A Song of Ice and Fire: Books 1 and 2

I started A Song of Ice and Fire series this year, since the Game of Thrones TV series has reached fever pitch among my neighbors and friends.  For those who do not know, A Song of Ice and Fire is the original name of the series of novels by George R. R. Martin (what is it with fantasy authors and two Rs as their Middle names?).  For my overall one sentence review, I would say these books are excellent, highly complex, dark, realistic, and unique in their take on the fantasy genre.

Source: Wikipedia, click for link. Cover art by Stephen Youll. Use of this book cover for purposes of discussion qualifies as fair use.

What you’ve probably heard about the books and TV show is true, which is that these are more political dramas than high fantasy–think Dune, moreso than Star Wars.  The story line is unexpected, constantly shifting, and always masterfully bringing the reader different points of view.  The world is immersive, to the point of being overwhelming, but manageable once you realize that you needn’t remember every single name dropped in the book.  The heightened realism that Martin brings is often so intense that while reading, I forgot this was still a fantasy book and magic was fair game; it sometimes felt out of place with so much interaction between mortal humans.  The presence of strong female characters is also nice, and makes the story and characters seem more relateable in a way that the Lord of the Rings often wasn’t.

The book does have its flaws though: the fans.  It’s very difficult for me to imagine what it must have been like for someone who wanted to start reading the Harry Potter books after the 3rd or 4th or 5th movie came out, but I can only hope it wasn’t as horrifying as it was for me to read these novels.  This post will not be revealing any spoilers specifically, but if you haven’t read any of the books or watched any of the TV shows, and have heard nothing at all about the series, and would like to start, it is perfectly acceptable to stop reading here: just know this series is complex, dark, and fascinating. Try to avoid talking to any fans until maybe after the 3rd book.

Ok, for those that have stayed, the first problem is that every fan immediately wants to let you know how much more they know than you.  I once read that by telling someone there’s a twist at the end of a movie, you’ve basically given away the ending despite not saying what it was.  Yes, Martin is ok with killing off main characters, but it’s highly detrimental to tell every beginning reader that he’s going to kill everyone, because it (A) ruins the attachment to the characters, and (B) isn’t true.  The fans can be, without a doubt, the most difficult part of these books.

But apart from them, the book itself is pretty good. It can get tiresome occasionally as so much is happening you can’t keep track, or magic is used as a cop out, and the fact that there is no planetary system that has seasons independent of years always bugs me.  But overall, the books are very well done. I would certainly recommend them highly.