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Dor Does Books

Oh, hai! I read books, then I write down what I think of them. 



House Dor. Sigil: a fat kitten hugging a toy mouse; motto "We always complain" - Game Of Thrones by George R R Martin

A Game of Thrones  - George R.R. Martin

Game of Thrones is one of those books I've been failing to read for a while now. I'm not an epic fantasy fan, although as with science fiction I suspect my issues lie with the tropes of the genre rather than the actual books: Cloud Skywatersbaine dreams of being a knight/is a humble swineheard/lives in a country at war and must discover the secret of their birth/train their newly discovered powers/find the magical paperclip Fartswallop because otherwise everybody will die/everybody will die/everybody will die. It just doesn't grab me.


But, I keep hearing how great GoT is. Strider, my sister, *loves* it. Plus I'm fairly invested in the TV series, if not to the degree that I've actually got around to watching more than the first episode of the new series yet. 


Initially, I was unsure. There are a *lot* of characters which is always a problem for me - without the benefit of the TV series I would have been hopelessly lost - and the names didn't help, although they largely have enough familiarity for me to not glaze over.


The writing is not great and in the first few chapters I was frequently confused as to who the subject of a sentence was; while this issue is ironed out, the prose never manages to be more than adequate. I've read complaints about the longwinded descriptions of everybody's dress but it's not something I noticed.


I also found it lacking in its world building. It's the little things which annoyed me, probably fair because it's the little things I usually find joy in. I didn't mind how frequently people gave or were given milk of the poppy, I wasn't even that bothered that it was the only painkiller around, but I was irritated that in the whole of Westeros everybody calls it the same. damn. thing. If Wales can manage 2 dialects, despite only being the size of Wales (the accepted measure of size for anything larger than a football pitch), I'm pretty sure Westeros can manage a couple of colloquialisms.


Then there's those stupid house mottos. I assumed that every time Ned Stark mentioned Winter Was Coming, it was because he thought the breeze was a bit fresh. Turns out he's got a pull string. I can only be grateful the other characters lacked a need to mention whose fury it is or instruct people to hear them roar (exclamation mark). It's an example of the rather po-faced aspects which I found (possibly unintentionally) hilarious: I couldn't read the phrase "wake the dragon" without an interior cackle.


The narrative is split between 8 characters. It's a difficult thing to do well - each character's journey needs to either inform the other parts for the reader, or when the parts as separate, maintain a well realised world for each strand of the story. Again, it's adequate. The only distinctly written narrative is Sansa's (Sean Bean's ginger daughter) but even she is not done as well as she could be and none of the child characters have any personality-based fidelity to their age: in other words, Daenerys does not act like a 14 year-old, let alone one with the stunted emotional development expected in somebody of her experiences.


The big problem with splitting a narrative is that it can slow down the overall story. The only reason it doesn't in GoT is because it doesn't have one. I've said it before about books in all stages of development, from MS to published novel, and I will no doubt be called upon to say it again: stuff happening is not a plot. Conflict is plot. 


A story is about somebody who wants something, what's stopping them, and what will happen if they fail to get it.


In GoT, you've got a fair number of characters who don't want anything and so are wandering around while things happen to them or around them. Bran, Arya, Tyrion and Jon all lack goals. Catelyn and Ned Stark have vague goals but no consequences attached and act as catalysts rather than protagonists. Daenerys eventually wants something - the throne - but spends most of the book being passive.


Only Sansa has a clear goal: she wants to marry Joffrey, have his babies and be a Queen. Only Sansa actively tries to make sure she achieves this: her narrative is full of remembering that a lady is always polite and says nice things, she worries about how to be girl whom Joffrey will love. Her actions, and their consequences, are borne of this goal.


Now, obviously we know Martin had a bigger plan for all of this and maybe it's better to think of this as one umpty-billion page novel rather than the 850 pager I've just finished, but I can only judge what's here, and much of what's here is only as engaging as you find the writing, situations and characters. If I hadn't already been invested in this, I really don't think I would have stuck with it long enough to want to finish.


The scoring is tough for me to decide on. I judge books by what I expected of them because it's the only way for me to apply the same scoring system to Booker Prize winners and Sophie Kinsella. Strictly speaking, I should give GoT 3 stars: I thought it would be okay and it was; some bits exceeded my expectations, some bits did the opposite. It was casually rapey which I disliked, and I dislike the fact those parts are also very easy to overlook.


Considering what else I've given three stars to I'm going to go with 2.5 instead. It wasn't really my sort of thing and there wasn't anything here to persuade me differently. I will be reading the next book (I'm optimistic it's going to get better) but if I hadn't already purchased an omnibus edition at an absurdly cheap price I wouldn't be.