Two stars, read in June 2012.
Before we go any further, I must address the fact that, yes, I purchased the tie-in cover. Usually I would never, but there weren’t many other options at the Wal-Mart in Childress, Texas—one of many small, small towns on the road trip from Dallas to Salt Lake City—and I didn’t care anyway since I’d heard about the show around the same time I learned about the books. I’ve been watching the HBO series, and I love it. I think it’s excellently cast and performed. The first book is the only one I’ve read, but although I haven’t seen the most recent season because I watch when it comes out on DVD, I have seen and really enjoyed everything up to that point.
But as far as the book goes, I don’t know what to say besides meh. It was not as exciting as I thought it’d be. I really didn’t care for the writing, and liked few of the characters. I couldn’t help comparing it to the Wheel of Time series after seeing Robert Jordan’s praise on the back cover, and Game of Thrones came off worse—which says something, because I love WOT, in the way that you love a ridiculous relative. Martin’s writing is even more pretentious than Jordan’s, tries even harder to be epic and glorious and solemn, and sounds even less natural to my ear. He spends as much time describing clothing as Jordan does, only with more armor (which, really, you wouldn’t think could be described using so many words). And his female characters, if you can believe it, are even less likable than Jordan’s.
Spoiler alerts from now on.
With the exception of a nine-year-old tomboy princess-type person, I hated every one of them. Catelyn Stark is cruel to her husband’s bastard son Jon, who is a very kind and lovable boy. Cersei Lannister is your average two-dimensional evil queen. Lysa Arryn is absolutely batshit crazy for her spoiled, awful son. Both Cersei and Lysa are the ridiculous trope of women in power who literally live to please their sons (and both of their sons are horrible). Sansa Stark is as stupid a girl as you can imagine; she’s infatuated with Cersei’s son, always going on about how gallant and noble he is, totally blind to his unbelievable cruelty to her own family members. Daenerys Targaryen starts out being ruled by her disgusting brother, has a beautiful moment of strength in which she finally stops taking it, becomes obsessed with adopting her husband’s violent patriarchal horse culture and bearing a son, and ends up breastfeeding dragons.
Many parts of the story were fascinating, but it’s a little gory for my tastes, and by a little I mean a lot. Too many descriptions of people being disemboweled, beheaded, and melted; too many weird body parts chopped off (like ears and nipples); too many horses killed so their blood could be used for bathwater and pregnant women could eat their hearts raw. I skimmed a lot of this book.
And for me, there was far too much awkward talk about sex. I really hate the vocabulary fantasy and romance novels use to talk about body parts—“his sex” and “her sex,” or someone’s “manhood”—because of course no made-up society could actually have names for those things, and only precious euphemisms can be sexy. I hate that they only ever seem to use the misogynistic language of men “taking” women and women being “taken.” I really, really hate any discussion of a man’s “seed.” I hate how they fetishize the posterity thing, so that the most glorious thing a woman can do is “give” her husband a son. Mostly I hate how I can always see the writer; how these scenes pull me out of the story and I can’t see them happening naturally, I can only imagine the writers pulling out their thesauri.
So what it comes down to is that I finished the book and felt totally okay deciding that I wouldn’t read the next. The story is interesting, and the few characters I liked, I liked a lot. But it hit on too many of my pet peeves, and in the end the story wasn’t enough to counteract that.
Having seen the TV series now, and considering how extensive the book series is, I realize that so many characters couldn’t be fully developed in just one book. In the show, at least, the women are developed into more than fetishes and tropes. The nudity is par for the course with HBO (and can I just say that it really weirds me out how all HBO women have the same tiny pink nipples? My evidence comes only from this show and Sex and the City, but they’re completely different genres and at least a decade apart. It’s very unsettling that with different hairstyles, naked Miranda and Samantha would fit right in). The violence is still gross and gory and occasionally traumatizing, but it’s telegraphed pretty well, giving me time to look away (if I can).
I don’t know if I’ll ever devote the time to finishing the books, but I would at least consider it if someone made a convincing enough argument. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to impatiently await the DVD release of each new season until it’s done.