Tag Archives: A Song of Ice and Fire

Book Review: A Dance with Dragons: The Plot is Dark and Full of Terrors

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I’d forgotten how involved I become in George R. R. Martin’s very vast and deep world of Westeros and its surrounding countries. When I picked up A Dance with Dragons, fifth and latest in A Song of Ice and Fire, it had been almost a year and a half since I’d finished Book 4: A Feast for Crows. I fell right back into the world, if I was glad to have the dramatis personae with brief descriptions of each character in the back of the book—especially for minor characters who’d died or only been seen several books back.

The main story threads are these: [If it needs to be said: SPOILERS!] Tyrion Lannister is on the run across the Narrow Sea. Daenerys Targaryen is queen of Mereen, and Mereen is at war and under siege. A bunch of characters (Tyrion, Victarion Greyjoy, Quentyn Martell) are racing to her side. Jon Snow is Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and his radical decisions are destroying his men’s trust in him. Bran Stark finds his three-eyed raven, but he is neither what Bran expected nor are the raven’s powers what he expected. Cersei Lannister is a prisoner of the High Septon, Asha Greyjoy of Stannis Baratheon, and Theon Greyjoy of the Bastard of Bolton, who has been named trueborn and is on the road for lordship. Another long-lost Targaryen, with a better claim to the throne than Dany, moves on Southeastern Westeros. Arya Stark is still in Braavos, on the path to becoming a servant of the Many-Faced God (Death). Jamie Lannister has nearly finished negotiating the surrender of the Riverlands to the Iron Throne. Westeros is still embattled. The king on the Iron Throne is still the young Tommen, but the tales in this story concern him very little. [END SPOILERS]

I include all the last names because one of my friends helped me recognize that this series is not a series about characters in the way that most series are about characters. Even Lord of the Rings, perhaps the most epic of the series that I’ve ever read, tells the story of the Fellowship, the defenders of all that is good in this world, more than it does the story of Ring or of the world, I would argue. Perhaps I have this sense because the Fellowship feels safer and more protected than any character in A Song of Ice and Fire. The focal point of A Song of Ice and Fire is the Iron Throne of Westeros, and the characters are only the hustle and bustle around this one stationary point, the only seemingly sure thing being that at the end of this all the Iron Throne will be there, the world will be there (though I really wouldn’t put it past Martin to tear down both before this story reaches its conclusion, to have this story end in true apocalypse, the destruction of mankind or of the sun or some such). The story actually really does look a lot as Sesame Street depicts it, the chair not moving and everyone else circling.

Having this revelation early in my read-through put a perhaps different spin on the story for me, and while I was upset by the surprises that Martin left for me, I was not as upset as I might have been because I realized that characters—however much I care for them—and I do care about some of them quite a lot—are not Martin’s story, that they weren’t what I am supposed to be watching most closely as I read the book series. It gave me some distance—and by distance, I mean emotional padding.

This story more than any of the others, I think, is dark. Each book has been dark, but in this, more primary characters than not have been imprisoned or besieged. The one character who through the book is at no time either imprisoned or besieged—Jon—feels enslaved to the Wall and to the vows that he took as a Night’s Watchman, and so he remains stationary. Schemes in prior books have been towards a goal, and much of that scheming has been on some level successful. Much of the scheming in this book has been away from failure instead, desperate grasping to hold onto past successes at best. Jon, again the outlier, moves towards a goal—peace in the North—but his peace is upset by the schemes of others. Bran Stark actually reaches his goal, but doing so grounds him, makes him stationary, and prevents him from yet intervening in others’ plots.

I realize that I said that the wider story is not the characters’ but the Throne’s and that I’ve yet said very little about the Iron Throne in my discussion of the book’s plot. The Throne is the goal of almost all of the characters in the book, whether it’s sitting on the Throne him- or herself or seeing the right person or the right family sitting on the Throne.

