on 23 August 2006
On my latest foray to buy some new fantasy, the till assistant suggested that I might like to try George R. R. Martin. I had seen his books before, but had never committed to reading them, but on this recommendation, I picked this book up for my summer holiday. Over 800 pages and less than 5 days later it was finished.
Although somewhat slow in starting, the storylines soon become engaging and you really do want to find out what happens next. The book also contains a large number of surprises and means that you're never really certain where each story will lead.
For me, the biggest surprise was in the unusual structure. As has been mentioned, each chapter is named after the character whose view it is written from. This is not something I have encountered before, but I enjoyed the format. It gave a nice insight into characters from all "sides" and allowed a good deal of depth to be included for them.
The book as a whole is almost three independent stories. Firstly, the "Game of Thrones" is the nickname of the power struggle between high-born families to influence or take the throne. As usual, we have the good (Starks, Tullys), the bad (Lannisters) and the undecided (Baratheon). This covers the majority of the book and has only an initial interaction to one of the other storylines,
The second storyline has minimal interaction with the first and follows a sworn brotherhood that forego all previous ties and become a new "family". They are sworn to defend the kingdom and man the vast wall that separates it from the wilds to the North.
The final storyline does not interact with the others and is only hinted at by the telling of rumours in the kingdom. It charts the progress of the barbarian race of the Dothraki and their uneasy alliance with the last of the Targaryens, the family that were all but destroyed in a battle with the current head of the kingdom.
As in most fantasy, there are apparent good and evil sides, but most of the characters have a certain ambiguity which results in them doing something that you would not normally expect. This ambiguity is a neat way to make you connect with characters from both sides in a way that you wouldn't usually do and although it may be a little uncomfortable, it also provides a better immersion for the reader.
Another surprise is that magic is scarcely involved. It is only hinted at in the first two storylines and is only fully in evidence at the end of the third; I suspect that this will become more prominent in the following books.
Non-human creatures are also in short supply, but again, I believe that they will play a larger part as the series progresses.
To close, I would like to mention that there are a couple of plot twists that left me open-mouthed, a fact that I found most satisfying (after I'd recovered:-). Also, there are a couple of particularly grisly deaths and this combined with some of the more mature language and themes, indicate that this has been targeted at an adult audience.
I have tried to avoid any plot details since the impact of the book comes from not knowing what is going to happen next. it has introduced all the storylines and got them to a point where they are all about to explode into action. If you fancy something a little more complex and with a definite adult bias, this could very well be the book for you.
on 19 August 2012
I have just finally finished the last available book of A Song Of Ice And Fire and as this is one of the best series I have ever read, I thought I'd write a review and post it for potential future readers. Since I made the mistake of reading some of the reviews on here and unfortunately came across a massive spoiler which ruined a huge plot development for me at the end of A Dance With Dragons (book 5) pt2 I will try and make my review as succinct and spoiler-free as possible.
Book 1 - A Game Of Thrones
I would watch the television series to get yourself better acquainted with the characters. The book has been done more than justice in the TV series and at first read it's quite tedious to try and get to grips with the Houses of Westeros and all the political intricacies. A good book though, with the first of many OH MY GOD that didn't just happen moments at the end.
Book 2 - A Clash Of Kings
Read this on holiday and couldn't put it down. The "sh.. hit the fan" well and truly after book 1 and Westeros turns into a free for all. Epic writing by Martin and his disregard for characters continue. Expect the unexpected. Also, the TV series season 2 does not do the book justice in the same way as season 1. You'll want to read this book.
Book 3 - A Storm Of Swords
The first of Martin's books split into two in paperback (these are the versions I read). By far the best book of the series so far. I laughed, I cried, I threw my book on the floor of the bus cursing. Possibly one of my top 5 favourite books of all time simply because of the sheer brilliant writing and subsequent emotion it provoked.
Book 4 - A Feast For Crows
From one of the best books I've ever read to one of the worst. Be warned, this books makes for dreary reading and feels like another Book 1 in the middle of an already richly developed series. Tens of new characters and multiple new family lines get introduced and I found myself reading out loud in the manner of "blah blah blah get to the point" many times. However, these families end up playing a key role later, and there are a few gems in here as you will get the point of view of some characters which opens up a whole new dimension to the story. Stick through it, it will be worth it I promise.
