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A Game of Thrones 289

Posted by timothy
from the for-the-reading-room dept.
Dark Paladin writes "Recently, I asked readers to recommend some good books that were out there. There were crows for the usual crowd, like Terry Pratchet, Nail Gaiman, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, so on and so forth. But one name that kept coming up over and over again as a "must read" was R. R. Martin and the book "A Game of Thrones". So after the umpteenth "you've got to check it out or I'll burn your hat", I decided to give it a shot. And discovered one of the best read fantasy novels I've read in a decade. The story is your base fantasy stuff - "long ago, some bad things happened, but things are good - but watch out - the bad times are coming again!" Read on for the rest of his review.
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice #1)
author R. R. Martin
pages 807
publisher Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
rating Very Good
reviewer John Hummel
ISBN 0553573403
summary A gritty, dirty, disturbing fantasy tale of the court intrigues in the backdrop of an upcoming war.

But Martin does it by focusing not on one main character, but on a whole slew of them, each chapter a view from their perspective as events rage around them. Mainly around the Stark family, who's patriarch, Eddard Stark, is the Lord of Winterfell, a country to the far north who's job it is to keep up the Wall - think "Great Wall of China", only make it out of ice and stone. The Starks put a lot of stock in honor and duty, concept that must serve them well to survive a world where summers can last for years - and the winters even longer. Eddard has known war and battle once in his lifetime, when he and his best friend Robert lead an army to overthrow the Mad King almost a generation ago. Now, with his 5 children and 1 bastard child, he looks forward to a life ruling his castle in peace and training the next generation to be Starks.

Or he would, but when Robert comes calling asking Eddard to become the "Hand of the King", Eddard and his family are put into a living chess match, where loyalties shift like chameleon color, and sometimes, the pieces are lost forever. And with all the court intrigues, something dark, magical, and deadly hovers in the background, like an avalanche about to fall without warning.

What makes Martin's writing so compelling is his ability to tie us into a fictional world as fully realized as our own. It's a gritty and disturbing world, where royal families can marry brother to sister to keep bloodlines pure, Mongolian horde empires have their own brand of laws and morals, and a joust is as celebrated as a professional wrestling match - and far more dangerous. He does have a tendency to go overboard in describing the littlest detail of what armor one person is wearing and how it gleams in the sun with cloaks as soft or supple as sin (I think he used that phrase around 3 times in the book, and it was old the 2nd time), but its also those little attention to details that makes the world breath.

But more than his descriptions of the places and events are his writings about people. As I mentioned, each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, so you get the perspective of Arya, the tomboy princess on moment, the next the view of Tyrion the Imp, dwarf (physically, not Ghimli) who's royal family opposes the Starks and reaches for the crown. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, things you love them for and things you hate them for. And as they interact with each other, you can see all the chess pieces on the board moving, wheels within wheels spinning as Martin brings you closer into the story, making you feel a connection with each of them - even the ones you are certain are less than moral or good. He also has no compunction about killing off main characters, which means you can't trust that the "Good Guys" will make off all right in the end.

It's a book about the love of family, how it can be twisted into something terrible and ugly, or used as a tie that binds together. It's a story about the price of honor, duty and loyalty, and what those words actually mean. It's a great book, and I'm eagerly looking forward to trying out the rest of the books in this series to see if they keep up the excellent quality of this one.


You can purchase A game of Thronesfrom bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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A Game of Thrones

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  • After all... Winter is coming
  • Series (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sloppy (14984) * on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:03PM (#6367517) Homepage Journal
    Beware that this is the beginning of a series. If you get to the end, you'll probably want to proceed to the second book. I thought it had been planned as a trilogy, but it still wasn't over at the end of the third, and there is no 4th (yet). I guess it was popular and GRRM realized there was good money to be made. :-)

    So, anyway, beware: you'll be left hanging, much like a rotting corpse on a gibbet.

    • Re:Series (Score:5, Informative)

      by natet (158905) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:05PM (#6367538)
      Actually, Martin has been saying that it is a 6 book series from the very beginning. Some estimate that book 4 will be published sometime early next year. It is called "A Feast for Crows."
      • Re:Series (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Aanallein (556209) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:54PM (#6367860)
        Actually, Martin has been saying that it is a 6 book series from the very beginning.
        No, he has not. Originally it was intended to be a trilogy. Then it became four books. Then six. Right now everyone expects seven books (because AFFC replaced the five year gap that he was intending). Only Martin himself still says six books, but if you meet him in person and see him saying it, you can see that there's no conviction behind it anymore; he's already resigned to the fact that it will be seven books (and indeed already has a title for the 7th book).
        • And I vaguely recall some statement Martin made back in the mists of time, that he would never do a series. Famous last words! :)

