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You Vex Me, Game of Thrones!

The buzz surrounding the TV adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones was nearly impossible to miss. Fans couldn’t stop talking about how excited they were to see his amazing world finally come to life. They talked of dire wolves, and swords, and epic battles. I wanted to share in that excitement, but since I’d never read the books I could only muster so much enthusiasm. The one bonus to this was that I had no preconceptions about what the show should be and wouldn’t be disappointed by the omission of a favorite scene. So, right along with the legions of die hard fans, I sat down to watch this grand, fantasy adventure. 

It turned out to be pretty much what I expected with knights and swords and castles and even evil things in the forest that were sure to cause problems later. Oh, and there was a beheading, which I think is required in every fantasy novel.  It’s right up there with hangings and the use of Ye Olde English. I liked the first episode so much that I immediately downloaded the book. Do you know that thing is nearly eight hundred pages long? That’s a lot of beheading, but the show held promise so I wanted to read the book. It’s inevitable that things get left out due to time, budget or creative license, so I make it a habit of reading the books on which my favorite movies and shows are based.  After this, though, I may have to rethink that policy.

I should have know I was in trouble when I complained about the pace and people said I had to read the first hundred pages or so before it got good.  So, I kept reading.  And reading.  And reading.  I’m not one to give up on a book so I read through to the end and, when I turned that last page, I let out a sigh of relief and frustration. This guy makes Tolkien look concise. I know more about the color, design, and shading of the house banners of Westeros than I ever cared to know. I also know way too much about wenching, people’s eyes melting out of their sockets like jelly, and crumbling old buildings. Where the show consolidates and cuts, the book just goes on and on about details that don’t really add to the story. I know, he’s creating a world, but there’s more detail and description in this book than actual story, and I read for story.

The worst part?  Now that I’ve read this ponderous tome, I’m less excited for the show. It’s not knowing what’s going to happen, but knowing just how little is going to happen that has ruined the story.  I’ll keep watching the show in all it’s wenching, knightly glory, but it just isn’t the same now.  And before you tell me that I really, really ought to read the second book because that’s when it gets going, you should know that puts you at risk of experiencing a beheading by my own hand.  What did you guys think?  Fan of the show? Fan of the books? How did they rate for you?


22 Responses to “You Vex Me, Game of Thrones!”

  1. Tom says:

    My favorite fantasy books, ever so slightly behind Tolkien.

    It's not your cup of tea, you should stop reading/watching.

  2. As someone who just finished reading the fourth book, I agree with you whole-heartedly. I think HBO is going to have a tough time retaining the audience if they stick as close to the books as they have so far, because it is a slooow pace. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the viewers when some of the jaw-dropping moments start to take place. Maybe that will keep them around.
    Of course, I'll keep watching, but I'm a sucker for anything with knights and swordplay!

  3. Sue London says:

    We enjoyed the first book (and I'm not one for ponderous, let me tell you) because it felt *different* somehow. And we loved a couple of the characters. But I had cooled on it by the end – where I was expecting that all this weaving of threads had been leading to a great finale I got… more threads. My husband made his way into the second book but lost interest about a third of the way into that. So you can't call us great fans by any means. We are enjoying the show but not feeling any need to go back and re-read the book(s). We never actively hated it, just felt like he had lost our interest by not focusing on the characters we cared about or creating satisfying conclusions.

    Guess what I'm saying is… Wonder Twin Powers ACTIVATE!

  4. I'm sure he could've made it a trilogy by a little editing, possibly just one big book. It'll be better on TV because all those pages of description become a three second shot.

  5. I really enjoyed the first three books but I gotta admit it is hard work at times getting through them. If you didn't get on with the first one then I'd say definitely avoid the second book.

  6. Kissy says:

    I've been a fan of the books for years and years now, and like many others I was excited about the show, and seeing my favourite stories and characters brought to life. Personally, I find the show disappointing. Its excellent, well written and interesting, but to me it pales in comparison.

    Maybe this is because I love the background, the details, the whole world he has created, and enjoy reading about crumbling old buildings, and beheadings, and design. I can see, however, that other people may find it tedious. I should probably state for the record that I'm also a huge Tolkien's writing style. If total immersion into a fantasy world is what you like in a book, A Song of Ice and Fire is wonderful, but if you're the type that reads for the stories/adventures themselves, I can see why you'd stop reading.

    I'll admit that when I came to the end of the first book I was surprised, annoyed, even angry (I won't say why, and spoil it for anyone else), but I still loved the storytelling, if not the plot itself at that point.