Book 5 - A Dance with Dragons
Also split into two paperbacks, Martin returns to form with the 5th instalment and brings back the old characters we loved from books 1-3. Just remember not to love them too much; no one is safe under Martin's pen. No one. The book is not quite on the level of book 3, but absolutely brilliant compared to book 4 and actually a lot of the new stuff from 4 slots into the previously built storylines. The book builds up nicely towards the end where you'll have a few OH MY GOD moments yet again, but this time you will have no other book to order from Amazon to see what happens next. Not yet anyway.
On balance I would give the series 5 stars but because of book 4 I simply can't and it gets 4. Hopefully a review update after the 6th and 7th book it will all make sense and I will reconsider. That being said I realise and have made my peace with the fact that I will be much older by the time the 7th and final book is published and might not even remember how to write a review... Until such time I can only envy you, the person who is yet to embark on this journey. Enjoy!
on 30 May 2011
As advertised, this is an incredibly good book - believe all the hype and purchase it immediately!
My one gripe is the format of the Kindle edition which is literally covered with typos e.g. 'Tf' for 'It', 'boh' for 'both' and quite frequently 'bum' or 'bumed' for 'burn' or 'burned'.
My suggestion, as this sort of poor quality production detracts from George Martin's text, is to purchase the hardcopy and forego the Kindle. You'll likely be pleased, as I imagine (in the hardcopy) that candles won't be 'buming' anything.
on 3 July 2002
Suffice to say, from the top marks I'm awarding this book (and the whole series thus far) I found it to be an excellent read. No, that's insufficient, this is not only the best written Fantasy series (by far surpassing Tolkien in my opinion) I've read, it's almost certainly the most enjoyable book of ANY kind.
The writing style is intelligent and treats the reader accordingly, which is a refreshing change in the Fantasy genre, and the sheer bloody-mindedness of the plot subverts every preconception the reader may have while maintaining the traditional escapist elements familiar from 'lesser' works. The world of Fire and Ice is so fully realised it's hard to keep track of the history and vast array of characters but Martin guides you through it effortlessly and seems to have known from the first line exactly what is going to happen in every subsequent paragraph. His attention to detail is almost scary. The series also (incredibly) manages to improve with subsequent readings as the reader gets to grips with the innumerable plot developments and realises that the most unexpected of events was probably sign-posted ten chapters back.
One note of caution to prospective buyers however is that despite it's Fantasy trappings this is NOT a series suitable for children. Mr Martin does not shy away from explicit descriptions of horrific violence and sex and the language is frequently of the four-letter variety. Equally disturbing is the brilliant realisation of the multitude of characters in these books where the 'Heroes' prove capable of horrendous atrocities and the 'Villains' sometimes act with compassion and honour. And these characters can DIE; If a situation looks likely to be fatal, chances are it will be, which is almost unique in an on-going series and means every violent encounter is almost excrutiatingly tense.
So, not for the faint-hearted but certainly a series that sets entirely new standards for fiction, Fantasy or otherwise.
on 23 March 2013
Was really looking forward to reading this, but I have to admit I stopped and started with it about 3 or 4 times... got approx. 50% of the way through and then finally called it quits. I just couldn't seem to get into the story, I think because there was just too many of them all going on at the same time, switching from here to there, one lot of characters to another - it was just too much for me to keep up with. So many long names of families and kings and quenns of here and there and children and cousins , I often couldn't remember who was who and would try skip back on my kindle to remind myself and couldnt find the page... It was an effort to read and not a very enjoyable story for me up to the point I got to anyway...
So many people have raved about how good a book it is I'm really dissapointed I got so bored with it and couldn't even read until the end... I never half reads books ever! Perhaps I'll try again sometime ..
on 28 April 2006
I started reading these books on a recommendation from a friend. To be honest I hardly read books anymore, I never really found the time. But almost as soon as I started AGOT I was hooked and made time.
George R. R. Martin opens you up to a vast new world he has created with amazing characters that you will grow to love and hate (and even learn to love the ones you first hated). His in-depth analysis of the main characters is staggering and he takes you places other fantasy authors don't tread.
