Review: Martin’s A Storm of Swords

Ed note: This was written for a new defunct live journal circa 2007 before GOT became the pop culture juggernaut it is now.

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)
George R.R. Martin

Basically a soap opera, but my kind of soap opera, with the occasional swordfight/dragon and or touch of sorcery, but still I totally enjoyed it. If I didn’t spend my days grappling with the contradictions inherent in the balance between equity and the rule of law, maybe I’d feel guilty reading so much fantasy and science fiction.

I am not that well versed in fantasy, having spent my alienation teenage years reading SF instead, but there’s a lot of interesting things I think you could say about fantasy, at least as it is written by Martin. There’s some intense stuff going on here with regards to gender and class. The story line is on its face is one of a world of the noble where men are men and women are women, but things are more complicated than that as the story progresses and as often as not, the high born turn out to be fuckers, and the women to be as complex as the men (which is more than you can say for much popular portrayals of women in literature) and often stronger.

As I have mentioned in my other reviews of the first two books, the violence here is gruesome and visceral and it doesn’t always take place on the battlefield. Rape and other forms of intimate violence occur frequently and unexpectedly.  As do the deaths of characters you think are central. My understanding from the internet is Martin is having a hard time with the next volume. I hope he hurries up, I need to find out how this all ends.

Review: Martin’s A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2)
A Song of Fire and Ice Series Book 2
George R.R. Martin
Spectra Reissue, 704 pages

The second volume in Martin’s massive series of books about conquest and intrigue in his imaginary world of Westeros is even more of a soap opera than the first volume. More dialogue and less battle set pieces. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. There’s still plenty of blood and violence, but more than anything else, more machinations for power among the main characters while the poor of the lands suffer horribly.

It’s a dark piece of work, possibly darker than the first volume, yet no less as captivating.

I wonder what kind of academic work has been done on the appeal of fantasy novels. While getting into a series like this is, of course, escapist, it’s a specific type of escapist appeal. The plot pulls you along and the pages go by very quickly, but this is isn’t a happy world gnomes where the princess is saved. Here, no one is saved. Martin’s books are extremely dark. His strong female characters are often subject to horrific violence, and his heroes are rarely true heroes. Those who are heroic often end up dead. It’s all very pessimistic. Our heroes are killed regularly and the ones with the most intellectual skill and the least moral compunctions are the ones who (so far) do the best.

What does it say about me that I enjoy this sort of thing? That I choose to escape into a world of violence and machinations where the more conniving characters are the ones who do the best?

Probably nothing good.

Recommended for the Enthusiast.

Review: Martin’s Game of Thrones

Ed note: this review was written in 2007 for a now defunct livejournal account, long before GoT was the phenomenon it is now. Funny to re-read such a flippant review of what has become a cultural phenomenon.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)

A Song of Fire and Ice Series Book 1
George R.R. Martin
Spectra Reissue, 704 pages

I always thought of science fiction as speculative fiction that looked forward and fantasy as speculative fiction that tried to imagine some idealized past. Since I like to think of myself as a forward thinking person, when I have read genre fiction, it’s been sci-fi.

But lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time alone, and with no TV to entertain me; I thought it might be fun to give one of those crazy huge fantasy novel series a try. If it was good, it’d make for diverting reading after a day spent in law books, if it sucked, I’d just move onto something else.

Friends who are fans of fantasy novels have been telling me about this series for a while and when I read the good review Cosma Shalizi gave the books in his fascinating notebook on fantasy, I decided to give it a try. And now I am totally hooked.
Game of Thrones set up is pretty standard: noble nobility in semi-magical world fight evil nobility for control of the land. What sets Martin apart from others is the strength of his writing (you can tell right away, this isn’t a first book, the plotting is tight and the writing topnotch) and the darkness which permeates the story.

People say they enjoy Martin’s works because they are “realistic” whatever the fuck that means for a book that has dragons and magic in it. The book does portray humanity in all is awfulness, and the violence feels real and visceral. It’s a dark world where favorite characters are killed off all the time and really nasty shit happens to those who stick around. I found it compelling and I’ll definitely read the rest.