So, knee deep in the fourth season of the HBO adaptation of the cycle, I decided to read the source: George R.R. Martin’s books. And it’s the good choice: having seen the shows I’m already given a mental Cliff’s Notes to the tale, and I’m not likely to be disappointed by how the shows had dumbed-down the books; rather, I’m left in the position of learning how much the show leaves out.
This isn’t surprising. There’s hundreds of locations and characters in the world of Westeros (yes, and the other bit where the Dothraki hang out) and so any television adaptation must make things a bit easier for the viewers; dress the bad guys in black, ensure they’re all dickheads. Semaphore-style. But the book is more nuanced; where the televisual Jon Snow is a bit wet, the book’s version is (while still a bit emo) much more hamstrung – by his bastardry and his ties.
It is a little difficult to separate some performers in the show from how they’re presented on the page – Jack Gleeson’s Joffrey nailed it – but there’s more elegant shading to find in the tome. (I actually like the Hound a lot more from the book than I did at this point in the show.)
But what of the story? Well, this is airport lit with scales and poor hygiene. It’s popcorn; Martin’s cannily headed each chapter with the main character’s name, so while there’s multiple threads and points of view on offer, the reader’s never swamped. You always know what’s going on, though I did find having a printed map to hand was beneficial, so I could see exactly where things were occurring. It’s refreshingly free of too much of the elfin wankery which keeps a lot of people (including me) out of the fantasy neck of the woods; this is essentially medieval England as a template, with some monsters chucked in.
It’s cracking, keeps interest and spurs the reader towards the next volume. Now I’m just hoping Martin doesn’t perform the supreme act of trolling and die before he finishes the bloody thing.