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Bookends: Beginning a Song of Fire and Ice December 10, 2011

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Beginning a Song of Fire and Ice

By Dan Davidson

November 30, 2011

Star, Dec. 2/11

– 857 words –

A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One 

A Game of Thrones 

By George W. Martin

Bantam Books

864 pages

$19.00

 

When George Martin began writing A Song of Fire and Ice in 1991, it was supposed to be a trilogy. This was about a year after Robert Jordan began his massive Wheel of Time saga and a couple of years before Terry Goodkind published the first in his Sword of Truth series. It appears that something about the 1990s inspired fantasy writers to attempt massive novels that diverged from the pattern set by The Lord of the Rings. All of these series are now into the thousands of pages and the books typically run over 800 apiece.

Jordan died after eleven volumes, leaving notes and partial drafts which are being finished by Brandon Sanderson. Goodkind planned his work as a series of story arcs that would allow new readers to step in at various points along the way. There was some concern that Martin’s health might prevent him from finishing what are now planned to be the seven books in his saga. I hope this concern is misplaced. Though seriously overweight, Martin appeared otherwise to be healthy enough when I heard him read from the recently published A Dance with Dragons back in August of 2010 when the book was still in draft form.

The first four books in A Game of Fire and Ice have recently been released as a box set (or a single download e-book) to coincide with the appearance of the most recent volume. He was six years between books this time and I do hope it won’t be another 12 before the story reaches its end.

This first book has, of course, become massively popular due to the HBO series based on it. From everything I’ve read it turned out much better than that insipid “Seeker” series based on Goodkind’s work, but I haven’t seen it and won’t until it comes out on DVD next spring. In the meantime, I thought I’d best read the books, which I have been giving my son as Christmas presents every year since the first one came out when he was high school.

A Game of Thrones starts slowly, as it must given the narrative style that Martin chose for the book. Each chapter is from the point of view of a particular character. The Game of the title is the struggle for political power and dominance amongst the great houses of Westerous. The planet, for this is not Earth as we know it, follows an orbit which gives it seasons that last for decades. It has been summer for some years now, but it appears that winter is coming on.

It has been a decade or more since the overthrow of the last great kings, those of House Targaryen. The current ruler, King Robert, is slowly being undermined by his wife’s family, the Lannisters, which plans to take over the throne by the expedient of his wife bearing only the children sired by her twin brother.

In this book we are mainly concerned with the lives of members of the Stark family, rulers of the North kingdom. They become embroiled in the Game when Eddard is selected to be the next Hand of the King and required to move to the capital city of King’s Landing.

We follow the points of view of half a dozen different people, mostly members of the Stark family, as they cope with their changed circumstances. There are two other POV characters. One is Tyrion, the dwarf scion of the Lannisters, and the other Daenerys, the remaining child of the former Targaryen rulers. Having two members of what might be termed the enemy as fairly sympathetic viewpoint characters is a bold move by any writer. It removes any chance of the book being plotted in mere black and white terms.

Martin’s style shifts quite effectively depending on who he is writing about. It’s almost hard to credit that the dynamic young bastard, Jon, could come from the same pen (keyboard) as his simpering, naive half-sister, Sansa, or that the impulsive Arya could have been written by the same person who gave voice to the deliberate and determined Catelyn.

Another innovation is that half of the characters in this novel are women or girls. Fantasy is a genre dominated by sword wielding males, and yet they come off rather badly when compared to what most of the women manage to accomplish.

The book concludes with enough things resolved that it feels complete in itself in spite of all the loose ends and tantalizing hints of things to come. It ends in the middle of a civil war, and it ends with the rebirth of dragons, creatures which have been absent from the world for centuries. The very first chapter, and one sequence in the middle of the book, hints at the existence of malevolent magical powers, but there isn’t actually a lot of magic in this book. Well, except in the writing, of course.

 

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