Does thought of elves and fair maidens traipsing through the forest annoy you?
Could you care less about the assembly and arrangement of leagues of Iro Does thought of elves and fair maidens traipsing through the forest annoy you?
Could you care less about the assembly and arrangement of leagues of Iron Age knights cresting a hilltop with a team of wizards at their side?
When you chance upon a character called Crèthwriån, the Armÿnthfül of the Dünd'lythian Ryders, do you sigh, audibly curse, or throw up in your mouth a little?
Good! Me too! As it turns out, we are not typically fans of the high-fantasy genre. But, this book is so much better than you think it is!
Here is what George R.R. Martin's A Game Of Thrones, the first book in his A Song Of Ice And Fire series, offers Us, Those Of Little Faith In The Fantasy Genre...
1. Pronounceable Names: Crèthwriån, the Armÿnthfül of the Dünd'lythian Ryders makes no appearance in A Game Of Thrones. Instead, there are plenty of easy-to-read names like Robert, Ned, Jon, and Jaime. For the most part - even if the names are "weird," (Barristan, Theon), they are still pronounceable. Moreover, even if the names are spelled funny (Petyr, Robb), they are still familiar. For every fifteen-or-so pronounceable names, though, you WILL find a Daenerys or a Jaqen H'ghar. Also, for the purists? The Lannister family fills the quota on those Celtic-sounding "fantasy-staple" names: Tywin, Tyrion, Cersei, Lancel ("Lancel. What a stupid name. I hear tell his mother had quite the fat rear end too..." - RB).
2. Limited Battle Sequences: Like (one of my favorite books) Frank Herbert's Dune, A Game Of Thrones has more political discussion and devices, strategy, plans, and rumors than actual battle scenes. Battle scenes seem exceedingly difficult to craft, and almost impossible to make engaging, in my opinion. There are likely some writers of fantasy or historical fiction who can do justice to battle scenes, I don't doubt it. But, I have not come across them. Tolkien did it well, but even Tolkien eventually tired me out.
In trying to create logic (words, sentences, descriptions) out of what is essentially chaos, authors often attempt to write battle scenes that their readers can follow along with. But, even the attempts to bring "order" to chaos ultimately fail to impress me: in the end, I find myself searching for important moments in cluttered paragraphs like a drowning person searching for a life raft. A Game Of Thrones, for all its knights and squires, does not subject the reader to lengthy battle scenes. Hooray!
3. Sexytimes: A Game Of Thrones has plenty of sex. Scandalous sex, incestuous sex, horse-sex, even (what I can only derive as) boring-everyday-run-of-the-mill sex (Ned Stark, I'm looking at you!). Sex is used for power (Cersei), sex is substituted for love (Tyrion), single acts of sexytimes have consequences that can hamper the lives of others for years to come (Jon).
Unfortunately, there are also plenty of rapeytimes, too, which are not sex (and are acts of violence and war), but which some characters use interchangeably with actual sex. Rape is often discussed fairly nonchalantly, which can be disturbing. What is also disturbing is that most of the consensual sex is being had by men of unknown or irrelevant age and girls who just hit puberty, which in the moderntimes is also rape. Martin may have caught a lot of feminist-flack for this... However, this is a world where women are treated as secondary to men, and where their claim to their House counts more than any other factor, making them, in essence, property. Or, if not solely property themselves, than simply part of it: like a pretty maple tree just inside the castle gate - they come with the title. It is their duty to preserve the all-important male lineage, and raise daughters whose only aspirations are to do the same. Bleak, to say the least. But, this is a world very familiar to our own past. Things like this happened, historically (and still do, in some countries).
Within the design of his own making, Martin (like a good writer) gives us female characters of substance to interrogate the normalcy of these behaviors. IMHO, sometimes, he sometimes does too little to address these behaviors - but, meh - Martin's job is to create a believable world, not proselytize. I'll take it. As for the consensual sex, Martin is all the better for insisting that this is one of the few realms where men fall secondary to the ladies.