          I don't care how many books it winds up being, so long as it doesn't grow stale of its own weight. And so far there's not much danger of that. I've read the first three, and Martin is *still* coming up with fresh twists of character and plot, sometimes sufficient to completely shift my view of a person or situation. (Frex, that nasty wretch Tyrion has gradually become the charact
    • Re:Series (Score:5, Informative)

      by rkz (667993) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:06PM (#6367544) Homepage Journal
      The world of Westeros, the setting for A Song of Ire and Fire, contains the perfect balance of realism and magic that has been missing in the genre for some time (are you listening Forgotten Realms editors?). We find moral ambiguity and the constant and real threat of an untimely demise, even for the most important characters. The characters are well-nuanced, with real motives and human passions. Magic is reserved for the few and, when it manifests, it does so in incredible displays of power.

      I labeled Martin's prose "raw" and "reckless" because he does not appear to be afraid of any theme or issue and he turns many conventional fantasy elements on their collective heads. Martin, quite simply, is the best fantasy author since Moorcock.

      A warning: don't buy this book unless you are prepared to purchase the entire series. The books are, at once, compelling and addictive page-turners that will leave you clamoring for more.
    • Re:Series (Score:2, Informative)

      by tabdelgawad (590061)
      To be fair, I think Martin announced early on that there are to be six books in the series. The first three are out and the fourth is expected later this year. The first three books constitute one long novel (although Martin is good at giving each of the three its own structure - beginning, middle, end). The remaining three are to be set sometime in the current three books' future (a decade later?), which gives the readers the chance to see many of the protagonists - currently children - as adults. Unlike
      • Re:Series (Score:5, Informative)

        by belgin (111046) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:43PM (#6367781) Homepage
        Just to clarify...

        Martin originally intended an event halfway through the third book to be in the first book when he thought he would write a trilogy. This means that he obviously knew it would be more than three books when he published the first book.

        Early on, he said six books:
        A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Dance of Dragons, The Winds of Winter, and A Time for Wolves. (Though he was never happy with the sixth title.)

        He has now scratched the five year gap that was supposed to come between A Storm of Swords and A Dance of Dragons, because he realized he couldn't effectively tell about certain events in flashbacks. Thus, the next book is A Feast for Crows, and covers the five year gap. He has said he intends to write little from the point of views of the children in the story because the five year gap was partly because writing so many children's perspectives on a war was driving him nuts. He has admitted, grudgingly, that scrapping the gap may force him to take seven books instead of six.

        Again, for details, visit westeros.org [westeros.org]. The Citadel contains most of anything you might want to know. (Though also many spoilers for the story.
    • by phorm (591458) on Friday July 04, 2003 @01:34PM (#6368098) Journal
      To any of the characters. Somehow, Martin allows the story to flow though the "focus" characters are constantly changing. In fact, several seemingly important or main characters are simply killed off.
      I surprised the hell out of me at first, as most authors get attached to their characters. I have to quickly get through the next few chapters trying to figure out if the characters somehow survived (they didn't, they're good and dead).

      Quite impressive, that the author can not only have the guts to kill off characters, but still keep the story in a good "flow" between books with various prior characters dead.
      • Also, don't get too used to "hating" any particular character. Even more surprising than who is 'taken out' of the story, is who is gradually 'put into' the story as viewpoints in each successive book.

        Book 3 has a doozy of a new perspective. When I saw who it was, my jaw dropped, right in the middle of the Chapters store I was standing in. "How the heck are we supposed to sympathize with *that* character?" How indeed...
  • Agreed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rubel (121009) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:03PM (#6367522) Journal
    It's a great series, because of its depth and interesting characters. The books are quite long, and get fairly complicated, but that just pleases the fan who only wants more. I'm really glad that the author took a B5-like approach of defining a definite beginning, middle, and end to the story rather than letting it roll out forever (like the inevitably compared Wheel of Time Books.

    Anyhow, yes, it's good. Go and read them.
    • Re:Agreed (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Esion Modnar (632431)
      the author took a B5-like approach

      First thing I thought of when reading the summary of all fantasy plots (things-were-bad now-they're-good uh-oh-here-it-comes-again) was B5. Shadow Wars, and all that. B5 is a good example of a fantasy plot with a scifi facelift.

  • by zerocool^ (112121) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:04PM (#6367523) Homepage Journal
    Just to get this out there for discussion:

    If you think game of thrones was interesting, you're in for a few long nights when you get to storm of swords.

