Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Game of Tomes

When George R.R. Martin's A Feast of Crows showed up on the New York Times's best-seller list for hardcover fiction, the event inspired a mini-tempest in a co-worker's teacup. Never -- ever -- does fantasy fiction approach the top of the best-seller list. While authors such as Dan Brown and Anne Rice have paved the way, it's rare indeed that a book by the likes of David Eddings, Robert Jordan, and their ilk do so with such rapid aplomb.

As mentioned in a previous entry, Martin's 835-page paperback novel, which I just read at the behest of said co-worker, might very well win me back as a fan of fantasy as a genre. This is no soft-boiled story of dragons and leprechauns in which all of the McCaffrey- and Dragonlance-like topics and tropes are trotted out and icons indicated. No, Martin writes with a deeper diction.

Perhaps it was his time working as a writer-producer for the TV series Beauty and the Beast or his stint as story editor for The Twilight Zone -- anyone paddling in the pond of the master of the fantastic Rod Serling must learn many things -- that helped him hone his craft. Regardless, Martin is no Johnny C. Lately aping J.R.R. Tolkien or his more recent lessers J.K. Rowling or Christopher Paolini. This is a good book, regardless of its literary lineage or stereotypical semblance.

What impressed me? Several things. One, the world and its history are hella richly detailed and presented. That can almost be assumed as a given, given the genre, but much of Martin's magic is assumed and yet to be revealed. (Still to say, put a map in a book, and I'm crushing.) Martin also focuses on character development and presentation in an uncharacteristic way -- titling each chapter after the key character and developing them in such a way that you know them, care about them, and look forward to their return. Similarly, Martin implements the idea of call back to good effect, mentioning something in passing -- mere passing, not expository exponentialism -- earlier on and then expanding on its importance and impact later in the book -- oft to surprising sustenance. And lastly, while sex is often worked into fantasy fiction in a cartoony, occasionally gratuitous way, Martin is shockingly explicit -- and mature -- in his use of erotic elements.

While I'm not so hot to trot on the four-book series that this kicks off -- this first volume was first published in 1996, and it's been a six-year wait between volumes three and four -- that I need to read its sequel A Clash of Kings immediately, I will borrow and consume its predecessors in due time. If you've given up on fantasy as the imaginings of emotionally immature romanticists -- if you've avoided the genre because it's usually written by rote repetition -- be sure to explore Martin's output.

This is fantastic fantasy. Even if there be dragons.

1 comment:

Josh Gentry said...

Hey, Heath. You should keep this book on your radar. _A Shadow In Summer_, by Daniel Abraham. I'm fortunate enough to have read an advance copy, and its pretty good. Most real characters I've read in awhile. And there's an R. R. Martin blurb on the cover :-)