Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin


High fantasy is normally not my thing. In general, I prefer children's fantasy, and low fantasy, to these intricately plotted other-worldly . . . worlds.  Believe me, I have the highest respect for authors who can create these amazing places with characters and settings and creatures, oh my, replete with fantastic names for all of them.  Normally, I just do not have the patience -- frankly, it's all the vocabulary.  I honestly get tired of having to keep it all straight -- I want plot and characters to wrap my brain around.  Children's fantasy has much less world-building for me to keep straight in my head.  (Does this make me a lazy reader?)

So how in the heck did I find myself hooked on A Game of Thrones????  Frankly, I blame HBO.  Yes, it is the antichrist, television, that got me completely obsessed with a a series that is currently numbering more than 4000 pages and threatens to take over my reading list for the next couple of months.  Normally, I ignore all the adult fantasy in my library, except when I'm shelving or helping a patron, and it holds no fascination for me.  But darn it if that pay cable station didn't get me hooked on an epic fantasy series.  I didn't even start watching it until July!  There was a lot of buzz about it, so I set the DVR and promptly forgot about it.  Then one night last month, when everyone else was in bed, I decided to take a look and see if it was any good.

I. HAD.  NO.  IDEA.  Let me just say, first of all, that the series premiere has one of the best cliffhangers I've EVER seen on television, and that, having finished the first book, HBO did an amazing adaptation -- they were able to translate a book of almost 700 pages into ten hours, with very few changes (other than making the characters slightly older).  If you know nothing about this series, it's kind of like a Medieval version of The Sopranos, but with a little supernatural stuff thrown in.  Or, to put it another way, Lord of the Rings, but with sex thrown in.

It's set in the mythological lands of Westeros, which is divided up into Seven Kingdoms.  The lords of the kingdoms have all sworn fealty to the King Robert Baratheon at King's Landing.  When the story starts, the King's Hand, similar to his Lord Chancellor, has died, and King Robert has come far north to Winterfell to ask his childhood best friend, Lord Eddard Stark, to step in as his new Hand.  He comes with an enormous entourage, including his despicable wife Cersei of the House of Lannister, and her two brothers: her twin, valiant knight Lord Jaime, and her younger brother Tyrion, also known as the imp.

Sean Bean as Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell
Well, things start to get very interesting -- plotting!  intrigue!!  backstabbing!  Plus there are illegitimate children, swordfights, ousted rulers, a whole race of semi-savage horse-lords, a crazy prince who claims he has dragon's blood, giant wolves -- and at the Northern border there's an enormous Wall to keep out scary stuff that may or may not be mythological.  And did I mention that in this land, seasons last for years at at time?  It's been summer for about ten years now, and Winter Is Coming.

I eagerly watched all ten episodes in less than a week -- I could have stayed up all night watching if I didn't have other things to do, like supervise children and housework (I hadn't started working at the library yet).  Then I had to decide if I was going to read the books, or wait nine months to see what happens next. . .  . riiiight.  I was on the library's wait list but it was too long, so the other day I broke down and bought it.  And you know what?  Even though I'd just watched the series (twice), the book was even better!  George R. R. Martin has done an amazing job intertwining the book's multiple plots from the viewpoints of about seven different characters -- each chapter takes one character's perspective, and the chapters are quite short.  Martin worked in television for years, so I can see how easily the book was translated into a series. (Martin was also an executive producer and wrote one the episode's scripts).  I say easy, but it couldn't have been, with thousands of extras and costumes and swords and castles and so on.

Anyhow.  I've probably been rambling, but if you have even the vaguest interest in fantasy, this series is really worth it, if the rest of them are anything like the first book.  Seriously, I haven't been this excited about a new series since I read Harry Potter -- sacrilege!  And after I finish the fifth book in the series it'll be a long wait until the next one -- just like the agony J. K. Rowling put me through.

This is so unlike most of the other books I read, but I had to blog about it.  Bloggers, what about you?  Are there any books or series you love that are totally different than your usual reads?  Do you think of them as guilty pleasures?

