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Monday, April 20, 2009

All Hail the American King!




I'm not sure what took me so long to begin reading "Song of Ice and Fire."
I had been looking for something to satiate my lust for great literary fantasy since "The Lord of the Rings" was read to me as a child, to little avail.
Oh, Robert E. Howard became a love and addiction for a while, and still is. Stephen R. Donaldson captured my attention for a spell with his brilliance and originality, despite the ridiculous names. (I might add that his lesser series, beginning with The Mirror of Her Dreams, is devoid of the stupid names and is a great choice for those waiting on Martin's next book, as it is very much like these books for it's non-quest plot, mystery, and political intrigue).
Jordan, the three Terrys, and a slew of others could only serve as a fantasy fix for a book or two. Though they are all good, imaginative writers, their worlds seemed only almost complete, and usually heavilly dependent on Tolkien.
I heard from many fans that Martin was different, and some even had the gall to put him above Tolkien. This was probably one reason why I neglected these books- the sacrilege seemed disrespectful. Another reason might have been the fact that I'd heard the series was based on The War of the Roses, and that seemed un-unique to me, and a little too much like Alternative History. Too, the series was by a new author, not an elder sage....and it wasn't even finished. I don't like to start reading books (or longer books that some call "series") that aren't finished, and what's more I have never been able to see the point in taking more than a trilogy to get through a single plot. It always seemed to me that most long fantasies are just a means of riding the gravy train for far too long. I put Martin on the backburner despite the recommendations, and only after a decade finally picked up the books.
I was entirely surprised to find out that Martin deserves the title of "The American Tolkien" hands down. This is a new king of fantasy, and one book of only a handful in the genre who actually makes it rise above mediocrity in the literary world.
Here is a world that may be as well thought out as even Middle Earth. It isn't based on the War of the Roses, but rather inspired by it, as the myths of the Celts and the Norse inspired Tolkien. It is as black and dark as Howard(or in some cases even darker) and as realistic and witty as Dickens. What's more, Martin is able to speak from many a character's perspective in a convincing and engaging way, be it child, man, cripple, or knave. His dialogue is true to human nature, and his heroes and villians change and evolve as people do only in the real world. What's more, he doesn't pull any punches; no one survives just because Martin has grown attached to them, or fears that his audience has. Events happen that WOULD happen in reality, rather than portraying only events that will get the reader from point A to point B. There are no ex-machinas, and despite Sansa's protests this is no fairy tale.
All and all, this is definitely the best author of fantasy since Tolkien.
Besides a handful like the aforementioned Donaldson and Howard, there are none others who even come close.
It has been years since valor and sacrifice in a book have welled tears in my eyes like they did during the reading of LOTR, and the returning emotions are much welcomed. I thank you, Mr. Martin....and will be beginning the second in this series the moment I'm finished writing this review. Let's hope I can break free of it long enough to get some work done in the next week.
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