If you have lived in a hole for the last four years, Game of Thrones (actually, A song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones is only the title of the first book), is a series of fantasy novels written by George RR Martin (we will call him GRRM from now on). It is composed of five volumes, the first of which was released in 1996. There are still two books to come and, of course, its current success has a lot to do with HBO’s adaptation.
In these many many many pages, GRRM tells the story of a medieval kingdom with its lot of fighters, battles, schemers, treasons, knights, maiden and… yes, dragons. And zombies. And animal zombies (Animal zombies, HOW COOL IS THAT !). Each chapter depicts the games of power within the kingdom and the neighboring lands and their consequences from the point of view of a different character. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of houses, ambitions, traditions, loyalties and plots so there is a hell lot to tell and there is a lot of characters. And may they die (which happens quite often), those characters will be replaced by new characters with as many bonds in the configuration ruling – or wanting to rule – the realm as the fallen fellow.
About the story
The first thing to say is that GRRM knows what he’s doing. He writes what he wants to write, not what he’d like to read, even now that the series is famous and known not only by the amateurs of the genre. His story is solid and extremely rich with very precise details, clues of what is going to happen. Or not, because he likes to mislead the reader a lot, and he’s pretty good at that. There are many things happening at the same time, with a lot of people acting, not towards the same goals, in different places, but somehow, the scenario doesn’t seem to have a flaw. It has been thought and rethought and thought again. It is strong and flows logically.
The second thing to say about A song of Ice and Fire is that no matter how rich and polished the story is, it is not very well written. The style is efficient but flat. Maybe my English is not good enough for me to catch all the subtilites but I’d say that he writes a stubborn child like he writes a grown craven, and he writes a shy maid like he writes a perverted lady. The things written are not the same but it is told in the same way. If GRRM is very good at giving his character motives and back stories, their psychology seems very simple and sometimes totally unrealistic. It seems to me that even if he’s a Lord son, a child that has been traumatized will not grow suddenly into an adult. He will grow into a traumatized child.
Moreover, if the constant change of point of view enable the reader to know what is happening in very distant lands with very different plots and characters, it can also be irritating. It is not pleasant to be teleported in space and sometimes time at every chapter, it takes a time to adapt because you need to remember where the character is, what they have done last and what is their place in the game of thrones.
A lot of readers of A song of Ice and Fire were pissed of that so many characters die. I’m not. Like I said, GRRM is the writer, he writes and it’s a good thing that he doesn’t write what we’d like to read. Nevertheless, as my colleagues who heard me insult my Kindle in French during the lunch break could attest, I was pissed off. It was not for the dead characters though.
I was very pissed off with the female characters. Most of them are very simple. And like men, some of them die before they were even given the chance to evolve into something less stereotypical. As a reader and as a woman, it annoyed me. I understand that in order to build a medieval world, it is necessary to depict sexism and show that women are not as socially considered as men are. I get it. But maybe if an author can make me believe in a world where dragons exist, if he can make me believe that the Targaryen have been married between brothers and sisters for generations and that none of their children was malformed, I guess that asking him to build a medieval world where girls don’t marry at 13 is not that hard. He would just have had to find a rational excuse for that… Like “Maybe, we should wait until she has hips and teats before asking her to carry a child”.
But this is not the part that annoyed me the most about women. First of all, something about Daenerys wedding night has to be corrected at once. IF A GIRL SAYS NO AND THAT SHE IS NOT LISTENED TO, IT’S A RAPE. Touching her clitoris is not the solution to make her give herself more willingly. That part of the book was complete shit. Once again, I understand the part where women don’t really have sex with who they want because we’re talking about medieval rules but writing that a rape basically becomes a consented intercourse when the woman realizes that she can enjoy sex is not a good thing. When a woman (or a man btw) says that she (he) doesn’t want to have sex, it means that she (he) doesn’t want to have sex, not that you have to be more persuasive because she (he) wants it but she (he) doesn’t know it yet (Oh, hello, Robin Thicke). It is so nowadays and I guess it was the same thing during Middle-Age. I know that most people won’t do what they read in fantasy novels but it is part of rape culture and it is dangerous.
That being said, I was very disappointed in most of the female characters. In the first book, most of them do not exist by themselves. They are someone’s daughter, someone’s sister or someone’s wife. It is normal that this how they would be socially considered but this is also how their way of being is written. They don’t have strength of their own: if Catelyn Stark is brave it is because she married a Stark. If Cersei Lannister is smart, it is because she is her father’s daughter. If Daenerys is a good queen it is because she’s her brother’s sister. And so on, for the first book at least. It is also interesting to notice that in the other books, all women fighters are ugly (Brienne, Asha, Arya, Ygritte). And half of them became warriors because they were ugly and they failed at being “proper” women (Brienne and, in a way, Arya).
What can be a happy thought for feminists is that male characters carry as many clichés as female characters do. There are the strong and beautiful warriors that don’t understand anything in the game of thrones (Jaime, young Robert), there are the warriors less beautiful but totally unyielding when it comes to honor and a little more sensible (Eddard, Stannis), there are the young sons trying to juggle between youth and responsabilities (Robb, Jon), there are the schemers, not beautiful, not worthy on a battlefield but very good at moving pieces in the game (Varys, Littlefinger, Tyrion) and all of them seem to have the sensitivity of a garden shovel.
Nevertheless, it does not make the books less addictive because their motives are different and they are not playing the same game. If not so many characters are given the opportunity to evolve, the situations and the configurations, for sure, are leading to something very very interesting.