Posts Tagged 'a dance with dragons'

Review: Beyond the Wall, edited by James Lowder

Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, From A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons is a collection of essays that critically examine different aspects and themes of George R.R. Martin’s popular A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. While the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, came out in 1996, it has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity due to the release of the fifth book in the series, A Dance With Dragons–and of course, with HBO’s highly-praised adaptation. With this expanded audience, the time was ripe for some solid critical writing.

I wanted to start off by saying that overall, the essays where I actually learned something new were my favorites. Some tended toward rehashes of plot points from the novels, and while that would be helpful for any ASoIaF newbies reading, I think that the audience for this book is more likely to be veteran fans (especially as there are some spoilers for later books and fan theories in Beyond the Wall!) There could probably have been a bit more editing done, with that audience in mind; each essay tended to start with some quick generalizations of Martin’s work, such as Westeros’s startling brutality, the many crimes committed against women, the serious nature of the text despite being a “genre” work, etc. If each piece were standing alone, those sorts of introductions would have been fine; however, coming one right after another, the repetition was somewhat unnecessary.

I also found that the chapters I enjoyed most were the ones coming from outside writers and critics (rather than writers or other artists within the fandom). A certain distance is helpful when trying to apply a critical lens to a popular series. I certainly don’t begrudge any of the writers their close involvement with different aspects of ASoIaF (such as helping to develop its tabletop gaming incarnations) or their personal friendships with Martin, but I think it makes it that much more difficult to provide deeper criticisms. However, the caliber of the writers assembled for this collection tended to be high, and their pedigrees–as writers, comic book artists, professors, and game creators–were impressive.

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