Winter Is Coming
Published on Saturday, January 8, 2011 - 11:05am
I have just begun the fourth book in George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and I can hardly contain myself from writing about it any longer.
A former roommate of mine started toting these books home last year, and I rolled my eyes, because he has a penchant for reading thousand-page tomes for kicks. Having gotten bogged down in lengthy novels before, I had no desire to even crack the cover of the first book, even when he was plowing through the series at a breakneck pace. Curiosity got the better of me, though, and I bought the first book, A Game of Thrones, at Kramerbooks just to see what all the fuss was about. Then the book sat in my bedroom for a month or two while I read through a book by Joe Haldeman and Philip K. Dick's Time Out Of Joint.
I finally succumbed to Game of Thrones at the beginning of December, and the opening prologue got me interested. Then I lost my copy. So my friend lent me his copy, which also got lost in my house. So I downloaded an e-book edition on my phone, and kept going. Then my in-laws gave me the whole set for Christmas, and it hit me. Because I had to get my hands on four separate copies of the same book that had to mean that I was finally, fully hooked.
Since Christmas I have finished each book in the series in about four to five days of solid reading. I'm talking, waking up and reading, lunch break reading, on the bus home reading, lying on the couch reading, in the bathtub reading, and in bed reading. I'm compelled to keep going, because the story is just that good.
So, why is it so good? Because it's the least fantasy-like fantasy story I have ever read. That's right. We're not talking Lord of the Rings, epic struggle against a demi-god with armies of monsters. No.
A Game of Thrones takes place in a medieval kingdom called Westeros, and it takes place at a time when the people of that era no longer fully believe in the stories of these heroes of legend. Everyone knows there were dragons, sure, because they've seen the skulls. But there hasn't been a single dragon alive in over a hundred years. Magic is something that people think is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo that doesn't really do anything. There are several different religions at play, but the Gods are kind of absent from people's lives. There is a class of people, a scholarly caste of sorts who are invested in understanding the world as it is, and they are dismissive of the fairy-tales told by old women to frighten little children. People live and die, and plot and scheme and everything carries on as people play out their games of political intrigue.
What they fail to realize, however, is that they are on the brink of another age of legends. In the far frozen North the dead are rising from the grave and on nights when the snow falls and the cold gets into your bones, the dead come to kill and show no mercy. In the far south, on a completely different continent, two exiled high-born siblings begin amassing power to reclaim their lost kingdom, and a great and terrible act of magic changes the world forever.
Each chapter is a breathtaking turn of events, and the conclusions in each book left me gasping at the horror, the grandeur, the treachery, and the unbelievable awesomeness of what just happened. The author pulls no punches, and just when you think you know someone they do something that changes everything. It's a no-holds-barred, gritty and realistic series. Every character that gets introduced is someone who has layers upon layers of story and life in them. There are no flat characters. There are pawns and there are players, and often times it's hard to distinguish one from the other.
This is one of the best series I have ever read, and I don't say that lightly. These books are masterfully written, never drop the pace, the pieces all lead to a richly full picture, and every character grows over the course of the story.
The series has been picked up by HBO and their live action version of Game of Thrones will hit the air in April of this year. Previews are available on HBO.com and YouTube. I'll probably finish the fourth book before MLK Day and then I have to wait for the next book and the television series.
It will be a delicious torment.
A Song of Ice and Fire is