I'm a grown woman, pop-culture obsessed, and feminist. And holy shit, do I love George RR Martin's book series, "A Song of Ice and Fire," otherwise known as the Game of Thrones books.
Full disclosure: I started reading the books after watching the first season of the show on HBO. I'd had scores of friends encourage me to read Martin's books, but they always seemed too full of ridiculous-sounding names and paragraphs about snowy-white doublets for my tastes. But seeing the show encouraged me to give it a try again, and I fell in love.
Let's start with the negatives.
The books mention the rape of women on such a constant basis -- as a horror of war, as a normal part of a woman's life, as a punishment, or just for when the men are bored -- that by around book 3 I stopped being annoyed by it. But hear me, ladies, that doesn't mean that rape has stopped horrifying me in life. I see its inclusion in the books as a shorthand Martin uses to describe the times the characters live in.
Beyond the rapetalk, the main female characters in the books are either: as strong and honorable as any knight but constantly described as ugly (Brienne); incredibly cruel, paranoid, power-hungry beasts willing to use their vaginas to get what they want (Cersei); or relegated, due to their gender, to counsel and watch the men around them make bad decisions (Catelyn).
Besides the gender issues, there are endless meandering chapters and introductions to new characters when all we want to do is keep up with the old ones, and endless descriptions of people's outfits and meals. Plus, some of the sentences are written so poorly -- "His manhood glistened wetly" is my personal favorite -- that you'll be rolling your eyes every 5 to 10 minutes.
What I'm trying to say is, there's a lot to hate about these books. So why do I love them?
I think the Song of Ice and Fire books remind me of that bad boy that I kept dating as a teenager, the guy who would stub out a cigarette on my favorite stuffed animal and then take me dancing. He was careless with my heart and my things, but being around him made me feel alive, reckless and ready for anything. Now that I'm older and wiser, I like those experiences to be contained to my entertainment.
George RR Martin is the absolute king of the plot twists, violent deaths and insane character surprises. The world is completely immersive, and he does a fantastic job of fully fleshing out the complicated relationships amongst dozens of characters. You feel for these people, which makes it even more delicious when Martin makes them murderers/has them killed/tortures the hell out of them. No one is safe in these books.
It's fantasy. It's set in a completely made-up world that will sometimes remind you of Lord of the Rings, but mostly functions like an old-school kingdom from rated-R fairytales. In fantasy, we revel in the height of battle, we discover dragons and undead monsters, we try to live with honor, and we don't fully realize the badassness of women… until they start showing us their badassness, and then we're sorry we doubted them.
The stakes in every single scene are incredibly high, which makes it infinitely readable. A fantasy world means that I don't put myself in any character's shoes, but rather, am just satisfied to walk around the world, gasping at the sights, which is why Martin's misogyny goes down a little easier for me than the pricklier sexism issues in the "I'm just a regular girl, like you" Twilight books.
I won't try and convince anyone who hates "A Song of Ice and Fire" that they shouldn't, but I'd be sad at how much they were missing out.
So come plop down next to me, nurse your Peter Dinklage crush and let's read some batshit insane stories about battles, mutilations, shapeshifters, kings, queens and the price of old-school politics. Winter is coming.