Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Game of Thrones -- A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

Photo: U.S. hardcover, from the book's Wikipedia page

Unbelievably entertaining and engrossing read, which--as I pointed out in my review of its predecessor--is really saying something, since I knew every major thing that was going to happen.  That in no way took away from the read, and may even have enhanced it.

As is necessary for high fantasy, and perhaps fantasy in general, the writing is so totally enveloping that it is like you're in that world.  World-building has to be perfect in books like this, but I'll bet that it's rarely this much so.  The Lord of the Rings books were less world-built than are these; I don't mean that as a negative towards Tolkien, as he paved the road and showed the way.  But Martin doesn't focus on over-description of grasses and trees.  Instead his writing is completely focused on completeness in every way: how everything looks, smells, etc., just as you're taught in writing classes, though not to this extent.  He doesn't just description from all of the senses: he focuses more on the sight and the sound, and less on the others.  And he does not describe to the detriment of the action, as Tolkien did.

Some scenes are better in the show, but to describe how and why would be to partly ruin the experience of reading the book, or watching the show.  So just a quick mention of what things are different, without mentioning how they're different:

--though the end of this book brings you up-to-date with this past season's end, the book ends with something not yet seen on the show.

--Brienne of Tarth does not do in the Hound.  I prefer the book's way.  It struck me as unrealistic that Brienne would run across Arya and the Hound, way out in the middle of nowhere, on an outcropping.

--Ygritte does not get killed by a little boy shooting an arrow.  I prefer the show's way, though I admit the book's way is much more realistic.  Martin does not go for the melodrama.

--Something major happens to Jon Snow on the Wall in the book and not in the show.  At least not yet.

--Littlefinger's dialogue before his push is much better in the show.  Essentially the same in both, but the show just nails it so much better.

--(Martin is better than the show's writers with the overall dialogue, and the everyday expressions, etc.  But at a climactic moment, the show's writers really nail it.  And this isn't because I saw it before I read it.  Trust me.)

--The book emphasizes how many guys Cersei sleeps with.  It's clearly a weapon for her.  The show does not...well, show this.

--The book makes it very clear who killed Joffrey.  Good to know I got it right from the show.  We know from the show that Littlefinger was behind the whole thing (which I wouldn't have figured out), but who exactly put the poison in the cup?  Oops...You did know it was the wine and not the cake, right?

--The book breaks the battle of the Wall into two or three distinct parts, over a few days.  The show gives it to us all at once, all in one episode.  I like the show's take better.

--The book does not show the giant's attack in the tunnel like the show does.  It was a good call of the show's to do so.

And there's more, but you get the idea.  I realized while reading that the show made some excellent decisions about what to emphasize (the scene between Tywin and Tyrien was better in the show, too, as is Tyrien's dialogue at that climactic moment) and what not to.  It is a rare thing that a show is better than its material, but it's a close call here.

But that's not why you should read the book.  The writing does something that the show, no matter how hard (or successfully) it tries, cannot duplicate: it envelops you into its world-building so completely that even a visual medium cannot match.

P.S.--This was the last book I read in 2014.  It was my 25th, for a total of 10,283 pages.  About 27% of those pages were just the three Game of Thrones books I read.


  1. When you talk of world building, all I can think is at least Martin doesn't have a fondness for writing songs lol --- or maybe I've blanked them out! I remember reading lotr for school and trying to analyse the songs..... Ughhhh

    1. Sadly, Dreki, you must've blanked them out, because Martin offers a lot of them. But his didn't bother me nearly as much, for some reason. And he also tells stories of long-before knights, queens, kings and other heroes and baddies amidst other stories. Songs within stories and sagas within stories within stories...There's a reason why each book is at least 975 pages long...