Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Song of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin

I'm working on a new (to me) series by George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire. There are 4 books in the saga thus far, with Martin working on a 5th at present. I love finding a good series after it is well underway so that I can postpone the agony of waiting for the next in the series for awhile at least.

The first book is called A Game of Thrones. Briefly, it's set in a world of Martin's own making, based loosely on feudal European society, with not a lot of technology, most land transport based on horsepower and most sea transport based on wind supplemented by oar, and smallish societal units built around a government of kings, queens and knights. It is a land of long seasons, with summers that can last years, and winters that can do the same, with the worst of the winter being a night that lasts months or years. The story begins at the end of one of the longest summers on record, in which people have mostly forgotten what winter can be like. The Seven Kingdoms are united under one high king, King Robert, with the next tier of government being the knights and lords sworn to his fealty. As the season winds to an end and humanity needs to be storing up against the long hard winter, instead, it is distracted by palace intrigues and then war. Meanwhile the wild people living on the edges of society are becoming more bold, and a mysterious menace from the North is threatening those living on the frontiers. There is not a lot of mysticism or magic in the stories (though there are dragons!). People are dependent on themselves and one another, on friendship and family ties, for survival.

I'm always enthralled by character-driven fiction, whether it be in books or on television. ASoIaF (as it is known to the fandom) is character driven. Martin has been called an "American Tolkien," but it's a poor comparison. Tolkien's Middle Earth was filled with characters who were either good or evil, while the denizens of Martin's Seven Kingdoms are more like us: The good ones do evil things, make selfish decisions and fail their loved ones, while the evil ones surprise us by occasionally doing something kind, selfless or valiant. This is a fundamental difference between the two writers. It is this realism in characterization that grabbed me about the books.

A Game of Thrones has been reprinted a number of times, and is readily available in later printings, but if you can get your hands on a true first edition, you can rejoice, as they can go for as much as $900 on eBay. I have ripped through that first book and A Clash of Kings, book 2 in the series, and am anxiously checking the mail for the next two, A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows. Everyone in the fandom is awaiting the 5th book in the series, with no publishing date in sight: A Dance with Dragons. Martin plans 7 volumes in the saga.

If you read them, and I highly recommend you do, please start at the beginning, or you will be completely lost.

P.S. HBO plans a dramatization of A Game of Thrones, with George R.R. Martin's blessing. I am pessimistic.

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