The possible exception is the Night’s Watchmen, who have sworn to take no sides. The Night’s Watch has problems in the North that drive their attention away from King’s Landing and the Iron Throne, but even so they are drawn in this book deeply into alliance with Stannis Baratheon, a claimant of the Throne, and into the struggle for Northern dominance among the Northmen of Westeros.

I spoke of a true apocalypse. If that apocalypse comes, it will come from the North, Beyond the Wall, and that is why the Night’s Watch’s story is still relevant to the story of the Iron Throne. The threats that they face are the only ones that could interrupt the game of thrones. And if no one defends the Throne from those threats, then apocalypse will come unheralded. And that may be the threat of the next book, The Winds of Winter. But let’s leave supposition there. I’ve done enough of it in this post.

****

Martin, George R. R. A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5: A Dance with Dragons. New York: Bantam-Random-Penguin Random, 2013. First published in 2011.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House Publishing Group, or Penguin Random House, LLC.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: A Feast for Crows is Rations for a Reader

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I read George R. R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows, fourth in A Song of Ice and Fire, for half a year, starting it in June and not finishing it till late December.  Granted, it is 976 pages, but that is still a relatively slow pace of some 160 pages per month on average, less than 5 pages a day—and I know that there were months where I read less and months where I read more.  This is the first of Martin’s books that I have read in absence of fans.  The other three I had read with coworkers there to rant to and whom would commiserate with me, and I was in an unspoken competition with one to see who could finish the series first (I lost that race miserably).  This is—and I was thankfully warned by these same fans—a bridge book between the stories of most of our more beloved and enjoyed heroes and heroines—which is not to say that all of them were absent, and I made some new friends—or characters with whom I expect to be friends until their likely untimely deaths.

For all that we—that is to say the Internet—prod Martin for killing all of our friends, death within A Song of Ice and Fire is becoming as uncertain an end as it is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, or Doctor Who.  That had begun in A Storm of Swords—if we call the White Walkers alive and not reanimated, then even within the first prologue of A Game of Thrones—you tricky man, Martin, with your foreshadowing and early reassurance that we neglected to notice while we thought you were shredding our hearts with your character deaths.  I had been almost pleased to read a series, however, with the author killed characters with so little regard for the hearts of his readers, with the realism and senselessness of war, and I find myself almost disappointed with this new development—more so because of all of the gods to have power to resurrect, the god that seems to have power to do so is not the one I would follow, nor the one that I would most entrust with the ruling of Westeros.  All this being said, I still feel a prickle of fear for one of the heroines I had most liked in Westeros, even despite the Internet-researched assurances of friends.

This book sailed a ship for me, and with the assurances that A Dance with Dragons would return me to my favorite characters, kept me sloughing through the pages.  My ships have slowly been destroyed by canon, and I have but one left standing and that only if those Internet-researched assurances are not red herrings put onto the Internet by fans.

The book started out very well by introducing me to a new hero that I quickly liked.  [SPOILER] I should have known better because the prologue ended with his death. [END SPOILER]  What slowed me after that, I cannot rightly say, though as I have said, it likely had something to do with the absence of Dany, Jon, and Tyrion, and I know too that I was slowed because there are times that I just want to read something lighter than A Song of Ice and Fire, something that involves less death, less darkness, less explicit sex and violence.

Overall, this will never be my favorite of Martin’s books, though I did enjoy early in the book learning about the culture of the Iron Islands and the Sand Snakes have potential to skyrocket to being my favorite of Martin’s characters.

**3/4

Martin, George R. R.  A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4: A Feast for Crows.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A Storm of Swords’ Charged Questions

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Though A Storm of Swords, where finally some of the unanswered queries of A Game of Thrones are answered, is the longest book of George R. R. Martin’s that I’ve yet read, I feel like this book more than it predecessors in A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, was missing important scenes.  Martin would show me what had happened somewhere then have someone explain it after the fact.  I’m not sure if I appreciate this tactic.  While it’s nice to be surprised, the questions like “What did you say to get him to agree to this?” go unanswered.

