Dear readers, it’s time for a confession. I’ve finally come back to reading novels after a busy period, only to instantly have my heart trod on by my ex-favourite (recent) fantasy series. I have done some soul searching since, and I’ve realized that I need a hero.
The devilish heart breaker in this case is George R.R. Martin and his series A Song of Ice and Fire, which is now also airing on HBO (A Game of Thrones) and so hugely popular that I was convinced to take A Dance with Dragons, the 5th book in the series, off my shelf. I’ll try not to discuss the plot for those of you still enjoying the tv series, but I have just reached the half-way mark (at 680 pages) and it’s pretty safe to say I won’t be sticking around for the end.
Why? Well, I foresee some pretty big plot problems, but that’s not the reason. For that, we need to go deeper. Much of the reason I liked the series, and a lot of other people with me judging by how well the series has done on HBO, were the characters. For those who havent read the books, they cleverly set up a cast of about 8 main characters or so, and dedicate every chapter to a different characters’ point of view (POV). This is clever, because :
1.) It keeps the tension going by ending chapters on cliffhangers, getting you to keep reading just to get back to that thread of the story.
2.) Because every chapter is written from a different perspective, it enables you to get to know a set of characters very well and feel closely involved with them, while also widening the story by shifting between geographical locations and periods in time.
It also means that technically, any one character is expendable, something George Martin has gratefully made use of (particularly if their name was Stark). Some fans are now complaining that the shock factor of all these sudden deaths is wearing off, but I don’t think that’s really the issue a lot of us have with books 4 and 5. What is beginning to really get to me is that even the surviving characters aren’t as compelling as they used to be, caught – sometimes quite literally- in places of deep inertia, utterly unable to find their way out of the mire GRRM has created for them. When they have changed, it has so far only been for the worse.
Beginning with the eponymous Dragons, for instance. I’m not spoiling anything if I say that half-way through A Dance, there hasn’t been one meaningful scene featuring Daenerys and her dragons. This means that the girl, previously the teenager who raised three mythical creatures from fossilized eggs and conquered cities, now sits around snivelling and behaving like the average sixteen year old would. No change, no progress.
Meanwhile, another character who shall not be named here sets off on a drunken mockery of the Odyssey, cursing a lot and bemoaning something that happened hundreds of pages ago over and over again. After a while, you will be praying for the ship to sink, no matter how much you previously liked them.
I have realized that to truly enjoy a book, I do in fact need a hero, no matter how edgy, complex or flawed characters are. By hero, I mean a character who is still human enough to involve you in their hopes and fears and ultimately rise to the challenge presented by the plot by taking action, even if they must eventually be defeated. Inertia, on the other hand, makes villains of the best of anyone’s fictional creations.
Or, to quote that other pop cultural phenomenon, “you must die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Will you be returning for The Winds of Winter (book 6), if it ever comes out?