My favourite type of book is the sweeping epic. Give me a good dose of emotionally charged political turmoil and I’ll read you like your lover.
My taste is varied too. I love The Lord of the Rings, but I’m equally happy with War and Peace. I’ll even branch away from the classics and go mad for a good TV drama. The new Versailles series on the BBC looks like it could be a winner – the protagonist’s hair alone is a thing of wonder.
I also like long stories and following the same characters. Having read all twelve of Winston Graham’s Poldark series, there’s no denying I’ve got the patience for a proper saga.
However, here’s a sad truth. A Game of Thrones ought to be top of my list. It’s got the length, the scope and the drama, but to me it was a bit… naff.
I like to play fair, so I confess here that I’ve only made it as far as A Feast for Crows, and I haven’t watched past the first episode of the TV series. Can I judge the series as a whole? No. But I can judge what I’ve read, and tell you that there’s no way I’ll be reading further, ever.
This series has so much promise. My God! If it worked nothing would ever beat it! But for me it really doesn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. The plot is excellent. Of course we could be awfully critical and point out the plethora of common ground with the Wars of the Roses, but being creative with history is nothing new, so we’ll let it slide. (Except the whole Lannister/Lancaster, Stark/York thing. That’s just pants.)
Moving back to where we were, George. R. R. Martin knows his stuff. The politics are complicated and convincing, and by the end of A Feast for Crows things are all panning out nicely. To give credit where it’s due, I do think A Song of Ice and Fire is amazingly engineered.
The one glaring problem is, however, I don’t care who wins the war. At all. By the end of the first book I just wanted the whole series to end so that I could move with my life. I persevered further because I thought it might get better. I thought maybe I would actually care about Jon Snow given enough exposure. Given the popularity of the series, I was fairly convinced that I would eventually reach a point of agreeing that Tyrion is a wonder.
It never happened. I like both these characters, but that’s as far as it goes, and do I really remember any of their scenes? Not particularly.
Daenerys’ chapters were a test of patience, and whilst I liked Arya and Bram I still wasn’t really into their stories. Sansa I found forgettable, and Samwell a pitiable attempt at character type diversity. Heaving a sigh, all I can really say of the characters is that they were there. Like mannequins in a window – interesting to glance at, but offering no real scope for my empathy.
Maybe I’m missing something, but God knows if it lies further on in the series I don’t care to find it.
Another issue for me is the pacing. I love multiple narratives, but this series is excessive. Flitting between seven or eight protagonists in each book is exhausting. Especially since I found it hard to distinguish between some of the characters, let alone remember what was going on with all of them.
I don’t have a problem with complicated narratives, but with this one I spent much of my time like this:
I’m usually quite forgiving, and will happily skip back a few pages to recap, but my patience is not endless, and this series wore it thin.
Another point that I will explore briefly is the sex.
I have no problem with sex in books and films. Done well, I think it can add a great deal to a narrative, and even in cases where such scenes seem excessively frequent (the first episode of Versailles does, I confess, spring to mind), I generally don’t find it a huge distraction from an otherwise good story.
A Song of Ice and Fire, however, seems to have been written on the premise that no one has ever used sex a weapon before. All the sex scenes read with an awful, contrived vibe of ‘look how clever this person is, using their body to manipulate that person,’ and it’s really quite dull. I felt, reading it, that the author was trying to make a great hullabaloo about a very old, generally acknowledge truth: sex and power are intrinsically linked.
Of course the twincest is quite shocking, and the extremely rapey first intimacy between Daenerys and Drogo equally so, but neither of these plot points are interesting. If anything, the sex in this series read to me like fan fiction, voicing nothing of greater depth than ‘ooooh… isn’t this bad!’ I would agree that is is bad, yes, but nothing new, or special.
And one last point: killing your protagonist is not a risky, dramatic move when you have nine of the buggers to contend with.