A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
For anyone new to this series, whether you've just heard of it, or you've seen Game of Thrones on television, the first thing I would say is that these books are certainly not for children or the faint of heart. The violence is graphic and the sex (some would say) is pornographic. Rape is commonplace (often heard of, but rarely witnessed). A Song of Ice and Fire pulls no punches. It depicts a brutal world of treachery, murder, lust, and greed, in which even the good characters have to be ruthless if they wish to survive. Time Magazine has called Martin "the American Tolkien," but that is a superficial judgment. These books are nothing like Tolkien. Imagine the Sopranos in Middle Earth, and you'll get the picture.
And yet, as dark and twisted as these books are, they are compelling. No sooner did I finish one book than I started the next, and I am looking forward to the publication of "The Winds of Winter" somewhere between now and the end of time. This is because Martin's greatest strengths are plot and character. He weaves his tale out of many threads. The perspective shifts from chapter to chapter, as his main characters take their turns at center stage in Dickensian profusion. Some of them know what the other characters are up to, some think they do, and some don't know much at all. But each advances the complex plot, driving the story and the reader forward.
There are two areas in particular where Martin does an excellent job. First, he is more ruthless to his characters than Stephen King. No one is safe. No one. Second, almost all of his main characters are quite well rounded. They can surprise you. One character, for example, commits a horrific crime early in the series, and is known to have committed another. As the books go on and the portrait of his character develops, however, it becomes more difficult to pass a simple judgment because he begins taking actions the reader wants to admire him for. I had to keep reminding myself of what he had done before, and that, as someone says in one of the books, sins can be forgiven, but crimes must still be punished. The good guys aren't simply good, and the bad guys aren't simply bad.
All in all, a good, fun read, if you're up for it. There is no middle ground.
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