I noticed that in my initial review of George R.R. Martin’s tome, that I seemed to focus mostly on writing style and the peculiarities of the genre. It was a review more than a commentary on the substance. However, as 800 pages of a 4000 page saga or so (and one definitely worth reading by the way), some comments on what actually is happening is worthwhile. So, be warned, there are spoilers here.
- One of Martin’s neat tricks is to separate the sympathetic and virtuous from the savvy and the wise. The heart and the head are not in the same place often. Most notably this is seen in Eddard Stark, who seems to carry many of the traits of the traditional hero – in terms of honor and virtue – also doubles as being intensely frustrating and mind-bendingly stupid. Indeed his utter lack of survival skills in this sort of setting make me wonder about plausibility. Of course Stark’s blunders brings to light the folly of putting military folks in charge of governing, as if they are similar skillsets. However, we make a fetish of the military culture when following our politicians. Hmm …
- Daenerys is clearly the favorite of the rotating protagonists in the book. In some ways she is Ned’s counterpoint. She starts in a position of disadvantage, being pimped out by her brother to a dude who can’t speak her language. No hand of the king at work here, but she figures out survival skills and politics on the fly. The ultimate fate of her brother and her decisions leading up to that point are sublime – recognizing how institutions work – even something as “savage” as the Dothraki. The final scene of the book is kind of awesome.
- In terms of rating the protagonists, Daenerys > Arya > Jon > Tyrion > Sansa > Catelyn > Ned. Catelyn is ultimately kind of sad – not bound to a code of honor to an insane degree like Ned, just basically rash. Her decision to capture Tyrion ranks as truly bad.
- Tyrion is of course enormously likeable on TV – how can you not be impressed with a guy played by Peter Dinklage? His verbal wit and his ability to manipulate and escape situations is fascinating. That said, exactly where he stands is hard to tell. He feels like more of a survivor than “of” the evil Lannisters.
- Joffrey is a first class twerp.
- I give Martin credit. I have no idea where the story is going, and for a lot of exposition, I had fun reading it. The threads can go in a lot of direction, especially as more factions get introduced. The stuff with the Night Watch and beyond the Wall is particularly fascinating. I have no idea how it will fit into the big picture yet, though the signs are interesting. We know we have at least one former “you coulda been somebody” in Master Aemon. However, is that the extent or is there much more? It can’t be that easy to just compartmentalize rivalries of past.
Anyway, I’m about 20% of the way through with A Clash of Kings at the moment. We’ll see how it goes.