The next books in the story build upon the characters, and bring more into the fold. It's such an immense series that GRRM has needed 70 pages of appendix to mention just the major households (70 pages as of A Feast For Crows, it's a little shorter in A Game Of Thrones). It's a wonder how he keeps track of them all.
I throughly enjoyed reading this book and the others in the series so far. I would recommend them to anyone.
on 17 January 2004
Forget Jordan, give up on Goodkind. This series is absolutely amazing, everything you want from a fantasy series. The characters are so real, you laugh and cry with them. Martin isn't afraid to kill off central characters either, so you anxiously anticipate who is going to survive each plot turn, which gives an edge to the writing that Eddings, Goodkind and Jordan et al could well learn a lesson from. Bloody, sexual, uncompromising, and realistic, I've just read the first four books of the series back to back over the space of a week - I've done no housework, or shopping, my daily papers for the last week are sitting in an unread pile and the kids are unwashed and feeling neglected. Yes, it is that good. And the best thing of all about it is that the story is planned over six books, book 5 out in April, so there is an end in sight unlike some long-running series' I could mention, and I know when I've read the last book I will mourn for the end of the best fantasy world out there to date.
Buy the books, get in the Pot Noodles, take the phone off the hook and send the kids away for a week. Really.
on 29 November 2011
I am without a doubt somewhat slow in catching the George R. R. Martin bus. However, now that I have (by reading the rather monstrously bloated 'A Game of Thrones') I find myself ruminating over what I have read and deliberating about purchasing the next book in this 'epic' series. Is it considered epic because of its quality, or merely for its length...?
I have deliberately awarded this book a middle of the road score because it both enthralled me and irritated me. I can't help but notice that the vast majority of the views on this site have been highly favourable, but I would gladly debate with and question those who have awarded it a perfect 5 stars.
Perhaps I should begin with telling you why it is good. Well, Martin writes well for starters: about this there can be no quarrel. The story is overall an interesting one, exciting in parts and most chapters leave you wanting to discover the next turn of events. He uses detail well to fuel (as well as aid) your imagination. The subject matter is of a sort that would appeal to most people (albeit likely aimed at the 50% of the population in possession of a pair of testes). Fantasy it may be, but we're not talking witches, wizards and lightning-ejaculating wands, and only relatively occasional utterances of dragons and a bit of hocus pocus towards the end.
All well and good until we address Martin's enthusiasm for breadth. There is simply far too much happening for anyone who isn't entirely, 100%, completely, utterly and undeniably engrossed in this book. I read this book over the course of about 7 weeks (leisurely, but consistent). I like to think I have a fairly good brain in my skull and I know a few people who would back me up on this point. That said, I found it incredibly difficult to fully grasp the story and relied on later discussions of earlier events to help consolidate the overall plot.
All-in-all I would probably recommend the book to a friend but would not do so with abounding enthusiasm, therefore 3/5.
on 17 June 2011
Game of Thrones is, simply, the greatest fantasy novel I have ever read. It isn't a complete story in itself - rather the first part in an epic saga - but, by God, by the end of this instalment, you'll be left breathless and craving more.
The characters and the world of Westeros are so brilliantly drawn and described, you can't help but feel completely immersed in the living, breathing land. This is not fantasy of monsters and wizards, but one of gritty high-medieval human stories. From the noble Eddard Stark, the drunken Robert Baratheon, the sinister Cersei Lannister to the "Kingslayer", Jaime, all the inhabitants of this world feel alive. Like real people, none of them are black and white - most are shades of grey, with believable motivations, desires and needs.
AGoT is not told from any singular viewpoint. Rather, each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the major characters. Each chapter advances the story (you do not hear about the same event 6 times over), but makes the book not about any one individual. This is a tale of Westeros, the fragile empire of the Seven Kingdoms and its perilous descent into chaos and war. It is an absolute masterpiece, and one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time.
on 27 July 2013
Where do I even begin in a review of A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga? Thousands upon thousands of reviews have been written of these books, and my review probably echoes a lot of what has already been said. George R R Martin is, in my opinion, one of those rare authors who gets everything right.
