Prepare for Epic Reading: “A Song of Ice and Fire”
Everyone and their dearest mothers have watched the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO. Most people got sucked in the same way I did, after watching the incredible first 10 minutes. The show has been categorized as “Lord of the Rings for adults” or “fantasy for people who don’t like fantasy.” Game of Thrones succeeds because it deals with very plausible and realistic problems and has a better understanding of the darker side of human nature than most non-fantasy works. I became so attached to the characters and the story that I absolutely could not wait for season 2 of the HBO series to come out, so I did the next best thing: I went to the source material, the book series titled A Song of Ice and Fire. The television series has a huge audience, but it seems that many fewer people have taken up the task of reading the novels because of their astounding length. Therefore, I have written this article to prepare those debating whether or not to undertake a reading project of epic proportion.
The first five books in the series have been released, with the sixth rumored to be released this summer. The shortest book is the first one, titled A Game of Thrones, which cashes in at approx. 700 pages, depending on the edition. The longest book is close to 1,100 pages, so these aren’t fast reads. Martin sets up each chapter with a specific character as the focal point. The chapter presents the world through the current character’s eyes and delves into that character’s thoughts and emotions. At the end of the chapter, Martin will drop that character’s story and move to a different perspective. You will quickly develop a connection to a few select characters and find yourself wanting to skip ahead to where their story picks up again. However, I do not recommend doing this since the story moves somewhat linearly, with a few exceptions. You will be set up again and again with a huge revelation at the end of a chapter, only to be left hanging for several chapters in between. This is an approach to storytelling that can be very exhausting for readers, but in the end I think the stories are stronger for it.
Be prepared for TONS of background. Like Tolkien, Martin fills the pages with lots and lots of history, anecdotes, lineage information, and descriptions that will often seem mundane and a bit unnecessary at times. However, Martin’s world is so vast that a surprising amount of the information he shares ends up serving a purpose at some point in the story. Don’t be surprised if that briefly mentioned “eldest son of the brother’s fourth cousin” ends up becoming the new claimant to the throne at some point down the line. And even if this seemingly random character is mentioned just once in an early chapter of the book, chances are Martin has already planned a full purpose for them in the overall plot.
Another tip: Martin loves describing food in such detail that reading these books while hungry is not encouraged.
Here is my final warning to all of you about to embark on your own journey into Westeros. This story will not develop the way that you expect or the way that you want it to. Main characters will die, even without their stories being finished. If you are waiting for that one cathartic moment to occur where a certain character gets vengeance against another, or a young warrior reaches their full potential, or two lovers get to run away with each other…it probably won’t happen. There are moments of triumph; there are times when you may even cheer; but for the most part these are dark books filled with much sadness and turmoil. I’ve heard that many of Martin’s fans have almost a love-hate relationship with him, expressing outrage at some of his plot choices. Now it’s possible that things will eventually come full circle by the end of the series in a more traditional way. However, those looking for a typical story arc will be hard-pressed to find it in this series. The story almost moves in a more organic fashion, where things happen that cause the characters to completely change their path. The best example of this, which will be familiar to those who have seen the series, is when a certain event occurs 3/4ths into the first season and throws everything into turmoil. That isn’t the last time something like that happens.
So for those about to take up the herculean task of reading A Song of Ice and Fire, find a warm, comfy spot, throw any and all of your expectations out the window, and get lost in world that is both fascinating and brutal. And remember…winter is coming.