Martin, George R. R.
About the Author:
George R. R. Martin lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4.5 out of 5
A Clash Of Kings
A Song of Ice and Fire book two. The troubled realm of the first book is torn apart by civil war, creating a whole new set of dangers for the scattered Starks. But Martin continues to show the depth of his storytelling by beginning to tell the stories of the Stark's enemies, who are no less convinced of their own righteousness. I really enjoyed the idea that, following the turmoil of the first book, leaders all across the nation declare themselves King.
The story of Danaerys Stormborn, true heir to the throne, on the other side of the world begins to become more interesting too. Also, Dany's story features the birth of her three dragons, who bring magic back into the world. This book's greatest triumph, however, is the development of Tyrion Lannister. A dwarf (but not in the Gimli sense), he confronts mistrust and prejudice at every turn and yet, as the King's Hand, he shows himself to be more of a man than any of his peers. Tyrion's tale reaches it's height in the wonderous evocative climatic battle, in which he leads his people to victory. As before, however, Martin avoids happy endings, and Tyrion finds that no matter how heroic he is, it will earn him no gratitude or respect.
5 out of 5
A Dance With Dragons
Book five of A Song of Ice and Fire. As with 'A Feast for Crows', this book was a long time in coming and, once again, isn't entirely worth the wait. Don't get me wrong, Martin has lost none of his phenomenal skill with prose and reading this book is absolutely never a chore.
No, where this book falls just short of the benchmark set by the first three is in its plotting and construction. Unfortunately, rather than taking the various plot threads we have already forward to a significant degree, Martin instead decides to diversify them even further, adding in countless new characters and situations to complicate matters. Perhaps the worst instance of this is where he has a new Targaryen spring out of the woodwork, as if there weren't enough people vying for the throne already. All these extra plotlines, interspersed among the more familiar ones, serve to slow the overall narrative flow of the book.
Compounding that problem is the fact that the author seems to have written some of his characters into corners that he doesn't know how to get them out of. Throughout this entire book, for example, Daenerys does very little, pretty much just sitting in Slaver's Bay as she has done for the last couple of books.
Overall, although written with Martin's singular talent for grabbing hold of the reader and not letting go, this book was not the long-awaited epic next chapter that I'd hoped for. At a time when we want to see storylines start to come together, Martin spreads them out further than ever before. Also, the deaths of two important characters late in the story seemed more like the author doing it for shock value rather than in service to the plot.
3 out of 5
A Feast For Crows
The Song of Ice and Fire finally reaches book four. First I'll relay the tale of what happened to this book when Martin was writing it... Working hard at continuing the story he'd begun, Martin wrote reams and reams, until it was decided that the book would be far too long and should therefore be split into two books. This had been done successfully with the paperback release of book three, but this time a different approach was taken; the author divided the main characters in half and chose to tell the entire story of one half in this book and the entire story of the other half in the forthcoming 'A Dance With Dragons'.
I'm quite happy to grant that this is a clever way of dealing with the issue, but not far into this book you'll realise that all the really interesting characters (Tyrion, Jon Snow, Danaerys etc) have been saved for the next one. Call me cynical, but I can't help but think that saving the best characters for next time is a deliberate ploy to keep readers buying. The irony is that no one who's read this far will be able to stop anyway, so it's just screwing over the fans. As you may have guessed, I strongly hold this issue against the book.
My one other major gripe is that this book has no climax to speak of. Most of the characters are left hanging in the middle of their stories and there isn't even a memorable set-piece (like the battles in the previous books) by which to mark where this book is in the overall saga.
Martin's talent as a writer manages to redeem much of these failings. He creates characters who are very real in their neuroses, emotions and desires, as well as confronting a great many larger issues about war, religion, patriotism and honour.
Overall good, particularly if you're a fan of the lesser characters like Cersei, Jaime, Brienne and Sam, but you won't be able to escape the feeling that this is a gap-filler novel.
4 out of 5
A Game Of Thrones
The first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Using the word 'epic' to describe fantasy stories is all too common, I often do it myself, but with this series, Martin writes books that earn the phrase is every possible sense. Somehow, he manages to cram every nuance of medieval politics and warfare into the books, as well as creating genuine and believable characters. And on top of that he maintains the air of magical mystery that is an important factor in epic fantasy.
This first book sets the bar for this series and, indeed, all contemporary fantasy series'. The story begins based around the noble Stark family, who maintain the old codes of honour, duty and allegiance to the old gods. Soon, however, the Stark's contented lifestyle is broken when they are drawn into the court intrigues of the larger realm. The book continues to diversify as each member of the Stark family is forced along a different path, towards very different destinies.
The most remarkable quality of Martin's work is that nothing is sacred and nothing is certain. Readers who need a conclusively happy ending, look elsewhere.
5 out of 5
A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms
A prequel collection of three novellas set a century before the events of 'A Game of Thrones', starring Sir Duncan the Tall and his squire Egg.
Long before I read the Song of Ice and Fire novels (and years before anyone even dreamed of the Game of Thrones TV show), I read the novella 'The Hedge Knight' in the fantasy anthology 'Legends' and 'The Sworn Sword' in it's follow-up 'Legends II' (both reviewed here). The third story here, 'The Mystery Knight', is new to me but is also reprinted from an anthology. So, does the fact that there is no new material here detract from it? Not at all. I actually really enjoyed going back and rediscovering these stories now that I have a better idea of where the world they inhabit is headed. And, frankly, I think 'The Hedge Knight' may be my favourite short fantasy story of all time.
