Shadowy Bookshelf: Ice and Fire (again...)

Keep this shit up, George, and you'll live forever beside Tolkien (peace be unto Him).

High fantasy...can't top it when it's done well. Obviously, by well, I'm talking about Duggan, Tolkien (peace be unto Him), Cornwell's Arthurian tales, Moorcock, Hobbs. But, among the modern paragons, none is closer to my dark little heart than George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books...

Yea, I left you out...this crap is the "Twilight" of epic fantasy...anti-climactic, rambling drivel with all the subtlety and intrigue of a particularly exciting episode of Bob the Builder.*

Which brings me to the brilliant, if not oft-delayed, Song of Fire and Ice series. If you like black and white characters, good guys that survive, a small universe of tight-knit characters going on some epic quest, then look elsewhere...there's plenty of that stuff out there. But, if you want a world populated with nations, and cultures; political intrigue, morally gray characters, slight magic, cynicism, dark humor and genuine "WTF? did that just happen?" then look no further.

This is your reaction about every 100 pages or so...

There are four (so far) tomes in the series, and they are rather long books. Game of Thrones introduces the many great houses, and sets up the conflicts and allegiances that are to endure throughout. Clash of Kings I've always termed the "bridge book", with a wealth of new faces and swordplay throughout. Storm of Swords is by far my favorite, with yet more characters, more intrigue, and so many WTF moments that you'll weep, gnash your teeth, grin and possibly piss yourself. The last, so far, Feast for Crows, starts to put the pieces all together, with a wealth of new POVs --although from familiar faces. Book 5, Dance with Dragons, has been in the works now for 5 years (and that since the rewrite). If I'm alive long enough, I may even get to see all 7 of them published.

Did I mention it has dragons? Not ironic, douchy dragons, but flesh-eating fear machines out of hell...

The third volume of the high fantasy saga that began with A Game of Thrones and continued in A Clash of Kings is one of the more rewarding examples of gigantism in contemporary fantasy. As Martin's richly imagined world slides closer to its 10-year winter, both the weather and the warfare worsen. In the north, King Joffrey of House Lannister sits uneasily on the Iron Throne. With the aid of a peasant wench, Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, escapes from jail in Riverrun. Jaime goes to the other youthful ruler, Robb Stark, to secure the release of Joffrey's prisoners, Robb's sisters Arya and Sansa Stark. Meanwhile, in the south, Queen Daenarys tries to assert her claim to the various thrones with an army of eunuchs, but discovers that she must choose between conquering more and ruling well what she has already taken. The complexity of characters such as Daenarys, Arya and the Kingslayer will keep readers turning even the vast number of pages contained in this volume, for the author, like Tolkien or Jordan, makes us care about their fates. Those two fantasy greats are also evoked by Martin's ability to convey such sensual experiences as the heat of wildfire, the chill of ice, the smell of the sea and the sheer gargantuan indigestibility of the medieval banquet at its most excessive.


At the end of the second novel I could not wait for the next book. Now who cares? Martin has killed every character worth following in the series. By eliminating the vast majority of characters one feels attached to in the first 2 books he leaves the reader with an emptiness that I don't see being fufilled. The plot is now spread in so many directions that following a long complicated novel only to see who you cared for killed seems a waste of energy. This is not to say the thought, detail, and writing are bad, quite the opposite, which makes this book all the more disappointing. By killing or regulating the only people that one cares for to uninteresting circumstances Martin has destroyed the reason for reading the following installments. Normally at the end of a series one looks forward too and genuinely misses the characters, but why should I care about anyone whose left? It is a rare ability to make such a great series into something where I could stop reading right now and no longer care about the story.

Awww, moral ambiguity and people dying make emo reviewer sad....

Shadow's Verdict?

Joy, sorrow, bliss, treachery, betrayal, love, lust, madness, ambition, fear...these are the human condition, and Martin's ability to lushly convey the range of emotions in a believable world populated by believable, loveable, detestable characters is where the genius lies...

5 out of 5 Spider Monkeys

*Before the psycho Jordan fans start emailing me, please be aware that, yes, I realized he passed away. To the living one owes respect, to the dead one owes nothing but the truth...



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