    By far, "A song of Ice and Fire" is the best fantasy I've read, with the exception of Tolkien. And that's including such auspicious titles as "the dark tower" series and the first 4 dunes.

    Simply the most enjoyable books I've read in the past 15 years.

    ~Wx

    • by zerocool^ (112121) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:07PM (#6367548) Homepage Journal
      In addition:

      I hate replying to my own post, but...

      I dare you to name the main character. Go ahead.

      When I started reading "Game of Thrones", I wasn't really paying attention to anyone but the Starks. I figured that all the other characters were just filler to add depth.

      Boy, was I wrong. The level of character development is simply amazing. EVERY PERSON you hear mentioned in the first two chapters has a back story. Which amounts to about, what, 50 main characters?

      Just... Read it, is all I can say.

      ~Will
      • I think the "main" character is Tyrion simply because he deals with everything and everyone deals with him at one time or another.

        But as you say, the level of character development in this series makes it impossible to choose.
      • A good point. And unlike, say, the The Brothers Karamazov where you're struggling to keep the characters, their nicknames, their petnames, and everything else straight, the characters in Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings are developed quickly, drawing you into their story. Even the 'bad guys' (and there's a lot of those) are interesting, compelling figures.

        And while there isn't a main character, GRRM definitely has central figures in different parts of the story: Tyrion, Jon Snow, Bran, Daenerys, Arya. B

    • I agree - these are amazing books, and they are part of a single story, not just a reworking of a product that was already successful. In otherwords, not a bunch of sequels with ever-decreasing juice (like, for me, Dune). They get stronger as they go because we know the characters better and care about the outcomes more.

      They are such rich books! Massive, but not an ounce of padding. The conflict is almost fractal - there's an overall arc that gets advanced in bits and peices, hints and prologues, while the lower level stuff sorts itself out. Below the conflict between Fire and Ice, there's civil war in the realm - as many as 7-8 contenders for the throne. Within each faction is conflict. Within each family anchoring a faction, there is conflict. Within each family member there is conflict!

      Which leads to...his incredbily strong characterization. He has nuanced bad guys. Even his good guys (Ned Stark) are so well rendered that I believed them, and knew them, even though they epitomized Good and Honor. His characters have delusions, and act on them, traits that are pro-survival and not so much. And he is ruthless with them.

      As well as he knows the characters, he knows his world. It's a 360 degree view at whatever narrative location he puts us in. I get the sense that he could turn the narrative in a different direction, illuminate different stuff, and it would be as complete as what he did write about. It's not like Disneyland where you just have to peak behind a crowd control rope to see where the paint on the cement stops and the illusion ends. Wherever he puts our eye is enough detail for us to implicitly know that the world continues beyond our view.

      I have to rave about his storytelling fu: he turns things over, so that we (and usually the characters) are surprised at how things turn out. But even when that's not the case, it is still strong stuff! I just finished rereading the 3, and even when I knew what was going to happen, I was compelled. I dreaded getting to certain parts.

      The first time I read them, I went out of order (on the recommendation of some slashdot dweeb). I figured after reading the 3rd, that the 1st would cover the tremendously interesting backstory (a successful rebellion 10 years previous). Nope. It just went back about a year. He has such invention that he can "squander" a magnificent tale as mere backstory!

      The series has elements of fantasy, but the rest of it is so strong that it would still work without it. It has the great politics of the first Dune, but the series is not in any way derivitave.

      There's a whole class of tolkien wannabes I just can't read. "THis is different! They must destroy the *bracelet* of power!" "They aren't orcs ...they're urcs!" Mr. Martin is not of their ilk. No questing, no rehash. Very original.
  • Seconded (Score:3, Informative)

    by dewie (685736) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <yllucsbd>> on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:07PM (#6367547)
    Martin is an excellent writer, and the Song of FIre and Ice series in particular is highly reccommended.

    One aspect of his writing I particularly like is the moral ambiguity of his characters. There are no clear-cut "good guys" and "bad guys". What bad guys there are are sympathetic characters, and have understandable motives, and the good guys aren't your typical fantasy heroes. They're human, they have a dark side, and they don't always do the right thing.

    All in all, if you're a fan of the genre, you won't be disappointed, and even if you're not he's well worth checking out.
    • Re:Seconded (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HarveyBirdman (627248)
      Possible spoilers

      Well, a few of the Lannisters are pretty evil- most notably Cersei and her pwecious Joffrey. But, that being said, even Martin's clear cut evil characters are 3D and well done. Utterly amoral people like that *do* exist.

      I agree on the rest, though. All the POV characters are complex and interesting. My favorite is Tyrion, the dwarf. You want to root for him, but when something bad happens to him, you realize he only had himself to blame. His own quest for some sort of power puts him in

      • See, even trying to claim that Cersi is all bad can be disputed. She does what she does for the love of her house and her children.