But none characters were caught in limbo, biding their time.  We have crossed the bridge (A Clash of Kings) to the new board—and the game has gotten deadlier.

The teams in this game are almost constantly evolving.  My list of the major teams and players consists of at least six different remaining claims to a throne in Westeros, with a vigilante group that will only cause carnage, a wild card who might greatly improve the chances of another team, and a would-be-king that is in training and cannot rejoin the game till he has leveled up.  Some of these characters I enjoy and I respect the majority of them for being fully formed, but I think that it’s the intrigue and world-building that holds me enthralled.  There is a definite element of whodunit, though perhaps because I am beginning to understand Martin’s style, I was able to guess more of the major events and “turns” of this book than I have been of others.

I finally believe that Martin will kill everyone I love—and I hope that will prevent me from establishing any more attachments, but it’s not looking good on that score.  I have a new ship and though they’re separated for now, I’m holding on.  Maybe they can be reunited when this is over—except for all those pesky vows of celibacy (why is it that the best ships in this series involve the supposed-to-be-celibate?).

My growing belief that the one monotheistic religion in the book worships a deity whose powers seem very sinister makes me somewhat uncomfortable.  I cannot decide if Martin is intending to imply anything about the Abrahamic God with R’hllor.  The preaching of R’hllor’s followers seems somewhat Christian at times—till Melisandre births a demon shadow.  Parallels between those who worship R’hllor and Christians certainly exist; they both follow religions from the East, monotheistic with a good/light versus evil/dark theology, and both burn the occasional “pagan” church or nonbeliever (ignoring the darker deeds of our past won’t erase them).  I am currently taking this series as one written from the Druidic perspective.  Westeros becomes a place where all English history and legends can exist at once:  The War of the Roses coexists with Robin Hood and the coming of Christians to the shores of England, and these “Christians” are inflamed with this deadly fervor of the Crusaders.  Westeros’ legends include parallels to Greek and Roman myths.

I am willing to continue, taking this as a work of fantasy and assigning the misdeeds of R’hllor and his followers to the characters themselves while accepting that Martin may be asking me to examine the history of Christianity.

****

Martin, George R. R.  Song of Fire and Ice, Book Three: A Storm of Swords.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2000.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A “Shipping” Song of Ice and Fire and A Clash of Kings

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When one “ships” a couple in a fandom, it usually means that the reader/viewer wants that couple to fall madly, deeply in love and remain together forever.  When I “ship” characters in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I do not do this, so I don’t really want to dub it shipping.  I want to call it matchmaking.  I don’t dream about a couple together forever.  I dream about a couple wedded and ruling the kingdom with love to follow or maybe not.  By the end of A Game of Thrones, I was matchmaking Robb/Dany because Robb seems to be making a decent leader and I like Dany and don’t think that she’ll let anyone but her husband or progeny sit comfortably on the Iron Throne so long as she’s alive.  By 100 pages into A Clash of Kings, I was considering a Gendry/Arya match, because Gendry is at least of Robert Baratheon’s blood and—actually, that might be a ship.  The circumstances of their meeting might just scream “future romantic coupling probable!” and even if Gendry can’t be crowned, I think I would still ship he and Arya—except that Arya is supposed to be wedded to a Frey—but maybe that would just make their ship more romantic, since it would be forbidden or impossible love.

A Clash of Kings, second in A Song of Ice and Fire, complicates the wars waged over Westeros by adding new would-be-kings of half or more of the island and new gods and cultures besides.  The world is expanding, and that I greatly appreciated.  Martin captures well the diversity of religious beliefs and rituals.

