Yes, yes, fellow nerds, I'm aware the proper title of this series of books is A Song of Ice and Fire. Anyway, I can't wax too poetic about George R.R. Martin's fantasy novels because Fragrant Husband has yet to read them and cannot abide spoilers. By contrast, I hate not knowing what's going to happen, so I read all five books in about a month. Mwa-ha-haaaa, try me now, HBO!
The books start out solemn and become DARK. Martin throws in heaping amounts of incest, rape, betrayal, murder, deception, cannibalism, and all manner of human corruption. As a result, every little victory earned by the main characters, especially the most popular ones (Tyrion, Arya, Dany, and Jon), is like the sweet nectar of the gods.
Martin's narrative style (point-of-view characters) is effective in showing the epic scale of, say, war or religious fanaticism, while keeping readers grounded through a strongly developed personality. It goes without saying that characters don't have all the information, or believe something false to be true, so readers get to experience the "NOOOOOO" feeling of dread, excitement, and/or anticipation that makes reading so enjoyable.
Speaking of enjoyable, writing the characters' changes and growths in A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the author's greatest strengths. It's so much fun to read the characters that I get excited when a new POV comes along, like Davos in the second book or Brienne in the third book. I was enraptured to see Cersei as a POV character in book four, because I adore Lena Headey, and then was simultaneously impressed and chagrined by the fact that, as written, Cersei Lannister is the biggest prick in all the land, despite having ovaries.
What I most emphatically did not enjoy was anything that had to do with the Krakens (the men, I mean -- Asha's cool). Damphair is a nutball and Victarion is a thug, and together or apart they are very, very boring. "Raaar! Drown, murder, murder!" (YAWN.) "Raaar! Rape, slay, slay!" (SNORE.) I think they're uninteresting because they're narrow-minded and have zero potential for development. See also: Faile/Zarine in A Wheel of Time, who started out a snooty, foolhardy noble needing rescue more often than not...and that's how she ended. The bright side is that I could safely skim Damphair and Victarion chapters because I don't care, thus easing my road to book completion!
While we're on the topic of characters--there must be thousands in this series. Every great House has vassals, and even outlaws get names and backstories. Martin lists all of them in the appendices, which are almost chapters unto themselves. Caramba. At least Robert Jordan grouped his characters according to society/culture/shadowy secret world-ruling organization.
Dreams play a big part in the series. Many of the characters have portentous dreams, even arrogant pretty boy Jaime Lannister. In the HBO show, Bran Stark gets to be dreamiest, but in the books, most everyone has visions when they're unconscious. Dreams can help obsessive readers guess future events, and so can prophecies, which this series has in abundance. A lot of them are obvious, like Dany's three loves and three betrayals, unless of course some new, unexpected, series-changing character (*cough*Young Griff*cough*) emerges in books six and seven.
Natch, there must needs be an epic showdown between ice and fire, as it were, the forces of good versus the hordes of evil. I cannot wait. Given Martin's publishing record -- 1996, 1998, 2000, 2005, then 2011 -- we'll probably get an ending in a decade? Hopefully? I WAITED FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME, SER, I CAN WAIT FOR A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.
In conclusion: I shall give my favor to The Hound. I like him. More dark than gray in terms of morality, but he's not a complete monster. That's a prize in Westeros! And even Essos!
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