**Please note, there are no spoilers in this post.**
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
I know I’ve been away a while, but in all fairness I have spent my time well. I have read five books in seven volumes (a bit confusing I know, simplified that’s seven pretty big books). I am now up to date with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books and am left waiting, like the rest of the world, as he pens the next in the series.
Like a great many others, I was inspired to read A Song of Ice and Fire after watching HBO’s television series Game of Thrones. Naturally, having loved the TV series, I had pretty high expectations. In fact, it has been said to me by other fans of the show that they were wary of reading the books in case they didn’t live up to their television twin. I can firmly say that those people’s fears are unfounded. I absolutely loved George R. R. Martin’s books and was gripped with every chapter. The characters on the page are just as compelling as those on-screen and the plot-lines are even richer and more developed.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading the books, I couldn’t imagine what narrative voice would be used to encompass so very many characters and worlds. I needn’t have been worried, Martin has an ingenious solution. Each chapter in his series of books is narrated by a different character (some characters having more chapters than others) and the events of that chapter take place from their perspective and show the events transpiring wherever they are in the story-world’s ‘seven kingdoms’. This narrative device ensures that you never feel like one character is more important than another, you also get a snapshot into the mind and thinking processes of each of the story’s principal characters. It makes for a very unbiased narration.
For those of you who haven’t heard of either the television show or the books, I suppose it bears explanation that A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in the fictional world of Westeros and Essos – two realms divided by the Narrow Sea. The larger part of the first few books encompasses Westeros and the ‘Seven Kingdoms’. Westeros is ruled from the Iron Throne situated in the South of the realm and, as the first book’s title: A Game of Thrones implies, the books detail the events transpiring as the ruling houses of the realm battle for control of the Iron Throne. As the books develop the events of Westeros are joined by what’s taking place in Essos and the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea.
A Song of Ice and Fire is hard to completely define in terms of genre, the overarching genres would, of course, be fantasy and adventure. However, there is a very political nature to these books and also strong tones of historical and magical elements come into play too. As I mentioned at the start, the books are long and not for the faint-hearted. They are completely engrossing and Martin’s story-world is vast and complicated. These books and their world very much become a part of your consciousness while you are reading them, the setting is so complete and multi-faceted that you can’t help finding yourself tumbling down the rabbit-hole into a whole new world.
There are also some fascinating characters to be met with on the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire. From what I’ve heard talking to other readers, everyone seems to have their favourites. One man’s hero is another man’s villain. It makes for some intriguing discussions. Like everyone else I have my favourites amongst Martin’s characters – and my not-so-favourites! I like the fact that there are some strong female leads in Martin’s story (yes, I know, there are also some pretty horrific examples of female objectification and abuse). As far as the female characters are concerned I’m still a big fan of Arya – she’s not everyone’s cup of tea and can come over as a little self-righteous at times, but I love her for her self-belief and fearlessness. Where the male characters are concerned I’m rather torn between the honourable and straight-talking Jon Snow and the dishonourable silver-tongued Tyrion Lannister. I love each in equal measure and, whilst reading, felt my heart leap a little each time I turned the page to encounter a chapter from their perspective. Martin’s characters are exceptionally well-written, their faults, vices and desires are chronicled with the tender hand of an author who understands what makes his characters tick.
Would I recommend A Song of Ice and Fire to all readers? No, I don’t think they’re books for everyone. As I touched upon earlier there are some extremely distressing scenes within each book. Rarely does a chapter go by without violence, choice language and sexual activity. These are not books for a reader out to find a lovely story about dragons and giants; sure, A Song of Ice and Fire does have these elements, but it’s no Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure what Tolkien would have made of Martin’s books, suffice to say I’m not sure there are Elvish versions of some of Martin’s favourite words! Don’t get me wrong, these books are a treasure trove for a reader of fantasy stories, but you need to go into it with open eyes, accepting that there will be elements that are hard to read and lowering any sensitivity you might have to colourful language and graphic scenes.
A Song of Ice and Fire is now firmly up there amongst my list of ‘best books I’ve ever read’ – I don’t think I’ll be re-reading them for quite a few years due to the sheer length of them, but Westeros will always have a place within my heart. It isn’t often you find books that engage you so completely and I’m grateful to have found another beautifully crafted story-world to inhabit.
I think reading A Song of Ice and Fire has really helped to re-kindle my love of fantasy. As a child I fell in love with Tolkien and Middle Earth and that love has never left me, as I have mentioned before I re-read Tolkien on an almost annual basis. I am happy to have found another fantasy love as I feel it nourishes a different part of my reading-self than other genres. Whilst googling I came across this quote from George R. R. Martin and it seemed rather profound to me,
“We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.”
I’ve decided it’s time I read another recently neglected genre: chick lit. I move on to Kathleen Tessaro’s The Debutante.