A Song of Ice and Fire (Parts 1 to 4)

ice_and_fire_box_setI’ve been watching Game of Thrones since it started airing on TV, and despite not having read the books, I found both seasons to be exceptionally well made and engaging.  Furthermore, they led me to want to read the books that they’re based on.  I originally wondered whether it would be enjoyable to read the first two books of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series given that I already knew the plots from the show, but I’m pleased to report that even knowing the plots, they were both a fantastic read.  Following these two, I proceeded on to the next two books as well (I had been loaned a paperback box set), and my thoughts follow below.

The first two books in the series, “A Game of Thrones”, and “A Clash of Kings” stand out as amongst the best fantasy writing put to paper.  Told from the perspectives of a large host of characters, one can’t help but be enamoured by the stories of Ned Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and many others.  The third, “A Storm of Swords” is excellent as well, although perhaps a slight notch in quality below the first two.  The saga is epic in scope, and the world that Martin creates is as realistic and complete as I have ever seen.  In these first books, the characters are deep and act in manners consistent with their personalities, and the story progresses in broad arcs all while maintaining the human focus on the focal characters.  Truly fantastic.

The series begins to run into trouble, however, with the fourth novel, “A Feast For Crows”.  When originally writing the novel, Martin realized that he had too much material to fit into a single book, and rather than split the novel into two parts chronologically, he split the novel by character viewpoint.  On one hand, this isn’t much of a problem, as most of the characters are far enough apart from each other at this point in the saga that their storylines only interact tangentially, but on the other, this means that most of the characters I cared the most about have been left to have their stories told in a future book.  Furthermore, as the novel (and in theory its companion as well) is meant to fill in a time gap before the story is meant to progress, very little actually happens.  The language is rich, the imagery vivid, the dialogue witty, but as far as advancing the story, it’s essentially fluff and filler.

I still look forward to reading the fifth novel in the series, “A Dance With Dragons”, much as I look forward to watching future seasons of the show on TV, and much as I plan on reading the remaining books in the series in the future.  Nonetheless, I can only hope that Martin is able to get the storyline progressing once again so that he’s able to recapture the magic of the first three parts of his wonderful tale.  None of these novels is a quick read as the books have an average length of over 1000 pages each, densely written.  That said, I recommend reading the series to everyone with a taste for fiction and adventure.

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