In the category of "late to the party," I finally finished reading my pre-publication advance copy of A Game of Thrones last night. Yep, it took me nearly 16 years to get around to reading a book I got a few months before it was published. However, I think I've figured out why it took me a few tries and the TV series to get into it. It's a dangerous mix of plot-driven writing and vivid, three-dimensional characters, and I'm a very character-driven reader.
By "character-driven" reader, I mean that in order for me to really get into a book, I need to latch onto at least one character -- someone I want to be, someone I could fall in love with or someone I just plain enjoy spending time with. Then I mostly go through the book caring what happens to those characters, and my main interest in the events is in how those events affect "my" characters. If the events don't affect "my" characters, I don't really care what happens. I think that's one reason I love first-person narration. If I like the narrator character, then that automatically means someone I care about is in every scene (if I don't like the narrator, then there's a problem). I never skip ahead in first-person books, but I have been known to skip ahead to follow "my" characters in multiple viewpoint books.
That's a big reason I have problems with epic fantasy, in general. Too many of those books seem to start with something like "The massed armies of K'varos and Dovrinki gathered on the plains of T'L'San in preparation for the invasion." And I don't care. Now, start with the stable boy preparing a horse for battle and thinking about how unfair it is that the horse is being sent to fight with no say in the matter and no interest in the outcome, much like himself -- well, then, I'll follow that stable boy through the battle and want his side to win just because it improves his chances of coming out alive.
Or else, what often happens with epic fantasy is that we're introduced to the main characters when they're all gathered in one place, and that's when I latch on to one or more, but then soon afterward the characters are scattered all over those maps at the front of the book and I find myself following the characters I like and skimming over the parts with the characters I don't care about. It's usually my luck that the ones I like are secondary and we only pop in on them from time to time while the people I don't care much about are at the center of the main plot, so skimming over their parts means missing the point. And that's what kept happening for me when I tried to read A Game of Thrones. The characters are vivid enough that I fairly quickly latched onto a few, but then they were sent off in different directions, and the bulk of the main plot centered on a character who turned out to literally be too stupid to live. That's where all the maneuvering was going on that would affect everyone else, and I just didn't care because I wanted to skip ahead to see how the people I liked were doing. I'd get halfway through a chapter with a character I found irritating and find myself flipping pages to see who the next chapter was about. If you mostly read to find out what happened, it's probably a lot easier to get through than if you're reading for just a few characters -- and you really, really love the characters you care about. I don't want to move away from them and go back to the boring political maneuvering.
However, I hadn't been planning to read the second book right away. I was going to watch the second season of the TV series first (and I'm waiting until there have been a few episodes before I start so I won't have to wait a week between them). But then the library actually had the second book in yesterday, so I checked it out, and then as soon as I finished the first book last night, I picked up the second. Then I skipped ahead, following the character whose fate I was most worried about. We'll see if I actually read the book all the way through right now or if it's something I come back to later. I just needed to reassure myself about one person. Oddly, that's not the one I like the most, just the one I was most worried about at the end of the first book.
If you've read these books and my books (or if you've been reading my blog and know my usual tastes), any guesses as to which characters caught my imagination?