10 comments:

  1. I'm on a very long wait list at my local library for this one. Frankly, this series, if I get into it, will be my change of pace-guilty pleasure reading.

    I hope I can get into it. ;-)

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  2. One of my good friends LOVES this series, but fantasy is not my thing either so I haven't checked it out. Your enthusiastic descriptions here have me tempted!

    As far as books that are different from my usual reads - I think of them as a way to prove to myself that I'm a well-rounded reader because I can venture out of my normal genres. My guilty pleasures are the pure escapist/entertainment component of my usual reads.

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  3. I am so not a series person, but I do follow a few young adult authors like Lauren Oliver and Laini Taylor who are a bit out of my usual reading style.
    I read A Game of Thrones a few years ago when we were doing a genre study for my library and was enchanted, but didn't have the energy to read the rest of the series! I have a friend who has filled me in, though!

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  4. This one is one heck of a series - perhaps a bit too brutal for some tastes but very imaginative and really original. Just be warned , it is not finished yet and it might not be finished at all so if you get addicted you might suffer a lot. The problem is that Mr. Martin writes rather slowly, he is not exactly young and so far only five out of seven planned parts have been published.

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  5. My sister loves the tv series and recommended it to me. I think I've got to give it a go. I occasionally read fantasy. I would say the only genres I avoid are romance and horror, but even then the occasional one creeps in.

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  6. I share your reticence in getting involved with books like this, especially if they turn into series where I am unlikely to remember all the characters by the time the next book comes out. After years of a friend reminding me how this is his favorite series I finally gave A Game of Thrones a try last year and was blown away. Such a good book. I did read a lot of the second book before taking a break and will no doubt get back to it.

    Recently I made another stab at overcoming my aversion to series in reading Brandon Sanderson's first (of 10 books) called The Way of Kings. It too was amazingly wonderful. Fewer characters so I suspect I'll have an easier time remembering who was who when the second book comes out. If you are ever in the mood for trying something like this again, something very complex but not quite as dark and with less sex, give The Way of Kings a go.

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  7. CB -- It's far far better than some of the other guilty-pleasure books I've dipped into -- I tried the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series when I first started watching True Blood, and Game of Thrones was so much better!

    Kristin -- there are a few genres I just can't get into. I've tried Westerns and I can't do them. I don't do too much horror or sci fi either.

    Gudrunstights -- I had to read a book outside my usual genres for my Adult Services class in library school. I tried a bunch of romances and finally read The Time Traveler's Wife -- someone said later it's technically not a romance. Oh well. I just can't do bodice rippers!

    Anachronist -- Oh, that would stink if the series is never finished! I did read that the last two books took awhile, so maybe I should slow down and pace myself a bit. Neil Gaiman wrote a very funny and insightful blog post about this:

    http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

    Joanne -- I read romances and horror in my youth, and I'm kind of over them. I tried reading Laurell K. Hamilton for a library class and just couldn't into it.

    Carl V -- I think I'm going to take a short break before I start the second book, just to let all the story sink in a bit. And I think there was actually more sex in the TV series than in the books, so maybe that's just HBO's influence creeping in. I'll look for Way of Kings, thanks for the recommendation.

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  8. I loved (LOVED) this book as well. I couldn't put it down and when THAT EVENT HAPPENED, I couldn't believe it! The HBO series was excellent as well, and I am embarrassed to admit I watched the whole series in one weekend...

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  9. Natalie -- are you referring to the cliffhanger at the end of the first episode? Or the big shocker in the penultimate episode? Both were really shocking.

    I'm trying to decide if I should start on Clash of Kings or wait and try and pace myself -- if I get to book 5 too soon, I'll be waiting for YEARS to find out what happens next. Might not be bad to wait a bit.

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  10. I read so much fantasy as an adolescent that I only like the cream of the crop anymore. The more I read about this series, the more I think it might be worth my time, though.

    Although the warning about it being unfinished is something I take to heart. I was reading all the Frank Herbert Dune sequels when he died.

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