Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Song of Ice and Fire - The First Four Books: Overrated?

There is no getting around the huge success of this series. And therefore I of course must chip in with the few things I have to say about it. So far I have only read the first four books so you must excuse me if I am not entirely up to date.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones
A Song of Ice and Fire #1
by George R.R. Martin
Published by Voyager, 1996
780 pages. £8.99 UK

The first book in the series is a bit slow to get properly started. It focuses heavily on introducing the reader to the universe and the characters as well as preparing the scene for the all the things that are going to happen later on. That being said it is well written and the characters are believable and sympathetic (most of them, at least). By the end of it you know that you absolutely have to continue with the next book.

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)A Clash of Kings
A Song of Ice and Fire #2
by George R.R. Martin
Published by Voyager, 1998
873 pages. £8.99 UK

The second book takes over where 'A Game of Thrones' left off and the story is now getting more intricate. I should maybe have given this one five stars, it is an excellent read full of unexpected turns and twists, but in retrospect I think it pales a little in comparison to the third book. Still I think it is more of a page turner than its prequel.

A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow (A Song of Ice and Fire #3, Part 1 of 2)Steel and Snow
A Storm of Swords #1
A Song of Ice and Fire #3
by George R.R. Martin
Published by Voyager, 2000
569 pages. £8.99 UK

A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold (A Song of Ice and Fire #3, Part 2 of 2)Blood and Gold
A Storm of Swords #2
A Song of Ice and Fire #3
by George R.R. Martin
Published by Voyager, 2000
554 pages. £8.99 UK

The third book of 'A Song of Ice and Fire' is unquestionably me favourite so far, and so the fact that it is divided into two separate books due to its great lenght is just wonderful. Here the story definitely takes a turn down a darker path. The war is getting bloodier and so is the politics. I found it very hard to put either of these two books down. I think I swallowed them up over the course of a single week (being a slow reader this really says something) and I have to admit, though grudgingly mind you, that it moved me to tears upon several occasions. If you are not going to read the whole series at least do yourself the favour of getting to this one before you stop.

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)A Feast for Crows
A Song of Ice and Fire #4
by George R.R. Martin
Published by Voyager, 2005
778 pages. £8.99 UK

As you can see from my rating this book was a great dissapointment to me. I will not say that it is bad, because George Martin really knows how to write, unfortunately the plot just grows way too stagnant during this book. Nothing happens. At all. Through the entire book. Nothing, but crows eating the flesh of dead men and the living men wandering aimlessly about. Well, more or less. It is just one long misery about how broken down and battered the world and the characters have become from the war and everything else.

A Song of Ice and Fire: Overrated?

I have said a few things about the individual books, now I want to say something more general about the series as whole (so far as I have read of course). While I have enjoyed most of the books genuinely I do think that the series is way too overrated. It has been hyped way out of proportions.

The thing George Martin is really good at is picking out interesting bits and pieces and succesfully sticking them together with the glue that is his excellent sense for writing.

The thing that he is not extraordinarily good at, after my humble opinion, is originality. There is not really that much within his universe that I feel I have not seen before somewhere else. In fact, there came a point where I felt I was just reading one huge rip off of other things.

I should probably come with an example for the sake of my argument, though I will not go to great lenghts discussing this point.

Take the  Dothraki for instance. Compare them to the Mongols of the 13th/14th century. The similarity is striking. Every time Khal Drogo was mentioned I just kept thinking "oh, there is Genhgis Khan again" - okay maybe not exactly like that, but the resemblance is obvious. A bit too obvious for my taste.

Don't get me wrong, Genghis Khan and the empire he established were fascinating, I am happy that someone should take that up. I loved every chapter set among the Dothraki people. And I think a great lot of other people feels the same way.

In fact I will take the time to recommend to all lover of the Dothraki the great historical fiction series 'Conqueror' by Conn Iggulden. It tells a most fascinating tale about Genghis Khan and his way towards becoming the ruler of a massive empire. Now, I don't know whether George Martin has read it or not, but some of the things I stumbled upon in 'A Game of Thrones' makes me strongly suspect that he has.

It is all well and good that people are enjoying this series (I know I am too!) and it has contributed greatly to a rising enthusiasm for the genre. When that is said it just saddens me that other more original works of fantasy do not get to have the same kind of attention.

For me the 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series is by no means the best High Fantasy literature out there, though it is certainly far above average.

Some of the reason for the success of this series might just be the fact that alot of the things seem familiar to the readers, that they already from the very beginning can relate to it. Another possible explanation is that this series has managed to draw a lot of readers that do not normally read a lot of high fantasy and to those I can only say this: I really hope that you will delve further into the genre and see that there is much more to it than just A Song of Ice and Fire and the Lord of the Rings. Go deeper. For your own sakes, because it will be worth your while.

There are A LOT of POV characters in this series. Sometimes it is nice with the variation; George Martin has been very successful in creating a distinctive narrative voice for each of the characters. At other points, though, it can be a bit annoying when it is one of your least favourite characters' chapter and you are just sitting around impatiently waiting for the damn thing to end so you can get on with the part of the story that you are interested in. Of course it is like that with all books that have a variety of POV's. In the end the story would not have been as full without it.

It is the many different voices that makes the world seem so real, so tangible. They all have their own part in the story, their own motives and their own relations to the bigger events. Most of the characters are really well developed and fairly easy to indetify yourself with in one way or the other.

In my final over all opinion I will let it suffice to say that this is definitely not a series to miss out on, but neither is it the one great series that deserves all the hype the world is giving it.

I can only hope that the fifth book will bring the plot back on track because I would hate to have to struggle to such a two volume book the way I forced myself through 'A Feast for Crows'. I will report back to you on that when I have read it, of course.


  1. I felt the same way about Feast for Crows, not his best work. The Characters all seem to march backwards into sorrow and complacency and very little of interest happens.

  2. I think GRRM's biggest strength is his characters. They're raw and gritty and morally ambiguous.

    A Feast for Crows is definitely rough to get through, but the latest book gets back on track thankfully.

  3. Personally, while I think that A Song of Ice and Fire is not exactly overrated, it falls close into that territory.

    I liked the first three books, but A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons were hilariously bad compared to the first three books.

    A lot of the Fantasy is pretty cliché, though that doesn't bother me too much. I think we complain a little too much about "clichés". To me, it's only "cliché" or a "rip-off" when it's done badly, when it's done well, it's "inspired" or the clichés are "tropes" .

    The characters start off well in the beginning, but they begin to stagnate as the plot furthers. Most of them aren't overly interesting, but they can still hold up well.

    In my opinion, the things that make it seem so amazing are exaggerated. Such as:

    The Plot- While seems complex, it really isn't as complex as everyone thinks it is. It's just the medieval history with some Dune and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn mixed together and not as well written. It tries though really hard (I can respect it for that, since I'm an aspiring writer). I feel like he's focused too much on relating his world to medieval history what its ridiculous.

    The fact that it's grittier than most children's fantasy isn't a big deal. And it does not automatically equate good writing. Hell, Redwall, Hellblazer, Elric of Melnibone, and Lovecraft's works were dark but still much better writing. (Though it is important to note that ASOIAF was written in the 90's, when everyone was doing this)

    The characters aren't that morally ambiguous for me. It's still pretty clear where they lie. Though that doesn't mean that there aren't morally ambigious characters.