Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

The Song of Ice and Fire series is one that has changed my life.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

In this review I will be considering the first four books of the series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows. As of this date, these are the only published novels in the series.

A little backstory on how I came across this book. At that point in my life I was quite young, though I was beginning to discover my love for fantasy. At this point in my life my favorite fantasy book series was the Sword of Truth series, by Terry Goodkind (my opinions on this book have changed vastly since, but that's a review for another day). Anyway, all I knew about the book can be summed up in a nutshell through this review, which was the most influential review I read, even though it was not the only one. At that time, however, I did not want to read books with gray characters, and characters who could die. I wanted a hero to root for. So, I dismissed the book, even though all reports agreed that Martin was a masterful writer.

Then, as it happened, I went to the 'fantasy' section of my local bookstore. And saw 'A Game of Thrones.' Now, note that I don't generally find quality fantasy books in the local bookshops here, and definitely not the ones I read about online. I usually have to specially order those from America. So, overjoyed at finding the book and not wanting to miss out on a chance to read it (after all, it might disappear anytime from the bookstore) I just bought it on an impulse.

It is said that it is seemingly simple moments that change your life. So, so true.

Remember how I mentioned above that a lot of people had said that George R.R. Martin is a masterful writer? Well, they were all completely right. I was hooked on from the first page of the prologue, which, unlike most prologues, puts you right in the middle of the action. Before I knew it, I was on a ranging mission at the end of the world. George R.R. Martin is amazing at the use of point-of-view. He can, in a span of a few pages, make you see things from the flawed world view of a character. His narrators are unreliable. They lie. They often see things the way they want to. They are wrong. They make mistakes. They have to face consequences.

They are, in short, completely human.

George R.R. Martin gives you a medieval world, full of warring families. At the start of the book, owing to the large number of characters from the Stark family who are narrators, you get the false impression that these are the heroes of the story, and that nothing bad can happen to them. Boy, are you wrong. George R.R. Martin puts you in the world of a million different characters, some nice, most horrible, and makes you walk a few hundred miles in their shoes, and leaves you supporting a hundred different characters on different sides of a brutal war. You are put right in the middle of the action, without a word of explanation, and forced to experience the world of these characters.

And that world is not at all like earth.

Martin builds a world that is both cruel and beautiful. Westeros has a rich, developed culture, full of legends and art and religions. It is not a place where I would want to live. It is not even a place I would want to visit. It is a hard place, full of hard people, and winters that can last ten years, and dead people coming walking in the night. But it is a real, breathing world, and through the pages of this book you can fall into it. Martin does not write about large faceless armies. Martin writes about people. People you have seen living, and people whom you would mourn to see dead.

This is not a book for those who are weak. It is full of violence, and cruelty, and about all the darkest facets of a medieval world. Martin will not talk about brutality done to faceless peasants, he will put you in the shoes of that peasant and let you watch his friends and family die. Characters you love will die. It will seem like its only the bad guys who are winning. You will start to lose your faith in human nature as you watch worse and worse things happening. You will start to feel some despair as good people become bad in order to survive the horror of what is happening.

To some it up best is a quote from the book - "In the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."

But from the midst of this despair will come one more shining hero. You will be put into the perspective of another character and you will start to see him or her trying to do good, and you will rejoice. You will see some of the bad guys get what's coming to them. You will start to feel hopeful again. You will start rooting for some of the people again, hoping for a happy ending, hoping for some happiness to come to all your favorite characters.

That is, of course, until Martin kills another character.

Read the Song of Ice and Fire series if you like fantasy. Read it if you dont. Read it if you like conventional fantasy or brutal fantasy. Read it whether or not you have ever read anything like this before. Read it to expand your horizons, to find something new, and to get the experience of your life. Read it so you know just how good it can really get. Then re-read the book. Expect to find something new on your first (and third, and twenty-third, and seventy-fifth) re-read. Then read some crackpot (and some very interesting) theories on an online forum and then re-read the books again.

I guarantee that the Song of Ice and Fire series will change your perspective on your life.

Last words: No matter what kind of books you like, you have to pick up at least 'The Game of Thrones'. Because otherwise, you'll be forever depriving yourself of something both beautiful and touching.

Some great links: A Blog of Ice and Fire (a fan reading the books offers funny insights into each of the chapters...loads of fun to read while you're reading the books yourself); George R. R. Martin's 'Not A Blog' which tells you more about the author; Details on the HBO show based on this series.


  1. Sword of truth sucked. It was good for a few books but then you realized that the hero is an idiot and make the same mistakes over and over and over again.

  2. Ugh, I totally agree. Not to mention that the author kept becoming preachier and preachier. And kept introducing characters who I couldn't bring myself to care about. And made the main characters even more perfect than they already were. I think I gave up after the seventh book.

  3. Martin does not write about large faceless armies. Martin writes about people.

    Brilliant :)

    Sums up the masterpiece in two lines.

  4. Hey Gautham,

    Thank you so much for reading. I think you identified the best two lines quite correctly. Martin's glory as a writer is to show you the human aspect of battle.

  5. Wow! This sounds really interesting! Have to keep an eye out for this series!


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