Monday, December 19, 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire


This series could have been called A Song of Onions, Turnips, and the Human Nipple. I'm only kidding, but Martin did seem a bit obsessed with certain things.

Anyway, I just finished A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in this series, on Friday. I'm not really going to review the series, because, for one thing, I don't do reviews, and for another, the scope of this story is just too grand to be analyzed by me, especially when I'm not yet done absorbing everything the tale has to say.

I will talk about some writing mechanics type things that Martin does well. I won't talk about any possible weaknesses, although these books can be very frustrating at times. Mostly I want to talk about what it's like to take nearly a year to read a series, and then be nowhere closer to any kind of conclusion than you were before. This feeling is why I usually don't begin a series until it's all been published, but when I heard about HBO doing the show, I knew I'd be left with no choice.

The nice thing is, now I'll be able to read other books. It's not like I haven't read any other books while I was reading Martin, but each of the books in this series is at least 800 pages long, so there was a certain time commitment necessary to get through them all.

Anyway, this post will end up going on far too long if I try to talk about everything that comes to mind ... maybe I should turn it into a series. No, that time would be better spent on my own novel. But I do want to cover what I think is Martin's greatest strength.

There are no heroes and no villains. Just like in real life, people do not go around thinking "I'm a good guy," or "I'm a bad guy." They just don't. Some people do the right thing, because they were raised that way, or because they enjoy it, or for any number of reasons, but people don't go to war, or on missions, because they want to be a hero. Some people have less than worthwhile motives and goals, but they don't set out to be evil, just for evil's sake. They generally believe what they are doing is right, or that at least the ends justify the means.

Martin is the master are both creating and portraying both sides of the spectrum. There are absolutely no heroes and no villains in this story. The characters you begin by absolutely hating, eventually come around to earn at least some sympathy. The characters you were at first convinced were full of nothing but honor or innocence, or both, reveal their humanity soon enough.

There is one particular section, I believe it was the fourth book, in which I was so over having to read chapters from this one character's point of view, because this character was essentially reprehensible, and yet. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down.

Have you ever experienced something like that? Obviously if this would have happened earlier in the story, I probably would have given up on it, but I think the way that Martin built the plot (or lack thereof, depending on your opinion), up to the point where even reading the POV of characters you essentially hated was still fascinating. I basically have no idea how he made it work.

Wow. So this probably makes very little sense to any of you. Has anyone read these books? Seen the show? Even if you've read them, can you make any sense of my spoiler avoiding ramblings?

How bout those Kansas City Chiefs?

44 comments:

Old Kitty said...

I've only seen posters of the series - a growly raggedy Sean Bean - sigh! - (series is available on paid for tv so have not watched it) so have no idea really what this is all about. I gathered it was some heavy duty swords n sorcery with lots of swearing and xxx stuff (I hope! LOL!). But yay for you for reading the whole series! Wow! I tried doing that with Dune but gave up midway through the second book! Strange cos with LOTR - I couldn't wait to finish the trilogy - and they were pretty hefty tomes - well for me they were!

Now you got me rambling about nuffink! LOL! take care
x

farawayeyes said...

Half way through book III. I have to agree, I can't put it down even though some of the gore/sex/violence is usually more than I care to immerse myself in. Also agree that there are characters I thought completely reprehensible and beyond redemption, who turn and do the 'darnest things'.

Something I read last night reminded me sharply that so many of these characters are still children or at the very least teenagers. Therefore, they act with the ideas/lusts/intuitiveness as befits their age.

I'm interested to hear what you have to say. I am in awe of an author that has held onto me when so many parts of the whole would normally have sent me screaming into the night. (or at least shelving the tome)

Just reading the comment back, I'm sure I'm far too deep in GRRM. Ha!

vic caswell (aspiring-x) said...

i've still only read the first two, but i will read the others some day. i'm just a slow reader and your spoiler-free ramblings make perfect sense. i do think that the gritty nature of humanity that martin displays is the series best aspect as well, but i love the deep history of westeros that he has created, and his ability to crawl into so many different heads and pick the right perspective to tell scenes from. anyway... ditto, i suppose! have a lovely week! and congrats on finishing the series! you beat me for sure. :)

Christine Rains said...

