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George R.R. Martin

Newest release - A Dance with Dragons - in hardcover and kindle July 12, 2011.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Here's the only drawbacks to reading George R.R. Martin's the Song of Ice and Fire series: they are not self-contained stories, cannot be read singly, and must be read in order. And, most horrible of all, Martin is running way behind in his writing.

The series is projected (at the moment) to be seven books in length. A Feast for Crows (Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4), was more than three years overdue and A Dance with Dragons four.

The story takes place in another world, sort of medieval, and involves the conflicts between seven great noble houses and their schemes for the prize of the throne. Naturally, there are elements of magic, otherworldly creatures, strange religions, swordplay and battles, and all the usual paraphernalia of the world of fantasy.

The themes are dark and extremely adult. We are talking incest, murder, insanity, vengeance, unbridled greed and ambition, sadism and more. Sometimes we descend into pure horror. Sometimes the humor is so wickedly funny we laugh out loud.

In my opinion, A Song of Ice and Fire are the best fantasy books ever written.

The books are narrated from the viewpoints of various characters chapter-by-chapter. These characters are not all the same in each book. Some die. (Yes. Major characters die.) Some wander off, and we don't know what is happening to them.

Some are seemingly very evil characters, but they grow and change and we find out things about them that change our view. Some are good characters whose experience embitters them and they change, and we grieve and worry. We find ourselves liking "bad" people. We find ourselves disliking "good" people. All these people are fully three-dimensional, evolving over time as we come to know them, as they age and gain new experiences and new insights. Just like real life.

Martin has achieved the Holy Grail of writing - near perfect (I would say perfect, but the series isn't done) characterization (the hardest thing for any writer, and especially lacking in so many genre books).

But that's not all. The books are filled with edge-of-your-seat excitement, cliff-hangers, shocking plot twists, and agonizingly ambiguous hints of what's to come. It's a puzzle to mull over, a challenge to be met, the frustration of wanting more, more, more (when will that next book come!).

We leave each chapter with regret that we're left to wait and see what will happen to that person next. Yet, we're eager to start the next chapter and find out what's happening in other parts of the world and to other characters. The cliff-hanger endings of each book drive us mad.

We see their mistakes and wrong turnings. If only they would do this, if only she would say that, if only they could meet up. Why is Sansa such a twit! If only Arya would learn to control her temper! Oh no, not that! Arghh!

They are real people. We care. We are invested in their fates. Probably, we are all rooting for a certain someone to win the throne - we are partisan, we take sides, we are involved.

And then, of course, there's the wolves. And the dragons. And the resurrections. And the Others.

With enough humor to break the tension, we say "whew", draw a breath, try to be patient, and pray for Martin to hurry.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the authors I buy in hardback. We own the books of A Song of Ice and Fire in hardback.

It you are bored waiting for the books to arrive, just watch (rewatch, rewind) the HBO series Game of Thrones. Peter Dinklage won an emmy in 2011 for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister - we salute him and assume he's properly appreciative of George R. R. Martin writing one of the best characters of all time, in any genre, and making that character short.

Buy George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire
A Game of Thrones
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A Game of Thrones
Book 1 in a Song of Ice and Fire (1996)

A Game of Thrones is a contemporary masterpiece of fantasy. The cold is returning to Winterfell, where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime. A time of conflict has arisen in the Stark family, as they are pulled from the safety of their home into a whirlpool of tragedy, betrayal, assassination, plots and counterplots. Each decision and action carries with it the potential for conflict as several prominent families, comprised of lords, ladies, soldiers, sorcerers, assassins and bastards, are pulled together in the most deadly game of all--the game of thrones." - book description.
A Clash of Kings
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A Clash of Kings
Book 2 in a Song of Ice and Fire (1999)

"A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. And from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles." - book description.
A Storm of Swords
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A Storm of Swords
Book 3 in a Song of Ice and Fire (2000)

"Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King’s Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world....But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others--a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords." - book description.
A Feast for Crows
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A Feast for Crows
Book 4 in a Song of Ice and Fire (2005)

"With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King’s Landing. Robb Stark’s demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist--or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out.

But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces--some familiar, others only just appearing--are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead." - book description.

Originally to be part of A Dance of Dragons, this one follows primarily Brienne, the Maid of Tarth, in her search for the Stark daughters, Arya and her continuing education in the school of hard knocks, and Cersei as she slips into paranoid insanity while seeking to remain Regent and ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. We learn more of the Ironmen (Greyjoys), Dornish customs and politics, and the Eastern Kingdoms. Sam Tarly features here as well, on a mission to protect Mance Rayder's son and become a maester at the Citadel, per Jon's command.

For fans, this is a pretty boring book, with no major game changers and little excitement, especially since our favorite characters are all missing. Jon Stark, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen are all missing here and will not return till A Dance of Dragons. *Cries*
A Dance With Dragons
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A Dance With Dragons
Book 5 in a Song of Ice and Fire (2011)

"n the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again--beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has three times three thousand enemies, and many have set out to find her. Yet, as they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

To the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone--a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge yet. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

And from all corners, bitter conflicts soon reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all. . . ." product description.

A Dance with Dragons is better than its predecessor, but still lacking the level of excitement and fast-paced action of the first three books. Like almost all fantasy authors, Martin is using these middle books to position his players upon the board and ready the scene for the final action. Even the game-changer revealed in the middle of the book was a bit *shrug* ho hum. Still, it's wonderful to return to Jon, Daenerys and Tyrion, as well as interesting minor characters such as Theon Greyjoy, Davos, the Martells, etc.

Initially, the book runs chronologically concurrently with Feast for Crows, though about three quarters of the way through, the timelines catch up and we are given snippets of the current situation with Jaime, Cersei, Arya and a few others. Aside from Jon Snow's preparations to embrace the wildlings and prepare for a winter of fighting the Others, most of the action takes place in the eastern free cities and slave kingdoms. Tyrion is making his way to Daenerys, with multiple adventures along the way. Wracked by both guilt and glee in having killed Tywin Lannister, his character remains a delight to read. Meanwhile, Daenerys seems to have lost her way and it truly becomes a bit tedious waiting for her to get a grip on what she needs to do.

Overall, this book was a pleasure to read, but a leisurely pleasure with very little in the way of the "Oh Sh*t" or "Oh WoW" moments we've come to expect from Martin.

Book 6 - The Winds of Winter Book 7 - A Dream of Spring