George R R Martin
Fact: George R. R. Martin's books blow me away. This comes to mind because I passed by amazon.com while doing some interface research for work, and there was a link to A Feast for Crows, and huge chunks of the Song of Ice and Fire story came flooding back into my mind. I'm having some trouble pinning down exactly why this is the case, though. His stuff is grittier than I have historically liked, it's fairly pure in its influences and styling, as opposed to the melange of cross-cultural stuff I like, and it's low-magic, which has often been a thumbs-down on fantasy works for me in the past.
I suppose the sheer scale of it appeals. Scores of characters, as many as a dozen interweaving narratives, the villains of one being the protagonist of the next - that's something that appeals to me greatly. Kim Stanley Robinson pulls off something similar in the Mars trilogy, which I'm re-reading at the moment.
While the setting is very clearly medieval English, with influences from the War of the Roses (although touches of other European cultures appear), that's a milieu that appeals to me anyway, and GRRM does it very well. His serfs are real serfs, full people who know their place in the world, and don't yearn for freedom as they do in other fantasy works - where the authors clearly can't conceive of anyone not thinking of freedom as the highest goal. His knights are real people as well, earthy and solid, rather than shiny cardboard cutouts. And he writes women well - at least, I don't get the nagging feeling that I get from some other male authors (Piers Anthony springs to mind) that they've never met a woman. And everyone in between works, and more than anything else, injuries last, and people don't walk out of battles without any effect on their psyche. Consequences!
The non-historical elements - the actual fantasy elements - are well-handled as well. We're not confronted with situations where omnipresent magic is ignored, because it's far from omnipresent, and there are enough hints of historical reasons for magic to be kept at a distance to satisfy.
I think perhaps it comes down to consistency. There are no holes in his setting, and that's something I can recognise as being difficult to do at all, and very difficult to do well.
Posted by Drew Shiel at April 21, 2006 3:31 PM