When I sat down to my ever-increasing list of books that I need to review, I saw that A Clash of Kings was next up and felt a little bit stumped. When I read the first in the series, I enjoyed it but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was that made George R. R. Martin’s series the acceptable face of fantasy. For a while, it was rare to get on a train and not encounter someone putting their wrists in mortal peril and reading one of the Song of Ice and Fire tomes. It’s still a fairly frequent occurrence, although the initial flurry does seem to have died down a little. All of which is why, as someone who would list ‘fantasy’ as one of my favourite genres to read, I find it strange that, instead of writing a review and a glowing recommendation of a new favourite series that I’m waiting on with baited breath, I'm writing a post that is more like a resignation and a confession: I’m not going to be reading any more of the series.
Last year, I read A Game of Thrones and then persuaded Boyfriend that he wanted to watch the series with me. The television adaptation turned out to be excellent and Boyfriend showed an uncharacteristic degree of enthusiasm for carrying on watching it. I made a valiant effort to play for time while I listened to A Clash of Kings in my car, driving to and from work amidst a blaze of incest, death and dragons in a bid to stay ahead of where we were in the series. The audiobook I listened to was absolutely wonderful in terms of quality (even though I was harbouring a deep resentment of Audible for separating the novel into two parts and charging as much for each half as they would for other complete novels) and I enjoyed it. What I came to realise, though, was that even while I was enjoying it, I was listening to it in large part just so that I could assure myself that I had “read” it first when I was watching the TV series and could say with smug certainty at various points, “It isn’t like that in the book”. Then I also realised that I was picturing the actors from the HBO series and was starting to find the differences between the audiobook narrator’s performance as Tyrion Lannister with Peter Dinklage’s a bit annoying (particularly given that the screen version was my preferred version). Gradually, Boyfriend and I were watching the series faster than I could read/listen to the books and I loved the series enough to let that be the winning medium.
I know full well that I am denying myself some of the intricacies of the novels and that the version I am watching does differ from the version that I would have read but the bottom line is that I just don’t think that I care. I'm not bothered that in the TV series, rather than losing his nose (as he does in the book), one character instead bears a hefty scar on his face because making an actor that has a nose look like he doesn’t would be tricky. I'm not concerned that one character in the book broaches a negotiation that is taken up by another character in the TV series. And the reason I don’t care is that the story that viewers see on screen is gripping, both funny and tragic and as epic as the books that I've read. The books are undeniably impressive and the plotting and sheer volume of background are staggering. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Martin for the political and historical detail that he has no doubt painstakingly created but they aren’t the aspects of the series that I was drawn to. It was the characters that adored, their relationships that fascinated me and the many (many, many) tragedies that I cried over and each of those is superbly rendered on screen. The books are good and undoubtedly more involved and more intelligent in many ways but the series is addictive and scandalous and brilliant. The other fact is that I will gladly sacrifice some warring faction chat for getting caught up in a new series with Boyfriend.
And now that I know what's coming? I just don't know if I can face it again in book form. Can I read upward of 2,000 pages when I know at least some of what I'll have to go through again? Goodness me, no. If I hadn't been watching the series, I would almost certainly carry on reading the series because it has a heck of a lot going for it and the end of every book/series is perfectly designed to have you dying for more pages of trauma to lose yourself in. I would also carry on reading if it were possible to find out what happened next now that I've watched all there is to watch but sadly there's also nothing left to read (I think...).
One last point before the purists unleash their wrath: I feel as though I should mention that I have read epic series in the past and have absolutely no problem with stories that span thousands and thousands of pages so that’s not it. Sadly, life is just too short and my propensity to confusion too great for me to be at one point of the overall story in TV form and at another in book form. Especially given that the books follow a different timeline than the series that could in theory have me way ahead on some characters’ stories while also being way behind on other characters’ stories…that, friends, is a recipe for a muddle. And so this is where A Song of Ice and Fire and I part ways. Until the next book is released, that is. I do have to know what happens next to my favourite characters, after all...