I have mentioned before that I had made several attempts at reading the GoT series of books after having become addicted to the HBO show based on them. I felt that the first two books – A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings – were interesting, but lacked some depth in the character development. A Storm of Swords started to really draw me in as more of the backstory and the outside factors started to be drawn – meaning that I understood more of the importance of the Iron Islands, the Land-Beyond-The-Wall, and the politics of Westeros but also increasingly of the interaction and commerce with Essos. It turned out that A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons run in parallel up to a point after which aDwD takes us to several cliffhangers as we wait for the next volume: The Winds of Winter.
I found that Martin’s writing improved immensely with the last two books and that the psychological portrayals were far more intriguing and realistic. The evolution of Jaime from a vain, incestuous prick into a wounded but far more human character was excellent as we learned the real story of how he got the name Kingslayer and more backstory on the demise of the Targaryans. The old favorites of John Snow, Sansa Stark, and Arya Stark – the only survivors of that royal family now – continued to evolve but with no hope of ever seeing each other again [SPOILER ALERT] particularly with the tragic happenings at the very end of aDwD. There are truly a myriad of characters and I did feel a bit lost at times. If you feel a bit lost, try the http://awoiaf.westeros.org which is a treasure trove of story covering all the published novels and where the TV adaptation diverges from them. I love all the bad guys too: Melisandre (but is she good or bad?), Joffroy (who gets his just deserts finally), Cersei (who seems to be getting hers based on the last King’s Landing events in aDwD), Ramsey Bolton (and we thought that Joffroy was twisted – he is a puppy compared to Ramsey!), and Varys (if you thought he was a good guy, wait until the very, very end of aDwD!). I found that Theon/Reek was PAINFUL to read about but based on the extract of WoW at the end of DwD, I think that his trials are to end soon at Stannis’ hands. And, my very favorite and most unlikely hero Tyrion has been fun to read about. I am curious to see how his alliance with the sellswords will work out…It was awesome to see Dany finally ride Drogon and I am curious to see what happens in her meeting with Khal Jhodo. I suspect that they will ally to crush both the Yonkish and Astaporian armies. I equally like some of the lesser characters that have been so fun: Davos Seaworth, Jorah Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Strong Belwas…there are so many but each does seem to stand out in their own ways.
As to my former query about craft vs art and as to whether it is justified to compare this work to that of Tolkein, I think that Martin earned his stripes with these last two books. I think that the descriptions of the Weeping Wall (and the Wilding assault!), life in Mereen, the geography of Westeros and Essos in general, Bran’s wildwood experience – all of these were great writing and the universe here is deep, consistent and inherently interesting. As mentioned above, the character development does avoid stereotypes now for the most part and the action is always surprising and innately fun. To Tolkein’s credit, the style of The Hobbit – while simpler than Lord of the Rings – drew me more quickly into the universe. That being said, there were old three more volumes to go and nothing after that – about 1500 pages in all. The fact that I have read nearly 5000 pages and there are certainly 1200-1400 to go at least definitely keeps my interest brimming. If one aspect of art is to transport and transform one’s world and draw us into an alternate reality, that has certainly been mastered here by Martin. If I try to step back and compare this world with Western history (particularly medieval history but also modern history), I draw several conclusions: (1) some have criticized the books as pessimistic and overly violent but when you see the violence that actually existed in the middle ages, it is probably not far from realistic in depicting the chaos following the fall of Rome up to the consolidation of power into the kingdoms in France and England where pillage, torture, and rape were all sadly commonplace (2) the religious battles between the “old” religions from, say, the Wildlings or the First Men versus the Religion of the Seven vs. R’hllor vs The Many-Faced God is not all that different from the incursion of Christianity (where the fervour and violent burning of non-believers does recall the blind violence of the Inquisition) clashing with the animist religions that were present in Europe – the strange and as yet not understood religion of the menhirs and Stonehenge, the Celtic religion, the various animist traditions…all of these were crushed over time into obedience to the Church in one for or another…does this mean that R’hllor will triumph over all as well and save Westeros from the Others? (3) the fact that ALL of the conflicts are about money and power has unfortunately not changed in our world at all – Westeros is being manipulated at a distance by Illyrio back in Pentos (with his super agent Varys infiltrating the court at King’s Landing and everywhere else) and even the Crows have to reach out to Braavos to get financial relief on the Wall. Yes, there are the Others and the coming winter, but with enough money from Essos, adequate supplies could be laid away – incessant civil war notwithstanding. All of this is of course similar to our world’s dependence on global petroleum and banking.
All in all, I am THOROUGHLY enjoying the book series and the TV series and finding that it is far deeper and more complex than at the first superficial level that I read into it. How about you, have you been dragged into the world of Westeros yet? Do you prefer the books or the TV show? Let me know in the comments.