slow start so far (spoiler alert)

Well, this semester is getting off to a mercifully low-drama start. I still have one kid who owes me payment for the entirety of last semester, but that’s really it. So, since there are no good stories yet, I’m going to rant about this book I’m reading.

It’s actually a series. You may have heard of it. It’s called A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s by a guy who calls himself George R. R. Martin. HBO made/is making a series out of it, with lots of legitimate actors. I haven’t seen it, but I know Sean Bean is in it, so that’s okay.

So many people are raving about this series. It’s sooo good, it’s thrilling, it’s the best story ever, it’s the biggest thing, I can’t put it down, when is the next one coming out, etc. I was curious to read it, but I got more and more cautious the more recommendations and reviews I read. When the phrase “the next Tolkien” started popping up, I took a serious step back. Let’s not get premature on ourselves here. It might be good, but the man was a linguist.

So, I asked a friend whose opinion I trust. I told him I was interested in reading it, but wasn’t sure I was going to like it enough to keep on my bookshelf forever, so should I go the cheapest route and go paperback, or pay a bit more and go e-format? He assured me that it’s a great story, gripping, suspenseful, surprising, and it’s exactly good enough to get it the cheapest way possible.


I started reading it warily, as I have the tendency to hate books everyone else loves, particularly in the fantasy genre (His Dark Materials comes to mind). The first book, A Game of Thrones, was, as I call it, summer reading for smart people. The story was top notch, very fast paced, always kept you guessing, and didn’t make you think too hard. The writing was mediocre but forgivable.

Then I got to the second one. The story stopped dead, and the major writing flaws came to the surface. It was like reading The Two Towers (aka Everyone Goes South) without all the character development and battles to keep it going. None of the characters were more than two-dimensional, and some less than that. I never cared about any of them (after the closest thing I had to a favorite was killed off in the first book). Nothing in the story made me want to care about them. Even my curiosity was starting to wane. And the name-borrowing from LotR was getting irritating.

But beyond that, I was starting to consciously notice the writing. So many flaws, redundancies, and stylistic errors that could have been fixed by a decent editor. I can’t tell you how many times I read “[character] at least had the decency to blush,” but I shouldn’t have noticed it at all. I can’t tell you how many paragraphs I skimmed, descriptions of descriptions, not picking up any detail, then realizing it wouldn’t matter anyway. Every knight was depicted down to the last dent in his armor – including his horse. I don’t need to know all that. The screenwriters might, but it just pulls me out of the story – it’s advancing neither plot, character, nor point. In fact, the whole book probably could have been shorter by half.

But the thing that really started to grate on me was the lack of action. This is a story about the wars between and among kingdoms – except all the battles happened in between chapters. A chapter consisted of a character reflecting on the battle or intrigue that had occurred without our reading it, figuring out how to advance from there, and coming up with a scheme we may or may not fully understand. Then the next chapter started, with a new character, reflecting on some major plot point that happened while we were gone, etc. I only recall a single battle being described in the entire book, and it took ten pages of the leader’s thought process until someone finally did something. And then, the description was so cumbersome it hardly felt like a battle.

I just began the third book. I almost didn’t. But I figured, one – I bought the stupid things, I might as well read them, and two – if I don’t finish them now, I probably never will. Please, someone, tell me it gets better, that there will be a decently written chapter, that there will be a battle, that there will be a character I actually care about, drawn as something other than a penciled stick figure. Tell me it’s worth finishing, and I won’t regret having wasted my time on it.



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8 responses to “slow start so far (spoiler alert)

  1. Peggy

    You have been spoiled by Tolkien and expect everyone who steps into this genre to meet his standard. Lower your expectations and you may enjoy it more.

    • That is quite simply not true. I came into it with an open mind and really liked the first book. I just can’t handle reading something where we don’t know about any action until after it’s happened, and the cliffhangers from the first book are largely ignored or dissipated in the second. I don’t think that’s unreasonable to ask.

  2. Hi Liz! Long time no see (probably because I now live in Canada) Anyways, I am currently reading these (I too just started book three) and have similar thoughts to you about them. (I am also coincidentally a hater of most fiction that normal people love.) Book two was, frankly, boring….the only thing that you get out of book two is the realization that Tyrion is BY FAR the best character out there and then he gets his nose sliced off at the end of the book. WTF?!

    Book three is, thus far, better than book two but nowhere near the excitement and intrigue of book one.

    Also, just out of curiosity, are you wishing that he would hurry up and kill of Sansa Stark? She is the MOST annoying character and should have (if she was a decent character with any sort of good character arc) had some sort of character transformation/become a less stupid, whiny and annoying shit who only cares about marriage when either her father was beheaded or she was engaged to Joffery… but nooooooo…. she seems to be staying stupid and annoying for the long haul. Every chapter she’s in is another chapter where I hope Cersei beheads her. Also how is her family ever going to forgive her for basically getting Ned beheaded?! I really think she should be killed off.

    • Thank you!! Glad I’m not the only one. I agree, Tyrion is by far the most interesting character. I liked Ned, but so much for that, and I tried to be interested in Jon and Daenerys, but I can’t. At the start of the third book, I feel like Jaime could become a character I can get behind, but we will see how that goes.

      Sansa… now that you mention it, yes, I would like her beheaded. I am honestly surprised Joffrey didn’t do it already. However, the one I really want gone despite myself is Catelyn. Yeah, she’s supposed to be this caring mother who has to be a pillar of honor etc etc, but she comes off as whiny when she’s being a mother and cold when she’s not. I can’t stand her, someone should throw her in a dungeon.

      • Yes, Catelyn! I actually realized last night that I am now skimming the chapters she narrates. Basically all she does it bitch about Robb. I think my hatred of Sansa partly stems from the fact that out of all the characters I identify with Arya (or at least childhood Erin was a lot like Arya: super rambunctious and outdoorsy and generally terrible at being a girl) and Sansa was such a jerk to her.

        Also- I suspect that Jaime, like Tyrion, is going to end up being a much better person then he originally seemed.

  3. Other conclusion (because I’ve had a drink)…. I think George R . R. Martin writes female characters really poorly. (Except for Arya, but because she’s more like a dude). Catelyn and Sansa are super whiny, Cersei is a one-dimensional stone cold bitch, and Dany is REALLY just a sex object who happened to have dragons for kids.

    Also- this is amazing, and true:

    • That video just made my night. For real. It makes it so much better. Also, if he’s really awful at writing female characters, he’s only about 10% better at writing males.

      • It’s actually true, basically George R R Martin’s male characters only ever think with one part of their body, and it’s not their brain…..

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