I finally got around to reading A Game of Thrones, even though the series still wasn’t finished when I started, because the television series was starting. Sam really wanted to watch it, and I didn’t want to see it without having read the book, so I gave in and started reading.
Sam had repeatedly warned me that it was really dark, and indeed it is. I think he said that there are no wholly good characters. So far, at least, that isn’t quite true. It may be something that becomes more accurate as the other volumes unfold. There are certainly no simple characters or plots—but then, I remember enough of Martin’s earlier work (on the Wild Cards series and such) that I wouldn’t expect anything else. People aren’t simple or purely black and white, so why would characters in good fiction be that way?
The best way I’ve found to maybe tell protagonists from antagonists so far is to use the chapter names as guides: the people whose names are used as chapter names are either protagonists or survivors. I’m not sure which. Catelyn and Tyrion are the only people from the “older” generation who have chapter names. No, wait—I just thought of someone who kills my theory. I can’t say because that would be a spoiler.
I did find several incidents in this first book disturbing. I don’t like it when bad things happen to children or animals. Cersei would be a fun character to play, although I suppose she’ll get her comeuppance at some point (or I hope she will). I’ve tried thinking of her as a woman protecting her children, but that’s not helping.
If you’re easily disturbed, don’t read the book (or watch the television series, apparently). Just — don’t. You won’t be happy with the opening scene, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. But if violent war and political scheming, incest as a dynastic strategy, and very occasional creepy supernatural happenings are okay with you, it’s a very well-written book.
The end of A Clash of Kings snuck up on me. That’s something I hadn’t really thought about before, especially with an 874-page monster like this, but it can happen with an ebook. I’m reading along, eager to know what happens next. The chapter ends, I go to the next page, and — Appendix? What do you mean, Appendix! That’s nonsense, there’s got to be more story here than that! I want to know what comes next, dammit! GIVE ME THE STORY!
As it happens, I can start reading A Storm of Swords whenever I like, unlike all those poor folk who read this book when it was first released. I think I might need to stop and read a few other books first, though. I did read yesterday’s big announcement regarding A Dance with Dragons, but there’s no way I can stretch the next two volumes out to last through more than two months until book five actually comes out. I’m sure the delay will be worth it, though!
One thing Sam and I have discussed is Martin’s marvelous subtlety with magic. It’s only barely there at all throughout A Game of Thrones, and can easily be dismissed by anyone who doesn’t have direct experience of it. It grows stronger in A Clash of Kings, but it is still something that just about anyone in the Seven Kingdoms would say belongs in tales for children. Not relying on magic for the plot takes more discipline as an author, and holding back as he is says a great deal about Martin’s careful pace.