Saturday, November 1, 2014

Books Review: A Song of Ice & Fire 1-3- George R.R. Martin

First, credit where credit is due.  A friend of mine ended up working at my old church camp a few summers ago and got bored re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and so asked for suggestions of other fantasy books to read.  I recommended The Wheel of Time series, but her husband commented that although that series was good he preferred A Song of Ice and Fire which at the time had the TV show coming out that fall.  Since I respect his opinion on media very highly, I decided that I wanted to read them, but was torn because of my old vow to not read a series until it is almost done, so as to avoid the long waits.  This of course, is problematic with how long George R. R. Martin takes to write books.  Later, another friend who also is a fan of the Wheel of Time series recommended this series too.  Furthermore, she loves to read long epics and she and my wife enjoy reading a lot of the same books.  So, with that my wife decided to read the series.  She finished the five books published so far within about a month around 2 years ago.  Since then she has been bugging me to read the books so that we could watch the TV series together.  I resisted because of my "waiting for a series to end" policy, but ended up finally listening to them the first month of the summer, and then we watched the first half of the TV series while I recovered from my gall bladder removal surgery.

Now onto my thoughts about the books.  First, spoiler alert I will try to hide spoiler text like this which you should be able to reveal if you highlight the section.  Next, I have to address the elephant in the room that is Roy Dotrice.  Roy Dotrice is an British actor who has had a great career by all accounts.  He is also the reader of this series, and I know many long-time fans who have listened to the audiobooks who prefer his reading, and even have a hard time with the TV series because the voices are different.  I totally get this.  To me Jim Dale is, and always will be the Harry Potter series, his voice is the voice I hear when I think of characters, Dobbey never sounded right in the movies, nor did He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lord Voldemort.  Jim brought that series to life and deserved all of the awards and accolades the he received for it.  The same will go for the Wheel of Time if that ever gets turned into a TV show or movie.  However, I don't hold Dotrice's reading of A Song of Ice and Fire in such high regard.  In fact, it made it hard to take in.  Many who defend Dotrice, point to his age and say "What else do you expect, he's ancient"; and to that I say, then maybe, as hard as it is, it is time to let go.  Obviously, someone agreed with me because books 4 and 5 were read by other people, although Dotrice did go back and read 4, which he had avoided because of other commitments and not his age or the publishers seeking someone else out.  I've heard that there are at least 3 other readers who have read the series and at least one Redditor agrees with me that Dotrice is the worst.  The only thing I like is that his Tyrion voice and attitude is phenomenal and seems to really closely match that of Peter Dinklage, which of course happened long before Dinklage was cast for the part.  Having said that, I know that having a different reader will make it difficult for me to follow the story as well, because I have had series where the reader changes, and with that so do all of the voices, and it was horrible when Arnold Morgan no longer sounded big and intimidating, but instead mousey.  I have nothing against Dotrice and even think it is really cool that when he turned down a larger role in the TV series an appropriate part was still found for him to make a few cameo appearances.  The other problem is that Dotrice holds the Guiness Book of World Records title for most voices portrayed by an audiobook reader, but I'm pretty sure that if we assume all of the characters got split evenly [that is take the total number of characters and divide by two (2782/2=1391)] that Michael Kramer and Kate Reading top this, at least for now, with The Wheel of Time.  What is more, the characters didn't get split evenly because they did a reader per chapter, male or female based upon who was the main character in the chapter and so Rand al'Thor had a voice both from Kate Reading and Michael Kramer.  A Song of Ice and Fire might surpass The Wheel of Time for total number of characters and if Dotrice keeps reading then he will hold the record, but those are two ifs, and right now I believe WoT wins.
Onto, the actual review of the actual book.  I was told that lots of characters die.  This may not seem like a big thing, but it over-prepared me to not become attached to characters.  I was also told, by the first who first recommended the series, that he liked it because Martin is not afraid to kill off main characters and that the book was more of a saga about houses and generations than it was about individuals.  About houses and families yes, but generations no.  This made it so that some of the most surprising plot developments did not surprise me.  Overall however, the books were good.  They moved a little slow at times, but were often surprising and very engaging.  It is hard to talk about this without giving away spoilers,but the series is good and was difficult to put down.  The characters are believable and frequently  I found myself having real emotions towards them.  However, the books are long and it was a grueling listen, and as I've complained already the reader made it harder to listen to.  So since I listened to the books enough to get caught up to the TV series I am taking a hiatus.  I also am hoping that the break will dull my memory in regard to the voices of the characters by the reader and next time I will try a new reader.  The books are graphic so I certainly recommend caution, although I think that it obvious.  I'm going to pick on my friend who first recommended these books to me, I bumped into him over the summer and told him that I was listening to the books so that we could watch the show, and he felt it necessary to warn me to not watch it with my children around.  We laugh about that often because he doesn't have kids and he doesn't think that way.  I do look forward to finishing the series and maybe it will be better when there aren't spoilers waiting for me to stumble across.

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