So as it turns out, maybe, when you’ve decided that your summer reading (and beyond) project is to read all the books on your to-read shelf, the best thing to do is NOT get yourself engrossed in a 5000 page (and counting) fantasy epic.
Translation: What I should’ve posted a month ago: BRB, going to Westeros.
(Also, there will be spoilers below, though not for the newest book.)
I just put down A Feast for Crows and will be picking up the “human-head-sized” A Dance with Dragons from the estimable Tobias Carroll tonight, or maybe tomorrow. A day or so without a Martin tome in my hand wouldn’t hurt. Right? There are, in fact, other books in the world, three or four of which are scattered around my apartment in various states of unfinishedness, and 140 or more of which are still on the bookcase that is one of the first things I see in the morning. Hey, the books say. Hey. Remember us? You said you were going to love us and read us and put words about us on the internet. Dirty liar.
The deeper I get into George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world, the more absorbed I get — and the more frustrated. A Feast for Crows expands his world massively, building on the way each previous book broadened the perspective, and then stretching it even more. There are tricks with names, cliffhangers for beloved characters, other beloved characters entirely missing from the story — and new characters about whom I just don’t care at all (I’m looking at you, all the Greyjoys who aren’t named Asha). A character who once seemed deviously adept at steering court machinations either becomes an idiot, is ill-served by the men surrounding her, or gives way entirely to fear for her children; I’m still not sure which it is, or how I feel about Cersei’s story, or how I feel about Martin’s female characters overall. Something I can’t quite pin down isn’t sitting quite right with me, even as I love stubborn Brienne, can’t wait to get back to Dany, and admire the different ways Sansa and Arya are learning to adapt.
I think part of it comes down to this: Though Martin is clearly aware of, and often playing with, the limited possibilities for women in the sort of world he’s built, those limitations sometimes feel as if they still might overpower even the most dominant women’s narrative arcs. Cersei loses her grasp on the kingdom because she puts her children before all; Dany sees all her subjects as her children, and finds power in them calling her “Mother.” Catelyn Stark makes terrible, foolish choices for her family — she’s hardly the only person to do so, but she and Cersei are the only characters whose love for and dedication to their children leads them to horrible places. Ned Stark lost his head to a noble and flawed notion of honor. I’ve yet to see a man make an error in judgement, or rattle a kingdom to the edge of war, because he was worried about his kids. *
But therein lies the rub: It’s often the women whose decisions and actions set things in motion. (Women, and children, as the nasty King Joff’s decision at the end of Game of Thrones is one of the acts on which all other things pivot.) No one fears the Queen of Thorns, and to the south, there’s an entire desert full of equally prickly, sly women. When I get fed up with one aspect of the story, something else twists, things settle into place, and it works. I can barely track all the characters, let alone how I think and feel about each of their arcs, and the power given to or taken from them, and the fascinating and horrible reasons for which they make all their decisions.
I also can’t seem to get anything done but reading. So for this last (thus far) book, I’m going to do the obvious thing: Combine my distraction with my project, and blog my reading of A Dance with Dragons. It’s 1040 pages (though doubtless at least 50 of those are the endless lists of Houses and courts at the end of the book), so I’m thinking a post roughly every 200 pages.
Starting tomorrow. After I catch up on Torchwood. Which the internet seems to be barely discussing at all. What gives, nerdpals?
* Though there’s a case to be made that all Littlefinger does – and Jaime, at first – is for love, or lust, whichever you want to call it.