The writers of heroic fantasy like to write about huge and epic struggles between capital-letter Good and Evil. Yet over and over again they demonstrate only the most puerile understanding of what good and evil actually are. In their blinkered, constrained little worlds, “evil” consists of sitting in a dank tower all day sending orcs or demons or what-have-you after the Crampon of Justice or some similarly-named hogwash artifact. Not even the darkest of their generic Dark Lords would be caught boffing his own sister or murdering a child (much less get away with it), and in that fundamentally nonsensical bit of characterization lies the crux of their problem: by sticking horns and a lightning staff onto a one-dimensional pulp villain and calling it Ultimate Evil, they cheapen and debase *real* good and evil.
I’m sure most of these writers realize this perfectly well; the problem is that they’re writing to one of the most idiotically attenuated audiences on the face of the planet, people who really want to read the same book over and over ad infinitum with just enough variation from the template to create the illusion of difference. It’s a sad state of affairs when we consider that fantasy, which should rightly be the domain of myth, wonder, and what Warren Ellis calls “mad, beautiful ideas,” is the second most rigidly unimaginative genre out there (right behind romance, with whom it shares more than a few readers and tropes).
The “Song of Ice and Fire” series is a show-stopping six volume call to arms against this nonsense. Readers who come to the novels expecting another eminently predictable generic quest might be lulled to quiescence in the first few innocuous chapters, but will awake – sooner or later – to the unsettling realization that they’re playing George R.R. Martin’s game now. In A GAME OF THRONES, he systematically slaughters every sacred cow of “heroic fantasy” and, in so doing, injects a vigor and a zest for life and the written word into the genre that hasn’t been seen since the beautiful insanity of Tolkien. Heroes die and villains turn out to be not so bad after all. Magic appears only very rarely, making it infinitely more interesting. The plot steadfastly refuses to go where you’d expect. And lest you purists think that Martin holds fantasy in contempt, consider this: unlike practically every other fantasy writer out there, he’s gone to the trouble of writing this novel as if it were the most serious literature: his characters and their motivations are fully fleshed out (Eddard Stark and Tyrion Lannister are especially well-done), his prose is exciting and full of witty and lovely turns of phrase, and his themes are complex and multilayered. In other words, he’s actually assumed that his readership is *intelligent.*
You should read this book, just because it is a difficult read that challenges your perceptions of Fantasy. It is worth it in the long run, so grab your self a copy now.