I used to be a great fan of fantasy fiction. Swords, sorcery, hobbits, Lords, rings – I’m sure you know the sort of thing. Then along came Robert Jordan’s The Wheel Of Time series…
Now I know there are many, many folk out there who are huge fans of that series, all of whom have enjoyed reading it immensely. However for me that series killed the genre. Killed it and stomped all over its corpse. Sorry.
Things started well enough back in the early ‘90s when I started reading The Eye Of The World. But as the volumes piled up it became more of a struggle and by ‘96 or thereabouts with the release of the seventh book in the series, A Crown Of Swords, I couldn’t take it any longer. I gave up. Even though I was given a copy of the eighth book, The Path Of Daggers, as a gift I could not bring myself to read it. I switched instead to a diet of horror, sci-fi, crime, western, assorted non-fiction works, biography, auto-biography, classics, histories, anything other than fantasy. Apart from when I re-read The Lord Of The Rings at speed in advance of seeing the movies.
So what prompted me to break my fantasy embargo now we’ve reached the second decade of the 21st century?
b) Seeing copies of A Game Of Thrones all over the place;
c) Hearing people go on about Game Of Thrones the tv series;
d) Being in possession of a Book Token and not finding anything else to spend it on.
The answer is, of course, secret option e) All of the above.
And it turned out to be a pretty good choice.
As the first book in a series (will I last the distance?) A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin covers a lot of ground. There are lots of characters to introduce, scenes to set, locations to describe, and plot strands to get running – a lot to take in, I’m sure you’ll agree. But it wasn’t enough to divert me from my return to the genre and before long I was completely immersed in a world of political intrigue, moral dubiety, outright treachery, gore-strewn battlefields and so much more. The pages turned and turned and I was surprised at how quickly I found myself on the final page – always a good sign and something that bade well for the rest of the series.
One of the things I really like about this book is that it does not rely heavily on the use of either magic or the supernatural as plot devices. There are hints of these as the story progresses but they are very much in the background, leaving the focus very much on the interaction of the multitude of characters and the events they are embroiled in. Conflicts are resolved by exchanges of blows and/or dialogue rather than by swapping spells and this gives the story more of a grounding in the real as opposed to the fantastical.
Also there is a genuine sense of threat and uncertainty as the author is not afraid to kill off characters who have central roles in his tale. This gives rise to some real cliff-hanger moments which help hold the attention and really make you wonder what is going to happen next. I consider this to be a really good thing in a novel as too many times you know that no matter what the hero or heroine will win the day in the end. Every once in a while they need to lose or be heroically wiped out (no matter how tempting the rewards of a sequel might be!).
That’s probably enough for just now as there are another 6 books in this sequence to come and I’ll have something to add about each. I’ll just add that I’m glad I used that book token to pick up a copy of A Game Of Thrones, its a great read and I’m looking forward to A Clash Of Kings. Will I read any more in the Fantasy genre when I reach the end of A Song Of Ice And Fire? Well, it is far too soon to say but if this standard is maintained I suspect anything else the genre has to offer may pale in comparison.