I have now read three novels of the Game of Thrones sequence, having only watched one or two of the TV series. I gave up on the TV series when a man pushed a boy out of a high tower, wanton cruelty which I found distasteful, and the boy survived, which I found too unlikely. That’s the furthest serious spoiler I will give, because I don’t want spoilers of the fourth and fifth books. The sixth has been awaited for ten years.
I got the five books in one kindle ebook, and at the very start people have highlighted commonplace moralisms, such as, “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” Tyrion the dwarf says that to Jon the bastard, and this trans woman knows the truth of it. The highlighting stops early in volume one- fans haven’t been reading far.
The books do not follow Letitia Prism’s dictum, “the good end happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” The honourable suffer, and subject lords are kept in check by hope of advancement, or betray their overlords. There are few suspense scenes in the heroic mold, where the brave hero creeps into the darkness, eludes the guards, and rescues her friends; no, she gets captured. In such fiction I like a “good” character I can sympathise with, who has more good breaks than setbacks. Generally, battles get won by the stronger side, fights by the stronger warrior. Each chapter is written in the third person from the perspective of one character, and I checked the contents page occasionally to see if they survived. Goodness or kindness is weakness. Some characters are monstrously sadistic. Second sons, who have less chance of power, can be decent sometimes.
I wonder, in these worlds, what people eat: crops are burned or stolen, so there seems too little to keep a country going. There seems little or no progress, whereas in the real Mediaeval world there were always scholars advancing knowledge. The story seems not to progress much, either: characters meander round from South to North and back again, fall in with others, get in fights, live to fight on. They are also mostly shut up in their own perceptions, so that when two are brought together and I feel they might open up to each other, reach a common understanding, they never do.
Westeros is a dark place to be. Consider the vow:
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
The prose ticks along pleasantly enough, but that vow is the closest it gets to poetry. It does not get close to wit, either: “I am growing strangely fond of you. I may kill you yet, but I think I’d feel sad about it”, perhaps.
“In life, the monsters win.” Certainly in Westeros. Sometimes they are killed by someone equally monstrous. Life is brutish:
“Men fish the sea, dig in the earth, and die. Women birth children in blood and pain, and die. Night follows day. The winds and tides remain. The islands are as our god made them.” Gods, he has grown grim, Theon thought.
“There are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sharp steel and strong arms rule this world, don’t ever believe any different.”
There are trans masculine characters, apparent women who are fighters.
There are magic, reanimating corpses, and monsters, flying dragons and Others made of ice, so the games of the humans may have little value. I don’t think the fire god of Mellisandre is any pleasanter than those Others. I find no beauty in the books at all.