With the news that George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels are about to made into a HBO series, I've decided to finally read the first book, A Game of Thrones, which had been sitting on my desk for about a year (bought in those ubiquitous moments of weakness listening to the advice of Amazon.com and what other books I would enjoy based on my already way-too-large purchase.)
I'm going through it at a good clip, which says something of the writing I suppose, and am about 200pages in but undecided. Counter-intuitively, since the final page count clocks in at around 700 (sheesh!) the story reads rather fast, with each chapter told from the point of view or focus of different main characters, never mired in long-winded descriptions or summaries, the many plots proceeding briskly.
However a few elements rub me the wrong way, and they mostly have to deal with the antagonists. You can discern the villains from the heroes pretty much immediately, but the extent of their cruelty is rather too much, and stomach-turning at that. Knowing you will have to follow the characters for another 500pgs makes the reading of their duplicity and spying and maneuvering and brutality wearisome, since they are very one-dimensionally evil. Not only do you long for their defeat prematurely, but they don't have even a glimmer of a redeemable quality, nothing to endear or interest you (like Dumas' shrewd Milady, for example.)
Secondly, their barbarity is not limited to wetworks, as it were, and Martin includes a sizable number of sexual scenes not for the squeamish. Earnest lovemaking, and even the occasional rape by a villain, can be expected in a fictional Medieval type of world. But they're still pretty gross and detailed. And to add to the discomfort, it seems every villain enjoys incest, which aside from being nausea inducing, is wholly unnecessary, as you already despise them and know they're the bad guys. All it does is make you wonder about the writer, who at one point is a distant, imaginative man enjoying the rich world of his creation, and who then suddenly is a very present, rather perverted, pent-up voice using his characters for some kind of catharsis. Oh, to be an editor.
I doubt HBO will include the incest in their series, but honestly I'm probably far off base. With a line-up like True Blood, Hung and that polygamy show, one can't really count on them for decency. Still, they seem to assembling a stellar cast. Sean Bean will play the part of the main good guy, Lord Eddard Stark. He's not at all what is described in the book, namely cold, thin, pale and severe, but he's a good actor so I have faith. His wife, Lady Catelyn, will be portrayed by Jennifer Ehle, the love interest of Jeremy Northam in the film of AS Byatt's Possession. I have only seen her in that one film, so I picture her as sweet and romantic, which isn't really Lady Catelyn at all. As a character, she is strong and clever, but at times rather a cruel bitch, especially to her husband's bastard son. (It's not his fault how he was born, you wench.) Peter Dinklage has a prime opportunity as the resident dwarf of the cast, Tyrion Lannister, who is wise and overlooked (as all fictional dwarfs seem to be.)
Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what they make. If anything, it proves that producers have recognized the fanbase of fantasy stories as a veritable moneypit, and are looking for series that will satisfy the craving. (Might I strongly, strongly, suggest making Kirith Kirin into a movie? Best. Book. Ever.) After all, they already have made a Game of Thrones trading card game, board game, and role playing game, so I suppose it was just a matter of time.
I'll post again when I'm further along, or done, with the first book, with a more solidified opinion and a desire, or disdain, for the next two in the series. If you've already read them, please leave a comment or shoot an email if you'd like to discuss them. Happy Sunday.