    I could go on and on about why I like the books (and why I like them better than the show), but I can only spend so much time not working while I'm at work. I run the risk of being beheaded, but the second and third books do move quite a bit faster, though GRRM's style doesn't change. I won't tell you to read them, however, if you really didn't like the first book.

    I'm rambling.

  7. Jessica says:

    Ever post a really long diatribe, hit submit, then have google kick an error back at you? I just did. 🙁 Long story short for what I initially wanted to say… I adore the books (though I approach them from a "historical with some fantasy" standpoint). The HBO show…complete let down after episode 5. Far too many liberties are being taken and I find myself hard pressed to continue watching.

  8. Jeff says:

    I got like 40 pages into it and I was like, "Done now."

  9. @Tom
    Definitely done reading, but the show I will still watch because although it lost some of the magic, I am still enjoying it.

    Yes, I am curious to see how some of the big reveals will play out in the show. It'll either hook folks new to the series or lose them completely.

    Form of….knight with plain old boring armor, no pretty pictures or sapphire bits here.

    Definitely. I agree. Especially since your name is Logan and I'm afraid your Adamantium claws would just shred my sword 😉

    Since you didn't try to get me to read the rest, your head is safe on your shoulders for another day.

    I didn't want to spoil it either, but that ending…what the? It felt just weird and out of place and completely lost me. And did you just try to get me to keep reading?! (sharpens sword)

  10. @Jessica
    Oh no, the internet is plotting against you! I think your approach is actually perfect. The way the historical seemed to be the focus and the fantasy was just a little dash throughout the story is actually something I liked. The final scene though, completely blew that for me and lost me. It seemed out of sync with the rest of the story.

    Yup. Can not fault that at all.

  11. Didn't read the books, don't plan to, and have specifically been told by friends who know me not to. I don't do well with slow-moving fantasy.

    The show is fun, there's a reasonable amount happening and interesting things to break up the monotony of fantasy. However, even the show is a little slow for me and I can't watch it without also being on my computer or my mind drifts away. That happens to me though, so this isn't new. The middle of the first season of BSG I also found slow in a similar way.

    I'm a hard-sci-fi and action-adventure lover who has never handled fantasy well, although, surprisingly enough, I like the Two Towers book, which my husband who is better at fantasy than me thinks is the worst of the three.

    I'll keep reading my newest Poul Anderson acquisition, but I'll keep watching Game of Thrones, at least so long as they keep shoving swords in people's eyes.


  12. Melissa says:

    I really have to thank you for this. It is my best friend's favorite series ever, and I have been worried about reading it because of the massive descriptions in it that I knew about. I couldn't get through any of the LotR books because of long descriptions of trees. >.> I will probably still watch the show, but I am hearing less about it now, and that kind of makes me worry a bit.

  13. adantejada says:

    I think of Dresden at near one end of the description/action balance and SoI&F at the other extreme end. In Martin's books, like Tolkien's, I tend to skim past the descriptions. I really enjoyed Game of Thrones and most of the rest. I felt the 4th book was reaching and I'm crossing my fingers for the 5th…

    I know that on FB I suggested listening to book two instead of reading it — I retract that. If the world-building isn't your thing, listening to it will just be worse.

    The twists, turns and "holy crap!" moments make the books a fun ride for me…

  14. @GirlsAreGeeks
    Oh, never fear, there will be plenty of eyes and other random bits skewered on the ends of swords! Curious, what Poul Anderson are you reading? Maybe I should give that a try?

    I hear more and more fans of the books that are becoming disenchanted with the show as it veers from the original storyline. I'm still watching, because that doesn't bother me in the least. And, definitely, don't even bother with the books. If Tolkien was too descriptive, this is not for you!

    You're just retracting your suggestion now because I've threatened to lop off your head 😉 I agree though, Dresden is more my speed, but it's firmly rooted in our world with stuff we don't know. This is it's own little world, like Tolkien, and it's just too descriptive for me.

  15. HokieStone says:

    I gotta admit, I'm a little confused about some of the complaints. The show hasn't veered from the plot of the books in any meaningful way. Some minor characters have been cut, and lines that were said by some characters have been given to others, but the core story is there, 100% Some characters have been tweaked a little, but by and large they are the same characters as in the books. So to say it's "veering" from the original storyline is…well, incorrect, IMO.

