Nasty and brutish, but not exactly short . . .
By George R.R. Martin, Bantam
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy books (on which the HBO Game of Thrones TV series is based) has always been sold as fantasy for people who don’t actually like fantasy . . .
The novels have always been tough and gritty with copious amounts of sex and violence – a welcome antidote to the rather safe and anodyne fictional realms typical of the genre. No cutesy hobbits here. Instead it is a gritty and rough medieval world in which good does not always triumph over evil.
The Song of Ice and Fire novels are more like faux historical epics in which the focus is on the protracted struggle between rival kings and fiefdoms instead of your “standard” fantasy tales. In fact the story’s supernatural fantasy tropes such as zombies, magicians and dragons are practically relegated to the background and play second fiddle to all the intricate political maneuverings and backstabbing.
In that, the latest Song of Ice and Fire installment does not disappoint. Martin has not gone “soft” on us and the book is as well-written as one would expect.
The problem is however that Song of Ice and Fire is in danger of becoming yet another example of those seemingly endless fantasy franchises that put off more casual fans of the genre.
This latest book may clock in at a hefty 1 040 pages, but the problem is that, put simply, not much actually happens in those thousand plus pages. Like many fantasy – and science fiction for that matter – writers, one gets the feeling that George R.R. Martin will keep churning out books of a popular franchise for as long as it pays the rent.
Is it worth your time?
Here is the maths:
- The first book in the series (Game of Thrones) was published in 1996 – sixteen years ago!
- The previous four books clock in at 3 936 pages in their paperback format.
- If you include the latest hardcover, the series thus far clocks in at 4 976 pages, almost 5 000 pages!
- The third book, Storm of Swords, was split into two volumes in the UK in 2000 because it was so thick.
- Martin says there are two more books in the series, namely The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. Publication dates are unknown.
- It took Martin six years to complete this latest book, which was a “bitch” according to his note at the back. If the next two books also take six years each it means that you would finally get to see how it all ends in 2024. George R.R. Martin will be 75 years old then.
- If the other books also clock in at a thousand pages each, the entire series will clock in at about 7 000 pages in all.
- Tolstoy’s War & Peace clocks in at about 1 440 pages.
No wonder many long-time fans are doubting whether this is all worth their – and Martin’s – effort.
Frustratingly A Dance with Dragons ends on several cliffhangers as the fate of several long-time characters hang in the balance. But the chances are that in six year’s time you’d have to check in on Wikipedia to refresh your memory before starting on The Winds of Winter.
It is an excellent, yet frustrating, read. Fans will be glad to know that Martin finally gets around to what happens to several beloved characters largely ignored in the previous installment, but the author gets bogged down in endless details and a myriad of subplots that seemingly go nowhere. (Read it on Kindle: the enormous over-sized hardback edition will cause a singularity at the center of the planet if you drop it by accident!)