  • by freeweed (309734) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:07PM (#6367554)
    Does this individual have a first name, perhaps George? Or is this someone else entirely, and it's now in fashion to just use our initials *cough* Rowling *cough*?

    And if it is George, anyone have any idea if they're ever gonna resurrest the Wild Cards series?
    • I heard that "J.R." Rowling was asked by her publishers to drop her given name and go with the initials because they were worried school boys wouldn't read a novel written by a woman -- she was asked to do it by the money people rather than wanting to do it herself....

      • I heard that "J.R." Rowling was asked by her publishers to drop her given name and go with the initials because they were worried school boys wouldn't read a novel written by a woman -- she was asked to do it by the money people rather than wanting to do it herself....
        I heard the same thing, but in the version I heard they asked her to use the initials "J. K." instead of "J. R."
      • Her initials are J.K., but other than that it's true.

        You have to wonder about the publishers given the success of other women fantasy authors such as Ursula K. LeGuin.
        • You have to wonder about the publishers given the success of other women fantasy authors such as Ursula K. LeGuin.
          Right, also Anne McCaffrey (author of the Dragonriders of Pern series) and probably others I'm forgetting. I read all of Ms. LeGuin's and Ms. McCaffrey's books when I was a teenager, and it never crossed my mind that they were female authors.
        • Of course there's also counter-examples like Andre Norton. It's hard to say whether the bias in SF/Fantasy to male authors is real or perceived, and whether authors like Usula K. LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey are the exception or the rule.

          We certainly don't have enough evidence to judge the issue just based on which authors were successful. We'd also need to examine every single author that _wasn't_ successful, and then factor in the genre they were writing in, and who their perceived and actual audiences were

    • Yes,
      It's George R. R. Martin. He signs everything George R. R. Martin, so I'm not sure why the reviewer left his first name out, but whatever.

      IIRC, GRRM showed some interest in working on Wild Cards again in some recent interview, but didn't seem to think it likely he'd get to it soon.

      To do a quick search, I'd recommend visiting www.westeros.org [westeros.org]. Their Citadel section includes a vast amount of information including myriad communications with Martin, via interviews, signings, etc.

    • Or is this someone else entirely, and it's now in fashion to just use our initials *cough* Rowling *cough*?

      Yeah, shame on J.K. Rowling for popularizing something that used to only be done by no-name hacks like J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Friedman, S.M. Stirling, C.J. Cherryh, L.E. Modesitt Jr., etc.

  • by talon77 (410766) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:09PM (#6367564) Homepage
    I love a song of ice and fire. Its the best series I have ever read, and I've read all three books over 5 times now. Its frustrating to see the release date of A Feast for Crows (book 4) keep being pushed back however.. now I think it is slated to be released in April 2004.. which is about the 10th time the release date has been pushed back.. Sigh. oh well, I love martin and am willing to wait for books of this quality.
  • But... (Score:5, Funny)

    by mikeophile (647318) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:09PM (#6367565)
    Is it worthy of reading while on the throne?
  • War of the Roses (Score:4, Interesting)

    by malakai (136531) * on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:10PM (#6367573) Journal
    Don't think DeVito and Michael Douglas, think Richard III vs Henery VII. This book is essentially that tale be playing out in a fantasy setting

    I did enjoy them. As you can imagine the political strategies in the book are numerous. It's also a nice read because good guys don't generally come out on top. They don't come back from the dead. An all powerfull wizard doesn't make it all right. And a lone wolf doesn't come in from the cold and fix everything use talents he didn't know he had. This book is harsh, but a good read.

    -malakai
    • That's WarS (plural) of the Roses (a series of historical conflicts (mostly) between the Houses of Lancaster and York). The movie you're referring to is War (singular) of the Roses. Makes it a little easier to tell 'em apart.

      It's great that Martin is finally getting some well-deserved recognition - I've been a fan for years, since his odd-but-compelling Fevre Dream, and the long-before-its-time Rock'n'Roll Horror novel, Armageddon Rag. On the other hand, it's a little bit too bad that he's getting some
  • Excellent Book (Score:2, Insightful)

    by turtledawn (149719)
    This is my favorite fantasy series. The characters are well developed, the plot has lots of interesting twists, and the characters you'd think are shoo-ins for winning, don't win. It's not the typical American fantasy novel, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series. If you like this, you might also like the "Kushiel" series by Jacqeline Carey, with the caveat that it's a little explicit in places.
  • George R. R. Martin (Score:3, Informative)

    by natet (158905) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:14PM (#6367598)
    has become one of my favorite authors. I have read all 3 books in the Song of Ice and Fire, and am anxiously awaiting book 4. In fact, I am re-reading the first 3!

