03 February 2012

Books: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (2000)

At this point in time, George R.R. Martin has to somehow keep this massive series from collapsing in on itself. In A Storm of Swords, the third volume in his Song of Ice and Fire, he takes well over a hundred pages just to get caught up with all his characters. As I read this book –I actually decided to read two other books before picking up this third one- it occurred to me that while Martin is trying to create a real world, in all of its sometimes tedious detail (why we need every room, every outfit and everyone’s history spelled out in such detail is beyond me) there comes a point at which this sort of ennui slows the story down to a snail’s pace. And in a book –at least in its mass market format- 1128 pages long, readers can become frightened to read it. I mean, as any reader, who has more books than wits, a 1000 plus page novel is daunting. 

The length, in the end, could be the doom of many of these series. I've mentioned before that three-volumes is pretty much a good length for most series (and I loved Harry Potter, but taken as a whole, at 7 volumes, it probably will be a daunting task for future readers). To me, Robert Jordan stumbled when he decided to expand his Wheel of Time series from the initial 7 to the 14 (and my understanding is, had he not died in 2007, his series would have continued beyond the conclusion with three planned prequels) that will complete it sometime this year. With so much to read these days, committing your time and years (oh so many years) to a series longer than 3 volumes is asking a lot. I look at what Tolkien was able to with the Lord of the Rings trilogy (although he wrote them as a single volume), the world he created with Middle-Earth, the languages, the back-stories of a lot of the characters, yet able to keep it contained in three books -of course he published more back-story stuff and history in other volumes over the years after he completed The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Still, either he knew (or through publisher's insistence) that to keep the pace of the series going, some stuff would need to be dropped, not because they weren't necessary, but because they could distract from the main story (though Tolkien still wandered here and there). Martin has to balance his desire to tell his story with such great detail, without sacrificing pace. He succeeds, somewhat, but I still think he could have cut hundreds of pages from the volume and not lost the thread of his story. Fans and Martin might not agree, but he truly needs an editor willing to stand up to his obvious bullishness.

Martin is a great writer, though his savage blood-letting I find hard to read after a while. Still, he creates great characters, humanistic (even in their barbarism). They all have issues in which the reader can identify with. Which is, perhaps, what makes this series so different from the average fantasy series. You can believe these people exist.

Still, the line between good and evil is not so easily identified here. With this volume, Martin throws much of what the reader assumed into the air, and sees what happens when what we assumed would happen, doesn’t. Shifting loyalties, death and destruction are mixed with such vigor, the tale does not become that slow, even in the painstaking detail the author is doing it in. 

Still, with so many deaths in this volume, I’m wondering how many will be around for its conclusion. I like that Martin changed the assumption of who was the heroes of this series, and has turned the idea that all of us are many shades of grey, but some deaths were painful to read. Sometimes, the enemy does live. 

As mentioned, the bloodletting gets extraordinary here, and at times it seemed very cruel. I was unsure several times if I wanted to complete this series (and I’ve read book 4 is tedious, so I’ve decided not to read it next. Yet) due to the violence. I find myself at a crossroads with this horror. I like Martin’s style, but life is treated with such senselessness, that it turns my stomach to think I’m enjoying the series. 

It’s a conundrum I’ll have to weigh before continuing on.

1 comment:

Ceska said...

I love the way Martin treats magic in this series. In the first book, there are hints of long-gone magic (the dragons, Valyrian steel, the Others, etc) that are all treated reverentially but consigned to history. Book 2 turns all of these up a notch, hinting that they may not be so far gone after all. In addition, a strange and dangerous priestess enters the picture, a woman who is able to know and do many things that are terrifying and powerful to others in the Seven Kingdoms. In A Storm of Swords, one gains a sense that the lifeblood of Magic is surging back into the world again.