When I wrote about the Hunger Games trilogy I noted my interest in books that come in series, and the cycle of novels in the Song of Ice and Fire series have really piqued my interest. I began reading them when I moved to Minnesota in August, but I’ve taken a bunch of breaks while reading them to read classic literature as well as other books and only recently got back into the series. I wouldn’t post about this series if I didn’t believe that it will go down as one of the best fantasy series ever. I don’t have a definition for “classic” per say, it’s more of I know it when I see it type thing and so far in this series I’m seeing it. I have just finished the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords and found myself diving headfirst into George R.R. Martin’s world nightly and unwillingly letting go to catch some sleep.
When I first started reading the books, admittedly getting into the series late per usual, I was highly skeptical. I’ve heard the comparisons to J.R.R. Tolkien and highly doubted Martin to compare favorably, but he does. The world of Westeros and beyond is so detailed and so well laid out that it really does compare to Middle Earth. Martin also has a list of characters that is dizzyingly long and introduces them on the fly much like Tolkien does in the Lord of the Rings, however where Martin differs to Tolkein is in his lack of attachment to characters. Everybody dies, if you’re a betting person the safest bet is to bet on any character to be killed at some point in the series. Martin kills characters with an abandon but it’s precise, far from reckless. At first I would read and be shocked, like after the first book I was completely confused how he was going to write the second book without main characters such as Eddard Stark who seemed like was being built up to be the main hero of the series. Instead Martin shows that no one characterwill be allowed to survive long enough to be bigger than the series itself.
I also love how Martin plays with your emotions about characters. When the Imp Tyrion is introduced there is little to like about him. He is a whoring, condescending, mean little creature but throughout all that happens to him I began to root less against him, then I started to pity him and then I began rooting for him, especially during his champion’s battle to determine his guilt as a kinslayer. I especially enjoy his witty quips and jests, and his reckless abandon to be looked upon as his brother Jamie is at times. One example would be when he lead the charge against Stannis’ forces in A Clash of Kings. Martin also twists the idea of good and evil so much that it mirrors reality much more than many stories. In the Lord of the Rings there are obvious villains (Sauron, Sauromon, Orcs) and obvious heros (Aragorn, Samwise, Gandalf) whereas in A Song of Ice and Fire there are very few characters that are as one demential. More often than not there are people of differing ideas pitted against each other rather than one purely good force battling a purely evil force. There are many times when I find myself agreeing with the Starks but other times I find myself rooting for the Lannisters (although the least often), or Stannis, among others at different times. When Martin puts you in the mind of some of his characters he really makes you believe in their cause and it makes it very difficult to find a true pure villain which makes the story feel very real.
One of the more interesting elements of this series is the typical elements of fantasy do not play a major role in the series, at lest as of the end of A Storm of Swords. There are some instances however, such as the presence of The Others, reanimated corpses that are deathly cold and have glowing blue eyes. They cannot be killed by conventional weapons but can be killed with dragonglass or obsidian. They remind me of frozen Infiri from the Harry Potter series but a lot more dangerous. They make appearances at different times throughout the books and appear in a battle against some of the men of the Nights Watch but aren’t major players as of yet. There is also the Red Priestess Melisandre who births deadly shadows and can see the future in the fire thanks to the Lord of the Light. There are some more fantastical elements but this series has a more historical fiction feel than fantasy. There are no Orcs or elves (though there are dragons), there’s a limited amount of magic but I don’t need it here, the story really holds up without the typical fantasy elements.
Another thing really like is how political these books get. There’s the obvious fight for the throne that consumes many of the characters but by the covers of the books you would initially think that the majority of the action will be devoted to the battles for the Iron Throne and not so much behind the scenes. In fact the books are almost like a written medieval soap opera where the bulk of the action is in character development, depth and the plotting that goes on between characters in order to secure the throne. The power of vast armies are often undermined by a single character who may be a small child, a woman, a eunuch, or a dwarf. I’m interested to see how things go from book four on as Martin introduces new characters to throw a wrench in the warfor the throne.
The television series only adds to my enjoyment of the books. The second series based on A Clash of Kings is just getting started but the first season based on A Game of Thrones was really well done. I often fear when series get adapted to the screen, but with Martin helping with the adaption and it being an HBO series rather than a movie the adaptions hold pretty true to the books. There have been some tweaks so far but that’s to be expected especially when you’re converting 1000 pages of text to a series of one hour episodes. Also because it is an HBO series the adult nature of the books does not get lost in the series, where they would have to scale many things back for the silver screen or regular TV. They do go out of their way to HBO it up a little bit, unnecessarily include nudity or a sex scene that didn’t occur but the feel is the same from the book to the series. It’s very cool to see Martin’s world through his eyes and I’m really excited to see how they adapt the next books.
If you’re interested in the medieval time period or fantasy novel series than A Song of Ice and Fire is definitely something that you have to pick up. I know this blog is devoted to the “classics” but I don’t really have a strict definition of “classic.” In my mind part of making a book a classic it’s standing a test of time, which i know is pretty ambiguous. This first book in the series is not new (first published in 1996) but the subsequent books trickle off the press so it will be interesting to see how the series as a whole stands up after the initial hype has worn off. I really believe that this series will go down as one of the quintessential series for fantasy readers and will be adored by many similar to the Lord of the Rings. With five books published two more promised we’ll have a while to see where A Song of Ice and Fire ultimately stands but I have high hopes.