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 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 6 April 2003
Anyone who has read a lot of fantasy knows how each book tends to meld into another until, on looking back, you realise that you've lose track of exactly what characters are in which book, where they live, and what's going on. Every now and then though, you find an author who somehow manages to make you feel a closeness to the characters, and a geniune fascination in their lives. It's this that makes a fantasy novel or series stand out - and which means you may just remember it a few months after reading it! Despite having been reading fantasy for years, I neglected George R.R. Martin when A Game of Thrones first came out, and have continued to do so until a few days back. I now discover my mistake. The novel is superbly written, the characters diverse and original, and despite it's seemingly typical fantasy plot - political battles, a bit of magic here and there, honour, betrayal etc etc - Martin's approach leads me to believe I will not only remember, but come back to re-read his series when a few months have passed me by. Excuse me, must go buy the second book....
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 30 January 2007
If you want fairies, elves, dwarfs and goblins turn away and flee from this saga! This is a gritty,dark and very deep story not for the light hearted. expect violence, sex and death. I know it doen't sound great but the storyline is excellent with plenty of twists and the characters could be real people from older times. Some parts are so upsetting you might cry, this author has a fettish for killing off characters. A good read though with knights and castles and a little bit of dragons. a worthy but gritty read.
on 11 December 2005
This book (and indeed, the books that follow in this series) easily rank as the best books I have read in the fantasy genre, even the best books I have read full stop.
The story is very complex, there are a multitude of characters which you can easily get lost in, but the core focus is on three groups of familys - The Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens, and their journeys to achieve what they desire. Each and every character is fleshed out masterfully, and you will find you opinion of them changing as you continue to read.
George R. R. Martin is an extremely accomplished writer. The action never gets bogged down with long-winded descriptive passages, and he manages to keep the plot flowing quickly while still delivering a huge amount of information to the reader. It becomes apparant there is a lot of backstory to events that we are unaware of, but much of this is told to us gradually through dialogue and character's inner monologues. It won't take long for readers to work out what "ser" or "taking the black" means.
The book is divided into chapters which are each written from a specific characters point of view, a technique which works very well.
The biggest praise I can give these books are the actual story itself - it never does what you would expect, and there are twists, turns and shocks galore. Characters get killed off with no warning, their dialogue is superb, many of them display cunning and evil like no other I've read of.
The book is full of swearing, graphic violence and sex that may put people off, but for me just established it as an adult story written for adults, which I enjoyed thoroughly and can't recommend enough.