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So this is the kind of novel where godlike dragon-riders discuss tax reform. A second volume is planned, ha! You witness multiple generations rise into ruin and fall into legend.
First come Conquering Aegon and his sister-wives, Visenya and Rhaenys, a Holy Blond Trinity of fantasy archetypes: one steady ruler, one imperial warrior, one dreamy explorer. There are simpleton monarchs with no head for politicking, and devious keeners chessmatching quadruple-backstabs.
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The obvious comparison here is J. Right from the first sentence it sounds like a hymnal, all singsong exposition best read aloud:. But the visions he conjures always feel etched in worldstone: an island kingdom sunk under apocalyptic ambition, an armored shadowgod emerging from his mountain-sized fortress wielding a tectonic warhammer, a most puissant spider-godling autosarcophaging herself.
Every fragile notion of Ned Starkian heroism gets thrown out the metaphorical window overlooking the metaphorical spike pit. Good intentions fail because accidents happen.
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Monstrous individuals surprise you with acts of nobility, and noble characters do something unforgivable. Initial motivations get lost in the bloodbath. Nobody who wins ever gets to feel victorious. Or — worse!
The commanding voice of The Silmarillion is its own heavy-metal kick. Where did Princess Aerea go on her lonely dragon flight, and what strange pestilence did she bring back with her?
There are central characters who remain profoundly unknowable. Adding to the general confusion: All the Targaryens are at least a little crazy, this gorgeous lineage of incesty ubermenschen drawn to power like moths to blue zombie flame. Certain incidents resemble classically burly fantasy stuff: airborne dragon duels, swordplay diplomacy. There are throwaway images so surreal they could only properly exist in this half-sketched, heavily described format. The narrative turns gory, full of murder, warfare, epidemics of sexual assault.
As a socially conscious counterweight, one of the unambiguously moral characters here is Queen Alysanne, who travels her country hosting local councils of female citizens.
This leads her to an explicitly political awakening, demanding new rights for women and an end to the Braveheart -ian right of First Night. In direct narrative form, this would be unbearable. Tricky to graft any of our own cultural readings onto this saga, maybe. And other regions outside Westeros can look hazy in this regard. Howard-ish ethnic typecasting.
Parts of this book were published before, as breakaway novellas. Sometimes Martin will pause for a luscious Dungeonmaster-ish character summary.