December 13, 2013

More Like A Game Of Waiting, Amirite?

Spoiler warning for those who have yet to read all of the currently released books in the series.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is a landmark fantasy series, that much is undeniable. As of April 2011, The New Yorker reported that the series as a whole had sold more than 15 million copies globally. This was even before the release of the fifth book, A Dance With DragonsApril 2011 was also when the TV adaptation on HBO first aired, so this was before the show's popularity spilled over to book sales as well. 

As a book series, not even just as a fantasy series, it is one of the highest selling, most talked about, and perhaps most loved feats of literature in the world today. I add the qualifier "perhaps" to that last bit, because I have several gripes about it that need airing and I know I'm not the only one.

Rant sequence, begin.
First, I like the books. I really do. It's refreshing in a lot of ways, and the size and scope and depth of the world Martin created is truly breathtaking at times. However, it is not without flaws. Lots Lots of truly annoying if not enraging flaws. 

For some perspective, I have a list of my favourite fantasy series, finished or still ongoing, and A Song of Ice and Fire sits... 23rd.

If You Love It, Marry It! Just Don't Invite The Freys

Before I get into the specifics of what bothers me about the series and why, it's important to establish what I think makes it good. As I already touched on above, the world building is epic. Lots of cultures that were obviously not just thought up on the spot to fulfill some other purpose. Martin takes plenty of time to delve into each and every one of them, giving lots of details that are for the most part interesting if not outright bad ass. The Wall and the Black Watch, the history of the dragons, the White Walkers, the peoples behind the Wall, Westeros with its different cultures and kingdoms of old, the Dothraki, all come to mind.

It also has (or in some cases, had) a lot of interesting characters. Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Brianne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister, Ned Stark, Samwell Tarly, Tywin Lannister, Oberyn Martell, Daenerys, the Onion Knight, The Spider... they're characters I can think of off the top of my head that I really liked to read about. 

The plot has all kinds of unexpected twists and turns. It doesn't pull any punches, it's not all sunshine and rainbows, the heroes don't have it easy and there aren't more than a handful of truly "heroic" characters in the first place. Martin isn't afraid to kill off seemingly important characters for the sake of his plot, and it really helps ramp up the tension whenever any character finds their lives threatened. 

Why All Of What I Just Said Makes It Awful

The number one, main problem I have with the series is that Martin seems to have fallen in love with just creating more and more. More characters, more world building, more plot twists featuring the deaths of hitherto important characters. All of the reasons I and most people started to read the seriesDaenerys and her dragons, the White Walkers, the civil war in Westeros, all the interesting characters I mentionedhave been pushed further into the distance as Martin adds more filler to the series. By now, the series has become bloated with new characters, world building, and plot arcs that aren't as interesting as the others he's started to ignore. 

Robert Jordan on the cover? That explains a lot.
To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, the series was originally supposed to be a trilogy. The first book was supposed to be about the Westeros civil war, the second about Daenerys invading with her dragons, the third about the White Walkers threatening everyone. The series now has five books, and Martin says will be seven books long. I have my doubts that he'll manage to keep it to only that many.

Daenerys, in fact, is probably the most emblematic of what I'm on about. I've always gotten the impression that Martin never really knew what to do with her until she was to finally invade Westeros. It's taken five books for her to get the dragons, raise them, and gain an army. By the end of A Storm of Swords, the third book of the series, Daenerys has all of that. Problem was, Martin still was not even close to wrapping up the civil war plot arc in Westeros. So Daenerys instead lingers on with her dragons and her army, resolving to ensure that the cities she's conquered remain strong and peaceful and free from slavery, which she does by sitting behind city walls and indulging in sexual affairs. 

And as a result of this stretching of that story arc, we have a new character: Quentyn Martell. He is there to wed Daenerys and/or tame her dragons, but fails to reach either goal and is killed in the span of a single book. An utterly pointless character, and a POV character at that, that only served to make the novel even more bloated. Prince Aegon Targaryen is another example. It's that sort of thing that wound up forcing Martin to split the fourth book into two. 

Wake Me When We Get There

A Memory of Writing his own damn stuff
It's a shame too, because A Storm of Swords was fantastic. The two books that followed it failed utterly to seize on its success. Where they should have wrapped up the civil war and prepared for Daenerys' invasion, moving everything along at a nice pace, absolutely nothing of importance happened between books four and five. Everyone continued to maneuver and plot and scheme, but nothing came to fruition. No battles, no political victories, the most momentous thing that happened was it started snowingsigns that Winter has all but arrived. All that happened was some pieces were moved around, and a whole bunch of new pieces were carved and put onto the board, and the board was also made bigger, all of which delayed the game by about... fifteen years.

Now all of this might not necessarily be a problem if Martin was a prolific writer, and churned out a new book every couple of years at most. In fact, A Game of Thrones was first released in in August of 1996, A Clash of Kings in November of 1998, A Storm of Swords in in August of 2000. Those three books established the series as great, and with two years between them. Unfortunately, it took five years for A Feast For Crows to hit the shelves in 2005, and six years after that for A Dance With Dragons to be released in 2011. And keep in mind, they were originally supposed to be one book, so it effectively took Martin eleven years to finish the follow up to A Storm of Swords. 

Eleven years it took to pen the two worst books in the series, where nothing

of importance happened, and he bloated the series with pointless and uninteresting characters and plot arcs. Now it's been two years past the release of A Dance With Dragons, and there is no word on his progress on book six. Odds are it will wind up being split into two books again, and we can expect the first one to be released in 2018 if the pattern holds. Forget about Martin staying ahead of the show, we should worry more about whether he'll be alive long enough to finish the series.

Actually, what's Brandon Sanderson up to these days?


  1. Yeah, it seems like he just kinda leaned on the "MOAR" button for a while without realizing it. Also, I do not give one single fuck about the Martell and that whole situation. I think it's cool shot, and I love all those bad as sisters, but it's just an obstacle blocking me from getting more dragons. GIMME DE DRAGONS

    At the same time, when you consider that the content of the first three was supposed to be the first book, and 4 and 5 were supposed to be the second.... it's not uncommon for the second book in a series to be the weakest one. And those are effectively the "second book", if in an extremely protracted way.

  2. Fair point on that last bit. Though I think technically everything that's happened so far was supposed to be in book one, since book two (of the original trilogy) was supposed to be Daenerys invading with her Dragons and that hasn't even happened yet.