George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series is the current “it” literature for geeks of all stripes. …
(Editors note: this is being posted on behalf of Steve)
I have a confession: I have a difficult time getting into fantasy series and I have a habit of picking up the first book only to toss it away in dissatisfaction. Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth I found poorly written with paper-thin characters and an unlikeable protagonist. I’ve given both Terry Pratchett’s and Jim Butcher’s popular series a shot, but I found them too droll for my taste.
But then I got turned on to George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
I first became a fan in January of this year. I had read that the actor Peter Dinklage was to appear in an HBO adaptation of a fantasy novel. This piqued my interested; Dinklage is supremely watchable in any production he appears in, and upstages most of his costars despite his short stature as a dwarf.
“A Game of Thrones”, the HBO series which premiered in April, is a magnificent show and I hope you’ve made a point to watch it.
That said, the show only scratches the surface of a world that every reader who considers him- or herself a geek should be exploring.
Where many fantasy writers start by introducing us to their Big New Idea for how magic works, Martin leaves magic on the back burner, slowly simmering. We hardly know how magic works in ASoIaF. We hardly ever see magic in operation. Earlier this summer, A Dance with Dragons, the fifth installment of the proposed seven-part series was released. It draws back the curtain and lets us peek at the magic in his world more than we ever
have. But even then it only occupies a couple chapters in the 1100 page tome and much is still a mystery.
Instead, Martin focuses on world-building. He has crafted a world with a rich history and complex civilizations. The kingdoms on the continent of
Westeros are distinguished by their feudal society: noble houses rule the realm and battle for power with intrigue and warfare. The Free Cities of
Essos are a more modern society fueled by banking and commerce. The far eastern cities around Slaver’s Bay live decadent lives on the backs of their slaves.
It’s a more realistic take on fantasy. You’ll not see any elves in ASoIaF, and the only dwarves are humans with a chromosomal abnormality, just as we
have here in the mundane world. The world is brutal in a very realistic manner. Where civil wars have torn the countryside apart, men terrorize the
surviving peasantry with rape and murder. This is less like Middle Earth and more like central Africa.
Martin’s characters are just as morally ambiguous as the societies in which they live. A villain we abhor in one book we may pity for his subsequent
humiliation in the next volume. The heroes are never pure — the characters we cheer for are good people who are also adulterous, cruel, and homicidal.
This is fantasy for adults.
Nonetheless, there are gods and sorcerers and powerful ancient artifacts. There are dragon eggs and giants. There are dire wolves and a man who rides a polar bear to war. There is just enough wonder to tickle the fantasy gland found deep in every geek’s brain.
And it is well-written. Martin will never win a Nobel Prize for Literature–his prose is not that deft. But it is infinitely more readable than a lot of the most popular schlock out there. His plotting is impeccable, thought he too often gets mired in details and–in the two most recent books–subplots that go nowhere.
But that’s all okay. Because I haven’t yet given you the biggest reason you should be reading ASoIaF:
*Everyone else is doing it!*
Seriously, pop culture geek events of this magnitude only come along so often. Thanks to the HBO series, interest in Martin’s books is enormous, and
*you can be part of the phenomenon!*
See, the best reason to be reading these books is that you get to be a total geek about them! Get online, join some fan groups, speculate about what’s
going to happen in the next installments. *Geek out!*
Harry Potter is done. Robert Jordan is dead. Battlestar Galactica is over. Firefly is not coming back.
A Song of Ice and Fire is happening now. Join us, won’t you?