Following the success of HBO's fantasy epic Game of Thrones, I (like many) decided to read the George RR Martin novels on which the series is based, despite the man's ridiculous middle initials. The first surprise was the similarity between the book and the series, not only in obvious things such as the characters and plot, but also in sensibility. I had assumed that the HBO feel, the ambiguity and complexity we've come to expect in the wake of TV dramas such as The Sopranos, was something added, but that, along with tranches of the wonderful dialogue had been lifted straight from the book. I haven't read fantasy since I was a kid when I seemed always to be reading Lord of the Rings or The Silmarrilion, although in all honesty it wasn't until the Peter Jackson films came out the I actually read Lord of the Rings all the way through from beginning to end. In fact, when I was a kid reading the book all the way through didn't seem to be the point. I was reading for the story as such, I was reading to enter a world. It is no accident that most fantasy novels come equipped with maps, as indeed do Martin's own Tolkien inspired epic. These are not books so much as places.
Spurred on by simply wanting to know what happens next, I finished the second book (The Clash of Kings) and am now half way through the humongous Storm of Swords. Admittedly this is perhaps not the best way of reading a series, one book after another in such a short period of time.
And I have noticed some weaknesses in Martin's writing style, witty characters tend to 'quip' rather than 'say', rogues 'growl' rather than 'say' etc. There are And some of the good characters make so many bad decisions that you begin to lose sympathy for them. Things seem to go relentlessly wrong. People have bad feelings about things and then those bad things happen and it happens again and again, so much so that you wonder why they don't act on their bad feelings. Yet, having said this, there is something refreshing in having a fantasy series that instead of fueling wish fulfillment continually frustrates with an almost crushing pessimism. It almost feels good to close the book and come back to the real world in which, okay we don't have dragons, but at least there are far less ambushes.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.