After joyously rereading all 20 novels of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin saga this summer (and the unfinished transcript of the 21st) I had a dream that there existed a lost, unpublished book in the series. Alas, my dreams are often deep-felt wishes rather than prophesies, so my quest was stillborn and I moved on to other worlds.
As posted before, I finally read the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. martin, A Game of Thrones. I had owned the first book for about a year, collecting dust on my desk with a dozen other unread novels, but the news of HBO making a series out of these stories motivated me to finally start it. (Warning: some spoilers ahead.)
So I did, and I tore through it, and then the second, A Clash of Kings, and then the third, A Storm of Swords. I don't much care for the titles, but the first two were good. They read quickly, were full of action, and I truly cared for at least half of the characters. The third, however, fell into that familiar trap that bestselling, unfinished series fall into (think Harry Potter, Twilight.) Martin added about 500 pages to the average length, slowed down the pace to something nearly interminable, and heaped endless amounts of misery on the characters I loved.
The only surprising and skillful feat accomplished in the third, was to endear me to Ser Jamie Lannister, the child-murdering, kingslaying, incest-loving rogue. I did not expect it, and certainly resisted it, but his growing friendship with the androgynous, stubborn, loyal, female warrior Brienne of Tarth was the catalyst to a newfound respect. That and his chopped off right hand changed him remarkably, imbuing him with unexpected pain and honor. The final scene between him and his dwarf brother Tyrion was rough and emotional, and in the end frustrating as their ties of blood and affection seemed to sever for good. The book left the Lannister's half-destroyed and fractured, the will of the Gods some would say, and I'm unclear how things will progress (generally, a good sign in a fantasy series.)
My favorite character by far is Arya, the young Stark girl who has proven a survivor and a warrior, adopting several identities as she fled from enemies on her way back to her family. She's lived several lives in the course of the series so far, yet not one has brought her joy, nor reunited her with any of her (mostly all dead, now) family. Still, I feel the most eagerness when her chapters arrive.
My second favorite is Jon, the bastard of the family, who endured many unexpected plot twists himself, and has risen to a leader's status in one of the few happy developments of the book. I am also heartened that his direwolf, Ghost, returned to him at the end, as he is one of the few remaining Stark children to still have their wolf's protection and friendship. I thought Arya and Nymeria would be reunited as well, but I suppose that's an event for a later book (hopefully.)
Now I've begun A Feast for Crows, which has started very slowly and seems fated to make me plod through unenjoyable characters (the Greyjoys are boring as hell), and more and more darkness. The only boon is that I heard Arya plays a big part in this book, as only half the characters from the previous one are used (it being a sort of two-parter with the upcoming fifth.)
I only pray that some good fortune will emerge, some victories and happiness. It is a dreary thing to commit to a fantasy world and only encounter tragedy. I've never understood the writer/creators' tendency to spend hundreds of pages building and examining a character's psychology only to have them meet a bloody and perfunctory end. Yet I continue to read, so there must be something that draws me back. It's either Arya and Jon, or a stubborn need to know how things end/progress once I've invested so much time and energy into the story. Maybe I should read some Dickens instead, whose stories are no strangers to tragedy, but with the (at least personally) integral trait of having a happy ending.
There's nothing like a depressing ending to make me hate a story. (Hear me Joss.)