I never did post in detail about the George R. R. Martin books. (I can't use the name A Song of Ice and Fire
- it just sounds so very very very like something that I would pass over in the bookstore... as a matter of fact I did
pass over his books for quite some time. I have this standing rule that if a fantasy book has the word "dragon" in the title I will skip it, and I think about it for some time if it has the word "sword," "song," or "mist" unless I have good reason to trust the writer. "It's a long series" is another point against reading material; "it will be long and it's not finished yet" is like a triple word score. This has spared me a great deal of suffering, even if it may also have exempted me from some good books or at least delayed my enjoyment of them.)
Anyway... the non-spoiler bits:
GO READ THESE BOOKS NOW. All shall love them and despair. Really, the despairing part should be emphasized upfront. Holy crap these things are depressing.
Given how little understanding of the concept of "unreliable narrator" you tend to find even among intelligent, educated people who are avid readers, I can't help but marvel at the fanbase these books have picked up; maybe the number of POV characters makes it easier for people to see from all sides. Or maybe lots of old readers quit in disgust for all the new ones who join.
He can't make me like every character, but he can make me like some I never expected to.
At one point, maybe a quarter of the way into the first book, I nearly gave up in disgust; he'd just pulled a plot twist that to me smacked of the shameless use of shock value to emphasize the evil of your villains. I kept reading, though, and as a matter of fact one of the elements that read most as shock value was a vital ingredient enabling other plot threads, and another element that read as shock value would be another plot element, one that undercut any number of genre cliches. It's not that he doesn't also sometimes use those genre conventions - argh, I'm having to be so vague - but he uses them to a somewhat different end than do some other writers.
Obviously this should be the first thing I address behind the cut tag. One last thing, though - if you think you might EVER read these books, and you definitely should, don't even glance beyond the cut tag. These books are noteworthy for truly and completely shocking plot twists - you do not want them ruined. ( On cliches, sex and shock value. Spoilers for the whole series, just to be safe, but most are about the first book. )( On history and narrative expectations. Even more spoilers, pretty severe ones this time. )( Other reading reactions, misc opinions, and speculation. Very specific spoilers here; you can't say you haven't been warned. )
Good Lord. I don't think I've ever written a post this long, including the one where I ranted about the the OVA That Shall Be Nameless and Also Invisible. Um, the spoiler-free version is that these are damn good books, frequently horribly painful but always excellent, standing on hallowed Best Thing Ever ground with Twelve Kingdoms and the complete works of Diana Wynne Jones. Read them.