Characters: The ASOIAF saga is populated by a large cast of characters. This can be a bad thing if an author skims over them and doesn't give them enough detail to make them distinguishable, but equally a small cast can make a story feel very insular and self-contained and unrealistic. Martin creates a large cast, which gives his story epic scope, but also gives each of his characters care and attention. Superfluous characters aren't named, but described, thus sparing the reader from having to keep track of too many. Secondary and main characters are each rendered with unique traits and personalities and respond to the environment around them based on their prior experiences and current set of circumstances, just like real people do. This is absolutely key. As a reader do you care about what happens to a character who doesn't behave like a real human being, a character who seems too thinly drawn and sketched out to exist in the real world? I sure don't. But when a character is written as a real person, I start caring about them, and I give them and their world greater plausibility and believability. It's about immersion into the story, and George R R Martin hits the sweet spot with his characters.
Show, Don't Tell: At the same time, we are only shown glimpses into these characters. We don't know everything about them straight away, we don't know all their inner thoughts. Just like in real life, a character is revealed to us bit by bit through their actions, and we get to know them slowly as we do real people. Not only is this great showing over telling, but this keeps the story fresh and unexpected, even for characters who lead the story and we know well. Martin allows his characters to be organic; existing in their present moment, but responding to events as they unfold and growing as the story unfolds. Moreover, each character has agency. How they respond directly impacts on the other characters, and affects those characters' responses. Again, this is what happens in real life. This makes Martin's characters and plot feel realistic and natural.
World-Building: It's obvious that Martin has spent a great deal of time creating this world in his mind before writing it. This not only renders the environment in lavish detail for the senses, but allows him to plot out events well ahead of time, making sure the storyline is taut and well-constructed. As a result each scene directly contributes to advancing the plot and there's no filler or superfluous material. In addition, Martin can create twists in the plot that surprise and delight the reader even whilst at the same time having just enough hints to in hindsight see its inevitability. And through judicious writing, Martin makes sure that no event is too foreshadowed, ruining the surprise. I've seen authors foreshadow their novel's climax far too heavily, a mistake which means the plot becomes predictable and the writing too clunky. Martin avoids that pitfall. Knowing this world like the back of his hand means that Martin has tight control over where the plot is going, and presents us as readers with a world as realistic and fleshed out as the characters that inhabit it.
Epic Scope: Time to fess up; I love epics. The reason being that the vast world of an epic is true to the vast world in which we live in. Through the aforementioned factors - large character cast, character agency, thorough and carefully planned world-building - Martin is able to connect all his characters and places, and give his plot long-term coherency. This is what makes ASOIAF a true saga, and gives it a wide scope of sweeping grandeur. This also allows Martin to tell the story more slowly, giving us an epic tale of each character and their situation evolving, instead of the story feeling rushed and skimmed over. The way that Martin uses multiple character perspective for different chapters could go wrong, by feeling too jumpy or like we're spending too little time with too many characters. It doesn't go wrong because by developing each character properly, each character chapter has its own distinctive voice, and by developing the plot properly the story can develop at just the right pace, giving us exciting scenes that advance the plot just enough to keep us wanting more, without feeling either too hurried or too ponderous with unnecessary filler. This is how epic is done.
Master of Language: Finally, Martin has a great knowledge of language and what makes good creative writing, aside from all the story-telling expertise. Bad writing is, I've found, rather limited in scope, may feel pedestrian and prosaic or swing all the way to the other extreme and get overly flowery and pompous, perhaps be repetitive, and all in all simply fails to either evoke any emotion in me as a reader or interest me in the story. Good writing shows wide-ranging knowledge of language, enough to come up with writing of creative flair and inventiveness that keeps me interested, but is judicious enough to know to use it sparingly, weaving it seamlessly into the text, and avoiding glaring repetition. This keeps the writing fresh and interesting without becoming too flowery and overused.
Consistency: The real test is consistency. Can the author produce the aforementioned levels of quality again and again at the same consistently high standards? As my reading of the ASOIAF saga is ongoing, I can safely say that yes, George R R Martin can. And this is what gets an author on my auto-buy list, because with a consistently fantastic author I know I am guaranteed a great read every time without even having to see the latest book before I buy it. I'm hooked. George R R Martin is quite possibly the definitive fantasy author of our times, and his writing is cream of the crop across genres.
If only all novels could be as well written as this.