Ah, yes, I definitely had a love-hate relationship with this particular series of books… (Don’t worry, no spoilers!)
A Song of Ice and Fire, or, as it is more well-known on account of the TV show, Game of Thrones, is a sprawling, epic, frustrating and impressive body of work. There are five books in the series so far and it has taken me about three years to get through them, the first three on my Kindle and the last two on audio book. The early ones are almost a distant memory at this stage, though the TV show has been very helpful in reminding me of the details.
I’m not even going to attempt to sum up the whole complicated plot in one succint sentence. In broad strokes, suffice to say that it is set in a fantasy medieval world where different family houses are vying with each other to sit on the Iron Throne and rule the seven kingdoms of Westeros. And there are wolves. And dragons. And wildlings. And Hodor.
Top of the positives list is the sheer magnitude and depth of description that George R.R. Martin brings to this world. Westeros, the Nine Free Cities and Slaver’s Bay feel so real that they could be a chapter in human history, thanks to every fine detail Martin has created. The house sigils, the various styles of dress, the kinds of food, the different gods, the syntax in the languages and names, all of them contribute to the construction of races and environments that are instantly identifiable. And Hodor.
Top of the negatives list is the sheer magnitude and depth of description that George R.R. Martin brings to this world. Yes, it’s great that all the houses have unique sigils but does every single one of them need to be described each time a band of riders comes along? Yes, it’s wonderful that there were 77 courses at the Purple Wedding feast, but, oh my God, do we have to hear what 44 of them were? Sometimes, he just needs to stop with the lists and move on with the action. And Hodor.
The geography of Westeros is one of the coolest things about Martin’s vast creation. I have had a fascination with maps of fantasy worlds ever since I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and the maps in A Song of Ice and Fire are equally absorbing. Apart from motivating me to pick up the calligraphy pen to replicate them, I just love poring over them and knowing where everything is. And Hodor.
Of course, George R.R. Martin’s trademark is the way he kills off characters so easily. No one is safe. I repeat, NO ONE is safe. As I was reading, I had a list of three major characters in my head who I felt had to be reasonably shielded from harm due to their importance in the various plots, and then just towards the end of the fifth book Martin took that conviction of mine and swung a big, heavy hammer at it. And Hodor. (No, it’s okay. Hodor’s safe. OR IS HE?)
I think the most essential virtue a reader can possess for this series is patience. The author has a clear pattern: each chapter (written from a particular character’s point of view) builds slowly towards its climax in the last few paragraphs and then ends on a cliff-hanger, leaving you wondering desperately what has happened until you read the next chapter for that character, which might be a few chapters down the line or not until the next book. You just have to accept it and be patient. I clung in there but I have no doubt Martin lost many readers thanks to that. Having enjoyed the fifth book the most, I do believe it was worth it in the end although it was an undeniably hard slog. And Hodor.
So that’s my opinion on the books but I can’t possibly talk about them without mentioning the TV show. Because – *braces for onslaught* – I prefer the show. Due to the brief nature of TV time slots, the show is forced to tell the story in a much more concise way. This ensures that the action keeps moving along all the time. And the acting is incredible (apart from Aiden Gillen’s constantly-changing accent – what’s up with that?). And the visuals are spectacular. And the opening credit sequence is the best opening credit sequence in the history of television. And Hodor.
The fact that the TV show releases a new season each year and the publication date for Martin’s sixth book hasn’t even been announced yet means that the show will soon take over in revealing the new plot threads. I cannot wait to see what happens.
What’s your opinion on it all? I’d be very interested to hear what you think!
And because it’s just so epic, here’s the link to the credit sequence.