OK, some of the regular readers of this blog might remember that I told you I had started reading the books that the TV series Game of thrones is based upon. This week I finished the last one published so far and wanted to give you my verdict.
First of all let me say, that George R. R. Martin has created a great setting and a marvelous background. The world he describes is great and en par with the ones created by for example Tolkien or Pratchett. I really love the depth to it and the fact that it is not all magic. If you read the first book it is (with the exception of the White Walkers and the Wrights) a medieval story more than anything else, although with very fantasy like settings. At the end of the first book you get the birth of the Dragons (for those of you who have not read any of the books or seen the series this is going to be the only spoilers… promised) and magic finds it way into the world. In the books this is done in a very sublime way, which is great.
Now the mass of detail which gives so much feel to the world carries on to the characters both in their detail and numbers. But in their case this can be a let down as well. At times he goes on for pages about the history of some minor knight and their heraldry symbols, which can leave the reader overwhelmed. At one point I learned, that it is often not worth remembering, since these characters never make a second appearance. And in those cases that they do… well you can always look it up on the internet. This wealth of characters also carries a second problem. There are so many that Martin can kill them off like flies. Which is not a problem when it is some lowly Sergeant or stable boy, but often it is main characters as well. And this is often done in a single sentence or even just by word of mouth. If it is a character that you have come to like, a villain that you expect to have a moment of compassion or one character where you have had to read hundreds of pages of their plans, this is just plain annoying.
Same also goes for some subplots which are just hinted (over dozens of pages), but never lead to anything and probably never will since all the characters involved are dead. If you have had to read through dozens of pages that left more questions than answers that will never be solved, it is just plain annoying, too.
The other big let down from my point of view is his writing speed. I know everyone can work in his own speed , but the work should not suffer from it. Now I need to do some explaining here. The fourth (“A feast for crows”) and fifth (“A dance with dragons”) book are not in chronological order, but virtually simultaneous. They are split geographically with some character only being used in one book while the rest are used in the other (the last few chapters of “A Dance with Dragons” brings both lines back together though). Now between the publishing of the third book and the fifth there were eleven years. Now if I had not read the books back to back and would have had to wait eleven years for a word of some of my favourite characters, I would have been bleeped. But as I said, Martin has a right to his own speed. But the bad thing about it is… if you read them back to back you will realise, that some of the characters have changed a lot over the course of a couple of days (which is the time that lies between the 3rd and fifth books in the story). While they had important events happen to them, none would explain the gravity of their changes. Which is sad since I feel that Martin himself has forgotten the essence of some characters over that period of time. So in that sense he took too long for his own good.
The last mood point is, that some times the books can get slow going. For example I felt that most of them held too little tension for the first between 100 and 200 pages. And the arc of suspense is usually too steep with his books. It rises fast, but drops even faster after a short period of time (usually through the one-sentence-death of one of the main characters).
Final verdict? Well I think there are deficits to the books and I hardly dare say it since many people hold Martins writing style in god like status, but it mostly comes from his writing style being a bit rough and not fully developed. Writers like Steven King, Dan Brown or Terry Pratchett could have turned this into a real masterpiece. But bottom line is, it is good enough and the setting so intriguing and addictive, that it is well worth reading it. I am waiting for the next installment and hoping that not all character meet such a hasty death in the end!