I really wanted to love this book. Most of it I did love. I'm not a fan of eroticism, so those parts of the book really turned me off, and left my overall impression/memory of the book much more negative than it should have be. But aspects of the political intrigue, the characters, and the world were fascinating. It really made me think more critically of my own fantasy writing -- and for that, I'm glad I read this book.
My main problem with this book -- besides the explicit eroticism -- is that the story tries so hard to be "gritty" and "dark" and "real" that it leaves us with very few likable characters, and even fewer admirable ones. And that isn't realistic. Maybe I just have a higher opinion of humanity than Mr. Martin, but most people aren't the kind that will back-stab, murder, rape, and ruthlessly destroy their fellow man just to scrabble at power.
I don't believe that fiction has to "shock" readers in order to be influential, or thought-provoking, or even interesting. Gratuitous sex scenes are a cheap means of attracting readers, and insult our intelligence and our capacity to care about a story that doesn't explicitly describe anatomy and its functions. Yes, maybe it's "edgy" and "realistic" -- these things do happen. So what? Just because it happens, does that necessarily make it good subject matter for fiction?
I've never understood why authors insist that they have
to have this or that erotic scene in order to portray some aspect of a person's character. That's a cop-out. It's a lame excuse. And if someone really relies on that to make a point, in my view they must be lacking in ingenuity, subtlety, creativity, and insight into human nature.
But, to backtrack...this whole "gritty realism" thing. What is the fascination with anti-heroes that's so prevalent today? Is it just a sign of the nihilism and pessimism of our culture, that we can't or won't believe that genuinely good, heroic, admirable characters can exist? Or that they can do any good for the world if they do? Give me true heroes. Give me stunning displays of excellence and selfless heroism. God knows we need a little of that. It's not escapism. Just because we have blindfolds on doesn't mean the world is darkness.