    Well, at the risk of losing my noggin, books 2 and 3 do get even better, and pick up the pace – although I will say that book 4 was a bit of step back, IMO. Still, if it isn't your thing, then it isn't your thing. And if your husband and the other D6G guys (who I've know are big fans of the book) can't convince you to keep going, I doubt I can 😉

  16. @HokieStone
    The complaint about veering from the story is more one I am seeing online in forums, blogs etc than something I noticed. Like you, the changes I've seem are minor and don't significantly alter the story. I think those who are completely immersed in the world and enamored with the characters find small changes huge. The story may play out the same, but those small changes really upset some fans.

    And no amount of convincing by Russ, Craig or Raef could get me to read book two!

  17. John Richard says:

    Don't worry, Nicole. We all make mistakes. Not everyone can appreciate great writing. Keep your chin up, you'll bounce back from this one. 😉

  18. DMStue says:

    I enjoyed, but struggled through the first book. Which I believe is not am unusual experience. The series of books really do seem to be divisive for the readership.

    I came to love the grit and grime of the place, but it's a personal choice and not for everyone.

    Loving the series though, and I don't care if the stick closely to the script or deviate wildly, it is visually stunning and as the the guys said on the podcast, even the Steam-punk type, cogs and wheels credits are great (is it me or do they keep changing as we are introduced to more story?)

    Chalk this one up to experience then I guess and rest in the knowledge that by reading the first book, you have at least elevated your geek-cred that little further 😉

  19. Zergonapal says:

    Yeah I wouldn't have read the book, I never felt compelled to read the spider killer known as LotR when the movies came out because despite having not read it for more than a decade I remembered just how boring the history lessons where.
    But hey you should really read the Tales of Malazan by Steven Erikison and the Empire trilogy by Janny Wurts.

  20. Osbad says:

    I'm with you on this one. In my mind, a story should have a "beginning, a middle and an end". These uber-long never ending sagas that are ever prevalent in modern fantasy literature just do my head in. They can have a good begining, but the middle stretches beyond morbit obesity and they have no end.

    I've learned never to begin one of those things ever again after drowning at about volume 6 in Terry Goodkind's interminable "Sword of Truth" series in the late '90's. The burnt hand teaches best!

    Nowadays my fantasy reading is restricted to a bit of Robert E Howard or something. Anything that wraps up in a couple of hundred pages will do me fine!

  21. @John
    I'm letting the dragon eat you first in True Dungeon.

    I am interested in seeing where the show goes, and you are absolutely right about the intro. I only just heard this myself so I paid extra attention this week and am going to see if it seems different for the next episode.

    Since you don't seem to be a fan of the historical saga version of Fantasy, I'll check out your suggestions. But if I have to read 200 pages for the good part… (sharpens sword)

    Huzzah! Here's to stories that are actually, you know, complete stories!

  22. HokieStone says:

    Nicole –

    Wait, what?!? You mean fantasy/sci-fi geeks can obsess about the tiniest details being exactly right? Who knew?!?!

    I think I may hear your sword whistling toward me, but I'll give it one more try. GRRM has written 3 short stories set in the Game of Thrones world, about 70 years before the events of the current stories. They've been published in a couple of Anthology books. Maybe you can be persuaded to give them a try – much shorter, faster paced, and a beginning and end to each story. You can google "Dunk and Egg" to find the stories (they're about Ser Duncan the Tall and squire Aegon…nicknamed "Dunk and Egg). The bonus is even if you don't like those stories, you've got an anthology full of other great fantasy/sci-fi stories. In fact that's how I found George R.R. Martin – I bought the first anthology, "Legends" for a short story by Robert Jordan. Then I read the other stories in the book, including one called "The Hedge Knight" by George R.R. Martin and said "I have to get his other books!" So there you have it, my last valiant attempt.

    Now, at the risk of getting into a debate on your blog with another poster, I can't disagree more with Zergonapal's recommendation of Steven Erikson's Malazan series. If you think there's a lot of characters to keep track of in GRRM's books – he's got nothing on Erickson. I understand Erickson's premise – the initial couple of books are completely separate stories, set on different continents, but then he tries to bring them all together. It's ambitious, and at 10 books long, it's a ginormous series. But honestly, I think it fails. I bailed at book 6. The prose is mediocre, the dialogue painfully bad at parts, and most of his thousands of characters are virtually interchangeable. It also goes to the other extreme from GRRM's gritty "realistic" fantasy, with characters literally ripping mountains from the earth. You never can tell what any one individual will like, and the Malazan series has gotten it's fair share of praise…but I personally can't recommend it.

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