As you know, dear readers, this past August I started reading George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. I did this for three reasons:
- It kept getting recommended to me by fellow book lovers.
- I wanted to get some insight into how HBO was handling the series’ adaptation from book to film.
- I wanted to know what was going to happen in the show.
Well, dear readers, I finished the series a few weeks ago, and I have many, many thoughts that I’d like to share with you, hopefully without spoiling anything too important.
First and foremost, I must confess that I am not well read in the fantasy genre. My experience with this genre is limited primarily to things I read as a child and teenager, like Philip Pullman’s series His Dark Materials, Brian Jacques’ Redwall, and (of course) Harry Potter. This was my first venture into fantasy as an adult, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into; all I knew was that I was a fan of the show, and that there were a *lot* of pages in these books.
Alright, now that that confession of initial ignorance is done, down to business.
I can honestly say that overall I enjoyed the books, and found it a very fun series to read. It gave me more insight into the characters without detracting too much from the plot, which, as you can well imagine, lends well to a better overall understanding of an *extremely* complicated world. As those of you who’ve watched the show know, it can be more than a little bit overwhelming to remember who is who when the cast of important characters numbers in the dozens as opposed to just a handful. I know I at least often got confused while watching the show, so much so that when Season 3’s infamous Red Wedding happened I couldn’t remember who Catelyn was talking to (spoiler: Roose Bolton) right before everything went down.
Reading the scenes also helped me better understand why they do the things that they do. Having chapters told from multiple characters’ points of view gives readers tremendous insight into these characters’ motivations, because it allows us to see into their heads in a way that the TV show doesn’t. As a viewer, I knew maybe half of the things that made the main characters tick, and that meant that there were times in the show where the characters would do something that confused me. This wasn’t a problem when reading the books.
While the first two books were very good, the best book for me was by far the third book, A Storm of Swords. This is where Martin seemed to really hit his stride with the series, and while it did take a little while to pick up steam (a problem that is the case in all of the books; it takes a good 300+ pages before the action starts really going) the payoff was definitely worth it. Hands down, this book has one of the most exciting and intense endings I have *ever* read, and I’ve read a lot of books! I 100% understand why they split this book in half when adapting it for HBO; so much happens in the last 300-400 pages, I’m honestly surprised they didn’t split it into three seasons!
After that, however, the series did take a turn for the worst. I’m sure those of you who have friends who’ve read the series have already told you this, but the fourth and fifth books, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, are just not up to par with the standards set by A Storm of Swords. The reason this is the case is because A Feast for Crows and the first ~800 pages of A Dance with Dragons were initially supposed to be one book; George R. R. Martin was forced to split them into two because there was too much material. This means that all the action we’re used to seeing crammed into one book is now spread out over two…each of which is between 900 and 1050 pages long. Predictably, the books suffered for this; in my opinion, he would’ve been better served getting a more cut-friendly editor, but that’s irrelevant at this point.
A Feast for Crows was an actual chore for me to get through, and took far longer to read than A Storm of Swords did, even though it’s a couple hundred pages shorter. This was because, and I am not exaggerating here, *nothing happens.* At all. Okay, that’s not entirely fair; a few things happen here and there that are kind of interesting. But compared to its predecessor, absolutely nothing happens. A bit more happens in A Dance with Dragons, but again, compared to the things that happen in the first three books, the payoff is a bit of a letdown.
On top of this, each of these books only deal with half of the series’ cast of characters. A Feast For Crows only has chapters from characters in or near King’s Landing, which means that characters that we’ve come to love like Daenerys, John Snow, and Tyrion (who leaves King’s Landing at the end of the third book) are not featured in this book. Instead, we get many (too many, in my opinion) chapters told from the perspective of Cersei Lannister, who up until this point hasn’t had any chapters of her own. This is just my opinion, of course, but I think there was a reason for this: Cersei Lannister is a boring character.
She comes across as being a cunning medieval femme fatale in the other books, but once you get inside her head you realize her motivations are drab and, more importantly, that there’s nothing interesting about her at all. She is a prime example of a two-dimensional “flat” character (as opposed to a developed “round” character) whose only interest is power and isn’t actually all that smart, which made her chapters decidedly unpleasant for me to read. I can only assume that the reason Martin decided to include her perspective in the series was to show that we the readers had been fooled into thinking that she’s something she’s not…but that could have been easily accomplished in a few short chapters, not a third of the book.
A Dance with Dragons was better than A Feast for Crows (not that that would’ve been particularly hard to accomplish), but it was still lacking a certain urgency that I’d liked about the first three books, especially A Storm of Swords. Character favorites that’d been missing from its predecessor are back, but again, we miss other characters’ perspectives until the last couple hundred pages; you only get two chapters about Arya, for instance, and Sansa, whose plot was one of the few highlights of A Feast for Crows, is missing entirely. The book does end on a higher note than A Feast for Crows and is more in line with the ending of A Storm of Swords than A Feast for Crows, but it still didn’t quite meet my expectations (which, I’ll admit, were higher than they probably should’ve been, considering how hard it must be to follow up an ending like the one in A Storm of Swords).
Like I said, all in all I enjoyed the series; if nothing else, I’d recommend it just on the basis of how good A Storm of Swords was. And while the last two books were a letdown for me, I am hopefully that book six, forthcoming The Winds of Winter, will be able to overcome these issues simply because Martin can now continue moving the plot forward linearly instead of jumping back and forth between geographical regions.
In the meantime, I can honestly say that I am very, very excited about the HBO show to start up again this spring. Don’t panic, dear readers, I will not spoil what happens anymore than I already have. You will just have to go and read the books for yourselves if you really want to know. I will only say one thing: Season Four is going to be *intense.* Oh, alright, I have no self control with these sorts of things so I’ll say one more thing: the Red Wedding was just the beginning. That could be a good or a bad thing, you’ll just have to wait and see (or read) for yourself.