Laura Miller’s New Yorker piece on George R. R. Martin and his fans (who are legion) was great, and left me dying to read Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I like fantasy, I like complexity, I like HBO tv shows: done deal, right? I borrowed the first two books, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings from my friend James, who has read them several times since childhood (Game of Thrones was written fifteen years ago).
By way of brief description, the books describe the power struggles of various high-born families in the Seven Kingdoms, and take their plot and setting cues from something approximating English medieval history (I think Martin has said that the plot is loosely based on the War of the Roses). They are huge books – both volumes run to over 700 pages – giving other sprawling fantasy worlds reason to reconsider their level of commitment.
Game of Thrones is a much easier sell than Clash of Kings: it is laden with surprises and ends with a fist-pumper of a scene. Clash of Kings suffers from the lugubriousness of an already expansive universe that Martin only continues to complicate, edge outwards and fill in, introducing more and more characters, locations and intrigues. Of course, that’s no problem in itself, but I found the second volume a bit tedious in places, and while I occasionally skipped over pages of description in the first book, I skimmed whole sections of Clash of Kings without regret. So while it was no great difficulty to continue on to the second book after the first, I’m in no hurry to go on to the third any time soon. (Dana Jennings’ NYT review of the fifth book in the famously long-incomplete series has swayed me slightly.)
Obviously, a lot happens in the 1500+ pages I read. (If anyone is giving out prizes for understatement of the year, I’ll take one.) But a few general areas of note. (Note that because there are so many significant plot changes, there’ll inevitably be SPOILERS. And note that I’m in no way trying to convert non-fantasy readers to these books. If the words ‘meat and mead’ anger you, you shouldn’t read this at all – click here now.)
I Sex and women
When an early description of a family’s bloodline contains the words ‘for centuries they had wed brother to sister’, you know you’re in for a hard-to-defend-to-your-friends kind of read. And no bloody joke. In Game of Thrones alone, you get twincest and a very closely written scene between an adult man and a thirteen-year-old girl. It’s enough to make you realise how grateful you are for age-of-consent laws.