Jul 26, 2006

Withdrawal from Ice and Fire

I recently finished A Feast for Crows, which is the latest volume in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. Actually, I should clarify that it was the audiobooks that I'd been reading (or listening to - what's the correct terminology??).

In any case, I wanted to take a moment to highly recommend this series. A few buds in my gaming group had told me to check them out, and the books did not fall short of their praise. To date, there are four books in the series. The first, A Game of Thrones, is a little slower than the remainder, but is largely set-up and character introduction. The subsequent books are much more exciting and eventful, but I still very much enjoyed the first.

The books are based in a unique fantasy setting, but the presence of magic and things fantastical is very muted. In general, the books are more so an intricately-woven tale of the goings-on in a fictitious medieval world. The story centers largely on political intrigue, and even though that sort of novel wouldn't typically interest me much, these books have kept me firmly captivated.

Martin introduces a plethora of interesting characters, some of which will be very well developed, and others to be explored and revisited at a later date. Indeed, a large cast was almost entirely necessary, as the denizens of Martin's tale seem surprisingly short-lived. The world of Ice and Fire is not a Disney-esque one, but rather a gritty semblance of what medieval courtly life most likely entailed. The common folk are but playthings of the upper class, and absolutely none are safe from the mortal reality of lesser power struggles, war, and even the conflict for control of the crown.

Meanwhile, beneath the surface currents of the so-called game of thrones, Martin is slowly building an exterior, fantastical threat. While the ruling class and their base-born pawns heedlessly struggle for power and the crown, a dark menace is inexorably gathering its strength to crush civilization beneath a tide of ice and encroaching death. It's fairly evident that elements of traditional fantasy and magic will become more pronounced as the books continue.

Therein lies my frustration. I've read all four of these (rather lengthy) novels back-to-back, and I'm thoroughly embroiled and not yet ready to stop! Unfortunately, Martin is still busy massaging his next installment, leaving me hanging. Even more frustrating, Martin decided to split up the events following the third book into two volumes, one dealing with a certain set of characters, and the other with the remainder. As many of my favorite characters' fates are still suspended in the limbo of the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, I'm truly faced with a classic cliffhanger. Drat! (What's going on with Tyrion Lannister, dammit?!?)

For those of you who also read audiobooks, I particularly enjoyed the delivery provided by Roy Dotrice, who performed the first three books. He does a great job of creating a different voice for each character, such that one always knows exactly who's talking. John Lee, who reads the fourth book, also does a decent job, but I really missed the excellent voices provided by Dotrice.

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