Martin’s writing seems both more advanced and less polished in this second novel.  Twists were more sudden and sharp.  Martin makes use of his multiple narrators to offer the reader foreshadowing and herrings, such that I second-guessed my initial and correct guess at least once.  Yet, the wealth of narrators has here become overwhelming.  In particular, the introduction of the narrator Davos, a once-smuggler now lord and always sea captain with a good heart, who questions more devious methods of war, left me floundering.  Each time he appeared as a narrator, I had to read half a page before I could remember who he was and for whom he fought, and this broke the spell of Martin’s narrative for me, however much I liked Davos when I did remember him and however much I understand why he needed to be given a narrative role.

My interest waned more so in the middle than it had in A Game of Thrones.

Sections of this story (Jon’s, Dany’s, maybe even Arya’s) may have been bridge sections, used purely to get the characters into the positions that he wants them for the third book.  Great swaths of untold story seemed to separate the narrative chapters of these characters, though post-read, I think that I can see where nothing of importance likely happened to these narrators between those chapters.  Other perspectives seemed to be missing, and I hope that their stories will be flushed out in future novels.  The end of A Clash of Kings leaves me with almost more questions than it does answers.  The end felt like no resolution, only another beginning.

***1/2

Martin, George R. R.  Song of Fire and Ice, Book 2: A Clash of Kings.  New York: Spectra-Bantam-Random, 1999.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Spectra, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: You Can’t Stop Playing A Game of Thrones

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Coming late as usual to the party, I’ve just finished the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones.  You may have noticed if you’ve been following this blog, or if you scan down the entries, that I don’t frequent adult fantasy.  I have just not found myself as drawn to adult heroes as I have to those working beneath the noses of adults and on a curfew or those just coming of age and discovering themselves while saving the world.  Perhaps that makes A Game of Thrones a great introduction to adult fantasy for me and others who usually don’t read above teen level.  Many of the heroes of A Game of Thrones are not adults.

Rickon Stark, the youngest of his siblings, is only three, and his next oldest brother, Bran, [SPOILER] now heir to Winterfell, [END SPOILER] is younger than nine.  Danaerys (Dany) Targaryen, whom I expect to be a major player in this deadly game, is in her early teens, just developing the curves of womanhood.  Robb Stark, [SPOILER] Lord of Winterfell, [END SPOILER] and another major player in the game, is only fourteen.  These last two easily fall into the age range of heroes about whom I usually read; the other two are actually younger, though Bran, who is one of several third person limited narrators, is very well-spoken, maybe too well-spoken to accurately portray his age, actually, even allowing for a culture at which one comes of age around fifteen.

Though sexual relationships are perhaps more key to the plot in this book than in many teen novels, in truth, I think there are probably more graphic and more blunt sex scenes in some teen literature (generally not in what I read, but I avoid most teen romance and most teen issue books).  What truly marks A Game of Thrones as adult literature is its length.  This book would not be publishable as a teen book on the merits of word count alone.  The greatest maximum word count for a teen fantasy manuscript that agents will consider that I have found is 120,000; the Internet claims that A Game of Thrones nears a hefty 298,000 words.  Teens who love to read and aren’t daunted by page count shouldn’t be discouraged from reading this book.

A Game of Thrones further deviates from the majority of books that I read in that is so very plot- rather than character-driven.  When I realized that with the wealth of characters, I was shipping no one, I began to suspect such was the case.  Now, if I’m planning marriages, they are marriages of position and peace-brokering not love.

Many of the necessary trope characters are here, but on many of them, Martin has put a new spin, and he has created several atypical characters to balance the tropes. Martin has not neglected creating likeable characters.  There are those that I hope to see live and those that I hope die.

Martin’s political intrigues are exceedingly twisted and leave the reader guessing and second-guessing whom to trust and what is best for the kingdom.  His world itself is vast, though not exceedingly well-mapped (though Martin just published a book of maps to complement the text).

I’ve just bought book 2.

****

Martin, George R. R.  A Song of Ice and Fire, Book One: A Game of Thrones.  New York: Spectra-Bantam-Random, 1996.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Spectra, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.