Always Pay your Debts
A Song of Ice and Fire series
Martin, George R. R.
It’s been a long time since I read any fantasy. Like, proper fantasy. And I gotta say, A Song of Ice and Fire definitely comes under the category of ‘proper fantasy’ – anyone who’s been watching the Game of Thrones series on HBO knows what I’m talking about, however vaguely. Because when it comes to screen adaption, the movies are okay (that’s being generous a lot of the time – usually there’s either too much padding out or too little detail), the television series is better (again, not always, but recently it’s been the case), but the book is best.
Speaking about detail, my word, these books go to town with it. Usually I steer clear of this kind of fantasy book, all the castles and horses and dragons and shit like that gives me hives. It’s mostly because to a lot of authors (and probably, readers, which is why they do it) don’t bother to call a big, f***-off horse you’d ride into battle on a destrier. That’s what it is though, a destrier. Also, all the bits and pieces of the armour – the greaves and gorgets and pauldrons that you just don’t read about in other books. I think that was what sold me on A Song of Ice and Fire, it was a moment of “Aww, George, you had me at hauberk”.
So, okay, we’ve established that there has been some kick ass researching done for this book. Being a library type person, I respect a healthy dose of research. Not only does it lend a tone of realism to a work like this (however lost that realism might be on a general audience), I also feel that it makes the author seem more respectful of the intelligence of their audience. If that seems a little odd, allow me an explanation. Because Martin has decided that he’s going to tell us which particular bits of the armour that they’re wearing are rusting on the knights, and he’s going to use the proper names for bits of castles and also words like prate and corsair without any hint of explanation, that to me speaks of a respect for readers that they either know what those things are already or they will damn well go and look them up if they have a mind to. What’s not to love about that? Hang on, in the next bit, I’m gonna talk a little about what the story is actually about, so don’t read anymore if you’re reading them and aren’t up to Dance yet, or if you’re watching the TV show and just don’t want to know any more. Fair warning – here be spoilers.
I’m also seriously digging the way that the chapters are split into character voices – they’re not first person or anything, but they are told in third person from each characters perspective. It did slightly bother me how I had to read a whole bunch about Sansa all of a sudden, and bloody old Cersei, and didn’t get any Tyrion action for a really long time (or Jon, or Arya, for that matter), but now that I understand why Martin did it like that, I have to admit, I kind of like it. Just like real life, right, people drop off the map for a bit, and then pop back up in the most unlikely of places.
Another cool thing about these books is that they have maps. I love a good map. I like tracing Dany’s journey across the grasslands, how far she would have traveled to get to Astapor; how far a raven has to fly to get a message from the Wall to Kings Landing, and that ‘Little Finger’ is actually a place as well as a person.
Now, I know that I’ve put this post up as a ‘word versus picture’, where I’m meant to be talking a bit about the TV show in relation to the movie. But I just don’t think that that’s fair, given that the TV show is only into its second season and really, hasn’t made any major departures from the storylines of the book. I’ll be interested to see what happens to Tyrion’s nose in the TV show, but I almost feel like I cheated a little by reading so fast. If you compare it to a series like True Blood, which kept the first book intact and then departed fairly dramatically from the storylines (and characters – hello, Lafayette was meant to be dead seasons ago; that show is getting a little too much like The Simpsons Hallowe’en specials for my liking… but that’s a theme for another day), it comes up pretty favourably, I think. I’m going to reserve my judgement on that one until we’re a little further on though.
Do I like this series? Clearly, yes. There are some things about the writing which bother me (lots of repetitious words – like Martin falls in love word so hard he’ll use it twice in one paragraph. Don’t know if that’s shoddy writing, or crappy editing or a little of both), and some things about the characters too. I mean, okay, it’s impossible to create a completely different character, eventually you have to fall back on tropes to an extent because otherwise people don’t believe in them, which is deathly serious business for any writer. But when a character is almost all trope? Yuck. There’s enough out of the ordinary in the characters to make them still interesting, and a few hooks even for this jaded old soul (Aemon Targaryen!? No way!).
Would I recommend this series? Yeeesss, I would. I mean, not to someone who was well into hard sci-fi or slasher horror or something like that, but as a good introduction to modern epic fantasy, I’d recommend this over Lord of the Rings any day. It’s compelling enough to keep going, there are some gross bits (is there anyone Cersei won’t sleep with?) and some kick-ass fighting bits (have to admit cheering ol’ Brienne of Tarth when she was handing it out to the Kingslayer) and some out-and-out weird bits (who the heck is Coldhands? Is it… Benjen Stark?). Something for everyone, in other words.