Category Archives: Song of Ice and Fire, A

A Storm of Swords: Read from August 12 to September 10, 2013

For all the ‘great books’ that have been written, for all the stuffy tomes that everyone lies about having read, for every recommendation by Harold Bloom, there are a lot more genre works floating around the bookstore. Oh, sure, we know what we should be reading, what we’re told since grade school are the ‘proper’ books for ‘proper’ little minds, but how many people read those books? How many people really care to read those thick, dense, intellectual, impenetrable, novels by dead white men?

Books like Martin’s, however, are fun and exciting and full of twists and deaths, and everyone is reading them and so it’s also fun to keep up with your friends so you can keep up at parties when people talk about Game of Thrones.

Yet is this distinction fair? Can Martin’s book(s) never be considered a great book? What makes a great book? Some college professor might say a great book is one that opens your eyes to the vast human experience in such a way as you have never experienced it before, or has plumbed the depths of human psychology so deftly, and so realistically that it nearly transcends art itself.

But who is to speak up for a well told story? What about Homer, for example? Oh, for sure, we all think of the Iliad and the Odyssey as great works of high art, but when they were fresh and new and poets were shouting those stories over the sound of crashing wine dark Aegean waves along a white rocky Athenian coast on hot, summer festival days, they were just grand stories that entertained the crowds. They were, gasp, popular!

And what ‘great art’ is ever popular? How hard are Don DeLillo book signing tickets to come by? Ever scalped your season pass to the Kafka museum to the highest bidder so that you might afford a once in a lifetimes ‘Night With Richard Ford’?

Of course, it’s unfair (and also plain wrong) to claim that because something is popular it is somehow a metric of quality or because something is obscure and has the word ‘aesthetics’ in the title it is somehow automatically good.

Yet I don’t think it’s so simple either.

Why can’t something that is good also find a wide audience? I sometimes wonder if artists too often stick their heads up their own asses in an effort to shun popular society. There does seem to be a disdain for ‘the unwashed masses’ by the hipster set who only qualify the unknown with a seal of approval. In fact, Martin’s book here gets upturned noses from the ‘arty’ crowd because they’re ‘just silly kids books’.

But are they?

How many other serious novelists are exploring the world we really live in, a world that actually is a little dangerous and full of manipulative people who are quick to take advantage of another person’s weakness? I mean, look at politics (any era in history), it’s full of the very people Martin is writing about and he’s practically giving us a field-guide to understanding and observing your everyday nefarious evil-doers.

Martin is, at the heart of it all, writing about the sad reality of the world we live in where most of us have very little influence on the world around us, are at the mercy of powers much greater than us, where a lot of our lives are filled with mind-numbing sameness and struggle and sacrifice and when we think about it realize that there’s not much we’ll ever be able to do about any of it.

Yeah, that sounds pretty depressing, but it’s just reality. We do the best we can with what we have, we find our happiness where we can because life is tough and we don’t want to be bothered with a bunch of highbrow ass-talking nonsense; we just want to come home from work everyday, kiss someone we love, and relax for awhile and hope someone can tell us a great story about people just like ourselves but who also have the advantage of a few dragons, a needle, a hound, a wit, and a few fantasies we don’t so that we can live a little vicariously through a more interesting person’s life.

We also need to be careful and recognize that art that is the product of its time might one day be considered great art in a later time; not in the snooty sense of (textbook definition) great art, but in the Shakespeare, Homer sort of way – art that speaks to the people because it doesn’t lie to them while also entertaining them too.

A great artist can speak to the truth and speak to the people at the same time. More artists, both serious and pop should take note.

Anyway, the book fucking rocks.

89% done with A Storm of Swords

In the 5th Harry Potter book, Order of the Phoenix, Rowling had figured out what it was readers liked best about the stories and kept turning the expectations on their head. Nothing Harry could do worked right, the school was not a safe, comfortable place, and Dolores Umbridge became that series’ best villan.

Martin does the same here, and in spades. I’ve given up trying to figure things out; I’m just on the ride

76% done with A Storm of Swords

The relationship between the Hound and Arya is one of the most oddly touching in the entire book. She’s becoming a bit of a monster herself, what with ripping the stuffing out of that girl’s doll (though her motivation was pretty obvious).

I would like to see a bit more from Davos, however. He’s a cool character, but a bit flat and too honorable and predictable; nobody is that duty-bound (except maybe the wench).

69% done with A Storm of Swords

Sometimes it’s just the small details that I love about this story, be it a door that turns into a mouth with a warm tear, or a man fighting a piked horseman outside a city wall, or the hot, stuffy air in a litter as a man and wife ride through a city. Martin takes enormous care to bring these details into focus to tell the tale and the effect is that it makes the more fantastical bits then seem plausible.

65% done with A Storm of Swords

The image of the head of a direwolf sewn onto the headless corpse of the king you just killed is so brutal that I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some historical precedence for something similar.

Going all the way back to the very beginning of the very first book, Martin has never placed the characters in an truly safe and happy environment. Most stories have a ‘heaven’ (like The Shire); there’s no peace here.

42% done with A Storm of Swords

Martin raises a tricky theological paradox. A ‘good’ person is one who turns the other cheek and forgives his enemies. This ‘good’ person is then rewarded with the kingdom of heaven because he’s not gonna last long in this world. A ‘sinner’, however, goes to bed every night reciting the names of her enemies to vow revenge. And perhaps she’ll get it too; but will she go to hell just for vengeance?

35% done with A Storm of Swords

Unless you’re Tolstoy, writing a book that’s over 1000 pages long (longer still since this is a series of massive books) even a good writer is gonna have a stinker of a scene now and again.

The whole chapter of Danny buying the slaves had me just wanting to get to the inevitable scene where she’d use the army against the slavers and left me wondering why nobody had ever pulled that ‘trick’ before.

28% done with A Storm of Swords

I love how we sometimes only learn about a character’s motivations until the very last sentence of a chapter. Here, Arya, in the care of Lady Smallwood for the evening, is forced to wear a dress, then after ripping it when she fights with Gendry, she’s forced to take another bath and wear another dress. Only as Arya is riding away, in boys clothes, do we learn Smallwood lost her son when he was only 7.

12% done with A Storm of Swords

I think the reason why this series has grown exponentially in size from just 3 books to a planned 7 is that Martin stays true to the characters and lets them lead the story where ever it might go. Of course this means the story will then go off in unforeseen directions, but that’s the appeal here because if the author doesn’t know where a character may wind up from day to day, then neither will we.

4% done with A Storm of Swords

Cat never gets enough credit in the book (or even the show); she’s the strongest and toughest out of all of them except for Jamie. I love that duality between them, too. She’s the moral ‘good’ and he’s the moral ‘bad’, but they’re two sides of the same coin.

I can’t honestly figure out why I never kept reading after book 2. I must have the dumbs; I love these books.