Books: The American Tolkien

He's a master of dark epic fantasy, but with George R.R. Martin, we're not in Middle-earth anymore

George R.R. Martin is fond of sudden reversals. The tasty but poisoned dish, the false god who abruptly proves all too real, the unsalvageable rogue who strikes a hidden vein of decency when we--and he--least expect it. Martin is also partial to sacked castles, bear pits, disastrous battles, cynical betrayals, public executions, assassinations, ill luck, duels to the death, ambushes in forests and corpses left rotting in green hedgerows. The world Martin writes about may bear a passing resemblance to Olde Englande, but it is not a Merrie one.

Martin isn't the best known of America's straight-up fantasy writers. That honor...

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