I have been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series recently. About a month ago I caught up with what’s been published, by finishing book 5.
It all started with the HBO series, which was awesome. Halfway through the first season I bought the books, because I wanted more. By squeezing a fat book into a single season of a TV series inevitably things get cut, especially back stories. Also the movie can show you what happens but mostly cannot tell you why the characters do what they do – you cannot hear what’s going on in their heads.
Book one (A Game of Thrones) was a great read – as good as the TV series and then some. Things that had passed too quickly to make sense on the screen, started making sense. People I had mixed up because they looked and sounded too similar and were only occasionally referred to by name, got distinct identities.
Book two (A Clash of Kings) was a good follow-up. Things got more complicated, events had consequences, trouble spread, characters got fleshed out while new characters entered the scene. It wasn’t as powerful as book 1 but that is normal – now that events had been put in motion, they needed time to grow and mature. The book promised great things to come.
Book three (A Storm of Swords, parts 1 and 2) was noticeably weaker. Martin has now spun off so many plot threads that he cannot even keep them all aloft at the same time: book 3 is split into two volumes, each of which follows half of the crowd. So much is going on that I lose track of things. After the build-up of book two, I wanted this one to up the pace again, but it didn’t happen.
Book four (A Feast for Crows) is more of the same. The progress is so slow that I literally don’t even notice that one plot thread, which had initially seemed to be a most essential one, is not even included in this book.
Book five (A Dance of Dragons) is even worse. All the pieces are in motion, heading for something or someplace, but no one ever actually arrives anywhere. They travel, they dither, their plot threads are temporarily suspended… Instead new people are introduced, and unlike the old ones I do not feel any connection to these newcomers, and cannot bring myself to care much about them. Give me the Starks, not some psychopathic torturer of a lordling!
While I was riveted at first, I gradually became less and less enamoured of the series. I won’t buy the next book until the series has been completed, so that I can know that there is an actual ending and a resolution to look forward to. It is as if Martin himself has lost his passion. It is just a job at this point. The language becomes repetitive, the events uninteresting.
Apart from the sprawling muchness of it all, there thing that really annoys me is the seeming lack of master plan. Events and circumstances that seem really portentous later appear to have no particular meaning. Hints of a grand structure vanish into nothing. For example, there are the five plus one direwolves for the five plus one Starks – and then one is killed already in book 1. It is presented so as to sound important, that one of the Stark children now does not have her wolf, and during all the following books I am kept waiting to see why it matters… and it seems it doesn’t.
Events happen randomly. Out of nowhere, magic appears, when Martin needs it to solve a problem. Out of nowhere, characters that had until then seemed central to the story, get killed off. Out of nowhere, some characters get brought back to life. And literally brought back to life, not just “oh he looked dead but had simply fainted”. By now I don’t take any death seriously because I know that Martin could change his mind at any time.
Oh, and I am by now also really annoyed by the recurring soulless listings of what people wear and what heraldic devices they have on their shields and banners.