March 29th, 2006


Trash Fantasy Week (Book 7)

I decided, somewhere towards the end of the thesis, that what I was going to do was read some trash fantasy once I finished. I couldn't really explain the logic to you even now.

Still, I have been doing this.

Book 7, in the 52 books in a year challenge, is George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. It's eight hundred odd pages, and I think, really, that I ought to be able to view it as two books. Maybe three. In the time that it took me I could have read two books, surely, but mostly I think it's worth three books because, for reasons I can't explain, Martin appears to be writing three different books in one.

Up front, I should say that I did like the book. It's a well written thing, the characterisation is clean and solid, and the multiple character view points are used nicely. I especially liked how Martin would change the perceptions of minor character in different view points. If you're perhaps wondering what the plot is, well, you know, it's your basic kind of stuff: evil is brewing in the form of undead, while the King has become useless, and others plot his death, and he brings his old war friend Lord Eddard Stark in to serve as the King's Hand, after the last Hand died under what is quite clearly a case of poisoning. Still, it's not for the overall plot that you read trash fantasy--you go for the soap opera elements, the epic scope, and the world that you can immerse yourself in for a while without worrying about the world outside. Martin does all that quite well, even if, around page four hundred, I felt that I was drowning in the book.

There is that saying, in writing, that you should kill your darlings. By this, most people mean the sentences, the turns of phrase that are stylistically excessive, or which don't serve the plot, and so on and so forth. Personally, I've always thought that as a bit of advice, it left a lot to be desired, and too many people latched onto it as if it were an undeniable truth. In some ways, I think that piece of advice can be used to strip out anything of interest, anything of style, from a piece, and render it just another bland and forgettable piece of writing in an ocean of already existing bland and forgettable pieces of writing. Still, at the same time, it has some truth.

So, understand, when I tell you that Martin's biggest problem is that he's not killing his darlings, that I'm not repeating it just because I think it solves everything.

With Martin, his darlings are not in his prose, or his sentence structures, which are all quite clear and well constructed. No, his darlings are the plots, and the characters. There are three different plots taking place in this book, with about eight main characters who narrate portions of the book. A lot of it is just unnecessary, especially the plot concerning Eddard Stark's bastard son, Jon Snow, and his narrative involving the rise of the undead beyond the Wall, and his taking of his vows in the Night Watch. I actually liked this strand of the book quite a lot, as I liked the towering ice wall, the brotherhood, and Snow himself, but it's just unnecessary to the book. I mean, is the undead necessary at all? There are full scale battles taking place between armies, men fighting duels, and so on and so forth, all of this circling the main plot of the death of the previous Hand and what this has to do with the King. The undead don't touch this, and it seems to me that Martin could have made more use of Snow as a character by taking him to the city, and having him mistreated due to his bastardness.

One of the other plots involves the daughter of the previous King, Daenerys, and her brother selling her off to be married to a tribal warlord at the age of thirteen. It's more difficult to say that you could remove this plot from the book, but it strikes me that Martin could have told her story off stage, thus cutting down on the size of the book, and also bringing in the viewpoints of the first book to small scale, before widening them in later books (where, by all accounts, Martin brings in new characters and narratives, I imagine).

And that doesn't even begin to address the problem of the main characters, who could have been shrunk by two quite easily, I thought.

What I'm trying to say here is that this book didn't need to be so large.

Especially, by the end of the book, I felt as if I'd just read eight hundred pages of set up for the rest of the series. Now, I don't mind set up, but I feel--and maybe I'm alone here--that if I've just gone through eight hundred pages, that I deserve to have a stronger sense of closure. I don't require a huge one, but the small one I got at the end of this book, with births and the King of the North, where really quite weak conclusions, when you consider that that is two characters, and much of the others were left, mid stride, to be carried over to the book, where we'll see Jon go beyond the wall, Tyrion go to court*, Arya simply disappear, and so on and so forth.

Still, despite these complaints, I did enjoy it, and I'm pretty sure that trash fantasy week will continue, and I'll pick up the next one and see what happens. The book is filled with lots of good things such as little boys thrown from windows and incest and bloody dueling and betrayal and twists and a thread of underage sex that runs through the entire book that just fascinates me. Historically speaking, twelve and thirteen year olds have been fucking and pumping out kids since the dawn of time (and the teenager is only a recent creation, so marriages between those in their teens was common in the middle ages and such--I mean, Romeo and Juliet are only, what, fourteen and fifteen?) but given the hysteria that exists around teen girls having sex, with older men no less, I thought it was pretty gutsy to have your thirteen year old protagonist married off to a warlord who likes young women and fucking before page one hundred, but Martin doesn't stop there, and the thread just keeps popping up as the book goes along.

I'm sure there's an essay called "Underage Sex and George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire" in that somewhere.

* Tyrion is my favourite of the characters, it must be said.
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Clowns Win ABC Fiction Prize.

Why is it that when the winner of the ABC Fiction Award for Emerging Writers is described as a sinister clown novel where the protagonist, Jamie, "is press-ganged into working for the Pilo circus as a clown with supernatural powers" where "he has to face up to the dark side of his own human nature" that I am not filled with excitement and joy?

Because it sounds stupid? Pretty much. Still, here's hoping that it's not, but in addition to the clowns, it's a novel that has gotten published through competition and, generally speaking, they're weaker things.
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