I am a huge fantasy buff. Granted, my specific tastes tend to graviate toward young adult and middle grade fantasy because that is the genre I’d ideally like to write and publish. Let’s call it “research”. But I also enjoy fantasy at a higher reading level every now and then. My current favorite is The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch including The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Skies over Red Seas.
But with the hype from the new HBO show Game of Thrones, I decided to finally break down and read the Song of Ice and Fire series that I keep hearing so much about. Especially since it shares two big similarity to Scott Lynch’s books: it takes YEARS for each book to come out and they are all around 700 pages long.
I’ve only had the time to finish the first book, Game of Thrones, and I am not sure how much I want to keep reading. It feels wrong to judge this series before catching up to the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, but I am not sure I have the stamina.
Yes, I absolutely love the political scheming, the conflicted characters, the naughty themes that you just don’t get in children’s books, but there are some aspects of the books that just irk me.
The Pros (and this is just for GoT because I haven’t gotten farther yet)
The book is actually well written. There are long, eloquent descriptions, and scenes are well constructed in a logical way. The characters are complex, the narrative style is interesting and easy to follow, and the pace is good.
The book characters are great. Most of them are very authentic, no one is perfect, no one is all good or all evil, and no one is safe. There is always someone to root for, even if it’s not who you’d expect. Everyone is conflicted, making them very interesting and complex.
The plot is always thickening. I love how there is always another complication. The characters never get an easy break–they have to work for it. There are no fantastical fixes to these problems like you might see in other books. And when a child’s life is thrown into question in the first 70 pages, you know it just got real.
There are subplots! This might just be because of my focus on younger books, but having multiple plots to follow is very intellectually stimulating. And in this particular book, following them isn’t a struggle at all.
After the jump: The Cons
The women. They strike me as extremely cliché. You get used to it eventually, but I’m pretty sure in the first 200 pages I hated every woman in the book. I might even save my complaints here for another post because this really bothered me. The men however, are fantastically written and very believable.
The formula. By page 400, when I saw a ray of hope, the possibility of a small resolution, I knew better than to expect things to work out. Things never got better, and after a while I stopped guessing and stopped being surprised. Give me some hope, please! Mix things up! I admit, I was surprised when certain characters were killed because they seemed to be crucial to the story. I actually really appreciated that, but I was still correct in expecting something bad to happen. The only thing that kept me guessing during the book what to what degree things were going to get worse. It’s a little disheartening.
That unsatisfied feeling after reading 500+ pages. I know it’s a book meant to set up a series so I hate to judge too harshly here, but I also wanted this book to stand on it’s own. At the end, it didn’t feel like anything was really resolved–things seemed at their lowest point and everyone was planning for the future. It felt more like the end of a chapter than a 500+ page book. However, this is a complaint I’ve heard from a number of people about the later books: All setup, very little delivery. Supposedly this is because the series was only supposed to be three books (which are considered a very strong trio) and when it started to pick up popularity, Martin decided to keep writing. A friend of mine says that in his opinion, book four (A Feast for Crows) is when Martin lost control of his books. If I were to continue reading, I don’t know that I would progress past the first three.
The fantasy themes seem thrown in as an afterthought. The “ice zombies” from the (poorly written) prologue and later in the book don’t seem like they are ever addressed. I imagine these are more thoroughly dealt with in the later books, but they are so peripheral in the first book that as a side plot, I found it more distracting than interesting. And then there are dragons. I admit, the way Martin introduces these dragons is pretty fantastic, but it comes right at the end and it honestly feels a little tacked on. I have to wonder, when he first decided to start writing this series–was the fantasy genre his first choice?
The phrase “wake the dragon.” This was the biggest joke in the book and I can’t tell if it was meant to be funny or not. I cringed every time I read it.
I could put this book down and walk away. Sometimes I struggled to start the next chapter.
Now I do plan on reading the rest of the books when time permits (after I finish my graduate reading list), but I might need some encouragement. I want to believe it gets easier, but at this point I am skeptical. However, if you have some (non-spoiler) encouragement, maybe I’ll start the next one sooner than planned.