What is the best fantasy novel for fans of traditional literature?

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Answered by: Benjamin, An Expert in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Category
Fantasy fiction, like literature, is full of scribes and hacks, angels and demons. Many critics and fans write off Sci/Fi, Suspense, Horror, and Fantasy as "Genre Fiction." That is, fiction with a narrow scope and purpose, fiction without depth of character or tragedy of being in its truest sense. If there is any series in the so called "genre" canon that shatters this assertion, that proves itself to be the best fantasy novel series, it is George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Martin creates a world that fundamentally mirrors the history of the human experience. He creates a myriad of characters in a continent embroiled in civil war, with each noble faction struggling to ascend to full control of the kingdom. There is magic, there are dragons, and monsters lurk in the cold, desolate wastes to the far north, but these tropes are all mechanisms that serve a greater purpose: to tell a humane story, with human characters.

Each of Martin's beautifully crafted protagonists (and antagonists) are rich with life; after reading a few point of view chapters, you feel like you've known a specific character for years. You may hate a character for several books-until you see the world through their eyes. Each individual is human. Flawed, beautiful, and desirous of something. For the powerful, as it is in reality, the desire is power. For the gentle, the desire is peace; and for some, it is both at the same time.

Literature is character. For Dostoevsky, it was plumbing the depths of the human psyche. For Steinbeck, it was illuminating the struggle of the honest against the corrupt. For Twain, it was the pursuit of truth vs. the overwhelming power of ignorance. All of these themes are represented using character as a vehicle. Create a real person with words alone, and you have yourself a classic. With Martin it is no different. His characters are as real, sympathetic, surprising, and heartbreaking as any mainstream literature has to offer.

Coming from traditional literature in the novel form to sci/fi or fantasy in the novel form can be a tricky thing. Suspension of disbelief is paramount. With many novels in fantasy, it is taken for granted. A fantasy writer will say, "here is the world, accept it or read something else." Martin, on the other hand, uses real world problems-plague, poverty, political corruption-to introduce us to a world that we believe from the start. His monsters are merely exaggerations of ourselves. The mysterious "others" are dead beings that cannot be killed, but kill us without mercy. Their faces are white, their movements utterly silent. They are death.

The sorcerers are powerful manipulators, much like political advisors and politicians themselves, who seem to weave patterns of action and thought through the world with a few words. And the rulers are deeply flawed, coming into power with promise, and promising only disappointment. We believe Martin's world because it is our world, sprinkled with monsters and magic. His world requires us to take a long, hard look at ourselves, while reigniting our childlike wonder.

Novels provoke thought and interest. Novels create fictional worlds. Martin does this better than anyone in the game today. He brings us to a place of passion, hatred, love, and the unknown. His books are the best example of filtering epic real world themes through fantasy. A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons, each is the best fantasy novel of all time in its own right. All escalate the plight of real characters with real problems to a point where one asks, can this magical world be any more real? The answer may be, that worlds with magic are just as real as our own.

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