Sunday, July 28, 2013

Storm Warning

I was in the library and saw A Storm Of Swords, the third book in the George R. R. Martin series "A Song Of Ice And Fire," so I checked it out, since the third season of my favorite show, Game Of Thrones, is based on the first half of the book.  It's not the type of book I generally read--a modern novel in the fantasy genre--but I was intrigued to see how it compared to the show.

The show itself features numerous characters, but the novel has even more. Literally hundreds.  There's even an appendix of about fifty pages listing all the names in the novel, according to which of the Houses they belong to.  There are also four helpful maps that show the territory where the action takes places--I was constantly referring to them to get a sense of place.

The novel is over 900 pages, and while the show follows the basic plot,by necessity it simplifies the action--each season, after all, is only ten hours.  But the cuts, and changes, aren't just to shorten, they also are often to heighten the drama, sometimes improving on the books, sometimes changing things in ways that work better in a visual medium.  Also, since it has fewer characters, sometimes one character on TV will do what several characters did in the book.  For instance, Melisandre travels to fetch Gendry because she needs royal blood to sacrifice, and prophesies that Arya will be involved in much death.  In the book, Melisandre has a different Baratheon bastard already at Dragonstone so doesn't need to make the trip, and an old crone is the one who sees Arya's fearful future.

Another major difference is each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of the characters (though described in the third person).  For the record, in Storm Of Swords--I've heard it's different in Martin's other novels--it's Jaime, Jon, Catelyn, Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Samwell, Davos and Daenerys, plus a prologue and epilogue.  So many of the major characters in the show--Littlefinger, Cersei, Varys, Robb, Stannis, Melisandre, Joffrey, Tywin, Brienne, Jorah--are only seen through the eyes of another character. For that matter, there's no Theon at all.  We get a glimpse of a body parts, but no direct action.  (I did complain about the third season they didn't give him enough, but now I know why.)  Also, we get to know directly what these ten characters are thinking.

So what this amounts to is ten mini-novels rather than one whole novel.  The characters sometimes interact, but most of the time are on their own.  It's natural for the reader to prefer some to the others.  For instance, I find Arya more interesting than the rest of her family (Sansa, Catelyn, Bran).  I also prefer the action in the East (Daenerys) to the action Beyond The Wall (Samwell, Jon).  But none of the characters are boring, so I never felt the urge to skip over them--I wonder how that would work, since not only do they occasionally intersect, but one story will often refer to action happening elsewhere.

Reading the novel also gave me a sensation I've never quite had before.  That's because the first half or so I mostly knew from the third season of Game Of Thrones.  But then, as I got further in, I got into unknown territory. So for half the book, I knew what the expect--with the occasional surprise where the show decided to do something differently--and suddenly I was reading ahead, finding out what will happen in season four.  I'll definitely still watch--it should be interesting to see how the show interprets the novel--but I think it's better to not know what'll happen next, since much of the fun is the plot twists.

The novel is well done for its genre (though I wouldn't call it a classic).  I think the problem is the whole series of books is that they feature plenty of action and plot twists--essentially every chapter ends with some sort of surprising development--but it's all a bunch of characters who endlessly maneuver (and sometimes die), but doesn't really have any obvious endpoint.  Storm Of Swords, as long as it was, wasn't a novel, it was part of something bigger.  Most of the characters who survived now stand at a crossroads, wondering what action to take next.

I don't think I'll read another Martin book.  They're fine for fans, but I prefer getting him through the TV show.

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