Alright, I need to get this one part off my chest: I love George R.R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. It’s epic fantasy at its grittiest and most morally ambiguous. Watchers of the TV show and readers of the books know how much Martin enjoys playing with his fans’ minds by either killing off main characters or putting the “good guys” in unending, unfortunate situations while the “bad guys” seem to prevail.
From this point is where readers discern the moral ambiguity of the series. While the thought of only good guys and bad guys may interest certain readers who prefer simple, clear-cut definitions of characters, I am in the camp that believes that no characters are necessarily good or bad, but aligned based almost entirely on personality and environment. However, while I may think this way, it does not sway my opinions that Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, and Joffrey Baratheon are evil and despicable.
But even those three have their reasons, I think. No one is bad simply because they relish in the ideal of following in the footsteps of other evil villains and villainesses.
The “good” characters may suffer often, but it is because they, to an extent, are blind to the hidden circumstances that govern whether they live, die, or suffer, aka the “Game of Thrones”. After seeing many of these ignorant, but honorable characters either die or learn from their mistakes through harsh punishment, you begin to understand how the game is played and what this world is really like. It is gritty, it is realistic, and it is ground-breaking. It forces readers to redefine the way they read fantasy, and so-called “realistic fiction” as a whole.
As well, magic is at a minimum. Much of the series is about political battles. But don’t find the lack of magical powers and the prevalence of politics in play as a deterrent: Martin finds a way to make the feuds and conflicts intriguing and always enlightening. Because he is a master of dialogue, Martin as well is able to make chapters of entirely dialogue into some of the most interesting pieces of fantasy you will ever encounter.
As a reader, I enjoy characters. I enjoy seeing characters development into humans, into fleshed-out figures who replicate human interaction. In this series, you get it all. You get an immense cast of characters that exceeds anything I have ever witnessed or read. And, among that massive batch, many characters shine. In the books, the story is told through viewpoints. The reader receives the information through the viewpoint of a significant character. Whether you are reading about Daenerys Targaryen’s quest to reach Westeros and claim the Iron Throne or Tyrion Lannister’s struggles to stay sane and protected among a family ridden with incestual, power-hungry fiends (who, admittedly, through a stroke of genius storytelling, are developed into characters ranging from lovable all the way to semi-tolerable), you are receiving consistently great writing.
After finishing A Storm of Swords, I can say with certainty that Martin is a modern master of description and the genre of fantasy. I indulge readers to watch the TV show or read the books because, whether you enjoy epic fantasy or not, the books are creative pieces of literature worth your time. The world is sprawling, open, and epic. The scope of the story is beyond what you may think at the moment, but as it develops you will see what I mean.
Read it. Watch it. Experience it.