So, I know that I'm probably one of the last people on the planet who has not already completely digested Mr. Martin's magnum opus, but I am now caught up with the HBO series, and I have carved my way through the first book. As far as fantasy goes, I mostly prefer the pulpier short stories that were written by Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft, Leiber, and Moorcock. I have never been a huge fan of the sprawling, high fantasy epics.
I've certainly read The Lord of the Rings a couple of times, and I read the first book in the Wheel of Time series, back when I was 14. That was 24 years ago. I suppose I don't have the patience to stick with a series that spans thousands of pages. I did read War and Peace, recently, which was around a thousand pages. I wonder why Robert Jordan couldn't sum up his epic within a similar number of pages. We all know the answer, of course.
Getting back to A Game of Thrones, I was surprised that I liked the first book as much as I did. I mean no disrespect to George Martin. He is, in my opinion, a fine writer. He earned his stripes toiling in Hollywood and the genre mines. The prose is, by and large, spare and evocative. He uses the word crunch a bit too much for my taste, but that is a minor quibble.
I guess I like the series because George Martin knows how to create interesting, multifaceted characters. Although the series features knights, castles, and tournaments, there is none of the chivalry that typically accompanies these tales. The knights in these stories may wear baroque armor, but most of them are little more than brigands and rapists encased in steel.
I appreciate the fact that Martin's stories, in a certain sense, subvert the tropes that are typically associated with this genre. Morality in Westeros is presented in various shades of grey. For example, the rogue who shoves a child through a window saves a woman knight from being violated by a pack of bloodthirsty warriors. I find myself hating and respecting him, simultaneously. No one in the tales is wholly good or bad.
My loyalties, such as they are, are very divided. It is very hard not to side with The Starks, even when their confederates prove that they are capable of the same atrocities as the soldiers fighting under the aegis of the rival houses. It is also difficult not to smile when Tyrian the dwarf's cunning helps his family prosper.
I'd say the only character that I truly despise is the young dauphin and king of the Seven Kingdoms. While appreciate why the young boy acts as he does, Martin makes it very difficult to like or respect the young king. I suspect that this might change as the story develops. For now, I reserve my right to despise the flaxen-haired bastard.
From what I've read so far, I am enjoying A Game of Thrones, and I look forward to finding out what happens to each of these characters. I have my suspicions about how certain plots will play out, but I hope that George is cagier than I am, and that he outwits me and takes these stories in unanticipated directions.