    If you liked the first 3 books, I recommend going to you local library and picking up a copy of Legends. It is a collection of short stories by various authors. It includes a story by George R. R. Martin called the Hedge Knight, which is a must read for any fan of A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • This is a very viral series. I was turned on to it, and have since turned most of my friends on to it, and so on. This is definitely on of the best series out there, in any genre. The prose is very visual, and the entire history is very well thought out. Read the book, and you will be hooked. And then you'll be like me: come to work, get a cup of coffee, and log in to www.GeorgeRRMartin.com to see when book #4 will be released. Winter is coming
    • Yea, I'd like to thank a new Border's store in my city for this one.

      The employees took the time to put little cards up next to a bunch of books.... "Hugo award winner 2002"... "Nominee".... etc.

      This particular series had a card up that said: "Best Fantasy book ever". Read some reviews, then picked them up. Great read.

  • http://www.georgerrmartin.com/ [georgerrmartin.com] - the authors web site, with information about the status of the series.

    It is a great series, one of the best I've ever read together with the works of Stephen Donaldson (Gap series, Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, etc). But it was quite a while since I read the last book, and still no sign of the rest of the books... I don't remember how many was planned, but I think it was something like 8 or 12 books... which is good, if they ever hit the market, and bad as it is now while
    • I believe he has contracted to do six books. The first trilogy is out, and there is supposed to be a gap of several years in the story universe between the two trilogies. First book of the second trilogy is listed on amazon but not yet released. They HAD a date at one point, but I guess its slipped.
  • hmm (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Book Reviews: A Game of Thrones
    Fun toilet reading?
  • ...but read Stephen Donaldson's "Thomas Covenant" books. Top class!
    • Do you ever get the feeling- all across the Covenant series, the Mordant's Need books and the "Gap" SF series- that Donaldson HATES his characters? ;-) I have never seen an author brutalize his creations as much as Donaldson.
      • Now that you mention it -- yeah, I did have such thoughts all during GAP, and in the latter half of the Covenant books. And after a certain point, I stopped caring -- because they are ALL *victims*. Mordant's Need isn't as focused on that, but then again, I think it's a better set (more balanced overall, not so artificially structured -- which IMO really hurts GAP's "credibility" storywise).

        That's a trap Martin deftly avoids, even while beating the crap out of his hapless characters, and even when they got
  • by abe_is_fun (320753) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:18PM (#6367626) Journal
    I found this series to be, as the reviewer said, one of the best I'd read in a decade.

    I was impressed with the author's courage to lead the reader into the life of a main character, cause the reader to empathise with and respect the character, and then unmercilessly have the character killed, unfairly and unjustly.

    This is much more believable and realistic than the happy-happy tripe spoon fed by most authors: "The Rambo Syndrome" where a formulaic plot consists of
    1. no bad guys can hit anything they shoot at
    2. no good guys die
    3. the bad guy is 100% evil
    4. the good guy is about 98.44% pure
    5. truth and love win EVERYTHING at the end
    For these types of stories, you don't even have to read the whole book, or watch the whole movie. You know that if you flip to the last few chapters, the bad guy will be vanquished and the good guys will give each other hugs and high-fives.

    I think that Martin's series is closer to some of the good old stuff like For Whom the Bell Tolls [classicnote.com] or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [filmsite.org].
  • Name? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BJH (11355)
    His name's George R. R. Martin, and his page is here. [georgerrmartin.com]

    He's still sorry... damn.
  • by tsa (15680)
    > But Martin does it by focusing not on one main
    > character, but on a whole slew of them

    He's not alone in this. J.V. Jones [jvj.com] does this in her 'ice series'.
  • by Batfang (686868) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:38PM (#6367749)
    One thing people need to be aware of with this series is that it is extremely explicit, with graphic descriptions of violence, including torture, maiming, rape, murder of children, and just about every other repulsive act you can think of.

    While the quality of writing is excellent, I would not recommend this series to anyone but the most jaded fantasy reader who is bored with the reams of cookie cutter fantasy in bookstores and is ready for something different, although in my opinion, it's different in a bad way. While J.R.R. Tolkien might hint at the horrors of evil, George R.R. Martin describes it in loving detail. I had enough after the second book.
    • This needed to be said. This series is definately not for children.

      However, I enjoyed it precisely because it is not cookie cutter fantasy. There's some seriuosly evil acts going on in this series and Martin holds no punches in describing them. I want real cuss words, not "Blood and Bloody Ashes":)

    • Not to sell books, but be true to the story.

