The success of HBO’s House of the Dragon as no doubt sent devoted fans to rereading the original A Song of Ice and Fire novels to which is serves as a prequel. The most hardcore fans love to reimmerse themselves in the bloody, violent and tantalizing world of George R. R. Martin’s imagination again and again.
There’s much to enjoy about the books, but it also has to be said that there are some elements which don’t stand up well upon rereading the series. Changing tastes and the passage of time reveal just how much has changed since the first book hit bookshelves.
They Aren’t As Subversive As They First Seem
For many readers, one of the things that made A Song of Ice and Fire such a great fantasy series was its willingness to subvert fantasy tropes. However, the more the novels go on, the more it becomes clear that they are not as subversive as they might appear.
For example, it’s already become clear that Jon Snow, whatever his other narrative purposes, is going to be the chosen one. This might still play out the way it does in the series, in which he has to go into exile beyond the Wall, but there’s no escaping the fact that in both book and TV form he is still the traditional epic hero.
The Narrative Meanders Too Much
A Song of Ice and Fire bears a complex narrative, with many twists and turns. For the first three books, it was easy to keep track of what was happening, and there seemed to be an endpoint in mind.
As the series has gone on, however, and as the years in between installments have stretched on, it’s become clear that this is not as much the case as many had assumed and hoped. In fact, it’s become more difficult to see how Martin can wrap up the story in the projected two remaining volumes.
There Are Far Too Many Writing Tics
Every writer has their own tics and weasel words that creep into their writing despite their best efforts. The first three books in A Song of Ice and Fire had a few of these, but for the most part the strength of the storytelling and the characters were such that readers could ignore them.
As the quality of the books has decreased, however, the use of such words has become all the more prominent and distracting. This is particularly true of A Dance with Dragons, and Tyrion’s story in particular suffers from a number of repeated sentences and phrases that come to be almost a litany.
There Are Some Messed-Up Gender Issues
Though there are many great female characters in Game of Thrones, the novels themselves have some questionable gender choices. In particular, there is no denying that the world of the series as a whole is a misogynist one, in which the patriarchy is understood to be the unquestioned norm.
While some might defend this by stating that it is based on the Middle Ages, it is worth reminding everyone that this is fantasy. It would have been possible for Martin to have jettisoned the uglier aspects of the real world if he wanted to write a fantasy that undermined some of the more problematic tropes of the genre.
Westeros Isn’t As Interesting As The Rest Of The World
George R. R. Martin has created a sprawling and fascinating world, one which extends far beyond the borders of Westeros. Indeed, those who have read the books know that, in some important ways, the vast continent of Essos is far more interesting than Westeros, with many fascinating locations.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if characters like Daenerys didn’t spend so much of their time to the east. Her adventures there just serve to further highlight how limited, and stereotypical, Westeros is in terms of its culture and mores.
Feast For Crows Is Just Plain Bad
A Storm of Swords is regarded as a high point in A Song of Ice and Fire. With both the Red and the Purple Wedding, both of which contained some very shocking deaths, it set a high bar indeed.
The follow-up volume, A Feast for Crows, was a significant let-down. In fact, it’s not going too far to say that, in some ways, it is just plain bad. This is because it focuses on only half of the beloved characters from the previous novel, but it’s also because its story is too unfocused, and the repetitive writing is already starting to be apparent.
Even The Heroes Are Insufferable
For many readers, what makes A Song of Ice and Fire such a great series is its sprawling cast of characters. Many of these, such as Jon and Arya, have come to be seen as the best characters in the series.
At the same time, a reread reveals just how insufferable even so many of the heroes are. Ned Stark, to take just one example, is almost obnoxiously noble, and the same is true of his “son,” Jon Snow. While not a deal-breaker, it does show that sometimes a re-read can tarnish the joy of a particular series.
They’re Depressingly Cynical
No one has ever thought to accuse A Song of Ice and Fire of being optimistic. In fact, the series as a whole is almost unrelentingly cynical, and even the best of characters often find their good intentions twisted into something brutal and ugly.
This is, of course, what sets the series apart. However, it is also something that starts to become a bit depressing upon a re-read. One can only encounter such world-weary cynicism for so long before it starts to buckle under its own weight.
They Don’t Seem Unique The Way They Used To
When A Song of Ice and Fire first came out, it was unlike almost anything else then on the fantasy market. It showed that one could combine the traditional elements of epic fantasy with the darker, grittier ethos familiar to those who had already embraced grimdark.
A re-read, however, reveals just how much the world of fantasy has changed. In fact, grimdark is now more the norm than the exception, and so while there is still much to enjoy about A Song of Ice and Fire, its uniqueness is no longer such an essential part of its appeal.\
There’s No End In Sight
For those who started reading the series in the 1990s, the last few decades have been disappointing. Though there was some sign in the mid-2000s and early 2010s that the series would start clearing up its endgame, that has been frustrated time and time again.
This sours the re-reading experience. It’s difficult to get invested in these characters and their exploits when there is, so far at least, little indication that there will be a satisfying conclusion to the series as a whole.
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