from guest blogger, Karyn Silverman:
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, whether through the books themselves or through Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on the books.
After a long wait (five years, give or take, not that anyone was counting), the fifth book (7 are planned) was published a few weeks ago. First day sales were through the roof. 1800 people showed up at Union Square to hear him speak and get their books signed. I was there. The audience was amazingly diverse, but the largest segment consisted of 20- and 30-somethings, and conversations with my neighbors during the day (I arrived at 1 pm; the signing was at 7) made it clear that many of the devoted fans had discovered the books, usually through word of mouth, somewhere in their late teens. In fact, with me was a former student, into whose hands I had placed book 1 right before he went to Germany for 6 weeks during his senior year: he needed something new, absorbing, and long.
Now, I’m not going to claim the series flies off my shelves: A Song of Ice and Fire takes commitment: 5 books at an average of 1,000 pages per is… a whole lot of pages. But every year a few students discover the series. Usually it’s juniors and seniors, voracious readers with an appetite for fantasy and science fiction.
And they get hooked.
Martin’s medieval-ish world can be a pretty rough place. Bloodshed and violence—often against women and even children—are par for the course. Nobles and commoners alike drink and fight and have a fair bit of sex. Main characters get killed off. And oh, the politics! Martin cites the Hundred Years War as an influence in building his tale, and the story is full of the infighting, backstabbing, and treachery that maintain a conflict for that long.
But these books are also full of amazing characters. And more of them are teens and children than adults, especially as the body count rises with every volume. There is a beautiful young girl who is sold into marriage and rises to become a queen and mother of dragons. There is the bastard son of a noble lord who ends up guarding the realm from the mysterious threat behind the towering wall of ice. There’s a young boy who cannot walk, but in his dreams he can fly—and his dreams are much more than just the mutterings of his subconscious. And there is humor and pathos and so much about the journey into adulthood.
So much for content. There’s also the strange pleasure of an unfinished series with a massive, and massively organized, fandom. The possibility for immersion adds an additional dimension to the reading experience, perfect for teens raised on social media and comfortable in virtual environments.
Want to look like you’ve got your finger on the pulse of all the news and the crackpot theories? Try Westeros; forums dissect and discuss every aspect of the books, while the wiki will bring you up to speed when you can’t remember who that knight is or what it was that prophecy said.
This is the holy grail of fantasy series, so don’t be put off by the length or the lack of conclusion: in this case, both are virtues!
See below for my spoiler-free (to the best of my ability) review of book 5, and remember: Winter is Coming.
Adult/High School–Finally the wait is over! Dance is here, and it’s a doorstopper. Roughly half of the book provides the missing perspectives from A Feast for Crows (2005), most notably Jon Snow, Danaerys Targaryen, and Tyrion Lannister. The timelines meet up eventually, and the second half moves the narrative forward in time for everyone, whether in the North or the South, Westeros or Essos. In Essos, Dany struggles to rule Meereen but finds that it is much easier to conquer than to rule. Tyrion, meanwhile, is in exile and learns what it means to be a dwarf who is not a lord. In the North, tensions continue to grow between the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings, and Stannis and his men, leading to the inevitable explosion, and Bran finally finds the three-eyed crow. More than anything, identity limns each narrative in this volume. “You need to know your name” is one character’s refrain, and questions of self and family abound. This seems like a perfect set up for the final two volumes, when the question of who has the right to rule will finally be settled, and the personalities tempered in these conflicts will have hardened or snapped. Difficult lessons are learned, prophecies begin to come to pass, and the white ravens fly: fans may not be pleased with every detail, but they can’t deny that things are happening. However, a series of cliffhanger endings (especially for Jon and the Night’s Watch) will make the bound-to-be-long wait for Wolves of Winter nearly unbearable, especially with so many characters poised on the edge of action.– Karyn N. Silverman, LREI (Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School), NYC