Contains spoilers from Book 1.
Possibly the longest it ever took me to read a book was with Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One. I was nine when I picked it up, fifteen when I put it down. Like a learner driver or a spastic colon, I stopped and started more times, I thought, than I ever would with a book again. And then A Game of Thrones happened.
Originally intended as a trilogy, the epic fantasy series by George R R Martin consists of five published volumes, with two more on the way. So far each one has been longer than its prequel, and in a series that juggles ten plus character perspectives per book, it might be that my slowness can be forgiven. I gave myself a year’s respite after reading the first book and then found my knowledge of the plot departed when I tried to read Book Two. Grudgingly, I started from the beginning again. The series is like Lost in this respect; if you take a toilet break during an episode you’re going to miss the island move.
A lot’s happened in the five or so years it’s taken me to read the first three books. I graduated high school and started university. I moved house four times. Got my licence. Finished university. Went overseas. London rioted. Queensland flooded. Kevin came. Kevin went. With so much happening off the page, it’s natural to expect events in the books to have progressed as quickly. But after 3,473 pages of small type, Dany is still making her way to Westeros. The Others still haven’t breached the Wall. The Lannisters still rule the Iron Throne.
And winter is still coming.
My mother recently started reading this series (“You know the knight? Well, there’s more than one, obviously, but the big one? The big knight?”) and, daunted by its size, demanded to know the secret behind its success. How is the author going to maintain her interest over so many books? What if she gets bored? What can possibly have happened in Book Three that’s got her full-grown son so buzzed that he’s taken to slashing at her with imaginary swords and calling her “wench”?
Well Mum, people died. A lot of people. Martin was never coy about his willingness to kill off fan favourites. In Book One, he pushed a seven-year-old boy out a castle window, slaughtered a wolf pup, killed off a young woman’s brother, true love and baby son in quick succession, murdered the king and decapitated his main character. Reading the book for the first time, you almost expect the departed characters to return, maybe with a new nickname like Greywind the White or Nearly-Headless-Eddard. But they don’t. *
If you can fathom it, Book One was just a warm up. There are enough death sentences passed around in Book Three: A Storm of Swords that the HBO series is going to have to shell out for “Goodbye and Good Luck” cards for half their cast. Nobody has immunity, not Starks or Lannisters, old men or young boys. And although they are shocking and tragic and often grizzly, the deaths in Book Three are never unbelievable. Martin treats his characters (and their deaths) all the same: as real people, with fears and joys and sorrows that form the basis for his books more than anything else. His characters make the series. Even the dead ones.
I’ve started reading Book Four now and 200 pages in I can feel myself losing steam. I’m slashing fake swords at my mother with less and less enthusiasm. This is the old pattern. It doesn’t matter how brilliant a Martin novel is, I can’t seem to start one immediately after finishing another. But they are brilliant, and I suggest you read them. Start them now, before you’re 63 and like the author wondering if you’ll be around long enough to see the final book. Me? I’m taking a break, but I’m excited to come back. Until then, though, there are other books to read. I never actually finished The Power of One.
*Well, one does.