Monday, April 10, 2006

A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin

Winter Is Coming.

Time magazine has lauded George R.R. Martin with the title of the American Tolkien, and while this is high praise indeed, it is quite apropriate a description. For decades, fans have searched through stacks of fantasy novels looking for that next fix; for even a shred of that sense of wonder they felt as a child having read The Lord of The Rings for the first time.

The wait is over, the wait has begun. It is tedious, but winter is indeed on it's way.

The first novel in the proposed seven volume series is A Game of Thrones. We are introduced to the members of House Stark, one of nine great houses in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and are instantly inserted in a world of imagination. There are evil wights to the north, Political manouverings to the south, and whole lot of action and intrigue in between.

While the adventure is magical and the scenery transports you whole into strange and wonderful lands, the strength of the series is in the characters. There is a loutish dwarf who just wants his father to love him, a princess with a destiny she will achieve only with the help of three dragons, and a man whose soul is charred worse than his scarred face. Yet each one of these character seems an actual person. Some you grow to hate, and some become friends -- whom you will wait patiently for the next volume to visit with again.

Unless they die.

Martin is not afraid to put our loved ones through the ringer, and indeed will kill a character if they make too large a misstep.

In the second volume, A Clash of Kings, the Seven Kingdoms are torn by war and strife; lords scramble for position and enemies join battle. The story heats up and the mysterious threat north of the gigantic ice wall on the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms becomes more urgent.

In the third volume, A Storm of Swords, hell really breaks loose.

The writing in this series sets a new standard for Epic Fantasy. Each sentence is mulled and crafted to offer the most information while remaining incredibly readable. The series is accessible (if one begins at the beginning) and indeed addictive. There are a slew of web sites devoted to this fan favorite, and fans eagerly -- if impatiently -- await the next volume with baited breath.

A Storm of Swords was nominated for the Hugo award for best novel, and indeed was worthy of that classification. The first two novels were superior works of fantasy, but ASoS sets the bar for the future of the genre and all that will inevitably follow. I can not say more without spoiling the most moving moment I have ever experienced in a book. Fans speak of where they were when 'it' happenned like the baby boomer generation speaks of the Kennedy Assasination.

After a five year wait -- seemingly interminable -- the fourth volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, A Feast For Crows was released in 2005. Martin had had problems fitting the story he wanted to tell into a reasonably sized book, and so the story was split geographically with regards to Westeros, and the second half of the novel will be released (hopefully soon) as A Dance With Dragons.

There have been mutters in the fan community that AFFC does not live up to the standard set by the previous volume. While some criticism is reasonable -- it's only half the book we had waited five years for, after all -- any attacks on the quality of the prose are foolish. The Feast, like the previous volumes, is wonderfully well written and a welcome return to the lands we have missed.

There is a pause in the action in A Feast For Crows, but that can only be expected after the climax of events in A Storm of Swords.

If I could reccomend just one fantasy series to a fan, this is the series I would choose. I've been accused of being a rabid fan boy, and perhaps I am.

But if so, George has earned it.

A Game of Thrones: 9.5/10
A Clash of Kings: 9.5/10
A Storm of Swords: 10/10
A Feast For Crows: 9/10

**Collectors Note:

This is a tough one. There are literally as many different editions of the books in this series as there are characters. For instance, A Game of Thrones has had ten different editions in English alone, with more if you were to count collectible Advanced Review Copies.

Some from my own collection:

A Game of Thrones, the first in the series, is by far the rarest in all editions, and hence the most valuable. Here are some standard prices for the different editions:

UK Advanced Review Copy - 1200 American dollars
UK 1st edition Hardcover - 800-1000 American dollars
US Advanced Review Copy - 250-400 American dollars
US Hardcover first edition (gloss DJ with throne) - 150-300 American dollars
Meisha Merlin special limited edition, lettered - 1000 American dollars
Meisha Merlin special limited edition, numbered - 400-500 American dollars

As you can see, this is an incredibly popular and collectible book, with the UK ARC being considered the most rare. With George still rapidly gaining in popularity and the latest volume topping out at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, prices will only rise in the forseeable future.

A signature personally attained from GRRM for authenticity purposes:

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