Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Song of Ice and Fire – Why Should I Read It?

Intellectual literary types are sometimes inclined to dismiss certain aspects of the fantasy genre as a cheap by product of a contemporary pop-fiction movement.  Though the genre may have spawned classics, the most obvious example being The Lord of the Rings, the modern market is dominated by teenage wizards and vampires. George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is often dismissed as yet another teen fad, made popular by the hit HBO television series A Game of Thrones, much like The Hunger Games or Twilight. On the contrary, Martin's world of gritty realism, back stabbing politics, pious religion, and flawed humanity is exactly what the genre was calling for.

If a king massacres his people, should he be deposed? In the light of recent political movements in the Middle East this question is highly relevant. The corruption of the ruling classes has long captivated the imagination of the public, and the central issue in the series concerns this corruption. Westeros is a land run by power hungry families who control various territories and hold fasts. All of these families are subjects to the King, not unlike a historic England.  As sly court politics create tensions between families, friendships fray and war engulfs the kingdom.

Martin may not have Tolkien's poetic flourish, but the raw nature of the world Martin creates perfectly compliments his writing style. Love, affairs, slavery, prejudice and betrayal are just a small number of themes that are to be found. No character is perfect, just as no person is perfect. Compared to the pure goodness that characterises Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins, all characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are prone to make mistakes, to act on impulse, driven by emotion. This enables the reader to connect with the characters on the same level rather than feeling beneath, and distinct from the 'good guy'.

What makes the story so engaging is the sheer scope of the world that Martin created. The intricate story lines involve the perspectives of 31 characters. Along with politics and war in Westeros,  the story of an exiled princess is interwoven, as well as the distant threat of a supernatural race called the Others. The series has a total of 7 books, with an average page count of 900, and two final books still to be released. Here, the invention of the ebook is highly pragmatic. With a quick visit to an ebook bookstore you can download the series to a device small enough to fit in your pocket. This reader was late to the ebook revolution and therefore spent months hauling massive novels across the city of London.

For anyone with a slight weakness for fantasy, after reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but is not a fan of the tacky literature that lines most book shop shelves, take a chance and start with Life of Pi you might become hooked.

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