My brother-in-law Peter loves reading fantasy. We’ve had a number of frustrating conversations about books, since there’s never much to talk about when neither person knows the authors or titles that each one likes. I admit to scoffing at his love of fantasy, treating it with that irritating superciliousness that English majors tend to show when talking about anything other than classic literature. Perhaps the covers of those fantasy paperbacks are what rub me the wrong way – ornate swords and crowns and goblets and stuff. Then he went and converted my sister! I was privately horrified.
So it was with some trepidation that Peter and my sister bought me a copy of George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and gave it to me last August. They were so nervous about my reaction that my sister had a talk with me before I opened it: “No reaction until you’ve read it. Just read it and then you can decide you don’t like it.” I promised, for I was thoroughly impressed by her determination to convert me.
Within the first chapter, I was hooked. I read something like 200 pages in a day! It felt like old times before I had a kid, cramming reading time into every spare minute and ignoring everything that needed to be done, except the barest necessities. I even managed to stay awake during afternoon nap time to keep reading, and that never happens. I started talking to my husband about the book and he began researching it online; before long, he knew more about the characters than I did! Now he’s devouring it as obsessively as I did, and I even overheard him on the phone with a friend: “This stuff’s like heroin, man.” (Not that he knows what it’s like, I must make clear.) “You’re either on it or you’ve never tried it!”
Gradually I became suspicious that events in the book weren’t resolving themselves very quickly and, sure enough, when I reached the end (1000 pages) five days after starting, I was horrified to discover it was only the first book in a whole series! Over the past four months, I’ve read all five books. Since the latest one, “A Dance with Dragons,” just came out, who knows how long I’ll have to wait for the next book. So now I’m feeling downright bereft.
Martin is a spectacular writer. Similar to Tolkien in “Lord of the Rings,” he has created a fictitious place that is steeped in a rich and detailed history. How he manages to keep track of it all amazes me. He must have had to write a thousand pages in background just to keep it all straight for himself!
And the names – oh, the names! One of my favourite childhood occupations was inventing fantastical names for no reason at all, so I always pay special attention to them. Martin does it effortlessly. They sound otherworldly, yet not forced. They’re easily pronounced and remembered, yet thrill me with their exoticism: Cersei, Melisandre, Sansa, Theon, Daenerys. For readers less comfortable with bizarre names, Martin throws in a whole bunch of common-ish ones, too: Jaime, Jon, Petyr, Arya.
These books were a surprisingly great adventure of sexy romance, wild warfare, magical dragons, exotic feasts, chivalry, and betrayal. They flew me through the long waiting months leading up to the birth of my second child and through the month of recovery afterward. Even a newborn couldn’t keep me away from these books – and that’s saying something! Give them a try if you liked Narnia and Lord of the Rings, and feel up for something even grittier.