Major spoilers, obviously.
I was a latecomer to the Game of Thrones party. It wasn't until after I had watched the first episode of the TV series in mixed horror and fascination, that I knew who George Martin was. As an avid Tolkien fan (you know Tolkien: Fairies, elves, hobbits, heroes and maidens), this particular brand of fantasy, with all its sex, drugs and rock n' roll, sellswords and whores, flux and greyscale was completely new to me.
As a latecomer, I skipped the long wait others had to suffer between books and dived right in. Bought the first four. Loved some, loathed some. And then it was time for A Dance With Dragons. I bought this book a year ago, as soon as it came out, but put off reading it maybe because just looking at it made me collapse under its weight. This year I couldn't put it off any longer. I started reading it almost two months ago, and made slow progress. A few pages every day were about all I could fit into my life, at a time where work and other worries occupied my mind.
I was bored. I had trouble keeping up with who was who and who was doing what to whom. Whose side was Bolton on? Who conspired against Daenerys? And how did all of those minor characters fit into the story? My eyes glazed over the lengthy meal descriptions that seem to be a Martin trademark. I had favourites, of course. Arya. Theon. Tyrion. I still looked forward to reading their chapters. Martin finally bringing back my favourite characters was probably what kept me reading.
Then I went on a month-long leave and suddenly I had time to read. I read the last 250 pages of the book in one day, pausing only to eat and visit the loo. A revelation. That's how Martin is supposed to be read! In one sitting, so that you don't have the time to forget all the sub-plots and plotting! I was having a blast. The man can write.
Is he wordy? Yes. But he also gives us fascinating, rich characters. Could he have skipped the history lessons? Perhaps, but it gives some depth to the story. Did he make me sick to my stomach with his depiction of Cersei's humiliating walk through the streets of King's Landing, Cersei whom I've thought vain, stupid and unlikeable until now? Yes. Women get a very different treatment than men in Martin's world, and you kind of have to leave your feminist ideals at the door before you go in, but there are strong women too – Asha Greyjoy, the Sand Snakes, even Arya...Does he have a bad habit of introducing new characters 5 books into the series while killing off a beloved old one? Yes. Now that is unforgivable.
So now I've joined the ranks of others who will have to suffer before Martin's new book comes out, hopefully sometime before my hair turns grey. In the meantime, I'm cleansing my palate by rereading the Hobbit. I have to wash the filth off my mind.