Archive for May, 2013

Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones series)

18 May 2013

A Song of Ice and Fire, 5 Book Set Series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with DragonsA Song of Ice and Fire, 5 Book Set Series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From a distance the Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire series looked hypermarketed, blockbusterish, cliched.

No. Real quality.

The books are blockbusterish in some ways – the pseudo-medieval setting, padded out with extended descriptions of secondary people, events and situations. But the series has attracted readers far beyond fans of this genre, due to the rich characterisations, plot, and imaginative depth, garnished here and there by passages of very good writing. It is further enhanced by the TV series, of which more later.

As Wikipedia will tell you there are three intersecting themes. The vaguely European realm of Westeros has fallen apart as the rulers of various statelets vie for the high throne, left vacant by the fall of the 300-year-old Tagaryen dynasty. From the icy north the realm is threatened by wild peoples and other forces less easily understood. Meanwhile from Essos, the Mediterrean- and Mahgreb-like south-eastern lands, the exiled Tagaryen scions, brother and sister, long to retake their family heritage, the Iron Throne. Before long the brother departs, leaving only the young teen Danaerys Tagaryen to carry on.

At first magic is presented only through hints and references, but as the stakes rise a range of supernatural forces and personages step forward.

The warring provinces of Westeros sink down to amazing levels of chaos, carnage and misery. Yet, the darker the night, the brighter the star. Danaerys swiftly matures into someone intrepid, resourceful, brilliant, and above all compassionate. She who at first seemed just one more schemer looks more and more like the hope of the world. For all that, she is sometimes just giggling 14-year-old. Still, she acquires an army. And Danaerys is the only person alive who owns dragons. Three of them: young, but rapidly growing, just like her. But like anyone trying to improve things, Danaerys is, needless to say, set upon from all sides by people trying to drag her down. As her power grows she is a magnet for the sinister and the supernatural. Yet she has aid as well.

There is a vast range of characters, all the central ones complex and well drawn. Some are noble and strong-willed, others vile. A very appealing aspect of the series is the number of characters who are vulnerable or damaged in some way. A dwarf man; a fat youth, kindly but fightened; a woman knight ridiculed for her massive muscularity; a crippled boy; a bastard (when that really meant something); a helpless captive princess; a prince trapped as ward/prisoner in another noble’s household. As a reader I keenly felt the difficulties and pain they each face due these limitations, but I never felt that their lines or descriptions had been vetted for political correctness by reference groups. Such a welcome change. Remarkably for a modern novel, you find older, non-alpha males allowed some dignity, as are older women. Beware though – even central characters can die, which adds sharpness to every menacing situation.

The female characters are generally forceful, and some, refreshingly, are allowed to do genuinely bad things – though at least one of these women has been sanitised in the TV series, lest the audience stir uncomfortably. On other hand there are many prostitutes, and scenes of abuse of both women and men. Westeros is a harsh place. The TV series is R-rated.

The TV series cannot capture the full complexities of the story line, but does bring to life the key characters and scenes beautifully. Magnificent casting in almost every case.

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