For the first time in my life, I actually read a book because of the television show it was based off of instead of the other way around. I’d resisted reading this series for a long time, one because it is high fantasy, and two because my brother promised me it would make me cry.
So far I haven’t cried, but it is dark. Very dark. GRRM understands this middle ages. In GRRM’s medieval-flavored fantasy, swords are for hacking people to bits, not for clashing harmlessly against each other. Life in the kingdom of Westeros is nasty, brutish, and short. Women are killed/abused by men, peasants are killed/abused by nobles, the nobles are killed/abused by kings, and the kings kill each other.
So why delve into a series of thousand page novels that isn’t even ended yet? One, because I loved the show so much I wanted more. If you, like me, watched it, know that the show is relentlessly faithful to the book. You’re not going to get much more out of the book than the show except a little more backstory that helps things make sense. But the wolves have a bigger part in the novel than in the show, and there are lovely maps to help make sense of where things lie in relation to one another.
The strength of this book is in its plotting and its characters. GRRM takes nasty, horrible, wonderful, deeply flawed people, makes you love them, and then kills them. You think you know who the hero is, but you don’t. They’re all heroes, and they’re all villains, and since what they’re fighting for is deeply at odds with each other, you know that some of them are going to die.
The magic is more subtle in this than in many other high fantasies. They don’t have court mages, and people don’t ride flying horses, but some things happen that are impossible, ie. the dead walking. The plots are deeply, deeply political. It’s handy to have a chart to make sense of who is who, and which person is related to which house, and who killed whose father, etc. If you have trouble keeping a lot of names straight in your head, this might not be your book. If you’re put off by graphic sex and violence, this is not your book. If you don’t like horse-and-castle fantasy, this is probably your book anyway, give it a try.
I recommend this for people who like plots that go to eleven.