Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Song of Fire and Ice, Oh My!

I have been reading books, despite my lack of posting on them. Allow me to rectify that situation herewith. First, I read Shadow Man by Melissa Scott. It's about a future where there are 5 genders -- but set on a planet that only recognizes two of them. I've never seen personal pronouns put to such good use. It's interesting to see what sort of assumptions people make based on gender and I liked that the author assumed that people would still make assumptions -- they just have 5 sets now.

Then it was on to George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice saga. My friend Thi told me I should read these because they are really good fantasy novels that break with a lot of fantasy conventions. And he was right: they are great. Thus far I've finished A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings and I've rushed right on into A Storm of Swords.

They take place in a medieval setting, in world that used to have dragons and giants and "the others." Winter is returning, after 10 years of summer. And maybe some of the mythical creatures are, too. But first there is a small matter of who should be king to deal with. These books have sword fighting and political intrigue and fantastical beasts. But what makes this series different from many is that there is also a great deal of time spent dealing with "behind the scenes" actions that involve troop movements and food supply lines and alliances changing and children being used as hostages.

The action is told from the point of view of a different character each chapter. Not just the "good" ones; you see from the point of view of all the different factions, which makes things so much more realistic and more complicated. Sometimes fantasy can be too simplistic: you know who you're rooting for and you know they will prevail. Not so here. Martin isn't afraid to kill off major characters -- and not necessarily heroically. In this series, death doesn't necessarily make you a martyr or brave; sometimes it just makes you dead. As Thi said: "...there was no, "Oh, just kidding, he's going to pull a Gandalf".

The one convention that Martin definitely sticks with is length -- these books are more than 1000 pages each. Which is why I've been a bit slow getting through them, although they are certainly enthralling enough. I'd definitely recommend these; the characters are really interesting, the plot is well-crafted and the writing is solid.

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