Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I started this book in 2007 and had to stop partway through. I thought I'd be able to pick up where I'd left off, but I'd forgotten enough, and George R.R. Martin's plots are very complex with a lot of family history, so I ended up reading it cover-to-cover. I can read a swords-and-sorcery book pretty quickly, and A Game of Thrones is no exception.
What makes it exceptional is that Martin avoids the airy, naive, formulaic plotlines and moods that cling to most "fantasy" books. This is the opposite of what you'd normally consider a fantasy - characters are mean and selfish, they swear, people get hurt in detailed ways, main characters die without even a pause to catch your breath, there's sex and killing and power and people just trying to do what's best for themselves. Magic isn't even the prime vehicle of save-the-day goodness or corrupting badness - normal people serve just fine. Sounds an awful lot like what the Middle Ages probably was like. Aragorn, Drizzt, Sparhawk, Cadderly, Egwene, Richard Cypher, Bahzell, Eragon, Polgara - all of them wouldn't last a few hundred pages in Martin's Westeros. Everyone's a Red Shirt. It's as if he asked "what if the main guys weren't lucky about avoiding arrows and executions and sickness all the time? What if they were like everyone else?"
The result is that the book isn't exactly... peppy. You're just waiting for the next horrible thing to happen, and when there's triumph, you're waiting for the Bad Guys to figure out a way to undermine it. They usually do. But it certainly keeps things interesting.
I'm a little terrified to continue the series. He wrote this is 1996, produced three more gigantic books, the last in 2005, and still has three more to write in order to finish. Safe to say it's worse than Wheel of Time, and depsite Robert Jordan's death, that series will finish in two years.