I’m reading A Song of Fire and Ice, by George R.R. Martin, and I can’t recommend the series highly enough. I’m on book three, A Storm of Swords; my New Yorker magazines, and even the latest issue of Saveur(!) have lain virtually untouched since I started reading the books. They’re that good, folks.
Part of the story’s tremendous appeal is its rich, fully realized characters. Princesses and princes, kennel-masters, courtiers, lords and ladies, smugglers, eunuchs, mercenaries, knights, whores, innkeepers, king’s bastards – all are sensitively and sympathetically wrought. Even the books’ villains are treated with the kind of nuance that makes them into individuals with complex inner lives and histories, rather than caricatures of pure evil (a common foible of the fantasy genre).
While most of Martin’s characters are highly compelling and charismatic, I have a definite favorite: Tyrion Lannister, aka “the Imp”. Born of the venerable house Lannister, Tyrion is an ugly, malformed dwarf with lusty appetites, high cunning, and a profound, pragmatic sense of justice that animates all his machinations. Alternately dismissed, ridiculed and reviled, Tyrion has long lived in the shadow of his beautiful, malevolent brother and sister, the incestuous Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Since the Lannisters are the chief villains of the series (at least so far), we are not initially inclined to be sympathetic towards Tyrion. However, as the series progresses, he proves himself funny, fiercely intelligent, courageous, even compassionate and tender. His ability to laugh at himself, to anticipate others’ slights and preempt them with his deadpan wit, lends his character an abiding dignity that is absent in his narcissistic siblings. His love for the women in his life – despite the fact that they are whores – is genuine and moving. His appetites are familiar and worldly, but in no way diminish his lordliness; he finds great pleasure at table and in strong drink and makes no apologies for his desires. Tyrion is an underdog, but one with such strength and force of character that his eventual triumph over his vile, scheming relatives seems inevitable (although, another of Martin’s undeniable writerly strengths is the ruthlessness with which he kills off his most prominent and sympathetic characters). Here’s hoping Tyrion’s with us till the end!