Yes, I said, yes. I have succumbed utterly. Long line at the DMV? It’s OK, I’ve got Game of Thrones. Two-hour layover in Las Vegas? More time in Westeros. Phone rings, deadline looms, spouse wants to talk? Now we’ve got a problem, because I’m still recovering from The Red Wedding.
And the best part? I’m not even half-way through. I’ve read close to 3,000 pages of George R.R. Martin’s saga, three volumes of a projected seven. The characters continue to evolve; in fact Arya and Bran Stark, plucky orphans, are practically growing up in real time. The basic premise of A Clash of Swords is that the center cannot hold; the death of King Robert Baratheon inspires multiple power grabs and soon there are five men calling themselves kings of the Seven Kingdoms. Allegiances shift, disasters occur, and the carnage is stupefying.
But one of the things Martin does so well is portray the toll on individuals as well. I’ve read that the wars on Westeros recall the Wars of the Roses, a violent convulsion that racked England for thirty years in the fifteenth century as two branches of the Plantagenet family duked it out for supremacy. They fought up and down the country, and what do you think happened on the battle fields when the armies moved on? Martin lets us know, and it’s not pretty. A Clash of Swords is full of torched villages, smoking ruins, body parts in wells.
It’s also full of characters wrenched away from their families and friends. Communication happens on paper and travels via messenger (human or raven), so a mother may not know her child is dead. A child may be held captive by a band of outlaws (lots of outlaws in this volume of the series). Siblings might be mere miles away from each other and not know it, each thinking he was the sole survivor of his family. Grief and bitterness and anger move in to motivate characters. Distrust flourishes. This is war.
Martin is ruthless. He’s killed off characters we love and will do it again. I’m really hoping, though, that the story arc will eventually turn and bring a new order out of the chaos in Westeros. As I read I pick around for clues, like a self-proclaimed coward’s brave deed or a vain prince’s reluctant admiration for a homely female knight. I take comfort from images like the one of the prickly young bastard John Snow, brother of the Night’s Watch, pacing across a castle courtyard with a raven on his shoulder and his white direwolf by his side. On his way to become a leader of men.
Is Book 4 of the series calling? Oh, yes.