Inside Idasia: Politics, Part 1

English: Castle at Tamariz Beach in Estoril, P...

Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

At the center of any good nation is the drama, grandeur, and chaos we call politics. It transcends governmental boundaries. Many of us today have experienced the nonsense and bureaucratic nightmare of what we call democracy in action, but the intricacies of the political shadows have stretched long over monarchies, empires, and theocracies as well, hounding us since the moment first laid down roots and declared: this is how we shall live.

Politics, as central to the human experience, is also key, I believe, to any developed world. So many plot hooks, twists and turns, and dramatic pirouettes of story can come when politics factors into the scene. It sets up new hurdles for adventures, roadblocks for characters, and enemies of the sort that might not be all evil—in fact, they might even think their opposition to what the reader sees as “good” is in turn “good” for what they hope to achieve.

Intricacy. It’s always good to have layers.

Such is the case with the nation of Idasia, in my own little novel world.

Today, we’re talking the empire itself, as well as some of the larger players and wheels of the scene—I’ll discuss more of the greater structure in later posts…

English: Henry (V) the Elder of Brunswick, Cou...

Oil painting by Johann Christian Ludwig Tunica. Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

Idasia, lying at the core of the continent Marindis, is often referred to as the Heartland Empire. While its presence tends to be overshadowed in the modern era by the threat of the continental Zuti empire to the southwest, it remains (and continues to grow as) a political and territorial powerhouse, constantly roving its neighbors’ borders. In certain circles, it is believed to be the “Third Empire,” which is to say, the third incarnation of Vata’Marindis, which the continent’s histories point to as the flower of human culture, if real. Though the royal family that could once trace its lineage back as far has since met with unfortunate ends (those pesky civil wars), the nation continues to cultivate that image.

But what makes Idasia truly unique in terms of politics is the nature of its imperial status. Though the Emperor wields utter political power over the state-at-large, the barest shreds of a republic can be seen lurking in the shadows of his death. Seven men, in a hereditary grant, are given the sole authority to choose the emperor. Known as the Altengarde, or the electors’ council, these men have the right to deny the passing Emperor’s own choice in a successor…though tradition does tend to dictate the title stay within the hereditary royal family.

It does, however, leave the door open for evading some truly nasty individuals…or at least the ones that don’t know how to play the game right and proper.

Custom dictates the Altengarde consists of the Dukes of Dexet, Wassein, and Sorbia, as well as the Count Palatines of Usteroy, Berundy, Fritensia, and Varstein—all imperial provinces in their own right. While the Dukes are essentially second only to the royal family itself in power, years ago the rank of Count Palatine was established in the noble hierarchy to give the royal family a greater ability to balance out that power. The palatines, as such, are answerable solely to the crown, and theoretically act in their interest, whereas all other nobles answer to imperial, as well as Ducal decree depending on where their particular realms lie.

The council itself was established to “thin the blood,” as it were, and evade the uncertainty that comes with traditional passage of power to the eldest son. The hope has always been that they would pick the best man for the job.

Sometimes it’s even true.

Game of Thrones Season 1 Review

Thrones, Dragons and a whole lot of scowling.

(In case you’d like the audio version: Game of Thrones Review)

If you weren’t hiding under a rock for the past year, chances are you’ve caught the hype revolving around HBO and its touted adaptation of popular fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” – by George R.R. Martin.

Well, the season’s done now, and I think I can safely say any viewer’s anxiously awaiting Spring 2012. This first season certainly took us on an action-packed romp through Westeros, delivering us fast-paced storytelling, sound acting, and the usual quality of HBO writing. Sure there were only ten episodes, but the sheer breadth of what they covered would leave any sane man gasping for more.

Through this season we’ve scrambled through the twists and turns of revenge, medieval politics, and war, and all through the eyes of fascinatingly layered characters. It’s not your fantasy of Elves and Dwarves, no sir—this is your high class modern fantasy, by which I mean dark, brooding, and bloody. It’s all humans, save the looming threat of some undead nasties, and that honestly helps to endear it. The characters don’t rely on fantastical gimmicks or endless hordes of CGI to make us love them. They are raw humanity in its purest (and often ugliest) form.

Yet to be honest, going in, this was one of those shows I wasn’t sure if I would love or hate. I’m a fan of the books. I’ve read them all (and am waiting rather anxiously for the fifth book to FINALLY come out). I’ve seen a lot of books turned into terrible visual pieces—so I had my reservations. But while 10 episodes left a lot the finer details rushed, the show executed itself well over all.

For starters, the production values were top of the line, as we’ve come to expect from HBO programming. The men behind the cameras knew what they were doing, and the cinematography is spot-on. The locales of Westeros were distinct, as were the people in them, and the breadth and culture of a world breathed rather effortlessly through the screen.

As I’ve already mentioned, the characters themselves were beautifully rendered. Sean Bean, of course, was at the top of his game as Eddard Stark, patriarch of the Stark family, and Peter Dinklage shone as everyone’s favorite sassy “ Imp” Tyrion Lannister. But one would expect the big names to do well—it was the smaller names that really set the bar. The Starks—Maisie Williams as Arya, Sophie Turner as Sansa, Michelle Fairley as Catelyn—all delivered spot-on performances in that regard. I think I can safely say it was Emilia Clarke’s breakaway performance and traceable growth as the indomitable Daenerys Targaryen that really takes the cake (and made silver hair look damn fine too). Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) also was startlingly delivered, here, particularly because they got one hell of a creepy kid to play him, with an act that was no less than menacing.

The series, like the books it shadows, didn’t pull any punches, either. Much as you might gasp for Ned not to go through that door…the finale makes it very clear he’s not coming back from his wrong guess. Blood and sex were the order of the day (including one rather overt lesbian scene that I can only attribute to producers screaming “Look at me, I’m edgy!”), and the cameras didn’t shy away from the nasty.

