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Let’s have a think about Game of Thrones

April 12, 2012

I have not posted for exactly a month, which is about how long it takes a normal person to fight their way through George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. The first book, not the television series or all the books in The Song of Fire and Ice.

It’s a book I bought six months ago. It didn’t grab me immediately, and I stopped before Bran fell. So, pretty early. It didn’t grab me. I picked it up again about half a month ago, and I finished it this time, being much more “into” fantasy at this point. I was goaded into it by one of my housemates, who absolutely loves the series to the point that our wireless router is named after the Stark’s ancestral home. Ironically, I have another housemate who utterly hates the series. Fun times.

I fall in between. I like the concept: a grand fantasy epic drawing more on political intrigue than on mystery. I like how he tells the story: there’s little emphasis on world building because we can imagine a typical medieval setting. The characters are, all told, nicely drawn and pretty human. It’s a good story, a good world, and it is fearlessly told: Martin does bad things to good people all the time, and most impressively he doesn’t paint the “villains” as bad people. In fact, the character most people identify with is one of them. Handy, that.

Where I struggled with the book was the writing. Simply put, Martin is pretty ordinary as a stylist, and I think that’s giving him more credit than I’d like. I don’t remember a single passage from the book as better than workmanlike. Sure, it’s hard to be impressive in an 800 page book, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Martin’s got a grand plan, I’m sure, but the book featured altogether too many stories, too many characters, and too many ideas that didn’t need to be present. In the beginning, especially, this is a problem: Martin spends about half the book setting up events that would eventually happen, skipping between stories that are all in their first act, all in different places. Around page 200 I wanted to give up, because everything was just a mush of people and places. I didn’t care about a lot of the characters. I liked the characters everyone likes (Tyrion, Jon, Arya, even Dany) but the other chapters tired me out. It’s hard to care about fictional politics when you barely know what’s happening and when the writing isn’t stellar.

That said, it got me towards the end for plot reasons. Characters made decisions I didn’t expect. Martin was rarely cheap or gratuitous (sure, there were a lot of breasts and a lot of beheadings–one of my major problem with the man’s writing–but he never lingered on things for effect) and the story picked up. I was invested, not through writerly trick but by the fact that I’d read this many pages. Which is a trick, in and of itself.

Also, my favorite character was Tywin Lannister, and I assume this is a sign of some strange mental defect. The scene at the end with him and Tyrion was my favorite in the book, because here’s this man making decisions and you understand them without getting inside his head. My biggest issue with the writing was how much Martin used, “He thought this needed his attention. It was important.” Every time I read that I shook my head. Because come on, how lazy can you get?

I’m excited to read the next book, though. I probably won’t immediately: I’ve got some other books (Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue; Patrick Rothfuss’ fun imitation The Name of the Wind (p.s. he has the goofiest Wikipedia picture; I look like him, a little bit, with beard); Ben Marcus’ insane “Notable American Women” (I ADORE books with the author as narrator, for no reason); and some other book I’m less excited about because I forgot its name). But I’m getting to Martin.

I also want to play the Board Game. You know, the big, betrayal filled one.

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