Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jul 6, 2007

A Song of Ice and Fire

This is a series by George R. R. Martin that perfectly exemplifies the principle of how to write yourself into a hole; very similar to Robert Jordan, in fact. There are four books in the series thus far: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows. The series starts off with a bang: A Game of Thrones catapults you right into the action and the several threads of the story all take off immediately with the presentation of the various members of the Stark family.

The setting is presented a little oddly, in that some of the important fantasy details aren't explicitly drawn out: you have to infer their nature over the course of many chapters and changes of narritive perspective. I actually found this to be a good presentation because you adopt the same view of the world that the characters hold: you take it for granted as the natural course of things in this fantasy world rather than viewing it as some abberation that needs to be corrected.

The plot is a twisting complexity of intrigues, betrayals and counter-betrayals, so it is a fun read and Martin does a good job of making it easy to follow the events: the motivations of the various characters are fleshed out so perfectly that the events are not confusing at all. A Game of Thrones leads us from the general stability and well-being of a prosperous land up to the death of the King at the hands of conspirators and hints ominously of the disintegration that must follow as the land breaks up again into numerous factions.

A Clash of Kings follows the struggle of these vast warring factions and introduces several new narrative characters and plot threads. Things begin to get more complicated but for the most part we are remaining with the Stark family and the personal importance of the events is clear. Some factions you like, some you dislike, and some you empathize with but despise their methods.

In A Storm of Swords, the faction fights are all-but-solved, or at least you think you can see the shape of the solutions on the horizon. Some of the worst characters are killed off, the good ones remember their priorities, and the fantastic parts of the world begin to solidify and take hold. It looks very much as though one more book could bring everything to a very satisfactory conclusion.

In A Feast for Crows, this illusion is brought crashing down. Nothing happens in the book. Nothing. More narrative perspectives are brought in, important previous ones are completely ignored, and instead of the great events being resolved you are brought down to the tiniest, narrowest view possible: it is as though the story has developed cataracts and is reduced to stumbling myopia. Tellingly, the author finds it necessary to explain/apologize for the nature of the book. He intentionally presented only half of what was going on in the story; he intends to dramatize what happens to the other narrative characters in his next book.

This killed any desire I had to read the rest of the novels. What draws you through these books primarily is the desire to know what happens. Well, if I'm going to have to wait for him to write two more books before I can find that out I'm not even going to bother. I can't retain interest in a story for that long. A Feast of Crows mangled the cast badly enough as it was: my favorite conflicted character died in the most pathetically pointless way possible. The whole story has become uselessly tiresome. I suppose this is what happens when an author takes a ten-year hiatus from writing. In his afterword Martin explains that when he started he found himself writing and writing and writing and he just ran out of room to tell everything that he wanted to in one book. Well, I'll tell you what this means: it means you need to avail yourself of the services of a good editor.

Oh well, the first three books were good.

Rating: 2.5


Myrhaf said...

I ate up A Game of Thrones, then got about 130 pp. into the second book and lost interest. I've been meaning to try again, although I have deep doubts about this series. The Lord of the Rings builds to a fabulous climax. If Martin doesn't build to a climax at least as good, the series will seem pointless -- a case of starts well then fizzles out...

As I recall, the decision to split A Feast of Crows into two books was suggested by his publisher because Martin was taking too long and the book was getting too big. From your review, I gather this might have been a disastrous decision, because it sounds like he put the important plot moves in the second book.

Jennifer Snow said...

Even in the first book you Martin had widely divergent plots running in different locations with different narrators. He should REALLY be pulling them together at this point if he plans on concluding the series, but he has basically declaired his intent to make them even more divergent so I was quite disappointed.

Series fantasy does this a lot, sadly.

Jennifer Snow said...

I forgot to mention that A Feast for Crows has what is probably the stupidest, most egregiously bad rave quote on the back that I have ever seen: "A Fantasy Series for hip, smart people, even ones that don't read fantasy."

Do we REALLY need ARGUMENT FROM INTIMIDATION to convince people to read BOOKS?!