A Review of A Song of Ice and Fire (so far) by George R. R. Martin
In light of my eldest sister asking what book she should read next, I decided to write a review based on the recommendation I gave her. For anyone who knows me, it will come as no surprise to them that I suggested A Game of Thrones, the very first book of A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin. This review is also quite timely given the fact that the third season of the HBO show inspired by the series (aptly titled Game of Thrones) is about to beginning again (yay!) towards the end of March. About time.
The book takes place in the world of Westeros, a world different from ours. There is little to no technology and the politics, culture, and every day lives of these people have much more in common with medieval times as opposed to the present. The series is technically considered to be of the fantasy genre, but before you fantasy haters dismiss this series due to the stigma of the genre, I urge you to read on.
The Good: George R. R. Martin creates a wonderful world… with light fantasy. That is, this is not your average fantasy with all the characters deeply rooted in magic/magical creatures/accepting magic. Most of the characters are so preoccupied with taking over the throne/their family’s survival and quest for influence that they don’t focus on the fantasy aspects at all. There are a few exceptions, but most of the characters are extremely, extremely skeptical of any type of magic or sorcery – in fact, most believe that it may have existed, but no longer do or ever will again (some don’t even allow this – they disregard magic/magical creatures as legend only). This is actually a really unique approach to fantasy, and therefore, it seems to allow George R. R. Martin to focus more on crafting multi-dimensional characters and an insanely cool plot. Still, there is enough fantasy to appease fantasy lovers, as far as I am concerned. Dragons, Whitewalkers – there are magical creatures; however, it is incredibly well-balanced with the absolute realness of the characters Martin created, which is sure to appease those readers who tend to stray away from fantasy.
All of the main characters (there are many!) are completely multi-faceted, and with the exception of a few (Ramsay Snow, The Freys) all seem to have at least some redeemable qualities. It makes them much more human and realistic. These characters are mixes of good and evil and sometimes I found myself rooting for someone I had hated during the previous book. These characters are relatable despite the fact that they are living in this fantasy world so different from ours. George Martin truly captures the human essence and breathes life into his characters. The characters also grow and change after traumatic events in completely logical and reasonable ways – the character development (especially of Jamie Lannister) is one of the best features of the series so far.
There are also characters that you deeply become invested in. These seem to vary from person to person, which is another cool thing about the series, although I think everyone has a certain fondness for the Starks of Winterfell (Winter is coming, after all). Still, there are so many other characters to cheer for — and some that I do even if they are on opposing “sides”. You really become invested in the characters, due to Martin’s talent at making them so real.
Along with the theme of breaking the typical fantasy genre norms, Martin is not afraid to kill anyone, even characters who his readers may be heavily invested in. Universally beloved characters are just as susceptible to being chopped as are the despised ones. This almost puts more weight on the reading – the reader has more motivation to read as they have no idea what can happen. The story and character deaths are incredibly unpredictable. It is only upon rereading the novels that I notice foreshadowing for the deaths and major events, but it is done in an incredibly clever way – the true mark of amazing writing.
The political game (you win or you die!) that Martin creates is also superbly well done. The plot is incredibly intriguing, with plot twists that are satisfying and shocking. Not all is ever what it seems in this series which makes it so much fun to read.
Another factor that makes it fun to read is Martin’s style of writing. He leaves a lot of things open to interpretation. That, coupled with the unpredictable twists of the plot, leads readers to often speculate wildly about what will happen next. There are many, many theories about what will happen in the upcoming novels. As of now, there are two more novels of the series that have yet to be written/published.
The Bad: Sometimes the character deaths hit you like a blow in the gut. I have had to stop reading the books multiple times just due to pure fury over a favorite character dying. It can be disheartening. As I stated before, it is also a great thing because you never know what will happen, and it fuels my curiosity to know just what will happen and who will make it to the finish line of the end of the series. But it can also be really discouraging for many people so I thought I should mention it in this category as well.
The wait also is not so much fun – and I am one of the lucky ones, as I started the series just a few months before the fifth book was published. Martin is now a notoriously slow writer. The wait between the fourth and fifth book was very long. Now that I have read the fifth, I am stuck with the rest of his fans waiting and pinning for the sixth book. It will probably at least two more years. I am sure it will be worth the wait, but I have never been the most patient person in the world. So if you do read the five books already published, perhaps try to read them slowly… it is difficult to do. Even though these books are monstrous, they are quick reads – I devoured them even with stopping for a bit due to character deaths – as the suspense and investment in the characters fuels the reader to keep going.
Don’t read: if you aren’t a huge fan of epic series, you won’t want to start this.
Read: I really can’t think of any more reasons not to read. Even with the sometimes frustrating character deaths, the series is still amazing (it is known)… perhaps because it is so real despite all of the elements of fantasy thrown in. The deaths only emphasize this realness – after all, everyone will, at one point, die.
On a lighter note, you need to read this series – even if fantasy is not your thing.
Words may, indeed, be wind – but I hope you take these words to heart and check out this series if you haven’t already.
Written by Rachel B.
Rachel is a co-creator and writer at Definitely Not for the Birds (DNFB). She recently graduated with a degree in English. Presently, she writes, reads, and then reads and writes some more, with a giant and ever-present mug of green tea in her hand. Follow Rachel @rrbindl and DNFB @not4birds