Friday, 21 December 2012

Topnotch Reads of 2012: Part Three - The Winner!

Well, if you're a regular reader, you'll probably have seen that I have been counting down my top ten reads of 2012 over the past few days, with part one covering numbers ten to six, and part two looking at five down to two. The wait is now over, the fat lady has sung and we have finally arrived at number one - my all time, best read of 2012, the one that I enjoyed the most - and in honour of this, I shall be reviewing the winner in a bit more detail. So stand by, get ready and prepare yourself as I announce the best thing I've read this year.......


1. A Song Of Ice And Fire, by George R. R. Martin.

Okay, yes, I am cheating a bit - anyone who has read A Song Of Ice And Fire will know that it's actually a series of books, currently spanning five titles, with at least two more still to come, so it's not even a finished work. But hear me out, I can explain! See, in the same way you can't really refer to the three volumes of The Lord of The Rings as separate books, these can't be treated as individuals works either, with several storylines playing out across all the books, and many recurring characters who are vital to the various plots. So if I'd come along and said "A Storm Of Swords (incidentally, my favourite so far) is my read of the year", I'd kind of be lying, because there are elements of A Storm Of Swords that wouldn't make sense without knowledge of the previous two volumes. You can't read them in any old order, so that's why they are joint number one.

This is one epic story; so far, the five volumes add up to a total of 4629 pages - that's averaging out at 926 pages a book! Set in a medieval-style era, it follows several different characters in each book as factions war against each other for the Iron Throne, the seat of a fragile monarchy of a continent called Westeros. However, as the lords and knights of Westeros bicker amongst themselves, nearly everyone is oblivious to two threats from external sources; one, the heir to the deposed, mad king of Westeros, currently living in Essos and gaining power every day; the other, a mysterious, ancient fear in the far north known only as the Others or the White Walkers, believed to have been dead for eight millenia but now apparently walking again, and heading south for Westeros. As the series continues, both of these threats grow, whilst the nobility of Westeros continue to tear the continent apart, at the very time when uniting together could be the only source of salvation.

Because it is so long, you'll have to be prepared for the long haul. I myself read pretty quickly, but even then it still took me about 6 weeks to finish the series so far, and that's including a day in which I did hardly anything but read. It's incredibly meticulous, and I don't think comparing it to The Lord Of The Rings is a ridiculous notion; maps are provided at the beginning of each book, so you can trace character's journeys, and each settlement, town or city is described in great detail. The characters themselves are a mixed bunch; some are a bit stereotypical whilst others are far more well-rounded, and naturally the more well-rounded ones are those you're more interested in. There's also a huge number of them - five books into the series, and already there have been over a thousand named characters! Obviously not all of them are important but, as I am discovering on a second read, certain people do crop up a lot earlier in the series before their proper involvement later - a bit like Sirius Black getting a brief mention in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, only to pop up as a main character in the third book.

The storylines themselves - because there are several - are also very intricate; Martin has clearly decided to give himself the luxury of time with this one, as each plot is very carefully crafted. This, at times, can be a downside; with so many different threads to follow, it can be tricky to re-set your mind to one storyline in Essos, say, when you've spent the past few chapters in Kings Landing (the capital of Westeros). There's also one particular one which, as far as I'm concerned, would lift out entirely - I just can't see what it adds to the series, beyond loads of extra, boring chapters. I shan't say what thread it is because I don't want to cloud your opinion, but in these particular chapters I do tend to either rush through or not pay attention. This isn't helped by the fact that Martin is very descriptive; whilst this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is when it's the fifth feast in as many chapters where every course has been described in detail; entire passages like this could be lifted out, and would probably reduce the number of pages by about 10 a book. Just sayin'.

I also have to express concern for the fact that, for the time being at least, two more books are scheduled - but I really cannot see how it's going to end; there doesn't appear to be a goal that could be reached, and the number of potential showdowns that could occur mean that there's no conclusive meeting to anticipate. In short, some of the characters seem to be slightly out of control - it's almost, in a slightly creepy way, like they've developed beyond Martin's original plan, and are now creating their own storylines, in a way, which Martin can't quite rein back in. All this does mean that, whilst I'm enjoying the ride, I can't even guess where the end might be, and that makes me a bit anxious.

I wouldn't recommend this book for everyone; that's not a snobby thing, it's a personal-preferences thing. For instance, if you're not one for sweeping epics that take place over several years, then it's not for you. Nor is it for you if you don't like, or have an interest in, politics, because these books are FULL of politics. And if your mind tends to wander, or you don't like violence, then I'd probably avoid these. If, however, none of the above bother you, then you're in for a treat; it's fun, it's intriguing, and there's so many twists and surprises you'll be left reeling. They're not the best books I've ever read, but in terms of my 2012 reads they deserve the top spot - for sheer entertainment value, and longevity. It's not particularly clever in terms of language, or even in the actual storylines, but what can't be ignored is just how cleverly Martin has woven so many stories together. Whilst the endgame might not be in sight just yet, there's still plenty to admire on the way.

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