      Some authors aren't the masters of their tales. (Masters of their craft, yes...) I don't think Martin enjoys the horrible acts the monsters in his books perpetrate. They are monsters! That's what gives his books life- his characters do what they will/would do, rather than conforming to a Code of Conduct. That's the world he finds himself writing. Tolkien folk don't bleed much - I don't fault him for it, that's the world he writes. I don't fault the Harry Potter series for being bloodless. That's how that world is. I hope my kids enjoy them long before they get to this series.

      Martin's world appears to be inspired by the 100 years war and War of the Roses, where the actual events make his story seem fairly tame in comparison. The Brits depopulated large chunks of France when the French forces wouldn't/couldn't defend them. Battles were lost because the troops were so busy looting they forgot to finish the fight. In one instance, nominally Catholic English soldiers burned a nunnary, raping all the inhabitants and killing all but a few which were saved for further entertainment.

      The 100 years war was a disaster for Britain because during the lulls the unemployed British soldiers had gotten a taste for rape and plunder, and kept it up when they got home.

      One reader didn't care for the sex scenes - I don't think they are excessive, nor dwelt on in prurient detail. They are part of the characters' lives (illigitimate children play a huge role in the story). One character binds her husband to her by being both Queen and Lover. One incident reveals Theon Grayjoy's character nicely, though it doesn't advance the story much by itself.

      I should sum up - it's a more realistic world than most, and if you like your fiction more squeeky clean, stay away. I have put away books that had similar violence without the honesty. There's a reason for it here - it has to be, or the story is less true.
      • Speaking as a writer, the single most important thing I've learned from other writers is: don't beat around the bush. If you need to do something horrible to your characters because that's the reality of their lives, just go ahead and honestly do it. If it's too ugly for some readers, that's too damn bad. Reality doesn't pull its punches either.

  • Also, give Terry Goodkind's 'Sword of Truth' series a try. He has a bit of a fasination with torture and S&M, but he also has some interesting takes on standard fantasy stuff. Also, rereading the series, I can see some things in the first book, for example, that are dead hints to stuff in the later books. Neat, as they're so off-hand and casual, that the first time you read it, it's not clubbing you over the head with 'FORESHADOW! FORESHADOW!'

    Lets see..Wizard'S First Rule, Stone of Tears, Blood of

    • How you can mention Goodkind in a discussion of Martin is beyond me. Goodkinds' fantasy is simplistic and formulaic with 2 dimensional characters.

      I should know, I read his Sword of Truth series in my less discriminating days. It felt like eating bad Chinese food really.
  • by Aanallein (556209) on Friday July 04, 2003 @12:52PM (#6367846)
    Although Martin writes very decently, and I love the history of his world, A Song of Ice and Fire does have a few major flaws.
    The main one of these is that Martin writes purely for effect. When the shock-effect of something happened is largest, that is when you know beyond a doubt that it will happen. No matter how stupid his characters will have to act because of it. For people who haven't read all that much fantasy (yes, generalizing, I know there are exceptions), a lot of this comes as complete surprises, and he seems to do a lot of things that are completely innovative; but people who've read fantasy beyond Tolkien/Eddings/Jordan/Goodkind(*shudders*)/Weis, etc and have instead explored fantasy from the late 70s and early 80s will recognize a lot of what's happening - and see that it's not all that special.
    Second is the gritty-ness of his world. It's overdone. There is exactly one family in the entire world with people capable of having selfless thoughts; every single other character in the series (no matter how unimportant) will be mean, vicious, cruel bastards - often literally. If you want a darker, gritter world than most modern fantasy offers, instead of Martin I recommend Steven Erikson's Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.
    Third is the fact that ASoIaF didn't start as a fantasy. This is not a secret, Martin often explains it, but many people don't realize it when they start reading the books. The series started as historical fiction. Only when the first book was almost finished did Martin begin to use more and more fantastical elements, and turn it into a fantasy.
    • Bull (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Once&FutureRocketman (148585) <otvk4o702.sneakemail@com> on Friday July 04, 2003 @01:56PM (#6368220) Homepage
      There is exactly one family in the entire world with people capable of having selfless thoughts; every single other character in the series (no matter how unimportant) will be mean, vicious, cruel bastards - often literally.


      Hardly! While it's true that the Starks are obsessed with honor, it's as much a weakness for them as it is a strength. And a number of the characters who initially come across as "evil" (if only by association to characters who clearly are evil) actually turn out to be complex and even sympathetic characters (more so in the later books).

