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A Storm of Swords by George R. R. MartinA Feast for Crows by George R. R. MartinA Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

The last three (published) novels from A Song of Fire and Ice series take us through seasons four and five and some of season six of the television series Game of Thrones. Whereas the first two novels are essentially word-for-word screenplays for the show, these last three novels contain marked and welcome differences. These differences include expanded roles for some of the characters, new characters who add another layer of complexity, more intrigue, more politics, and many more shades of gray to the tumult.

In the novels, you get a better feel for just how large Westeros is as well as just how far Westeros is from the Free Cities and other locations we visit.  Plus, as winter draws near, you see its impact on all of the areas and characters. Snow in King’s Landing, dying grasses in the Dothraki Sea, you get a real sense of the danger winter brings, one that has a more direct impact on a majority of the players versus just those in the north.

One of the other areas for which the novels provide better clarity is the timing of major events. The novels do an excellent job connecting events in King’s Landing to those on the Wall to those in Meereen. They also remind readers that all of the events started with the Baratheon uprising, which occurred less than 20 years before the current events. From a historical perspective, it is a mere blip of time during which there are major changes in alliances, religions, and politics. No wonder everyone is fighting everyone else!

One rather disturbing difference between the novels and the show is the portrayal of females. While the show was not perfect, and could definitely have benefitted from female directors and writers, I still felt like the main female characters were strong, capable, and in need of no man to achieve their goals. Such is not the case with the novels. The women in the novels are weak, driven solely by their emotions. Mr. Martin refers to all of them as silly on more than one occasion, and they all rely on the men in their lives to help them. Even Daenerys and Cersei bow to the wishes of their male advisors, and Brienne of Tarth comes across as just plain pathetic. You get the impression that there is not a single intelligent female in all of Westeros or Essos. What’s worse is the fact that every time Mr. Martin mentions a female, he adds some physical descriptor which usually is something derogatory about her breasts. It is as if in Mr. Martin’s mind, women are only good for sex and nothing else.

From an audiobook perspective, Roy Dotrice remains an average narrator. He differentiates between the large cast of characters by providing each character with a different British Isles accent. The Lannisters tend to sound Scottish while other families have Liverpool accents and yet others sound like they are from Birmingham. (Surprisingly, no one has the nasal affect one associates with the peerage.) It is as good a method as any when faced with such a numerous cast.

Mr. Dotrice’s female voices just plain suck, but I find them fitting given the misogynistic undertones of the series. A Dance with Dragons is the only novel published after the premiere of the television show, and it is the first time where Mr. Dotrice’s pronunciations of names and places match with the show. This leads me to conclude that Mr. Dotrice and Mr. Martin did not collaborate on the audiobook versions since we do know that Mr. Martin was involved in the making of the show, something that surprises me given Mr. Martin’s control over his stories. In the end, it is a small thing, but it does strike me as a bit unusual.

I will say that for all its faults, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Westeros and Essos. It is a rich fantasy world, something I always appreciate, and I adore the complexity of the story. Like everyone else, I now wait for Mr. Martin to get his act together and finish book six. I am particularly eager to see just how much book six differs from the final season of the show, especially when it comes to the winner of the game of thrones.

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