Saturday, August 17, 2013

Game of Thrones Special

I have to interrupt my "Sandman" comic retrospective because I've spent the last few weeks deep in a Game of Thrones hole. I found a copy of "A Clash of Kings," the second book in the series, in a community garden on Columbia Street, and after I read that, there was nothing for it but to read the rest.

The Game of Thrones series, more accurately known as "A Song of Ice and Fire" by Santa Claus-lookalike George R.R Martin, hit my radar as soon as the first advertisements for the television series went up in my subway station. I don't actually read a lot of fantasy, but there's only so long I could look at Sean Bean sitting on that chair made of swords at the Bergen Street F station before I had to know what all the fuss was about.
Advertising works.
Also, "Game of Thrones" is the only television show that almost everyone in my office watches, and Monday mornings were our GoT recap sessions. I had to read the entire series so I could always know what was coming and give smug spoilers on request. Thus ensuring my place in the office hierarchy as the insufferable nerd who gives way to much of a shit about interests normal people would be slightly ashamed of having.
No shame. Haters gonna hate.
The television show is great. And so are the books, as you might imagine. Even though there's umpty-zillion main characters and storylines, I think the books are best described as "readable." You get pulled into the world very quickly and easily, every character great and small feels fleshed out and real, and details about the society and history get doled out in manageable portions just when you need them.

While there are recognizable elements from the fantasy genre in "A Song of Ice and Fire"--recognizable to both die-hard fantasy nerds and to anyone who saw a Lord of the Rings movie once in the theater because it was raining and it was the only movie everyone in your family could agree on--the series is actually a subversion of fantasy tropes. When I describe ASOIAF to others, I say, "It's sword-and-sorcery, but heavy on the sword and light on the sorcery." It would be more accurate to call it something like "realistic fantasy," or "fantastical realism."

To be sure, all the familiar faces are there: kings, princesses, dragons, brave knights, gallant outlaws, swords with names and cursed castles. But ASOIAF takes the extra step of imagining a world where all of these things exist with ordinary human beings in a functioning, complex society, with politics, religion, social movements, and strained foreign relations. There came a point when I stopped viewing the characters from my own cultural perspective and began to view them from theirs, to see their society as they saw it, and that's when I knew that ASOIAF was a cut above most standard fantasy fare.

The scope of the series is massive--it takes place over several years, in several locations thousands of miles apart, and it's told from multiple characters' perspectives, so you can sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed with information. I've read the entire series twice now, and seen the television series from beginning to end twice, and I finally feel like I'm getting a good grasp of what's going on. But figuring out what's going on is half the fun of ASOIAF! A common refrain in the office is, "Wait, who is X again, what's their deal?" And we get to spend another ten minutes figuring out the characters and their relationships to one another. As the BF's father also says every time we see each other, "I don't understand anything that's going on, but I can't stop watching."

All that aside, ASOIAF is just a great story. It's about love, betrayal, and ambition. It's about nations at war, a world in peril, and rulers both good and bad struggling for power. But it's also got incest! Ice zombies! People dying in horrifically imaginative ways! And strong female characters!
You don't know about the adventures of the Strong Female Characters? Kate Beaton will school ya!
I'd recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy, politics and political intrigue, sweeping multi-generational family sagas, and epic war stories.

Also recommended to anxious flyers like myself. I really should have saved these books for my trip back to Hawaii this November. Five thousand pages of fantasy would have been the perfect distraction on my twelve hour flight.

No comments:

Post a Comment