Okay, so I never read fantasy. Like, never. I mean, I read The Hobbit in the sixth grade because it was required. Since then, nothing. As you know if you've read the reviews on this blog, I gravitate toward relatable, character-driven, contemporary fiction.
But I got hooked on the HBO series for Game of Thrones. I watched the first two seasons on Netflix and then I suffered through the Facebook updates of people watching the third season. But I don't have HBO. So I decided to read the third book instead.
It amuses me to listen to debates about whether George R.R. Martin is a "good" writer. This seems to mean very different things to different people and readability (as evidenced by popularity and awesome sales) isn't always enough. I wonder if some people put the writing down specifically because of its broad appeal. The fact that it's accessible to a majority means it can't be "good". For these readers, a book is only "good" when indecipherable to most.
For me, it was in one of the first chapters of A Storm of Swords, when a low-speed sailboat chase had me on the edge of my seat, that it occurred to me that I was in the hands of a "good" writer. Martin's technique of killing off lead characters isn't a risk most writers are willing to take and it definitely ups the stakes. I also love the fact that these characters are so complicated. Morality is murky here and virtue often does not achieve external reward - much like in real life. Perhaps that realism is why I'm able to enjoy a book about dragons and magic. The fantasy elements are superficial; at its root, this is a story about people, relationships, and human nature.