Saturday, 17 December 2011

Are we nearly there yet? 'A Game of Thrones'... the story so far.

As it happens, I've just finished 'A Feast for Crows' - Book four of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The title itself is a tad obscure as I'm not sure it really illuminates the content, though it does hint at it.
Here we have a post-war Westeros. A place for bandits, murderers and rapists. A place of recriminations, changed allegiances and revenge. It is struggling to piece itself together - with an equally disfunctional Cersei as regent Queen, ruling with bitterness and manipulation. The characters find no solace, nor peace, in the aftermath of the devastation that was unleashed. Brienne searches vainly to complete her deluded knightly quest for a Stark child. Jaime, less a sword-arm and changed from the man he was, also seems to seek some kind of salvation - which largely eludes him. Samwell voyages forlornly home in a vague attempt to spread the word of the evil that awaits beyond The Wall in the North. Sisters Arya and Sansa Stark are 'lost' and invisible to the world, appearing to be beyond the clutches of the Lannisters.
Running alongside this are the stories of Dorne and the Iron Islands where ongoing violent struggles for power and rule follow in the vacuum that the war has left. Brother and sister are at each others throats as they too play 'the game of thrones'.
We don't get everyone though, Brandon Stark and Tyrion Lannister are conspicuously absent -  and so too is the narrative of the Dragon Princess Daenerys. This annoys a lot of readers (fans?) - but Martin himself says he couldn't get everything in a single text. This was his way of bringing a narrative coherence to some characters. The narrative for the others will, apparently, come later. I didn't mind this so much. There are plenty of other epic fantasy stories where a long hiatus follows drama. I think Martin does need to reinforce the idea of a place in despair, searching for a new sense of itself. I like the way that we see other parts of the Westeros universe. I do understand that readers find it ponderous and lacking in pace. It does require patience and there is the nagging sense that not much happens in a large amount of text. I forgave it though.  I found out more about Westeros. I think it's interesting that Jamie should see things differently. I think it's eminently sensible that Brienne's quest is a kind of Holy Grail journey without ending, but with plenty of tribulation. Nothing is neat and tidy. No one is exempt form human frailty. It's never easy in this world.
I also agree that the writing isn't as engaging as in other installments and that there are some awkward moments that tenuously hang together. It might be a 'bridging' novel - moving towards a dramatic conclusion in some later book, as some have argued. Nevertheless ,I didn't stop reading. I still wanted to know what was next - and Martin does continue with the violence to main characters - unabated. Roll on 'A Dance with Dragons'.


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