Approximately 6 weeks ago, I started reading A Game of Thrones. I was never planning on reading it. I don’t watch the show and I’m fairly picky when it comes to epic fantasy fiction. In this genre, I’m particular to Tolkien, and all other series just haven’t been able to gain even a foothold in my favour. Rowling was able to get pry open the door slightly, but she closed the door on herself with the fifth book, as her goal shifted from writing a good story to trying to be completely unpredictable no matter how ludicrous. So what if a 15-year old guessed what you were going to write? If that arc was going to make the best story, GO WITH IT!!
But I digress.
When I posted on Facebook that I had purchased the Game of Thrones 5-volume series, several of my friends asked me to tell them my opinion on it. I only decided to read it because recently, Linwood Barclay had been tweeting about it. Linwood Barclay was my favourite columnist from the Toronto Star. He retired from The Star to dip his own pen in the world of mystery novels and he has found quite a bit of success. That said, if I selfishly got to choose, he’d still be writing satirical columns in The Star, three days a week. Anyway, I figured if he liked it, maybe I would crack it open and see what all the hype was about.
So for everyone that asked me to tell them my opinion on these books, here’s the short version.
If you even remotely care about good grammar, and want a truly robust epic, told with the full backdrop of a detailed depiction of the world in which the story is told, don’t waste your money or time on this. Seriously. Just don’t.
If you want something gory and flashy, this is the series for you. I’m pretty sure you’d be better off watching the TV series (I hear the production is absolutely gorgeous), but as a book, you’d really only be able to extract it’s full entertainment value if you can overlook the atrocious grammar and the printed…dramatic…pauses. There are so many ellipses, he should have recorded this as an audio book.
To be fair, the central line of the story is not bad. And there are some moments of sheer literary brilliance. But Martin is very frugal with these gems so instead of being a crown, shimmering with an abundance of jewels, it’s more like a defect, shunted off to the side even though there are a couple of gems still encrusted on it.
I apparently greatly offended someone earlier this week because I called this story, “swill for the low brow.” But I stand by my opinion that this is no more than popular fiction. It’s not Tolkien. It’s not Hemingway (and I don’t even like Hemingway). It’s not Dickens. It’s NOT even Douglas Adams. BUT…that’s not to say it’s not popular. It’s hugely popular. But I’d be hard pressed to believe that it would be as popular as it is right now were it not for HBO and a sensationally talented production team. This might be a TV drama for the ages (though I’m not entirely convinced), but it is most definitely NOT something that will be on the English Lit reading lists of the future. Literature this is not.
There are two major things I strongly dislike about this series (besides the grammar thing). The less controversial reason of the two is the killing off of main characters. Be warned, there will be spoilers. If you haven’t read the book or watched the series, proceed at your own peril.
The series opens essentially focused on Ned Stark. And for the most part, I’d say the first book did a pretty good job of creating his story arc and developing his character. It drew you into his internal conflicts and encouraged the reader to invest in him emotionally. By brutally beheading him at the end of the first book instead of later in the series, I became bitter and annoyed. Essentially, Martin made me invest all that time in a character that will not grow or develop beyond everything he’s already told me. But I gave it a chance, and I started reading the second book. There’s a lot of mention of Ned Stark: so much so that I thought I was reading a girlfriend’s emo pining over an ex-boyfriend. Nothing is going to change. Nothing is going to grow from this. Stop talking about him and move on! And after getting two thirds of the way through book two, what happens? Martin kills off Bran Stark. Now, I can invest further with the belief that he might reincarnate Bran through his direwolf, but honestly, I don’t care. Killing off characters just as they achieve enough development for me to give a shit is not the best way to convince me to keep reading. But yes, I’m well aware that he wasn’t writing specifically for me. I’m just giving my opinion on his choices.
The more controversial reason for my strong dislike of the series is his depiction of women and the fringe of society. This series feeds you all the things that modern day society shuns (at least officially). This series doesn’t do what a documentary or history book does. It doesn’t say, “mass gang rapes happened when villages were pillaged.” It vividly glorifies it like it’s not only expected during a pillage, but it’s the best part. I’ve been told that, “surely” I *must* know, that the point of the book is to say life was tough back in medieval times. Yes, I know times were tough. But that’s not what this series is trying to tell me. It’s telling me to revel in it, because these are the things that were accepted, once upon a time. In your modern, every day life, you can’t rape, pillage, or exhibit prejudices against dwarves and those born out of wedlock. So read this series, because all these things are included AND acceptable. There’s even some incest if the mass gang rapes aren’t enough. It’s not exactly a flattering depiction of men in positions of power either. But I’m sure all those white guys complaining about reverse sexism LOVE this.
I’m on page 786 of the second book, and I can safely say I’ve lost interest. I’ve actually started skimming through chapters because I just don’t care about the details. I’ll probably stick it out and finish this book, but I don’t know that I’ll bother starting the third. I could go read something else that is better written (because that grammar shit matters to me) and higher quality.
To quote a friend’s reaction when he heard I had started reading the series: “Isn’t that a form or torture? Just watch the tv show.”
Sage advice. I should’ve listened.