Book Review: Song of Ice and Fire (1-5)


Someone said in a review about this book series that the author, George R.R. Martin is America’s Tolkien.  On that recommendation, and the popularity of the HBO series based on the books, I decided to see what the fuss was about.

And that’s about where it started going wrong.  The problem is that when I start a book series, I have to finish it, especially if the books are already out.  I bought the first four books in the series for my Reader in a cheap bundle, so I had to read the first four books.  And then I had to get and read the fifth book because it was out.  It’s the same problem I had with the “Eragon” series.

So anyway, I hate the books.  Oh, they’re addictive, this is true.  I have to keep reading them, as much as it irritates me.  One chapter after another with no reprieve from the court intrigue and amateurish war stratagems.  Oh, the paranoia and the childish spats between the big important people.  And make sure you don’t get attached to any characters.  I can almost guarantee that the ones you like and are rooting for are going to die, right before they manage to fix the whole problem.  Like clockwork, even.  All it takes is one person to be upstanding and find a way to heal the land and, above all, END THE DAMN SERIES, and they get assassinated by someone when they were supposed to be safe among friends.  There’s also those times when the author “tricks” you into thinking that some main character is dead.  You know this is a trick because you aren’t there when it happens.  Martin wants to bring the tragedy right to you, put the death in your head first hand.  So if the death is heard about rather than narrated, it’s almost always a fake.

The funny thing is, that doesn’t limit the number of characters that can be offed, since just about every character narrates.  I didn’t keep track while I was reading the books, but I did a quick count on Wikipedia (from the character list) and got lost around 15.  Every chapter is narrated by a different character, without any sort of order that I could find.  It didn’t follow topical or chronological sequence.  Most of the time it just picks up where the narrator left off the last time.  Which would be great if you didn’t have to keep 15 story lines straight over a thousand pages of twisted conspiracy.  It’s complete information overload.  Every chapter starts out with a reintroduction to the narrator and the plot that they’re dealing with, as well as a lengthy introduction to a list of other characters that will be important or completely circumstantial to the chapter.  It’s never just a list of names.  Many of them get detailed descriptions and almost all of them get their standards and arms described.  I’m sure that’s fascinating for many people.  Ah, yes, there’s that guy with his wispy beard and runny nose.  And you know it’s that guy because he’s got on a green velvet shirt with pink slashing and a rose with four thorns quartered with two headless horses on his cloak.  Wow.  I get it.  Martin made a deep study of armor, weaponry, and banners.  It’s a classic mistake.  Paolini, the author of Eragon, bored the pants off me in his third book when he spent several pages showing me that he did a lot of research on how to forge a sword.  Tom Clancy does the same thing when he gets into the technical details in his books (though he rarely wastes a whole chapter on such folly).

Now, some might say that Tolkien does the same thing with the language and history in his books.  They may be correct.  I am biased.  I see the details that he infuses in his stories as adding to the depth of the overall epic.  If Martin does that at all, it is in his brief snatches of “ancient” lore that he drops at random.  There are apparently thousands of years of history for him to draw from when the current story isn’t very interesting.  The illusion of history certainly doesn’t hurt the books.  What he has failed to do is create a complete history.  He just kind of makes it up as he goes along.  That might work if you are just doing a short story or a stand alone novel.  I don’t think it works with a seven book series where each book is between 800 and 1,000 pages.

I will read the last two books, to see if he can actually wrap up this behemoth.  I pity my husband because he will have to hear me rant about the indecent comparison between a master linguist’s life’s work and a man who has to infuse his story with smut to keep the reader interested.  Yeah, I forgot to mention the sex.  I am aware that sex is something that happens among adults.  I am also aware that it can be a great experience and that it has been used by men and women as a tool for control.  I am tired of seeing it and reading about it because that sex is a fairytale.  Sex is not always a world shattering activity.  In fact, sometimes it’s disappointing, depressing, and even anticlimactic.  In books and movies, it’s either immensely satisfying for both parties or the woman is being raped (whether by a soldier or her drunk husband).  Occasionally, the man (read: young boy, effeminate man) is the victim.  It’s rare, but it happens, probably just to keep things fair.

To wrap this up, too many characters to keep track of, too many sinister plots, too much repetition (otherwise, how can you expect to follow the stories?), too much smut.  I don’t read books for smut.  It’s why I can’t get into any of the Kim Harrison books or the “Fifty Shades of Grey” fad.  I want a story.  I want a world I can get lost in and yearn to return to.  And I can get that without having to sit through yet another hot lesbian sex scene, thank you very much.

This is all just my opinion, however.  By all means, read the series yourself and give me your insights.  I welcome other opinions and view points.  I will be cleansing my literary palette with “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Book Review: Song of Ice and Fire (1-5)

  1. Gage

    This made me sad. I suppose I just don’t have as big a problem as you do with having a lot of characters. I like him having so many characters in the series, and his willingness to kill them. I don’t like that they die, but I like that noone is safe. I don’t think the deaths are “clockwork” really. There have been a few that I saw coming, but for the most part it seems relatively surprising. I figured you’d like these books much more than you did.

    I think “The American Tolkien” is a fair assessment, but I hate the LOTR series (did a lot for the fantasy genre of course, but I hate it so much). I think everyone should start calling Martin “G.R.R Martin.”

    Will there be more book reviews in the future? As sad as I am that you didn’t enjoy the books, the review was good, and I really enjoy reading book reviews for some reason.

    • Thank you for reading this, first off. It is very gratifying to me when people take the tome to do so.

      That being said, I understand why you liked the books. There is a lot to like about them, especially if you aren’t of an LOTR bent. I like Tolkien’s work so much that I can’t read Epic Fantasy without some degree of snobbish scorn. I am exceptionally biased. The smut is something that I’ve been complaining about for a while, and not just in books.

      I do plan on doing many more book reviews whenever I have the time.

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