In this book Martin is able to dispense with his vast world-building and huge cast of characters and truly focus on the two main protagonists; a knight who has been raised up from the gutter and a squire whose social journey is somewhat in the other direction. What this makes for is an engaging and endearing book that, truth be told, is a more enjoyable read than the latter couple of main novels.
This book also enriches the world seen in the main series, as any good prequel should; revealing details about the Targaryen dynasty, the Blackfyre Rebellion and, in one notable scene, giving us a glimpse of a particularly unsavoury child called Walder Frey...
Don't be put off by the fact that this is a collection of stories either; this can easily be read as one continuous novel unlike some anthology collections. On top of that, the edition that I have is beautifully illustrated throughout by Gary Gianni. What's not to love?
5 out of 5
A Storm Of Swords: One - Steel And Snow
The third book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series was divided into two parts for its paperback release, of which this is the first. The realm is somewhat quieter, following the devastating battle at King's Landing. However, the civil war does continue and across the realm of Westeros Martin's diverse cast of characters continue to further their schemes.
This book begins to hint at the true threat to come as large portions of it focuses on the Night's Watch, ranging in the wilds beyond the great Wall in the north. Bran Stark also begins to come into his own as a character as he sets out to discover his destiny as a wild magician.
Although considerably slower paced that the previous book, this one loses none of Martin's talent for telling the stories of real people in realistic situations. At only one point was this harsh realism uncomfortable and that is when Martin reminds us that Sansa Stark, increasingly the object of unwanted sexual attention, is still only thirteen. However, I think it's entirely likely that Martin planned for the reminder to have just that effect.
5 out of 5
A Storm Of Swords: Two - Blood And Gold
The second paperback part of the third novel of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Here Martin continues the tales of the now familiar characters but goes to considerable effort to turn all of our expectations and preconceptions on their heads.
The line between hero and villain becomes more blurred than ever as even tried and tested scumbags like Jaime Lannister prove they are capable of acts of great moral courage. In fact, Jaime's emotional journey in this book is one of its best elements, almost equalling Martin's work on Tyrion's character in book two.
As well as continuing the individual stories, the author puts the series' larger ideas into effect here as we see the consequences of the return of magic to the world begin to become clear. However, the most interesting larger story thread is set at the Wall, where the Night's Watch discover that the Wildling invasion that almost destroys them is really an evacuation in the face of a far more dire threat. I could hardly wait to read the next volume. Although, obviously, I had to like everyone else.
5 out of 5
Fire And Blood
The history of the Targaryen dynasty from the Conquest of Westeros, through civils wars like the Dance of the Dragons and up to the ascension of King Aegon III, as researched and recounted by Archmaester Gyldayn.
Okay, understand that this is not a novel, it's a fictional retelling of the centuries of history before the Song of Ice and Fire begins. So much of the criticism I've seen of this book is from people moaning about it not being the next Ice and Fire novel. How people are not already desensitised to not getting the next Ice and Fire novel I'll never understand. I've also seen criticisms saying that this is just Martin trying to rip off Tolkien's 'The Silmarillion', but Tolkien's book is much more biblical in tone, where this is very definitely a history book.
So yes, this is a history book, not a novel, and if you don't like reading history books, then you won't like this. Luckily, I do enjoy history books and this, like all great history books, still manages to tell a compelling narrative. There are endearing characters (Mushroom the dwarf), cruel villains (King Maegor) and swashbuckling heroes (Alyn Oakenfist), not to mention lots and lots of dragons, battles and gruesome murders. So, with the exception of the dragons, it reads very much like a medieval history of England, which is, of course, the original inspiration for the Ice and Fire novels in the first place.
There are, however, three criticisms I'd apply to this book that prevent it from being a five star read (if you want a five star Ice and Fire prequel, then read 'A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms'). The first is something that it definitely has in common with some history books; too many of the names are too similar and keeping them straight in your head becomes a real chore, what with the Aemons and Aegons, Daerons and Daemons and so on. As I say, this is something that you see in history, but it should be pointed out that Martin is writing fiction here and therefore can totally be held accountable for this. The second is more of a frustration than a criticism; this book runs from the Conquest to (I think) 136 years After the Conquest, leaving more than one hundred and fifty years untold leading up to 'A Game of Thrones'. Now, I know it's Martin's intention to write a second volume, but at his rate of output we might have to wait a hundred and fifty years to read it.
My third criticism is the most significant. There are numerous times whilst reading this book where its origins as a stitched-together collections of Martin's notes slip through. There are numerous ideas that repeat throughout the book, as if Martin was so enamoured of a concept he had that he couldn't help hitting the same story beats over and over. There are even whole paragraphs which are so alike that I had to double-check I hadn't just accidentally skipped back a few pages and re-read the same bit again. Put simply, the editorial work of joining all of his ideas up into a coherent narrative is far from Martin's best work and, sadly, gives more weight to the other negative thing I've heard said about this book; that it's a shameless cash-grab between proper novel releases.
So, whilst I definitely enjoyed reading this book and delving back into the (literally) cutthroat politics of Westeros, it's not going to be for everyone and it's not without a few glaring flaws.
4 out of 5