April 25th, 2006


Two Thousand, Six Hundred, and Ninety Eight Pages Later... (George R.R. Martin)

Trash fantasy time ends after 2, 698 pages.

What that means, actually, is that I read all four books of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. Well, three books, I guess. I read the paperbacks, which means I haven't read A Feast of Crows, and it also means that the third book, A Storm of Swords, was divided in half due to its one thousand page plus page count. Personally, I felt a little ripped off by that. It's not like a big thousand plus paperback can't be made, and since the first book doesn't even pretend at making a climax, you end up switching to that second book five minutes later to just keep going with the story line. Still, it's not like anyone had a gun against my head, so I've only myself to blame.

I don't know how you begin to explain Martin's series. It's probably not fair to call it trash fantasy, since it's actually of quite high quality in terms of writing and characterisation and plot. But, on the other hand, it's really just one long soap opera where occasionally characters take up swords and die. Other times they get maimed or married. There's quite a lot of maiming and marrying going on in these books, actually.

At any rate, in an attempt to explain the series in a simple way, it is the chronicle of the breakup of the kingdom that was conquered and forged together by King Robert after he and his buddies took it away from the mad King Aerys. His surviving children have been on the run, and his youngest daughter, Daenerys, will be sold at the age of thirteen to a horse lord by her older brother, Viserys, in the hope of securing an army to take back the kingdom. Meanwhile, in the Northern stretches of the country, the Wall, a giant wall of ice dividing those of the kingdom and those that are called Wildlings, and which is manned by the black clad brothers of the Night Watch, a last stop for the disgraced and murderous, an exile in the cold, has come under attack by wights and the free folk themselves, trying to escape the cold of the home.

If that sounds like three books, then that's because it is. The worse part is that by the second book, the storylines start getting larger, and more characters and kingdoms are bought into it. The scope is really quite impressive, and it will be a miracle if Martin is able to bring it together in a final book without having to merge the separate threads into one singular storyline. By the end of the third book, he's showing a small sign of doing this.

The handle, however, for the reader when approaching Martin is to use television as the guide. No, I'm not mocking. I'm quite serious. Put aside what you know of traditional fantasy novels. It's not going to help you here. Instead, take a season of Lost or Deadwood or whatever it is that you like on television, and apply the principles to building a giant soap opera tv series, and you pretty much know what to expect out of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. Look at each book as a new 'season' and you'll be better off than if you were looking at it as a traditional epic, wherein conflict and resolution work itself out in the traditional fantasy beat. That being that there's a band of heroes, they move towards a final goal, they combat evil, collect this, do that. Deadwood works best as an example, I think, because Deadwood works hard are pushing aside the common held beliefs of what a western should do, and instead turns it into a conversation about America's formation as a nation, and the rise of technology at the time. Martin's series isn't working that--it feels, instead, to be trying to create a sort of historical based Empire story akin Rome--but it's clear that if you view each book as a season, you'll be better off.*

I've got to admit, though, that once I figured out this, I was pretty cool with the books.

I liked them a fair bit, though they didn't rock my world. I got the same joy out of them that I got when watching Angel, or another soap opera tv show. (That year I spent watching the Bold the the Beautiful, for example. Ah, trash, you're always there when I finish a thesis.) But I have to be honest that, midway through book two, A Clash of Kings, I was tempted to toss it in. Nothing interesting really happens in the book, though the final chapters, detailing the defense of Kings Landing from the point of view of Tyrion, the deformed dwarf son of Lord Tywin, Sansa, the young hostage kept by Queen Cersei, and Davos, the finger shortened sea captain who is part of the attack, is nicely climatic. But I would have been more pleased if, say, the deaths of Bran and Rickon had been even remotely believable. This isn't spoilage, by the way. You'd have to be selling your brain to rats to believe that Bran had died, given the amount of work Martin has put into the Third Eye Crow storyline.

I liked the first book, A Game of Thrones, as I said, but I was entirely right in that it was primarily backflash and setup, and a set up for the following books. Since outside one sudden death of a minor character, there were no deaths or twists to upset the status quo, and the only real fun in A Clash of Kings was Tyrion's control of the court, I was considering seriously the chuck in. I couldn't even keep reading in the hope of writing an essay about underage sex in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, since that also dropped off. I did consider calling it, 'Underage Sex, Virginity, and the Dead Romance, George R.R. Martin's Treatment of Female Characters in the Song of Ice and Fire,' but nothing I thought of ever equaled that title...

Anyhow, I'm getting off the track.

What made me sign on for the series until the bitter end was the Red Wedding.

I won't talk about it, since it's a huge spoiler in book three, but what it essentially does, is alter the status quo for everyone. Indeed, by the end of book three, everything has changed, with the possible exception that Bran and his storyline are about as interesting as watching parliament on the telly.

There are moments, in tv shows, when you'll know that you'll sign on until the end. I signed on to Deadwood within moments, as the doctor pushed a bullet out of a man's head, and Al brutalised his whore in the back room for shooting her. I signed on to Angel when they slit Wesley's throat, and he became dark and grungy. The death of Fred was likewise a similar moment. South Park won me back with it's relationship of gay loving between Satan and Saddam. There are more moments in other TV shows. A moment when something happens, something that captures you to such a level that you say, after that, that you're there for the end.

Mine was the Red Wedding.

At any rate, in my fifty two books a year challenge, these equaled nine, ten, and eleven. So I'm doing shithouse with that, aren't I? Book eight was Christopher Logue's War Music, which left me so unimpressed that I have absolutely nothing to say about it, except that I was totally unimpressed and totally bored. He's rewriting the Illiad as his own epic poem and I skim read the last thirty pages. Ever skim read a poem before?

I was that unimpressed. Anyhow, so there you go, and here ends trash fantasy time. Next is Peter Carey's Theft.

* Of course, the latest book, A Feast of Crows, is reportedly missing half the cast, since Martin was forced to chop it in half when the book had gone beyond two thousand pages. Or some ridiculous amount. But the complaints of the book have been along the lines that the majority of characters are missing--which would be the exact same complaint you got if, say, Lost cut half its cast and said, "Don't worry. They'll be back next year in season four."
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