would provide a more interesting story. As it was, I ended up force-reading through it and when I got to the end all I had was a shrug. Still, I am sure there are others who will praise it to the skies.
Next up was Ill Seen in Tyre, by Steven Saylor. Now this was the exact opposite in terms of storytelling: a very simplistic plot, laid out with a clear and simple language, with characters that were easy to get into. Upon seeing the title I was reminded of Fritz Leiber's books (well, Ill Met in Lankhmar in particular, obviously) and I was surprised to see that Saylor did indeed mix Leiber's characters - Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser - into his ancient Mediterranean setting. It's a fun, brief story. I won't reveal anything of it because I believe it works best without knowing too much about it. Easy to read and follow, with a few predictable scenes but also at least one unpredictable scene.
Speaking of predictability, I have continued to read through those 'Moments of Foreshadowing' threads I linked to earlier and if you take all the theories and suggestions and boil them down, you can basically see where A Song of Ice and Fire is going (provided there's at least some truth in some of the theories) - this is kind of satisfying in the sense that I can kick back and not worry too much about the rest of the series actually ever being published, as I now have a vague-ish sort of sense of knowing how it will end up. Or could end up - many arguments have good support in the text even though we can't know for sure just what Martin intended as foreshadowing and what is just coincidental. But I won't be surprised if we'll see Ser Jaime Lannister on the Wall, to give you an example of what deduction has lead people to "see". Very interesting stuff, and if Martin indeed has put as much foreshadowing in his text as the threads imply, I am even more amazed at how tightly woven Martin's tapestry actually is. In other news, Martin is still coming to Switzerland and France, Game of Thrones season five is already something that's becoming real (with Spain coming in for Dorne, I assume), and ... well, that's it I guess for news from the lands of Westeros.
But those Moments of Foreshadowing...they really make my head spin as I think of all the possibilities laid out in the existing books. What if Martin has no qualms killing off characters because they will be reused by the Others? What if Arya does indeed die before the last page of the last book? Will Sansa Stark end up removing Littlefinger's junk with a knife? Is Bran going to become a dark force rather than a force for good? Will Petyr and Varys end up as heads on spikes? These are examples of questions that people seem to have found answers for by analyzing the books. And there is much more. It really makes me think about the books and the story in a new light. One of the most interesting theories that seem to have been laid out before us in the books is that we in fact already may have met Howland Reed. Man I'm going to pay so much more attention when I get to A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Did I underestimate the author when I read these books? Maybe, in the sense that I didn't read between the lines hard enough. Those lines remain, for now at least, not that interesting, though, such as Daenerys' chapters, but maybe just maybe I'll come back to the two latest novels with a more positive attitude. And I hope I'll end up realizing that they are better than the impression I have at the moment. That would be good.