I feel the same way about Martin's books. The latest book I wanted to throw against the wall a couple of times, but I couldn't stop reading. It takes a lot of talent to bring out that range of emotions in me as a reader. I met him at a convention once. He was put onto a panel about Heroes and Villains. He was angry that they did it because, as you said, he doesn't write about good guys and bad guys, just flawed people.

maine character said...

Just yesterday I saw Dragons make the NPR Best Fantasy list for the year and made a mental note to ask if you've read it yet.

salarsenッ said...

I'm unfamiliar with this series, but I have to say that creating such deep heroes and villains, so two-sided, is definitely an art form.

Oh, and football this weekend? Could it have gotten any more messy????

Jessica Bell said...

Nope, haven't read them. In fact, I don't like reading series' full stop. I want the characters I read about to change when I change books :)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i've seen the show, but only read the first book (i've been sitting on the second one for close to a year now. I haven't decided if i'll give it a read before season 2 starts in april)
Robin Hobb is another author who is very good at making no one villains or heros. Well, scratch that. There's usually a clear hero, but not really villains. I mean, in the mad ship series one of the villains rapes a MC and yet, you still love him. He does these horrible things and you jus look the other way because you love him so much.
God i love good books.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i apologize for my typos. I blame my frigid fingers

Donna K. Weaver said...

I sons LOVE this series. They even have the Game of Thrones board games that they love to play when the family gets together. I've tried to read the first book twice. I got a little farther the second time but then got worried about where GRRM was taking it and went to Wikipedia. So glad I did. lol This is not my kind of story.

It was kind of fun when suvudu.com did a cage match, pitting literary characters against each other. The final battle had Rand Al Thor from The Wheel of Time pitted against Jaime Lannister from Song of Fire & Ice (Rand won). But the authors got involved and write bits about the battle. Hilarious.

http://suvudu.com/2010/04/cage-match-2010-championship-5-rand-althor-versus-15-jaime-lannister.html

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've not read the books. I think a lack of true heroes and villains is aligns better with real life. I've always read there needs to be a villain in one's story, but there's not really one in my books, either.

Michael Offutt, Supra-Genius said...

Not a fan of Cersi eh? LOL. She would so eat you alive.

No true evil? Things get pretty close though. The Mountain is darn close to just being nasty for nasty's sake. And what about that priest that cured Jaime's stump (I forget his name) but he's obviously turned the Mountain into some kind of undead. All that screaming and weird stuff taking place in the dungeons.

For the record, I don't mind Cersi. I can't wait for Tirion to get his revenge on her. YOu know it's coming. I like the way he says, "Sweet Sister."

A Backwards Story said...

I'm waiting to read this until all seven books are out. I decided this before five had a "real" date. It's been hard now that there's a TV show everyone's talking about!!! But I will wait. I loved the way you framed this write-up. It works well!

Carolyn Abiad said...

You're so right about the villains. I do feel more sympathy for onions, and after the last book, I can even like Jaime Lannister.

And now I need to read the latest one to find out what happened to my friend Jon Snow.

Kristen Pelfrey said...

Oh, Matthew, I know you don't want to get me started. I love A Song of Ice and Fire. Warts, onions, and all. Moral ambiguity? I'm a big fan. And I have a major fiction-crush on Tyrion.

Johanna Garth said...

I've never heard of this series. I love moral ambiguity (I mean reading it about it). But I'm not sure I love the idea of picking up an 800 page book right now. Maybe in the new year...

Angela Brown said...

I read A Game of Thrones before diving into the show. I was thrilled the HBO series stayed rather close to the book, though it took some liberties as is expected of the big or small screen.
I read the second book and been in a slow state with the third one. The lost it's bite for me when my fave was taken from me in book one.
I see what you mean about the heros and villians thing, though I must say that one certain female could disappear and I really wouldn't miss her at all.