      One of the best features of his stories is the fact that the line between the good guys and the bad guys is never very clear, and gets murkier and more complex as the story unfolds.

      • Yep, I personally think the best examples of this are the Lannisters (exempting Joffery). Almost every character--good or evil--is painted with attention to detail and with a rich and dynamic personality. Their motives are present and he uses a large degree of foreshadowing to hint the direction that things might take.
    • by Llywelyn (531070) on Friday July 04, 2003 @02:10PM (#6368282) Homepage
      "When the shock-effect of something happened is largest, that is when you know beyond a doubt that it will happen. "

      Actually I did not find this to be true at all. I also found that he foreshadows everything that is going to happen--he is just not always obvious or heavy-handed with how he brings it to come.

      The story tastes *real*: characters die, the line between good and evil is blurred, and there is an appropriate mix of what you can predict absolutely and what was simply led up to without ceremony.

      He doesn't give us any information we wouldn't know from the points of view of each of the characters, nor does he give us everything that is going to happen in advance. He assumes that we are intelligent enough to be able to handle.

      Yes, the depravity is rife in this world, yes, he uses elements from other stories, however, nothing that happens is out of whack with the way the world has been set up.
  • I've had that book on my shelf for ages, but haven't found a good time to read it. I think the most recent Robert Jordan flop has left me a little cold on Fantasy... dunno.

    Then again, from the looks of GRRM's publishing schedule, I might want to wait until he's finished the series before I start to read them.
  • by jefu (53450) on Friday July 04, 2003 @01:18PM (#6368018) Homepage Journal
    I must agree that "A Song of Ice and Fire" (consisting of "A Game of Thrones", "A Clash of Kings" and "A Storm of Swords") is excellent. But "excellent" doesn't do the work justice by far. (All the good words have been used up by critics in saying nice things about second rate works.)

    How about just "Gosh, Golly, Wow..."

    I picked the first volume up on a recommendation and found myself trapped by it. I ended up buying the second volume before I finished the first so I could continue without a break. I thought it might (as second volumes often do) disappoint a bit - but before I finished the second volume I was buying the third. Now I get to wait for the fourth.

    Worse yet, by the time I was approaching the end of the third volume I was rationing myself to one chapter a day. If you knew how I tend to read, you'd know how rare that is.

    The story is wonderful, with twists and turns and complications in abundance - but knowing how things are going to do does not ruin your enjoyment. This is not just a simple, one dimensional tale, instead it reads like real history (I was reminded of "Les Rois Maudits" a multi volume fictionalized history of a series of French kings).

    The characters, too, are fascinating - all are mixes of good and bad - and all have the ability to act in ways that make you shake your head a bit - sometimes in surprise, sometimes in recognition. And I found myself caring about the characters (at least some of them) more than I would have guessed possible.

    The writing is not fancy or overly self conscious nor is it sloppy or careless. Its just right - doing its job and staying out of the way.

    There is magic here - and while it is powerful , it does not take over the book as magic does in many fantasy novels. And very often, that magic is double edged - with the ability to hurt its weilder as much as to help.

    Finally, the world itself is varied and vividly described. Most of the action takes place on Westeros, either a very large island, or a small continent. At the north there are icy mountains, mountains that shield a major threat - behind a wall of ice 700 feet high. There are warmer lands too, great rivers (very important, those rivers), and the sea. Off Westeros there are strange lands that one of the characters is wandering through on the way back to Westeros - she visits strange cities with strong magic.

    If you like fantasy, or history - these are very much worth reading.

    No, let me restate that. If you like reading good stories, with good character this is very much worth reading.

    One of the best books (taken as a whole) I've read in a very long time. Not just "best fantasy books" or "best genre books" - but best books.

    • The books need a good map. The maps provided are a bit on the minimal side. Ideally I'd like a good big map to put on a wall so I can figure out where things are when the wall is nearby, and a smaller - but still good sized - map for keeping with the book.
  • It's funny how what people admire about the books (there are no good guys, or the "good" guys are only marginally better than the bad guys and they certainly don't fare any better) is exactly why I gave up half way through book 2.

    I found myself not giving a damn about any of the characters after Eddard Stark was out of the picture. By halfway through book 2, I realized that I didn't actually care *who* came out on top, as they were all SOBs. I quit when I found myself hoping for a event that would kill o
  • by Thag (8436) on Friday July 04, 2003 @01:39PM (#6368130) Homepage
    I guess I'm one of the few that didn't like this one. Here's the review I wrote for epinions.com:

    The frustrating thing about this book is that it contains the seeds of a great novel. Unfortunately, that storyline is hitched to too many other storylines that simply don't measure up. As a result, I found myself deeply regretting ever having started. I wanted to find out what happened to the two or three characters I actually cared about, but that meant wading through hundreds of pages of other subplots, most of which I frankly didn't want to read.

