A Favorite Fantasy Series--So Far...

A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones / A Clash of Kings / A Storm of Swords / A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin

This is a series that I've heard compared to Tolkien--but really has a completely different feel than <i>Lord of the Rings</i> and I'm not sure if in the end it will compare in classic status--some of that depends on how strong the series as a whole stands up when completed. It's certainly told in a much more intimate, straightforward way than Tolkien. Martin's narrative skills are top-notch, but I wouldn't call him lyrical or poetic. His characters are more rounded and moving than Tolkien's legendary figures. And God knows, Martin's female characters are much, much stronger--among the strongest I've read in fantasy. I once saw a clip of Martin being interviewed. He was asked how is it he writes such strong women characters. His answer was priceless--that he had always thought of women as people.

He also though paints a very gritty dark world. Not fairy-tale dark with Dark Lords--but one that reads more often like historical fiction, even horror than high fantasy--knights and ladies notwithstanding. Supposedly this series is inspired by the English War of the Roses between the Lancasters and the Yorks. You can even see that in the names of two opposing families focused upon, the Lannisters and the Starks. But it's not as if it's a one to one correspondence in characters or plot points--that might be a launch off point, but there's nothing predictable in the twists and turns of plot here. Martin doesn't hesitate to be cruel to his characters, and it can be unsettling. If you want your guaranteed happily ever after--well, I suspect this isn't your series. No one is safe. But that does mean the stakes are higher, and when a character you care about is in danger, you're at the edge of your seat, because you know it matters--terrible things <i>can</i> happen.

However, I do have some concerns about where Martin is going--beyond the fear favorite characters are not going to make it to the end alive, let alone happy. There was over five years between the fourth and fifth books which was finally published a couple of years ago. Supposedly Martin has shared with producers of the HBO series based on the books his end game--so that does give me some hope we'll get a resolution, one way or another. But it might not be for a long, long time. And I haven't read the latest book yet that comes after these <i>Dances with Dragons</i>, but people whose reviews I respect claim it's a mess, and I know from the book preceding, <i>A Feast of Crows</i> that he basically split the manuscript for that in two, and not chronologically, but by character so they overlap. I don't think that choice is entirely successful even with that book. But I'll say this--I've gotten through literally thousands of pages of this series--and I wasn't bored and I still care.