So I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series…

and have just finished the fourth book, A Feast For Crows.

Damn.

I hadn’t heard of this series until HBO’s Game of Thrones started getting some publicity during its production. After the first episode aired I went out and bought the first book and haven’t read anything not dealing with Westeros since.  And now the fifth book in the series is out (A Dance With Dragons), so if I break down and buy this one in hardcover (all the others are paperbacks) it’ll practically guarantee I won’t be getting to anything else on my bookshelf this summer.  Not that Martin’s books are hard to read, but every one of them is a TOME.  It takes time to get through them, even though I feel like I’ve flown through them this past month.

I’ve read my share of fantasy epics.  I cut my teeth on Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series back in fifth or six grade – I remember completing a book report on The High King for Mrs. England’s class. I made a posterboard cut-out of Taran and was particularly pleased with his sword which was covered in aluminum foil.  I would later move on to the Dragonlance novels (authored by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis) – I remember being in a bookstore and seeing War of the Twins on the counter, and, being a twin myself, picked it up and ended up devouring that entire series over the next few years. Damn, there were a lot of books.

And of course there was Tolkien.  The Hobbit was required reading for seniors, as I remember, but that might have been either for “0n-level” seniors or discontinued by the time I got into senior AP English as I never read it for class.  When Peter Jackson’s movies came out I reread the trilogy and was surprised just how much Jackson was able to include (and though I understand why Tom Bombadil might not have worked for some audiences, I was really hoping the extended versions of the films would include him). I tried to read The Silmarillion but, forgive me, that thing’s nigh-unreadable.  A number of years later I started reading Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden novels but grew disenchanted with them as Salvatore never seemed to want to kill off any of his heroes. I hear that’s changed recently.

However, Martin’s series is so drastically different from these other epics that I hesitate to compare them. Martin is writing something other than fantasy – there’s no black and white/good vs. evil conflict here.  Sure, there are characters you hate (Cersei is a capital-B Bitch), but all of his characters are complex creations that have a variety of motivations (and not just sex, though that’s a popular one).  There’s no Aragorn in this series,  and there’s no Sauron. Being a rotten-to-the-core bastard in Westeros can lead to death, but it can also lead to being crowned king. On the other side of the coin, being utterly noble more often than not leads to a bad end. Martin turns tried-and-true conventions of fantasy on their head, and the result, for me, at least, is something more affecting than any of the other fantasy series I’ve read, including Tolkien’s.  In The Lord of the Rings, I knew Sauron would be defeated, that the ring would be destroyed. In “A Song of Ice and Fire”,  I want to see Cersei receive her comeuppance, but I’m not sure that’ll happen.  And that uncertainty is  really one of the chief pleasures in reading this series.

Tyrion Lannister is another. But you need to read the series to see that.

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5 Responses to “So I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series…”

  1. Ou really need a Kindle

  2. Ok, I haven’t read these books or seen the show, but through your comments, I find it hard to believe there’s no good vs. evil conflict. The conflict may not always be resolved where good wins, but there is still right and wrong and people who have good motives and people who have poor motives. If the noble guy dies for his nobility, he’s still good; he just got the shaft, so to speak. If the “rotten-to-the-core bastard” is crowned king, it just means evil’s in charge and more than likely, his compatriots and followers are also a little on the dark side. I would never dare argue with your taste in literature (I think, though, that we could. :)), but I can’t imagine reading anything relating to this subject matter where there’s no clearly defined winner or loser, at least from a moral standpoint anyway.

    • psht. And when your Magnificent Bastard does a fantastic Heel Face Turn right into your Gray and Grayer Hero, who is just getting a What The Hell Hero moment…

      Why, then, you’re playing the Game of Thrones!

      In short, people be complicated. Dey all tend to think of themselves as something other than villains, and the whole thing looks a lot different through someone else’s eyes.

      Dis world is populated by some of the fools from teh girl with the dragon tattoo. It ain’t exactly “love and kisses” — and you can make a good argument that mercy is a weakness, and that Martin loves Nietzche a tad too much. Or not. Story’s not done yet, anyhoo.

  3. Erin – been meaning to reply to your comment. I don’t mean to say that there’s no good and evil – there are definitely evil elements and evil people in this series. But it’s unlike most fantasy series where the good and evil sides are clearly marked. For instance, in LOTR, there’s no question about Aragorn’s character – none at all – just as there are no questions about Sauron’s. It’s black and white. Even with Boromir, where it could be argued that he is a shade of gray in this world, Tolkien lets us know that his wish for the ring to help his people is wrong and tempts him down an evil path. In Martin’s series, it’s never quite that simple. A rotten to the core bastard as king can at times appear to be a better option than the current one b/c at least the guy won’t do some of the things the current king is doing. Shades of gray abound in this series of novels.

    I suspect, though, that Martin’s series will eventually end with a satisfying ending, though at this point I don’t know what’s going to happen to Westeros.

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