It’s been nine weeks and four days since I opened A Game of Thrones and tonight I closed part two of A Dance With Dragons. It’s been a ride.
After I read A Game of Thrones I talked about it here a little bit. I said – and I’d like to say again – that it’s so much more readable and nowhere near as intimidating as I thought it would be. That vast cast of characters is generally much easier to keep track of than I expected, partly thanks to very few of the names being similar enough to mix up and partly because they tend to stick together. You get used to this lot being around Cersei and this lot being around Dany and this lot being up north. I very rarely had to consult the character lists.
There’s no way I can identify what happens in which book. It’s not a series of books. It’s one gigantic book which is split into smaller books to make it easier to write, publish and read. With, say, the Harry Potter books, you could pick up a book from the middle of the series and read it. It has a self-contained story and it’s also part of the arc. It works best when read with the others but you could read it on its own. With A Song of Ice and Fire, I don’t think you could. I think it would be like picking up a normal book, opening it partway through, reading a bit of it and expecting it to 1) make sense 2) contain a full and complete story. And knowing its history, that the series currently projected at seven books was originally three and kept expanding and one book became two, over and over again – well, of course the books don’t stand alone. This is not a criticism.
I shall put on my feminist hat for a minute. This book has some great female characters. It does. I love Arya and Brienne and Asha and Dany from the bottom of my heart. Even Sansa was growing on me before she vanished. But the men! The way most of the men seem to think rape is inevitable and normal! You can’t have women at the Wall because the men will rape them. Alright, in war, maybe. Rape as a weapon of war is horrible and not to be excused, in real life as well as in books but horrible things happen in war and I don’t think GRRM is trying to make them sound like they’re not horrible.
And it can be gory! Many a time I’ve forced myself across a few pages, wincing and hoping it’ll be over soon. Too many maggots. Too many spilled entrails. Zombie Catelyn is simultaneously amazing and horrifying. I do not do horror, especially possession and body horror and these books occasionally edged a little close to the borderline of my comfort zone. I can do violent and I’d expect it to be violent but the gore… Also a tiny bit too vomit-splattered for my liking but then, my favourite book of all time (The Lies of Locke Lamora, have I mentioned it recently?) has a far worse scene. On the whole, I’m really glad I don’t watch the TV show.
Oh, the dragons! Dragons are a staple of fantasy literature but I think this is the first time I’ve seen them really dragonish – uncontrollable wild killing machines that fly and breathe fire and eat people and don’t pay any attention to their so-called masters. They were so cute when they were little, like winged puppies climbing all over Dany and now they’re fearsome monsters, like dragons should be. Apparently GRRM wasn’t originally going to have the dragons in there. I’m so glad they’re there. I love dragons. I had a series of ill-advised dragon-themed email addresses and websites when I was a teenager and I still wear my little silver dragon around my neck. And Dany has proved herself fifty times over since the first book, so I’m definitely Team Targaryen. Tommen’s a sweetie but he’s a Lannister and even if Cersei is broken (which I don’t believe for a minute), he’s just a puppet. I like the idea of Sansa reappearing and seizing the Iron Throne. Don’t think it’ll happen but wow, picture Sansa in armour on a horse claiming her kingdom. Not Stannis. Please, not Stannis. Stannis is utterly owned by Melisandre and we are not having Westeros ruled by Melisandre. I’d quite like to see a catfight between Melisandre and Selyse though.
Any other thoughts? Well, it all gets in my head. Many a book I can put down and forget about. These ones tend to have my mind running after I put them down. “But X did that! Y killed Z, what’s going to happen now?!” It’s all been very exciting.
It’s simultaneously making me want to read other fantasy and avoid it for a while. I planned to re-read The Lies of Locke Lamora next but it’s just a wee bit too similar atmosphere-wise to A Song of Ice and Fire so it’ll wait. Unless anyone has any better suggestions (please have better suggestions!) I’m going to take the Lord of the Rings to Iceland. I need something chunky to last me two weeks (don’t want to take a big pile of books. One, maybe two chunky ones will do) but not so chunky that I get sick of it by the third day which is what I fear may happen with tLotR. In the meantime, I’m compromising by reading Thursday Next – well, I’ve been wearing a SpecOps t-shirt for the last couple of weeks and no one has recognised it so I thought I might as well read them. I’ll talk about Thursday Next another time. It’s a series of about eight books so far, which I think you should read.