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Saturday 30 March 2019


George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book of his series A Song of Ice and Fire is 1,117 pages long, broken into two volumes, and was published in 2011. 

We’re still waiting on the sixth and seventh books The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, some eight years later.  As far as his legions of fans are concerned, so many of his characters are waiting in limbo that it has become frustrating. It’s quite likely that he has lost a good number of readers due to the tardiness of the two follow-up books’ delivery.

What’s interesting is comparing the books with the TV series Game of Thrones. The scriptwriters and directors of the series have performed wonders in transposing Martin’s vision to the screen, and in so doing have sensibly streamlined his convoluted story arcs, even dispensing with entire sub-plots.  Certain characters who died in the books have survived for the TV series, while some characters in the series have died while still survive (so far!) in the books.

Martin admits he’s a slow writer, and he’s certainly meticulous. That’s not the only reason why the final volumes haven’t appeared yet. Game of Thrones first aired in 2011 and Martin was involved in writing for the series to begin with. By the time season six (of eight) was aired in 2016, all of the published material had been used. However, Martin supplied an outline and original text from the final two books so the story could be completed for the series (as scoped for the film version). Naturally, when the last two books do emerge (Who knows when? Maybe in June 2019 after series eight has aired), the threads left by A Dance with Dragons and its predecessors will be tied up in a somewhat different form than depicted in the TV episodes.

Other distractions were Martin’s involvement with developing about five prequel shows set in the world of Ice and Fire, working with at least five writers.

The story in the books is too vast to review, but it never fails to grip even though told from a host of character viewpoints.

Here are three snippets to illustrate Martin’s writing style:

The trees had grown icy teeth, snarling down from the bare brown branches. (p2, Pt1)
In one short sentence we experience the cold, envisage potential threat and see colour.

Sleep opened beneath him like a well, and he threw himself into it with a will and let the darkness eat him up. (p94, pt1)
Even allowing for the mixed metaphor (wells can’t eat you up, maybe the darkness drowned him?), it still strikes a poetic pose.

The southron knights rode out in plate and mail, dinted and scarred by the battles they had fought, but still bright enough to glitter when they caught the rising sun. Faded and stained, torn and mended, their banners and surcoats still made a riot of colours amidst the winter wood – azure and orange, red and green, purple and blue and gold, glimmering amongst bare brown trunks, grey-green-pines and sentinels, drifts of dirty snow. (p16, Pt2)
An overload of colour and imagery – a gift for the film producers. And you feel you’re there.

And of course the books are not only about swearing and sex, violence and battles, intrigue and betrayal. There’s plenty of humour, notably in the Tyrion sections.

You do need to start with A Game of Thrones, however, and work your way through to this point. Joining the story arc halfway through will not be satisfying, merely confusing!