“If I look back I am lost.” – A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
I’m officially on the bandwagon, y’all.
I will make no pretense of book-snobbery here: I started reading the books because I started watching the show one rainy afternoon, proceeded to rip through both seasons in less than two weeks, and was too impatient to wait for the release of the third. The Song of Ice and Fire series was the inaugural purchase of my birthday Kindle, which I got on the condition that it would only be used for a) books whose authors don’t need the extra money for a hardback, and b) traveling. As you can imagine, that latter condition has flown entirely out the window. I have spent most of the past two weeks with my nose buried in an e-reader, because these books are awesome.
If you’ve seen the show, I don’t have to summarize the book for you because the 1st season hews very closely to the plot of the first book (the second season is another story). If you haven’t seen the show, than all you need to know about it is this: it’s an ensemble fantasy that revolves around the political machinations of a medieval-type society with engaging characters and a propensity towards the graphic. If you like that sort of thing, it’s unlikely that you will be able to put this series down.
As it turns out, I like this sort of thing. I fell in love with the TV show the moment Arya ditched sewing lessons to pick up a bow and arrow and show up her younger brother – enough to keep up with the occasionally confusing plotlines and gratuitous objectification of women. Reading the books have been helpful on both fronts, managing to fill in a lot of those plot holes while employing at least 80% fewer prostitute fisting scenes (there’s a hole joke in there somewhere, but I’m not going to be the one to make it). In fact, this is one of those rare series that is probably best read in tandem with the television show it inspired; having a familiar face to connect with a character helps to keep track of all the names and their extraneous consonants (it also helps that the casting is so spot on – I wish Peter Dinklage were the star of all of my books).
Like many books of the genre, the strength of Martin’s writing lies not in prose, but plot (and seriously, the prose could use some work: apparently in Westeros water is only capable of “sluicing,” and the only sound a horse can make is to “whicker nervously.”). Interestingly, for a series with such a profusion of major characters, A Song of Ice and Fire follows the hero’s journey structure almost to the letter. The whole of the 1st book of Martin’s series serves as one big inciting incident, the best example of this being the Stark family. The Starks begin the novel entrenched in their lives at Winterfell, but over the course of the book, every single member of the family is irreparably changed, an upheaval that in turn affects every other character in the book. By the end of the novel we find ourselves in a very different world than the one we began – and that’s just the first act.
Luckily, despite being a fan of the hero’s journey as a plot structure, Martin is no fan of heroes in general. We enter his world as it teeters on the brink of chaos. The rules are ever-changing, and the only way to live in such a world is to keep up. The heroes, therefore, are not the honorable characters, but the nimble. Martin’s refusal to play by the rules in this regard forces us as readers to be nimble as well, which is what makes his books such a genuine pleasure to read.
Now, if you’ll excuse me – I’m already halfway through the second book.
Recommended for: The strong of stomach. And on a related note, the likely small population of people who love strong female characters but won’t be turned off by the period-appropriate-but-still-harrowing treatment of rape.
Read When: You’re at the beach. The overuse of the phrase “Winter is coming” will make you appreciate the weather all the more.
Listen with: The theme song of the show, obviously. That or bawdy drinking tunes about wenches.