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Why George R.R. Martin's massive "A Song of Ice and Fire" books are worth the effort, worth waiting for

Why George R.R. Martin's massive "A Song of Ice and Fire" books are worth the effort, worth waiting for

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I always feel a little bit ridiculous recommending George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series to anyone.  Why?  They're fantastic books - but the size ... 

Copyright 1995 - 2011 Random House, Inc. All rights reserved

I have an unfortunate weakness for long novels, and the first four in the series have approximately four thousand pages combined.  With book five, "A Dance with Dragons" (which was released last Tuesday), the total comes to 5200 pages.  So I do understand the looks of horror that I receive when I suggest that friends might give the series a try - but it's really that good.

Imagine a fantasy world that's nothing like Lord of the Rings.  No epic quests to destroy (or to find) some rare magical artifact, no knowledgeable wizard and bumbling farm boy hero.  Picture instead a country reminiscent of Europe in the mid-fifteenth century.  Rather than the Yorks and the Lancasters fighting the War of the Roses, "A Song of Ice and Fire" revolves around the Starks' and the Lannisters' battle for dominance in the Seven Kingdoms. 

The series effectively begins when Ned Stark (played by Sean Bean in the acclaimed HBO series which is based on the first book in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, "A Game of Thrones") leaves his home of Winterfell, in the far north of the Seven Kingdoms, to become the king's advisor. He is extremely reluctant until his wife Catelyn (played by Michelle Fairley) receives a letter from her sister that convinces her that Jon Arryn, the king's previous advisor and Catelyn's brother-in-law, was murdered by the Queen's family, the Lannisters.  Ned Stark feels he must become the king's advisor, both to investigate Jon Arryn's death, but also to protect the king from Lannister treachery.

Sean Bean (Center) as Ned Stark in HBO's "Game of Thrones." Copyright Home Box
Office, Inc. All rights reserved

While the Starks and the Lannisters vie for position in power, malign forces stir elsewhere.  Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) and his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), the only surviving heirs of the previous ruling family, seek to regain their rightful throne in the Seven Kingdoms.  Viserys weds his sister to the leader of the Dothraki, a race of nomad warriors, in exchange for their promise of a golden crown, with which he can purchase ships and soldiers to invade the Seven Kingdoms.

In the north, in the vast land beyond a 700 foot tall wall of ice, the Wildlings, a barbarian race of "free folk" who refuse to honor a king, are also rising up.  The Others, a race of necromancers who were thought long extinct, are reanimating corpses into Wights -essentially super strong zombies hell-bent on killing as many of the living as possible.  The Wildlings plan to invade the Seven Kingdoms - less intent on conquering, and more focused on avoiding The Others.

"A Song of Ice and Fire" is unique in its focus on politicking and war - Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), the reigning Queen of the Seven Kingdoms describes it to Ned Stark this way: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."  And when the situation warrants it, Martin never hesitates to kill the characters that you've grown attached to.

Lena Headey as Queen Cersei Lannister in HBO's "Game of
Thrones." Copyright Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved

In Harry Potter, regardless of the danger that Harry faces, the reader is always confident that Harry will triumph, and Voldemort will ultimately be defeated.  Sirius and Dumbledore might die along the way, but ultimately, Good will win out.  "A Song of Ice and Fire," first of all, doesn't have any characters as clear-cut "good" and "bad" as Harry and Voldemort, but secondly - Martin can and will kill "Harry."

All this said, I have a few caveats:  First, the cast of characters.  In the back of each book, there is a series of appendices that guide the reader through the various major houses and characters that you encounter.  As of the end of book four, there were seventeen "point of view" characters (each chapter features, and is named after, the point of view character - some characters have many chapters, some have only one chapter.)  There are, I'd guess, a couple hundred minor, non-viewpoint characters. In the past, I've had a hard time with casts this large, but maybe because all the names aren't "elfish" sounding, I didn't have a real issue keeping the Who's Who straight.

 Perhaps more of an issue, the series isn't finished yet.  "A Dance with Dragons," book five of what is most likely seven novels, was released last week.  More importantly, "A Feast For Crows," book four, was released in November 2005.  Will there be six years between each of the remaining novels?  I certainly hope not - but realistically, besides Harry Potter, I can't think of another series that I've read that I'd be willing to wait six years between books with any reasonable degree of patience (and if you can think of any, in any genre, please let me know - I'm always up for more great reading).

Copyright 1995 - 2011 Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved

With that, I'm off - "A Dance with Dragons" is sitting on the Kindle App on my Ipad, and I've been waiting six years for it.

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  • Re: books worth waiting for...

    I recommend the Kingkiller Trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss. The first book, "The Name of the Wind" was a revelation. The second book, "The Wise Man's Fear" was just released and is wonderful as well. It may be a few years before the next one comes out, but it is definitely worth the wait.

  • Game of Thrones is right at the top of the best series I've ever watched.  I'm already drooling for next season.

    It's great to know it comes from such an amazing, abundant sourcework.  

    Hopefully there's MUCH, MUCH more to come!

  • I'm astounded to see these books recommended on a website dedicated to most things Disney.  I'm reading a Dance with Dragons now, as well, and I've never read a more depressing series of books in my life.  Evil and death roam freely in the land and let's face it,  there's a rape every second page.  Whores, whores, and more whores, brutal and sadistic mutilations, infanticide, incest, and all those things you never read in Lord of the Rings.  Disney wouldn't touch these books with Pinocchio's nose  Even the house biographies should be rated 18 or over.  Adult books by any definition, so keep out of reach of your literate children.

  • I like this book. It's a little inconvenient but it's okay. I love the content of it.

  • Excellent! This one is breath taking, really superb summarization and perfect charm. So you’ve got a lovely little blog supporting your life style, you’re posting often, and you’ve found a wisdom of balance between being too domestic and too controversial for your topics. I will wait for your upcoming blogs, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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