Cursed Armada said...

This is only the second series that I have "Re-read", and it's almost better the second time around. (Really long though) I love this series and it's so near and dear to my heart. I thought the show was brilliant and can't wait for season 2! I'm almost done with A Storm of Swords, then A Feast for Crows, then A DANCE WITH DRAGONS!!! Rumor has it there are like 3 really good cliffhangers and so far I haven't run into them on the web... Okay, gotta head back to my re-read;)

Joe Lunievicz said...

I agree that Martin is masterful at the epic approach to his work and the way he is able to draw the humanity out of his characters from bad to worse and good to indifferent. They are mesmerizing in their range and in how some of them change.

That said, I loved the first two books but haven't been able to finish the third. I couldn't wait for the human side of some characters to be revealed. I just didn't want to read about them. It made me want to skip ahead to another point of view in another chapter. And since, if I'm going to read a book I'll read every word on every page, I put it down and figured I'd wait and see if the urge to finish it came back to me at a later date. It hasn't so far, but I also haven't seen the HBO series yet and watching that may change my mind.

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

I've held off watching A Game of Thrones until I read at least a couple of the books. After reading this, I'm glad I did.

Melody said...

Whoa, no heroes and no villains? This is interesting, and now that I've considered the idea, I like it very much. I may have to see what can be done about possibly using this concept in my WiP...

Also, the Chiefs rock. :)

Andrew Leon said...

I have no plans to read those books. -Maybe- if he finished the series before he dies, I'll consider it, but I'm not getting sucked into another Jordan/Wheel of Time thing considering how that ended up.

However, I do say I have to disagree with you about your assessment of people. Most people actually do go around telling themselves they that they're a "good" guy. They may not think of themselves as a hero, but they definitely catagorize themselves as "good" or "basically good." If they didn't, they wouldn't be able to function through all of the selfish crap they do -all- the time. Even Hitler thought he was doing the right thing and making the world a better place.
And you'd be surprised at the number of people that do consider themselves "bad." Mostly younger people who have grown up with parents telling them that they're bad or no good, but they still form an opinion of themselve as bad and will often choose to do the wrong thing because of this. I've worked with enough teenagers to have seen this in action.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I think is contemporary fiction, blurring the lines between villain and hero makes more sense. In the more imaginative genres, I think readers crave a definite line, at least at some point in the text.

LTM said...

LOL! "Song of onions, turnips, and the human nipple" ... *snort* :D

I have two friends here who are in love w/these books. They just make my eyes glaze over. Surprised? ;p

I'm a big fan of the "no hero, no villain" concept. It's very Shakespearean. Sort of. You know what I mean, though. Even the bad guys have a backstory-motive. It makes for more realistic characters.

You're so funny. Merry Christmas! :o) <3

mshatch said...

I haven't read the latest (waiting for paperback) but I adored the first four. And I think what I love/hate the most about the series is the fact that no one is safe. No matter how much you like them.

Laurita said...

I just started the second book in the series. The lack of true heroes or villians is something I have already noticed. So much better than the flawless hero vs super villian.

Also, onions, turnips and the human nipple made me snort too. :D

Jemi Fraser said...

Hate to say it, but I haven't even heard of this series before!

I like the sound of the characters though - 'real' people making choices really is fascinating :)

Wendy said...

A friend of mine asks me on a weekly basis if I've started the series yet. And I really want to, I DO. But I know as soon as I do it will be nearly the only thing I am reading and will suck out my brain. I don't have time for my brain to be sucked out! I need it for working... for revisions... for remembering when to pick my kids up at school.

Adam Heine said...

"The characters you were at first convinced were full of nothing but honor or innocence, or both, reveal their humanity soon enough."

Or they die...

Ted Cross said...

You know my opinion already; I think Martin is the greatest living fantasy author, and he's the reason I actually began typing out my first story. I've read the series through three times already, and I expect to do so again once I get the latest one (when it comes out in paperback).