4. Character, Character, Character: "I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things." - TL
Whether its a dwarf who killed his mother in childbirth, forced to "waddle" alongside his almost inhumanly beautiful family members, a firstborn bastard with no place at his father's table, a struggling tomboy contemptuous of the behaviors befitting a proper lady, or the scrawny, lowborn son of a sheep herder with no chance at winning his true love's favor, Martin has no shortage of characters who must compensate for simply being Born This Way. They might bitch and moan (Jon Snow), embrace who they are and try to make the best of it (Tyrion Lannister), or turn into vile sociopaths with dangerous ambitions (Littlefinger)...but, Martin crafts them superbly in all instances. It is impossible not to fall for them immediately.
Following closely beside this category of characters is another: the damaged ones, those who have lost something in the course of their story that transforms who they are and how they imagine their destinies. Here, we see Bran Stark, newly-crippled with his hopes of being a knight dashed; Varys The Eunuch, whose lack of a cock somehow styled him an unassuming enough presence to become the most informed (important) man in all the kingdom; and Jorah Mormount, who turned traitor to the kingdom when his heart-on-sleeve got the better (worst) of him. These characters, like the ones mentioned above, have their own tormented pasts and unsure futures. They are multi-layered and engaging.
Somewhere in the mix of these, there's Dany Targaryen, the young exiled princess whose family was killed when she was still in her mom's belly. She's been fostered by sadistic mentalcases and those looking for a piece of her glory. She's been scared. She's been a pawn. She's been sold to the highest bidder so someone else could have it easy. And yet, she triumphs over all of this shitty shit-shit and RULES. She is almost fearsome in her goal - to take back the family throne - yet humble, and sweet, and avidly likeable. She's also the only character that Martin seems to allow to have "honor" and "birthright" without some fatal consequence or total mockery... Which brings us to our next category of character, The Noble Fantasy Cliche...
5. Stabbing Through Fantasy Tropes Like A Traitorous Head On A Spike:
In Martin's A Game Of Thrones, the noble of character - those inhuman lovelies who are staples of fantasy literature and for whom everything in the world is either black or white - fail at the game of thrones. They can't play the game of politics: schemes and whispers and rumors and cunning. They're smart, but they can't see through the bullshit. And the bullshit is everywhere. They're brave, but they have no idea whom they should fear. And they should fear almost everyone. They want "what's best for the kingdom," but, in all likelihood, they don't even know what is best for the goddamn kingdom, they only think they do.
Rather than hearken back to some fictional golden age where noble men upheld noble truths, and where noble truths were plain, and good, and white, Martin uses his methods of characterization (we love the cripples, bastards, and broken things, too!) and narration (shifting Points-Of-View in short, beautifully-paced bursts of storyline) to represent a pluralistic and morally-relativistic group of voices all telling their own story...and their story is the story of an entire nation, Westeros. Suddenly, thanks to Martin, postmodernism is creeping into the genre that (in my stunted perception of high-fantasy) glorified the nostalgic need for that ole black/white, good/bad, true/false worldview.
Okay, so its not a complete departure from the norm, not entirely... We still have villains, here, people. But, the villains get to be heard, and we often see their development, and sometimes - their "better sides." Sometimes, we find ourselves liking them all the same, while pitying those noble characters who surely have it coming to them for being so goddamn good and true. There's heroes, anti-heroes, anti-heroes who become heroes later on.
All that matters in the case of A Game Of Thrones is that the noble ones have no f*cking chance.
And, for that alone, the book is complex and amazing. Try it, I swear you'll like it!...more
Why do I like Rebel Angels so much more than A Great And Terrible Beauty?
That's easy: Balls.
Not THOSE kinds of balls. These kinds:
Maybe because all tWhy do I like Rebel Angels so much more than A Great And Terrible Beauty?
That's easy: Balls.
Not THOSE kinds of balls. These kinds:
Maybe because all those par-tays made the pace of the novel seem faster and the story more compelling. But, also, we get to see Gemma interact with her family and the snooty-high-society all around her. This makes for some excellent characterization of both the major and secondary characters.
Would this series have been able to sustain itself without a love-triangle? Someone should have researched that... Hellooooo, Simon Middleton! I guess you're here to try to coax our Gemma out of The Realms. By getting her drunk and unlacing her corset... (Victorian date rape?) I think we'll take Kartik any day, thanks.
Meanwhile, is Felicity Worthington the best character in this series, or is it just me?...more