Imagine a series of fantasy novels in which incest, rape, adultery, and sex are a part of the story instead of the romanticism of Tolkien trilogy or the spirituality of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a series of fantasy novels whose influence comes more from medieval history and politics then from the mythology inspired Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The realism of the author’s books, have not stopped them from becoming New York Times bestsellers or HBO from producing a mini-series based on them. Originally conceived as a four book series, it has grown to a projected seven book epic: A Game of Thrones, published in August, 1996, A Clash of Kings in November, 1998, A Storm of Swords in August 2000, and A Feast for Crows in October, 2005. The fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, will be released this summer, July, 2011. The sixth and seventh books are fourth coming.
So why exactly have 4.5 million people in the U.S. and 7 million people worldwide bought copies of George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series? The author credits bestselling fantasy author Robert Jordan’s cover blurb on A Game of Thrones with spurring sales and interest. However, perhaps it is also because of great storytelling, a gritty political realism and the creation of a fully realized imaginary world.
The World of A Song of Ice and Fire
As with any successful multi-volume saga, the storyline is intricate. Why this series is such a success is because the plot and characters are compelling. The action takes place on a planet composed of two continents: Essos, and Westeros, where most of the action takes place. It is a world where seasons can last for decades, where humans are dominant, but another species called the Others lurk in the far north of Westeros waiting for their chance to conquer the seven human kingdoms to the south.
The three major storylines involved the political intrigue surrounding the power struggles among the various noble houses on the continent of Westeros. The first story line centers around competing claims for the throne as well as the struggles of two self-proclaimed kings of vassal areas seeking independence as a result of the political turmoil. This “War of the Five Kings” takes up much of the first four novels. The second storyline involves the much maligned “Sworn Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch” whose mission has been for 8,000 years to guard against the mythical race called “The Others,” who live in the far north and are barred from the rest of the continent by a wall of ice. An illegitimate son of one of the main noble houses rises through the ranks of this shabby unit and learns that the threat of “The Others” still exists, however, the kingdoms are too involved in their own political intrigue and warring to send help. The last major storyline centers around a female character who rises from a pauper member of a fallen noble house to warlord and then ruler. Her story takes place on the eastern continent of Essos. Her rise to power aided by three dragons, long thought to be extinct.
Award Winning Books
Political intrigue, civil war, plot twists and games of power all make for a heady and excellent reading mix. One of the reasons George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series are well worth the read.
The reception that these books have received has been very positive. A Game of Thrones was a Nebula and World Fantasy Awards Nominee, A Clash of Kings was also a Nebula Award nominee, while A Storm of Swords was a Hugo and Nebula Awards nominee. All three were Locus Award Winners. The fourth book, A Feast for Crows was a Hugo, Locus and British Fantasy Awards nominee.
All of these nominations and awards were richly deserved. The A Song of Fire saga succeeds in creating an intricate, gritty and powerful tapestry that will keep a person riveted throughout the spring and summer reading season. For those who are interested, Amazon.com is offering in a well priced set, the paper back editions of the first four novels. Well worth the buy.