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Haven't read these books, but you make me want to. It's not often a book can make me keep reading when there's chapter after chapter with a reprehensible sort of character's POV.

Joshua said...

I suppose I should get around to reading the series sometime, huh?

Bryan Russell said...

I have a love/hate relationship with this series. Ambivalence! I keep reading them, though. Waiting for the latest one in paperback...

Misha Gericke said...

I don't want to watch the series without reading the books and I haven't had the time or money needed to track down and read the series.

But I have heard both good and bad about it, so I want to read it myself so that I can decide for myself.

Christina Lee said...

Wow!!! Only number one--will probably red along with the series, so glad there were no spoilers! Still upset about Sean Bean (yeah I know, get over it already)!!!

Melissa Bradley said...

I have been hearing so much about this series, but I have not been able to read it yet. But, I love stories where everyone just is, with no clear cut villains, heroes, etc.

Don't have HBO so have not seen the series, either. Wow am I under a rock or what?

And yes, Yay Chiefs!! As a Bears fan I LOVE when the Pack falls.

DEZMOND said...

just stopping by to wish you lovely Christmas holidays, hope you will have time for some festive fun.

Elizabeth Wentworth said...

I just finished the series and thoroughly enjoyed all the books, but have to disagree with you on the "no heroes or villains" front. Although this may have been true at the series' beginning, and was a big selling point for me, I think there's been a slow change as the story progressed to the point where I would argue that all of the current main POV characters can be thought of as protagonists, or at least as sympathetic characters (perhaps with the exception of Cersei).

Another slow change was the feeling of "no character is safe" (a huge 'theme' after the climax of book 1). Apart from the obvious major losses in books 1 and 3, most of the main cast has miraculously survived multiple brushes with death. There were times when it felt as though every second chapter ended with a "is s/he dead or not?!" cliffhanger.

Like I said, I definitely enjoyed the series so I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but I did notice this gradual change in the tone of aspects of the book which have been touted as the very thing that makes the series so unique and magnificent. But maybe it's just me. Any other thoughts?

-B

Angela Ackerman said...

Hmm, I haven't read this series, but I do love Sean Bean. Even if I don't have time to read the series, I'll keep an eye out for the show.

Have an excellent Christmas, Matt. I hope Santa spoils you and you have a relaxing time with your family. :)

Angela

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Elizabeth. Perhaps I should clarify? I don't think there's any question that there are some true, pure villains - Ramsay Snow/Bolton, for example, but I think what I meant is that none of the POV characters are as simple as I thought at first. When Jamie, for example, first started getting his own chapters, I was disgusted, because I thought he was a character I would never sympathize with. But then, I did.

That, I think, is Martin's genius.

Tina said...

Chiefs huh? I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on that one. Die-hard Bronco fan here. Through mediocrity to fame and glory, to a horrid (decade? is that possible?) post-Elway time. So what do I get for my patience, my loyalty? An effing great, entertaining season. I've got my seatbelt on tight.
Oh, but yeah, we weren't really talking football...I like how you put this review together. I don't like reviews which spend too much time on the plot, that I want to find out for myself. But you had me at the whole POV issue. I find myself in bookstores, asking about POV in some novel I'm considering, and it distresses me to no end when they say, "Um, what do you mean?" Sigh. It's almost as bad as cashiers who can't make change.
I popped over to say hi as a fellow co-host of the 2012 A-Z Challenge. Looking forward to hosting this party with you.
Tina @ Life is Good

C D Meetens said...

I don't know anything about these books, but I can relate to reading in the POV of a character I'd rather not... and still not being able to put the books down. I found Ken Follett's "Jackdaws" a bit like that with one of the characters. Again, a character you might see as a villain had motivations for everything.

The Golden Eagle said...

I have the first book in this series out from the library. I've heard mixed things about these books, but I'm intrigued to know just what they're like.

Nancy Thompson said...

Happy holidays, Matthew! Thanks for your help with my query!