The book fans have been waiting for…

But speaking as a fan of the books, there were some adaptations I didn’t quite agree with, and I’ll freely admit they color my perceptions a touch. First of all—Cersei as a sort of sympathetic character? Where the bloody did that come from? If you know anything about the books, you know the rather sinister queen is about the farthest one could get from “sympathetic”—power-hungry, arrogant, and utterly self-consumed. Yet the show often toned down the evil in her, playing up a mystery lost child, one-time love for her husband, and a hearty dose of respect for her rival that seems…off. To each their own interpretations, I suppose, but she’s certainly not the Cersei I know.

And where the hell was Rickon? The youngest Stark child never had a big to-do in the books, but he certainly had more than a couple cameo shots. Given, you can’t give equal screen to everybody, but one would be hard-pressed to recall the child until the final episode.

While most of the crucial scenes literary fans would be looking for were there—and delightfully pursued, if I might say so—there were a lot of other scenes you might have expected that simply weren’t. Flashbacks, for example. In the books of course, we get to spend time in the characters’ heads, so pursuing a few leaps in time is a little easier…but even so, I would have liked to have seen some of the history up close on the screen. The battle at the tower of joy, for example. The whole sub-plot of Ned’s sister. Even touches of the battle on the trident that…you know, guaranteed Robert’s kingship and all.

Some of the added scenes, while useful, were also less than thrilling, coming off as little more than fluff pieces. It’s perplexing just how many characters chose to give us self-insight through whores, for example. No, seriously.

But hey, the series also developed a few arts of its own, which we can all take a lesson from in the future. Like the art of censoring via dragons. Personally, I think it’s an art form that doesn’t get enough attention. I blame the media.

In conclusion: it’s not the book, but I don’t think it really set out to be. What Game of Thrones does, it does very well, with high production values, solid acting, and a wealth of characterization, culture, and dialogue. While fans of the books will find flaws to harp on (as I did), and the series can feel a bit rushed at points, overall it delivered the quality we would hope for, and delivered a healthy shot in the arm for the visual fantasy genre—because let’s face it, fantasy’s popular as literature, but we’re sorely lacking on the TV scene.

Putting it to the stars, I’d give the first season a 4 out of 5 in the end. Hopefully the second season will maintain the momentum.

Lord knows the blood pool’s going to deepen.

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A Man, A King

What is a man but

Flesh and bone gave breath;

Such mortal beast

To buck beneath

The reins of my imagination.

Cry out for me, ye bloodied hands

I am the stones arise on emerald hills

My flesh the graven gold

Of toiling back and grinding axe.

My blood be thee and thine

All rivers flow to mine

Call me God, for all I see is all I am

A fire in the earth

Tempered in the sea of sable madness

Yet to swim, yet to circumnavigate

My ambition, this thing of steel

No land might ever satisfy

The hunger of my soul.

All songs, they sing for me

Each note a dirge unto my memory.

Each breath, praise, for it is mine divine

Providence, they say, a god-in-man

Whoso could ever hope to say

I could not turn the tides.

I am the horse that rides,

I am the bolt that flies,

I am the child that cries,

He whom only fate defies.

Behold my majesty and yet despair

Of he who masters everyone

And nothing, and no one, still.

For the latest Monday Poetry Potluck!

Winter is Coming

The day may still be a year away, but HBO’s upcoming adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s popular fantasy novel series A Song of Fire and Ice has never felt closer.

Last week, a new teaser trailer (the first) was released, showing several scenes from the show and getting all trippy on us. It doesn’t reveal much, just a few glimpses here and there of things we can gleefully anticipate.

The first season will revolve around the first novel in the series, and all seasons thereafter will follow the same theory. Martin has seven books planned for the series (though fans are still biting their nails over a five-year wait on the fifth book: A Dance with Dragons).

The story takes place in the mythical land of Westeros, and follows the story of the noble but intensely unfortunate Stark family, who become intricate parts of the gathering intrigue and drama of the land when the King draws the Stark patriarch, Eddard (played by Sean Bean) in to be his closest advisor. People squabble for the throne, characters fall, and in the midst of it all, the once semi-peaceful land devolves into war-torn madness.

The script for the show is written and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, with Thomas McCarthy (at least at present) directing. The cast will also play host to a number of fairly well-known names, including Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey, amongst others.

The series is going to be filled with necessary pretties, and some serious cash will have to be invested in visual effects—given that we have got dragons, magic, and even giant wolves running around Westeros, all waiting for their moment on the screen. The show is said to be more “character-centric,” but we’ll see how that turns out.

The series is set to premiere in Spring, 2011, barring setbacks. And by god, there better not be setbacks.

(And yes, I know, geek points for me, since I posted this on both my blogs. I’ll live.)

I Will Not Don the Black

I will not don the Black

I will not bend the Knee

I will not break my Oaths

Or break my Word for thee.

Take my Head

Or take my Hand;

Break my Body a Thousand Ways—

My Will shall ever stand.

Just because you own the Law,

Does not make you Right—

Just because you hold the Crown

Does not ignite my Fright.

Just let go

“Just let go,”

I heard the dead man say–

all fire and steel,

this medieval madness in my veins.

Touch the Fire,

watch it burn–

my flourish of steel

can ward the Dragons,

but this feathered sword is nothing to the light.

I could write you off,

but never Time–

ensconced in the moment

I wear it like a shield

to burn the fires out around me.

Still through the swirling smoke–

the fires die,

but the scorches linger.

The black marks on my skin

refuse to go–

I Breathe but I cannot Release

and I am Bound

Forever by the Deed.