With the sheer amount of media attention that’s been levelled at A Game of Thrones over the last couple of years, it almost seems pointless writing about it here. Nonetheless, I’m sure I can muster up one or two things to say…
I first read the book not long after the third book in the Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords came out. I rapidly hoovered up the next two books (I have a single volume copy of A Storm of Swords), and the wait for A Feast for Crows didn’t seem too long. Then there were the barren years (a long winter, if you will) before A Dance with Dragons. Robert Jordan’s death had given us the Fear and it seemed like we might never return to Westeros. Thankfully, of course, that didn’t happen (though the Fear remains, lurking at the edges of consciousness), and Martin reports that he’s making good headway in tackling the next (currently penultimate) volume, The Winds of Winter.
Needless to say, I was very excited to hear about the possibility of a TV series. And then, not only was it made, it turned out to be better than anyone but the most delirious of optimists could have hoped. Watching and smiling; smiling and watching. Groovy.
So, my book club decided to give A Game of Thrones an investigate. I was the only one to have read it before, and I’d always meant to reread them so I was happy to go along with that. I was a little nervous though. It was published 16 years ago, and I was worried that the prose might have dated (‘a bit mid-nineties’ is hardly a term of praise). I was also concerned that watching the series might have spoiled the book somehow. Thankfully, there was nothing to worry about — I repeatedly found myself amazed and enthralled as the familiar events unfolded once more. I’m not sure how useful a term ‘best’ is when it comes to literature, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s the best fantasy book I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot).
Of course, reading it this time was quite a different experience. Since our last dalliance, fantasy literature has continued to evolve (cf Steven Erickson, R. Scott Bakker, Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, etc.), I’ve read a solid chunk of Martin’s back catalogue, and, of course, the TV series has been made.
Reading his earlier work, which spans many genres over several decades, made me appreciate the craft that goes in to the Ice and Fire books. He reminds me of Stephen King in this regard — a craftsperson who’s earned his skills writing all sorts of things and writing them a lot. All of the the writers mentioned in the previous paragraph have interesting and unique voices, but they all suffer from flaws of diverse sorts that just aren’t to be found in A Game of Thrones. One thing in particular that I was struck by was his use of multiple perspectives. Often novels that use this technique, even when it’s done well, feel a little bit fractured. This was not the case here — each perspective was a thread in a rope. Little touches allow even Daenerys, a continent away from everyone else, to feel like an important part of the core narrative. Further, there were marked differences in tone and style that really made them feel like different points of view and not just changes of scene.
The most striking influence on this read through, though, was the TV series. Having seen the marvellous characters walking and talking on screen evoked a wonderful sense of resonance while reading the book. There were lots of little differences: some minor scenes were cut and there were details of introspection that were inevitably lost on TV. Of course not every little thing can make it to the screen, so I wasn’t surprised by excisions. I was more interested in the slight changes in appearance between character in the book and the show. The most notable is Tyrion, who’s a rather handsome devil in the show. Much more important, though, is that the personalities of the characters are represented perfectly.
Bonus link (for all the latest on the haute cuisine trends of Westeros): http://www.innatthecrossroads.com/about/