May 28, 2011

Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin

I read this book on a dare. Not quite on the scale of the infamous Twilight Dare; more of a self-inflicted dare. Loni first alerted me to the offensive New York Times article implying that women wouldn't watch the new HBO series based on the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series of which this is the first book. The writer, Ginia Bellafante, states,
While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Now I have never heard of Lorrie Moore, but I found this to be extremely offensive. Not only have I read The Hobbit, but I also worked my way through the full Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time when I was 13 years old; Anne McCaffrey's Dragonrider books are among my favourite series; and I have read lots of fantasy books in my time (often recommended by my cousin - waving to Kim if you are reading this!). So based on this article, how could I not read Game of Thrones!

I don't know what I was expecting going into this book, other than "boy fiction" as Ms. Bellafante calls it. I guess I was expecting lots of sex and violence and hopefully a well-developed fantasy world.

Sex - yes it was there, but not as graphic as I had feared. Violence - yes, but again not too graphic or offensive; more as a plot device which was not lingered on for longer than necessary. And the fantasy world? Yes, it was there (with some striking similarities to the European Middle Ages), and while I was reading, it was real to me. And dragons even made an appearance at the end!

I really liked how the story was told, with chapters alternating between different points of view from different characters. It wasn't told in the first person - that would have been too disjointed - but the different points of view gave a very balanced view of different characters. I'm not quite sure who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, but that's real life I guess.

Now for what I didn't like...

The length. This book came in at 800 pages in paperback, and it is the shortest one in the series to date. The 5th book is scheduled to come out in July and there are 7 planned in the series. It is huge in scope with multiple inter-connected plot lines taking place simultaneously (hence the multiple points of view); however I can't help but wonder if it is so broad that it looses focus. I really found that it dragged on by the end, and I can't see myself plodding through further, longer volumes. Plus all of the plot lines ended without any resolution - almost like all 7 books are really one book in multiple volumes - one very long, 5600 page book.

The treatment of women. Maybe there is something to Ms. Bellafante's critique. There are a few stronger female characters, but for the most part, the women are either prostitutes or the property of their men-folk. The only truly strong female character (in my opinion) is Daenerys who takes the lousy hand she is dealt and manipulates the situation so that she thrives. (Another character, Arya, is strong, but gets there only by pretending to be a boy.) Plus there is a very blatant double standard - men are expected to have at least one or two bastards hanging around (or in some cases, many, many bastards); while if a wife gives birth to a child, no-one questions that it must be her husband's.

The despair. Every character seems to be longing for a time of peace, and "the way things used to be;" and yet there is no hint that anyone is going to get there. Plus the so-called good guys keep getting killed.

So am I glad that I took up the dare and read this book? Yes. There were some characters that I really liked (Daenerys, Tyrion, Bran). Will I read the rest of the series? Probably not, based on the length if nothing else; though I may watch the HBO series and from what I've heard, it is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book. Besides, I can always find out what happens in subsequent books on Wikipedia!


Loni said...

Hi Kate! Glad you read it, though I still haven't yet. I'm not in mood for long books. Too close to the baby's due date. I think my original offense has more to do with the generalization of women who don't read fantasy than this series specifically. I do think I'll either read it or watch the series though; I have friends who keep saying I'll like it.

Kate said...

Loni - I found the whole article offensive! I hear you on the whole long book thing (even though I'm not pregnant!) - I was really flagging by the end of this one and had to pay 4 days worth of overdue fines at the library because I couldn't quite get through it on time. It was an interesting and engaging enough read though, and if you enjoy fantasy, you will probably enjoy this book/series.