I’m coming to the Game of Thrones party late. I’ve been a fantasy and sci-fi reader my whole life, but for some reason I never picked up on this series, either when written or when HBO started the TV series. So when my brother-in-law dumped the first four paperbacks on my table, the 4,000 pages looked quite intimidating. It’s been very interesting to read the entire series (as it exists) straight through. Each book starts slow, but ramps up to such a furious pace at the end, when you finish it’s natural to grab the next book and carry on.
One of the constant themes I heard from fans prior to reading was how Martin doesn’t shy away from killing the main characters. I was expecting bloody, glorious things from this series, but actually was somewhat disappointed in what transpired. In my view, only one major, A-level character has died in the series, and his death was basically the inciting incident for the greater story. Everyone else who has died is not at the same level as the main characters. There’s certainly no shortage of bloodshed, but to almost everyone who has died I say – no great loss.
On the sex side, I am writing this just after the controversy regarding the depiction of a particular scene in the (spoiler warning) TV show compared to the books. While the choices made there may have been questionable, what is more concerning to me about the series, particularly as a parent, is the regular depiction of child-sex, often forced. Girls as young as 12 are regularly bedded, not always willingly, and often by much older men. While I believe this fits within the world Martin has created and emphasizes what a brutish, nasty world it is, I also think some of the times it goes further than needed to get the point across.
Also, I must conclude that George Martin’s muse is either food itself or starving himself while writing. I was thinking someone should make a cookbook based on the series, and this being the internet age, someone already has. I’m tempted to pick it up as many of the foods described in the series sound downright delicious – lemon cakes anyone?
The prose is not all golden – Martin has a few annoying habits. The main one, picking up rapidly in the last two books, is changing character names in the title block. Every chapter is titled by the name of the character it is focused on. This works great at first, helping orient the reader in a vast, confusing world. But then take a character we know, possibly even well, and give them some cutesy or descriptive name in the chapter title instead of their usual name. With the main characters you can usually sort it out quickly, but I remember a few minor characters who I could read half the chapter and not be able to tell if I had seem this person before. It ends up confusing rather than clarifying things for the reader.
Martin also gets pet ideas in each book. You can tell when something grabbed his fancy, such as wet animal hides protecting siege engines from flaming arrows, as they appear all throughout one book, only to disappear in the next.
Martin’s strengths are complicated characters and intricate plots. Fortunately, these are two great strengths to have, and they are so strong here they overwhelm any other issues one may have with the writing. It is impossible to read these books without slathering over what twist will come next, or wonder how a character will escape their current predicament. When I finish my last chapter for the night, but see a favorite character is up next it is near impossible to put the book down. Every book starts off at a saunter , but builds a great crescendo to the end. My only regret in reading this series is starting while there are two books to be written. It feels like Winter will arrive before the books do.