Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book(s) Review: "A Song of Ice & Fire" (Spoiler Free!)

I finally finished "A Dance With Dragons!"

I say finally because it took me an epically long time to read it. And before that, it was the four books before it: "A Game of Thrones," "A Clash of Kings," "A Storm of Swords" and "A Feast for Crows."

It was a long journey, reading five long epic fantasy books, but I'm glad I did. In fact, I'm already anxiously awaiting the next book in the series!

"A Song of Ice & Fire," the series by George R.R. Martin, tells the epic tale of the lands of Westeros and Essos. It's a tale many people are familiar with because the novels are being turned into a really great HBO series, "Game of Thrones." In fact, the show is why I decided to read the books in the first place.

Martin's books are fantasy books, but it's very different from what might come to mind when you think of a fantasy novel. It kind of has a Tolkien feel in some ways - there's a lot of world-building, a lot of politics and, of course, it's a medieval fantasy setting. Martin's books are heavy on political intrigue, though, and that makes it very different from a lot of the post-Tolkien fantasy. There is magic in Westeros and Essos, but it's scarce, and most characters have no experience with it. It's really like a medieval political thriller a lot of the time. The most magical thing as the story opens is that the seasons last for an undetermined length of time, and that there's a giant wall at the northern border of Westeros.

But don't worry, there are battles and violence and thrills, and they're gritty. In fact, "gritty" is probably an excellent word for "A Song of Ice & Fire." It's not over-the-top, but when people get their heads chopped off, you're going to get some detail. This is not a fantasy fluff piece. It actually has a realistic feel.

What's really kept me going back to the "Song of Ice & Fire" books, though, is the wonderful crop of characters. There are people I absolutely LOVE and people I absolutely LOATHE and people I love to hate and people who intrigue me. The book is made up of third-person chapters, and each chapter is from the perspective of a different character. (According to Wikipedia, there are chapters featuring 31 different characters within the five books.) They grow and change and learn things and make horribly stupid decisions that make me want to strangle them.

You'll also hear from people who have read these books that Martin likes to kill his characters. Let me tell you, he does, and sometimes it's been a BIG surprise when it happens. There have been deaths throughout the course of the series that I have really felt. It makes for a great read when you care that much.

"A Song of Ice & Fire" is not always easy to read. The characters, even the likeable ones, can be pretty brutal at times, and there is a lot of moral ambiguity. There are very few characters I would classify as traditionally "noble" or "honorable," and bad things tend to happen when people try to act honorable. However, one of the great thought exercises during the books is asking yourself what "honor" truly means. That theme has sparked a lot of conversations between me and my husband, who has also read (and loved) the books.

"A Song of Ice & Fire" is a tough epic fantasy read, but it's also rewarding. I am so glad that I decided to read them, even though it took a long time, and, like I said, I'm anxiously awaiting the next book in the series, "The Winds of Winter." It's definitely not going to be a book for everyone, and it's not light reading, but if you really jump into it, it's a lot of fun to read!

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