    The best part of the book by far is the story of Jon Snow, bastard of King Eddard Stark, who is sent to "take the black" and join the garrison manning the titanic Wall that protects the north of the kingdom from attack from Beyond. There he learns about responsibility and sets to work improving the neglected defenses. And beyond the wall, some force is stirring...

    It's a great story, and I wanted more of it. But by the end of the 800 pages of this book, that story is still just getting started, because most of the book is spent elsewhere. Which is where we get into trouble.

    Basically, there are a lot of other plots going on, and most of them just did't measure up for me. Some of the characters, like Sansa the cookie-cutter princess, are simply shallow and insipid. The others are either objectionably passive (Eddard and Daenerys), mindlessly reactionary (Catelyn), or inherently unsympathetic (Tyrion Lannister). Bran and Arya might turn out to be likeable, but their stories haven't even gotten started by the end of the book. And yet, each of these characters is given their own series of chapters. The end result is too many chapters, and a book that is bogged down in the tedious lives of characters I didn't care about.

    It also bothers me that in 800-odd pages Martin wasn't able to tell a complete story, or even get some of the plots fully started. Tolkien told the entire Lord of the Rings in about 900 pages, and LotR isn't exactly thin on plot or background. It also bothered me that when we got to the big battle at the end of the book, most of it happened off screen. Martin devoted more space in his book to people talking in bars! I felt cheated.

    The pluses: Martin's writing does a good job of describing what is going on and establishing a sense of medieval atmosphere, and the world he builds in the novel was genuinely interesting to me. I still think the tale of Jon Snow would have made a brilliant standalone novel. On a paragraph by paragraph level, the writing is solid.

    This book frustrated me immensely. It was good enough in parts that I didn't want to throw it against the wall, but most of the time it was like eating cardboard. I wouldn't read the rest of this series if I got it for free.

    However, people who only want a book to immerse them for x number of pages should be satisfied with it, especially with three more equally overstuffed volumes already out in the series. Given the number of positive reviews for the book, your mileage may definitely vary.

    Jon Acheson
    • Eddard Stark isn't objectionably passive; he's a man whose projects his own sense of duty onto others, and as such he is unable to anticipate the depth of treachery and intrigue going on around him. Also, I thought he was truly the focus of the first book. The tension at court when he goes to act as Robert's Hand is palpable, and if I had any frustration it was that that plot line wasn't focused on enough -- or that I couldn't scream at Eddard and clue him in.

      It's funny that you call Daenerys passive, beca

  • It's a gritty and disturbing world, where royal families can marry brother to sister to keep bloodlines pure, Mongolian horde empires have their own brand of laws and morals, and a joust is as celebrated as a professional wrestling match - and far more dangerous.


    And that's exactly the way our own world was (is).
  • I sent him an email - a shameless adultation fanboy email - and wrote "please write back" rather than "please don't waste time writing back"

    I just wanted to encourage him, if he needed it and random comments from a stranger would help.

    I don't write fanmail - this was a thank you card. It's that good.
  • I think she is relatively unknown...I am not quite sure, but I think her latest book (Golden Fool : The Tawny Man) [amazon.com] has been the best written fantasy story I have read to date....simply amazing.

    The bad (if you want to call it that) is that you will have to read her first two trilogies:

    The Farseer Trilogy [amazon.com] and

    Liveship Traders Series [amazon.com]

    to really understand the latest one (the main character is from the first triligy...but also alludes to the second series some...but you could get by without reading it).

  • by Xtifr (1323) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:20PM (#6368892) Homepage
    Not to take anything away from Martin's excellent work, but anyone who is familiar with the Wars of the Roses (1455 to 1487) will recognize the storyline immediately. If it seems more realistic than your average fantasy novel, that's because it's based on reality, unlike your average fantasy novel. :)

    That said, it's still an excellent tale, well told.

    And if you like this sort of thing, then I strongly recommend checking out the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, who is (afaik) the real pioneer of retelling obscure bits of history reset into realms of fantasy. My personal favorite is The Lions of Al-Rasan, based on the latter days of Moorish Spain. None of these have quite the scale of the Thrones series, being mostly standalone novels, but they're still pretty hefty novels, and all quite good. (Kay is also known for his work with Christopher Tolkien, editing the unpublished works of Chris' faither, J.R.R., and for his pure-fantasy Arthuriana-soaked trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry.)

If a thing's worth having, it's worth cheating for. -- W.C. Fields

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