September 30, 2008 | Comments ()

By Brian Prisco | Books | September 30, 2008 |


Well, holeeeeee sheeeee-it. I feel like fantasy tends to be a genre like country music. Most people just turn their nose up and sniff, “NEEERRRRRDDS!” while others absorb it with an obsessive compulsion. There are so many different flavors to fantasy, and it’s really important to set your world within the first couple of pages. I mean, within the realm of fantasy, alone you must decide if there are going to be otherworldly creatures and how dominant they will be (dragons, pixies, elves, trolls, orcs) and you need to decide if there’s going to be magic, and how it will be done (elementalists, lightning bolts and none-shall-pass fireballs, healing spells, witches and whatnot). Most fantasy is within the realms of your average ren-faire/night out at Medieval Times: sword fights, jousting, crowns and lords.

I’ve been reading a shitload of fantasy lately, and it has truly run the gamut, from Robert Jordan’s godling of destiny Wheel of Time series to Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera with the Avatar-esque furies, which help people control the elements. Most of the fantasy you read tends to be of the Sword in the Stone school, which is to say a commoner suddenly finds themselves becoming lord of the realm through mysterious powers and the such. They rely heavily on the wizarding powers and delve into a world of mythic beasts and fantastic powers.

Then we’ve got The Song of Ice and Fire series, which is on a plain of greatness unto itself. From the first jarring utterances of the words “fuck” and “shit” to the non-stop fucking about, both in the biblical and sociopolitical stance, this was not the kiddie fantasy series I had grown accustomed to. Most of the fantastical beasts are reserved for the periphery, or stuff of legends. It’s a story of the game of medieval politics, lords battling lords, friendships and backstabbing, and warfare worthy of Aaron Sorkin. I takes a damn long time to get into the actual story, because there are just so many fucking characters to introduce.

There are so many threads to be woven, and Martin manages it ably. It’s a bear of a book, coming it at just over 800 pages, but once you’ve gotten far enough into the story, it’s off and running. Essentially it’s the story of a kingdom battling against itself, and we are focusing on the family of the Starks, a hardscrabble winterlands nobility where each member of the family is coping with a different strain. And I mean each family member, as we get a taste for all eight of the Starks, from the father Lord Eddard to the youngest boy, Rickon. But while we start with the Starks, quickly we spread through the entire kingdom, with the king and his devious in-laws, The Lannisters.

The closest thing I can compare this to is “The Wire,” in that there are so many camps, and we’re given story perspective from everyone, where there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys. Some the bad guys are good, but not really, and some of the good guys are horrible. It’s a major cast of perhaps 20 or 25 characters, but at no point are you questioning or confused by the plot progression. And the ending of the first book has totally changed all the rules of the universe. There are supposedly going to seven books in the series, and four have been written.

It’s fantasy that I would highly recommend to people who might have been turned off by the hobbitosity of the rest of the genre. This is more political than anything, and while names like Daenerys and Joffrey might be off-putting, the non-stop head and limb chopping, swindling and backdooring will more than make up for it.

I won’t say this is so much better than Robert Jordan, because they are very different series. The Wheel of Time is more of a Christ allegory, the reluctant heroes having to fight fate, whereas The Song of Ice and Fire is a complex chess game of crowns and swords. Truth be told, I’m enjoying the Codex Alera best of all, because I just love Jim Butcher’s writing style, and the main character of Tavi has proven to be lots of fun.

I’m starting to get a little bloated on fantasy right now, truth be told, as I’m also reading His Majesty’s Dragon. But honestly, that series is less straight fantasy as it is almost historical fiction. It’s set during the Napoleonic Wars, but with the French and English using an air corps comprised of dragon riders. Yeah.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. You can read more about it, here.

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100 Books in One Year #9: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | September 30, 2008 | Comments ()



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