The Song of Ice & Fire Review (Books 1-5)

The Song of Ice & Fire Review (Books 1-5)

iron throne, game of thrones, hbo
The "Iron Throne", as depicted on HBO's Game of Thrones

I’m doing a bit of a fill-in post for today, and didn’t have anything directly on point as far as music goes, so I thought I would give my thoughts on a book series I have just finished, The Song of Ice & Fire.  And to at least act like this has something to do with music, just realize that the word “song” is in the series title, and the theme song for the television adaptation, Game of Thrones, is pretty epic in its own right. 

I should also probably give a little bit of context for this review.  The book series is written by George R. R. Martin and the series is planned to after the seventh novel is completed.  I would have waited on a full series review, but it will probably be ten more years before the last two novels are completed.  Let’s not kid ourselves, in ten years Google will have bought our blog, and we will be exclusively writing reviews on Top 40 Artists; but only the really crap ones.  Also, as a further disclaimer, each one of these five works deserves its own 40,000-word thesis, but I am going to attempt to do all the books justice in less than 1,000 words.  Alright, here we go.

The main plot of the series takes place in a fictional world, comprising the two main landmasses of Westeros and Essos, but most of the action early on takes place in Westeros.  Westeros contains seven “kingdoms” that are ruled by one king, who sits atop the iron throne, which gives the first novel its name, Game of Thrones.  Martin attacks each chapter from the point of view of the different characters, and by the fifth novel, there are 31 point-of-view characters.  As you can probably tell just from that last number, the scope of this endeavor is unlike anything I have seen attempted in literature.  Believe me, there are way more than 31 important characters too, meaning that all of the point-of-view characters and important sub-characters are constantly intertwining their stories. 

game of thrones, novel, cover, art

The “story”, so to speak, of the series involves the aforementioned seven kingdoms jockeying for position to try to either sit the iron throne themselves, or be in a position of power with whoever is sitting it.  This means that the series is a bit of a medieval soap opera to some extent.  When you see the previews from the television series, or the covers of the books, you are automatically thinking that all the excitement is going to come from sword battles and other high-action events.  The truth, is the drama springs fluidly from the depth of the characters and their relationships with each other, and also the plots that are constantly hatched.

I think what Martin is trying to convey to an extent is that most of the true power lies in the mind and inner-power of all the individuals at stake.  The might and power of vast armies is often undone in this series by a single cunning, resourceful, and often devious character, who may be a small child, female, eunuch, or even dwarf.  By placing extreme but hidden power with characters that are ill-regarded or need to “know their place” in the world Martin has created, Martin has infused an unpredictability into his novels that is pretty much unheard of.  At one point, five of the “main characters” die within about five chapters of each other in a single book, but somehow Martin is able to pump out equally interesting and deep characters to sit their places. 

peter dinklage, tyrion lannister, hbo, game of thrones
The most cunning character is also the most diminutive

I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed this series, but I do need to at least point out the negatives if you are thinking about reading it.  First, Martin seems to have overextended himself a bit with the scope of the series.  I don’t see how he will be able to wrap up all the events in two books without making them twice the size of the others and taking seven years each to write them.  I was told by a buddy that I would be going through extreme withdrawal when I finished the fifth book and just knowing the sixth isn’t going to come out for several years is pretty depressing.  Martin is going to be hard-pressed to completely satisfy his readers on every nagging open plotline and still be alive to finish his work.  Second, he split up the fourth and fifth books geographically, meaning the events are going on at the same time, but when you start the fourth book, you don’t see several series-favorite characters for an entire book.  The fourth book was great, but detachment from certain characters gets pretty frustrating.  Beyond that, there isn’t too much to complain about. 

I would really feel that anyone that enjoys reading to check out these books.  And if you don’t enjoy reading, then it probably means either a.) you don’t read so good, or b.) you are trying to sound cool by saying that, which makes you a rod.  A lot of people have told me that they don’t enjoy fantasy, which is fair.  Let me say this, the first book is very light on the “fantasy” elements, but things ramp up a lot in the following books.  But let me also say that this is not normal fantasy, but is very much so literature in line with the work of Tolkien.  I would even say that Martin’s ambition with his series has the chance to end up blowing The Lord of the Rings away if he finishes strong.  We will have to see.

Hope you enjoyed delving into something a little bit different today, and I promise we will be back to music tomorrow with an all-new Top Ten Thursday.


Depending on how Martin finishes off the series, this could go up or down.

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