Is it fair to do a single review for all five A Song of Ice and Fire novels? Probably not, but I reread the series basically as a single unit and can no longer tell what happened in which book, so here we go. I love these books – yes, all five. Yes, that includes A Feast for Crows – and am a staunch better-than-the-show purist. I get really annoying about it and my fiance has just learned to smile and nod and ever since I found the r/pureasoiaf subreddit I’ve been a happier person. And I’m always happier digging back into this masterclass of genre fiction.
Much like with Harry Potter, here in the English-speaking internet, there isn’t much need to rehash the plots. At this point we all know the broad strokes – dragons, zombies, anyone can die. The books, though. No one out there world-builds the way that George R. R. Martin does and he gives a damn. There is so much lore layered into these books. Five different religions, magic gone and returning, complex economics and diverse ecologies, whatever the fuck the Doom of Valyria was (god, I hope we learn more about that. The little snippets we get are so damn tantalizing and I need to know.) There’s a depth to these books that I don’t recall ever encountering before and every reread teaches me more.
Now that the show is over, I’ve been going through some of the really great analysis of D&D versus GRRM and how their styles diverge. One of my favorites boiled it down to simply: Martin relies on his characters to react to and create situations, while D&D relied on situations to elicit reactions in characters. If that differential makes sense. It’s character-driven versus set-piece-driven and it keeps his characters much more consistent.
I also just love being in these characters’ heads. Lena Heady turned in one of television’s all-time great villain performances, but there’s nothing like looking through Cersei’s eyes as she’s so drunk on power she doesn’t see how she’s boxing herself in with the Faith Militant. Watching Jon understand 100% that he is alienating his men on the Wall and still being surprised when they Et Tu, Brute him. Daenerys’s seething contempt of the Mereenese nobles, always unspoken. Barristan Selmy’s struggle to redeem himself after the years he spent in service to the Mad King. Davos’s attempt to balance his strengths and past as a smuggler with his duties as Hand, and his wide-eyed astonishment at the plots and ploys of the Manderly’s. All of it.
DORNE. I will never forgive Season 5 for what they did to my beloved Dorne. Seriously, if you haven’t read the books, do it for Dorne. Do it for the character assassination of Ellaria Sand. Do it for the multitude and complexity of the Sand Snakes. Do it for Arianne Martell and for Myrcella Lannister and for the Dornish plot. Do it for Doran Martell who has lived fueled with rage and anguish for fifteen years, quietly plotting a revenge that could bring the world crashing down across Westeros AND Essos.
I could sit here and keep pointing out my favorite tiny plot points. Theon’s mute squire Wex surviving the Bolton sack of Winterfell and bearing witness to the departure of the not-dead Stark sons – then bringing that to White Harbor where Davos is tasked with unearthing Rickon from an island of cannibals. Because that is a plot and I love it. I could point out my favorite chance meetings – Brienne encountering so many of our lost favorites as she covers the seven kingdoms in search of Sansa, brushing against Gendry at the Inn of the Crossroads and seeing from afar the silent gravedigger of the Saltpans, not knowing that is Sandor Clegane. I could point out the very best of the best that was never in the show: Lady M-fing STONEHEART. Honestly, the whole Brotherhood was done dirty by HBO, I miss Lem Lemoncloak and Anguy the Archer and Tom of Sevenstreams (another chance meeting – Jaime and Tom!) And all of that is before you get to so much of what happens across the Narrow Sea, where every Arya chapter takes a new name, none of them her own (and she meets Sam! Bless you, GRRM, forever and always).
Give me another year and I’ll probably reread the books again. There’s always just so much to unearth. These books hit my sweet spot. This is a world I love to live in. As a reader, though, I would not want to be a woman in Westeros (Essos, maybe. But definitely not Westeros).
Would I be devastated if Martin never finishes this series? Absolutely. But it will still have been worth it just to have these five.