Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

You know, after reading A GAME OF THRONES, I am shocked at how many male readers are quick to demean "bodice rippers" and yet tout this book around like it's the second coming of Fantasy Jesus. This is exactly what good bodice rippers are like - epic doorstops of character drama, over the top violence, rape, depraved villains, only-slightly-less-villainous heroes, and drawn-out journeys to far-off lands. The only differences between the two are a) GAME OF THRONES is a fantasy novel loosely based on actual historical events (as to historical novels loosely based on historical events) and b) GAME OF THRONES is a book that is really marketed towards men, whereas bodice rippers, as we all know, are marketed to housewives with too many cats.

I first read GAME OF THRONES six years ago, during my junior year of college, and I was not impressed. I thought the story and the battle scenes and the world were interesting, but the multiple POV format didn't work for me. The temptation to skip ahead was far too great. Oh, Bran's speaking again? Time to skip ahead to Daenerys or Tyrion or Jon. Eff you, Catelyn. No one likes you, anyway. Arya, stop trying to imitate Tamora Pierce's heroines - you're not good at it. Sansa, please stahp. Just stahp. Oh my God, Catelyn - Catelyn - SHUT UP CATELYN.

I wrote my review a few years after the fact, and was amazed at how many rude people felt the need to tell me that my three star review (fairly generous, I thought, considering how little I actually enjoyed the book at the time) was wrong, how I'd read the book wrong, how I clearly didn't understand that GAME OF THRONES had plenty of strong women, and also, what did I consider "good" fantasy? TWILIGHT? Sneer, sneer, sneer. TWILIGHT aside (yes, I like TWILIGHT, but it's not really a "fantasy" novel, and I wouldn't consider Bella the paragon of heroism in a million years), the viciousness of this series fans astounded me. Especially since I'd said that I "liked" the book (I just didn't "love" it). What were people saying to those who'd truly hated it? Well, I took a look, and I wish I hadn't - rabid GoT fans have a tendency to pull a "Joffrey" on negative reviews of this series.


Six years later, I found the first three books as part of a three for $3 deal at a used bookshop. 3,000 pages for $3 seemed more than fair. But since I couldn't remember all the events that happened in book one, I decided to read it from the beginning so I could just dive right into books two and three if I decided it was worth the effort. To my surprise, I found that I enjoyed the story a little more than I did before. Maybe because I'm older, so I could sympathize with the adults more and what their motivations were for doing some of the things they did. I still liked Daenerys and Tyrion and Jon the best, although Cersei amused me more this time around, and Joffrey wasn't as evil as I remembered - I mean, he was, but Robert, Lysa, and Catelyn were worse. I still don't think that there are very many good female characters in this book. Most of them are wives or daughters or whores. There's nothing wrong with being any of those things, but it's still frustrating to see such an array of male characters spouting agency, being featured in a wide variety of complex and interesting roles, while the women either stand firmly behind the throne...or under it. You could argue that Cersei is a complicated female character, and she is, but as with most willful female characters in male-written fantasy and science-fiction, she's a villain. Daenerys is strong, too, but she's not particularly complicated, and as much as I enjoyed seeing her transform from Oppressed Sister/Child Bride into Daenerys Stormborn, Queen of the Dragons, she's pretty much a Mary Sue. I still enjoy her, but she could be more.

A GAME OF THRONES is also uneven in terms of how the pacing goes. Some parts of the book move very quickly, whereas others - like those written from Bran's point of view - seem bogged down and bloat the book with unnecessary pages. Call it blasphemy if you want, but I feel like a couple hundred pages could have been shaved off, while still preserving the heart of the book, making it a tighter and stronger story as a result. I don't think it's a coincidence that the best narratives are often spaced out, book-ended by much weaker narratives. For example, I'm reading CLASH OF KINGS right now and even though the book ends with Daenerys, she doesn't make an appearance until almost page 200 in the sequel...about 20% of the story! And Jon doesn't make an appearance until 10%. Doesn't sound like a lot? The sequel is over 1,000 pages, so it actually kind of is...

But despite the dark content, lack of adequate female representation, and uneven pacing, I really did enjoy this story. It was like a medieval soap opera (or bodice ripper) - light and just complicated enough to keep me turning the pages without feeling like I was dropping IQ points. The battle scenes are great, and Martin is really choice at coming up with inventive deaths for characters he knows you care a lot about. I also could appreciate the amount of time creating the world of Westeros. There were some great descriptions and details - the crests, the armors, the landscape. Some of the scenes on the Wall gave me the chills - both because of the cold and the terror. But it has flaws, too.

If you take away any messages from this review, it's that:

1. GAME OF THRONES is not for everyone - and that's okay. What's not okay is to belittle or attack those who don't (or do) like the book on their personal review spaces. Write your own damn review!

2. GAME OF THRONES is the perfect gateway book for HR lovers who want to get into fantasy - or, for fantasy lovers who want to get into romances. Seriously, why aren't you all reading bodice rippers, yet? Patricia Hagan's Coltrane saga and Marilyn Harris's Eden saga would be perfect for you.


3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.

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