Like many other devastatingly witty and handsome geeks worldwide, I’ve recently been engrossed in a seemingly endless saga of dynastic intrigue, vicious betrayal, espionage and political corruption. But enough about the Leveson inquiry! Ha ha, I’m here all week, please enjoy the buffet.
No, I’m talking about George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series. If somehow you’re not familiar with it, it’s a bit like a fantasy version the War of the Roses – gritty, vast in scale, full of men in chain-mail hacking bits off each other and telling each other that WINTER IS COMING. Last year was the breakout year for Martin, featuring the release of the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, and the adaptation of the first, A Game of Thrones, into an entertaining HBO miniseries.
HarperCollins has just published a range of enhanced ebooks of the series, and so I decided to take the first one for a spin, downloading the iBooks version. (The other editions appear to have the same content, but not quite so niftily integrated, as we’ll see.)
£6.99 gets you A Game of Thrones Enhanced Edition, compared to £3.99 for the vanilla version. The added features are:
- · ‘An interactive map tracking main characters’ journeys.’
- · ‘Audio extracts of key scenes.’
- · ‘A hyperlinked character glossary.’
Let’s look at each of them in turn.
The Maps: Around a third of the chapters in AGoTEE start with a little wolf icon, which tells you there’s an associated map. Swiping three fingers up the screen invokes a map of the continent of Westeros, studded with little pins that show where each major character is at that point in the story. Most chapters, however, don’t have an associated map, for reasons that I’m somewhat at a loss to explain. Perhaps they’ve decided there’s no point in having a map if the locations of the characters haven’t changed? I’m not sure; but swiping with three fingers in these chapters does nothing. I quite often found myself swiping fruitlessly before remembering that there hadn’t been a wolf icon at the beginning of the chapter.
(Fruitless swiping is also an issue if you find yourself swiping the blank space at the end of a map-enabled chapter, which puzzled me for a little while. The GestureKit code which apparently powers this gesture – it’s not part of iOS, but a third-party addition – only seems to recognize the swipe when you swipe over text. Minor, I know.)
The map itself is nicely done, though I have a few quibbles. You can view it fitted to the screen, or you can zoom in about 20%; the latter view doesn’t quite let you read the smaller place names clearly. Higher resolution maps would allow for a more generous zoom and let us read everything. I’d also gripe a little about the colours of the pins that denote each character, some of which aren’t very distinct. In general though it’s a useful adjunct to the text.
There are two sub-maps – one of the Wall, the colossal fortified cliff of ice that separates the civilized lands from whatever lurks in the North, and one of the capital, King’s Landing. These can be invoked from the main map; the latter in particular is very helpful.
Maps in this series are essential, and being able to get to them, and get back, with a simple gesture is a real bonus. I like the feature very much, and think it should be applied to the whole book, not just a minority of chapters.
The Audiobook Snippets: This baffles me. Now and again you will come across a little embedded audio player that allows you to play a scene from the audio version. The extracts are read well by Roy Dotrice, and run for two or three minutes each. What I don’t get is this: why? You can’t really achieve any sense of drama or narrative flow this way; Dotrice’s narration can’t build up any momentum, and it interrupts what’s going on in my head as I read it. While I’m listening to it, in fact, there’s another voice in my head: the ghostly voice of a digital sales manager saying, “Look, if we can add just a bit more content, we can get £6.99 for this.”
The Character Glossary: On the face of it, a terrific addition. The list of characters in A Song of Ice and Fire is dauntingly long – nine noble houses and their entourages: knights, barons, Maesters, ladies, and enough bastards to run an entire tabloid news desk. It’s difficult to keep track of them all without a scorecard, so being able to jump to a handy crib sheet and back would be really, really useful.
As you read AGoTEE, many names are highlighted (in a fairly unobtrusive mauve) and work like hyperlinks. A tap takes you to the corresponding House, in the end matter, where you can refresh your memory. But here’s the thing: you can’t jump back to where you came from.
This is not what HC intend. “To return to the page you were reading, tap on the link at the bottom of the character glossary page,” says the Note to Reader. This reader may be somewhat dim, but he simply cannot find the link. The only way I can see to do this is to bookmark your page before you tap through to the glossary, then open your bookmarks and navigate back when you are done. This tiny little extra bit of faffing about, in contrast to the nice swipe that brings the map up and the ‘Done’ button that dismisses it, is probably enough to make me leave this feature alone for the most part. As soon as it actually works, it’s two thumbs up from me.
So what’s the verdict? I can’t really support paying £6.99 for this, when the vanilla version is £3.99. The useful additions are, admittedly, useful, but not £3 worth of useful. I would suggest that £4.99, with the audio snippets ditched, would be more satisfying. It’s a good sign, though, of where enhanced ebooks might be going, and perhaps a unique selling point for Apple. (The Kindle versions won’t support the three-finger swipe, for example, or display the maps as well.) I look forward to seeing what comes next.
Recent blog posts
- Your Book Is Watching You
- Don't curb your enthusiasm
- A note to what has been lost
- Trial and marginalisation
- Orna Ross, the Pudding Would Like a Word — @Porter_Anderson
- Book industry: stop moaning and be creative | @tom_chalmers
- What comes next: the workshop
- Author Solutions and Penguin Random House: The Real Deal?
- Do Publishers Need a Bigger Boat?
- Is publishing about to come face to face with the corridor of mirrors that is Alt Lit?
- Slow down may be explained by need to catch up with downloads
2 hours 20 min ago
- Watermarks/"Social DRMs" are not ALL that bad
3 hours 37 sec ago
- the real problem with AuthorSolutions
1 day 21 hours ago
- Indie authors are meeting industry standards
6 days 21 hours ago
- "A debate or three"
1 week 13 hours ago
- My what a storm in a teacup
1 week 18 hours ago
- Thanks for this gracious comeback, Orna
1 week 21 hours ago
- "HOW do we innovate?" is the key question
1 week 22 hours ago
- Gosh Porter, I am surprised
1 week 1 day ago
- Thanks, everyone, for your comments...
1 week 4 days ago