Top positive review
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Possibly the best of Fantasy in the last 20 years
on August 25, 2003
I spent quite a while staring at the blank screen in front of me to come up with a fitting description of A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. Should I compare it to the classic Lord of the Rings for its impressively epic scope? Would it be best to focus on the honest, often painful humanity of the many characters - so rare in a fantasy novel - that personalizes each point of view? Perhaps I could impress other customers here with the sheer brilliance of a plot that weaves so many seemingly disparate stories together to form a believable alternate universe in which not only politics, intrigue, war, adventure and romance can coexist plausibly, but magic as well. How could I do such a work justice?
I might as well get this part out of the way first. Obligatory Synopsis: in a fantasy continent that bears a familiarity to Middle Ages England, Winter is coming. Winter in this world means a sort of mini ice age that will last for seven years before receding. In the always-frosty Northern area, the races of nonhuman beings are gathering to advance with the snows; there are hints that there is an ancient, evil power behind their forces. At the same time in the South, political infighting for the Throne has begun. Overseas, the daughter of the dispossessed former King is maneuvering forces of her own for a bid for the throne. All this is told through the various stories of both "good guys" and not-so-good guys.
For starters, AGOT can't be accurately compared to any other book or series in the Fantasy genre (not without insulting it). The nearest thing of its type is the laborious Wheel of Time series by Jordan - see what I mean? And yet this first in the Song of Ice and Fire series is fathoms above that aimless, droning style. Martin has perfected what Jordan had arguably introduced; the multiple characters' points of view telling the vast saga on an intimate, up-close scale. Never did I feel that I was being strung along, but rather lead by increments toward an incredible revelation somewhere up ahead. Martin builds the suspense masterfully in each book.
But by far the most striking thing about the Song of Ice and Fire is the "rules" that the author breaks. Martin is not afraid to tell the tale from the point of view of some very unlikable, even immoral characters. He is bold about revealing facts from a character's past that challenge one's impressions and assumptions about their ethics. He does not lay all his cards on the table up front, but rather unexpectedly reveals details that later change the whole picture and twist the plot admirably. And his most unusual move: this author even allows "favorites" to die occasionally (no names here...)! These risks pay off well to serve the story as a whole, bring a sense of true humanity to the people of this world and drive the reader on to the next series installment.
It's just too bad that I can't magically transplant my sense of admiration for AGOT onto this page. Hopefully, you are intrigued enough to give it a try; it would be a shame to miss what IMHO could be the best series of the decade.
-Andrea, aka Merribelle