There’s a lot of hype around the Song of Fire and Ice books since the TV adaptation of this spring. I’m more of a science-fiction than a fantasy fan, but I never say no to a good story, so I found a copy and started reading the first book a few weeks ago.
I finally finished it last night after weeks of stop and go, and I must say I really want to keep reading the story. Even though I knew every important plot point from the TV show, I enjoyed reading the book.
I’ll be the first to admit it: the writing is nothing out of the ordinary; it’s standard fantasy prose with some moments of brilliance, like this one:
When she realized there was no more to see, she closed her eyes and listened. The battle came alive around her. She heard hoofbeats, iron boots splashing in the shallow water, the woody sound of swords on oaken shields and the scrape of steel against steel, the hiss of arrows, the thunder of drums, the terrified screaming of a thousand horses. Men shouted curses and begged for mercy, and go it (or not), and lived (or died).
I could close my eyes myself and hear the battle too. It’s these small pieces of really good writing that made the book come alive and probably made it interesting to TV producers as well.
By now most people know the story of at least this first book, so I won’t bore you with a summary. The two most interesting characters in this one are Eddard and Daenerys. The tragedy of Eddard’s life, a man with too much honor in a world where it doesn’t matter, strikes me as awfully contemporary. Everyone around him is interested in power while he’s the only one constantly acting honorably–and this eventually dooms him. Honor will not save you in a dishonorable world; doing what is right will get you nowhere if everyone wants to take you down.
Daenerys’ story, on the other hand, is the classic coming of age narrative. An obviously abused girl gets sold off to a man and discovers her own power through adversity and death. As much as I like the Starks, I can’t help but root for Daenerys. She hasn’t had Robb’s upbringing or Cersei’s money. She relies only on herself and her newfound power, and I find her character fascinating. I really look forward to see what happens to her.
Whether you’ve seen the show or not, the world of Game of Thrones is oddly compelling. I haven’t touched a fantasy book since I read Lord of the Rings in high school, so I’m no expert in the genre, but I imagine it being a staple of any fantasy library. Martin sets up well-developed characters, a fascinating plot and the ever-present fantasy themes of honor, power and money. A recommended read if you like the genre or enjoyed the show, complex enough to keep me interested but not too difficult that I can’t read it on the SkyTrain.