–Content warning: references to (but no details about) sexual violence–
These books are both awesome and awful. Awesome because Martin does a great job at inventing an elaborate world, a convoluted plot, (mostly) believable characters, and manages it all with great internal consistency. Awful because the world he has invented is truly horrifically misogynist and violent. Violent for everyone, obviously, but the casual aggressions against all women, and the casual way they are presented and taken for granted, make me wonder why someone who clearly has an amazing imagination would pretty much exactly replicate real life in this area. These books are full of rape, threats of rape, gropings and harassments and sexual violations of all kinds, ranging from contemptuous dismissal to outright torture. So despite the great storylines and the intricate subplots, I found these books very difficult to read.
This is the second time I’ve read them, and now I’m going to give them away because I know I won’t read them again. I saw a few articles recently about the GoT TV shows (which I haven’t seen), complaining that there are specific incidents of sexual violence in the show that didn’t exist in the books, and it got me curious to re-read the books. I remember having mixed feelings about them the first time round (love-hate) but couldn’t really remember why. Now I remember!
In general, I am not a fan of violent entertainment. The world is already so full of pain and rage and trauma, and I have my own ways of coping with that within me and outside of me. Plunging into more pain and rage and trauma in my leisure time is NOT a good coping method for me! And these books are particularly violent, and Martin is a really good writer, so it’s easy to get swept along in the story and only later realise how many horrific things just happened all casually and backgroundy while I sped along to find out what plot twist would come next.
It was a weird combination: wanting to know what would happen next with Arya or Jon, and at the same time feeling like I should put the book down and go scrub my hands, eyeballs, and brain. Last time I read these books I also borrowed someone’s Kobo to read the fifth one, but I won’t bother this time. I’m glad to have read them again, partly because there are interesting stories in there, but mostly because now I can feel just fine about saying no, thank you to them from now on.
Sure, I know that plots in general will sometimes involve violence and trauma, whether sexual or otherwise. But for me personally, these books seem to linger too lovingly on depictions of pain and horror, and while some of the characters are outraged by specific incidents, none of them ever reflect upon or address it as a whole. It is simply the natural way of things in this world, and that is a world I do not care to revisit in my limited leisure time.