George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones has turned into a major franchise–best-selling books, a hit TV series, fan clubs all over the world, etc. So naturally I wanted to see what all the fuss is about.
My expectations were high. Martin’s Fevre Dream was one of the best and most original vampire novels that I’ve ever read. I enjoyed some of his science fiction novels, too. Finally, Martin has won just about every fantasy and science fiction award in existence.
I couldn’t get A Game of Thrones, so I’m reading the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings. I’m about 200 pages into the massive volume, and in answer to the question, “What’s all the fuss about?” I can now say, “Hell if I know!”
It’s a disappointment, and I’ll tell you why.
Way, way, way too many names! Imagine yourself sinking helplessly into a silo-full of dried-out corncobs. Martin suffocates you with the names of characters and places. Some of Clash reads like a bloomin’ phone book. In addition, he hops bewilderingly from scene to scene. Charles Dickens and Edgar Rice Burroughs excelled at juggling multiple subplots without confusing their readers; but even Dickens would be hard-put to keep all these subplots flying.
It’s not all that original. No one says fantasy is easy to write. Some fantasy writers don’t make it very easy to read, either. Martin’s fantasy world of Westeros doesn’t seem all that different from fantasy worlds created by Robert Jordan, David Eddings, or Harry Turtledove. It’s the usual medieval-sorta world with knights and nobles and wenches, girl warriors, yatta-yatta. Really, we’ve seen it all before. Show me something new! (Then again, maybe he will–still some 600 pages to go.)
There’s no overarching theme. So far, Clash reads like, “Here’s a humongous bunch of people, and this is what happens to them.” In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, everything that happens is part of something big that ties all the incidents together. I don’t see that here. OK, I understand the story is about a lot of kings contending for mastery. So what? A lot of different teams are trying to win the pennant in the Japanese baseball league, but I don’t care which one does. Reading Clash is kind of like reading several hundred pages about Japanese baseball.
Did we really need the nasty sex scene? Graphic is bad enough–exploitative and unloving makes it worse. I never encountered this in Martin’s work before: but then he has a huge body of work and possibly I missed the graphic sex scenes. I would say its presence here diminishes both the book and the author.
Millions of people have enjoyed A Game of Thrones and its sequels. I don’t know why. But if this stuff is the heights of fantasy, I’d hate to see the depths.
2 comments on “‘Game of Thrones’–What’s All the Fuss About?”
I found and started with the first book but didn’t care for it either. Many of your knocks hold for me but to that, I would add it didn’t actually feel like fantasy to me. Yes it was a pseudo-medieval world but where’s the magic and strange creatures?
Actually, there is some black magic in the second book, A Clash of Kings–or seems to be. Maybe it’ll turn out to be something else. And there are some strange creatures offstage, which the reader never gets to see. So all we really have is this interminable dreary story in which the bad guys always win and nothing ever gets resolved.
In my own fantasy novels–I hope you’ll read them!–I don’t allow any of the characters to perform feats of magic. I have two reasons for this. First, my novels are based on a Biblical understanding of reality which precludes magic. Second, “magic” in fantasy is, I believe, terribly overused, to the point of being both a cliche and a lazy short-cut to getting things done. That being said, I do allow for numerous happenings that can be described as wondrous, marvelous, or even miraculous. You’ll also find plenty of strange beasts on hand to entertain you, not to mention strange people.
I plodded through Clash and have no desire to read any more of that series. Frankly, I can’t imagine what anybody sees in it.