Book Review: Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire

Although I love the company I now work for (the company sending me to England this summer for “work”), there are times that I miss working at The Silver Snail, the world’s biggest and best comic book store.  I don’t miss having to take customers’ sweaty bags at the front cash in mid-August in an effort to dissuade theft.  I don’t miss the regular who used to smell my hair when I had my back turned.  I certainly don’t miss being treated like The Last Unicorn by men who had evidently never seen a woman within ten feet of a comic book.  I do, however, miss the conversations.  Going to work used to mean participating in heated discussions concerning Marvel versus DC (oh, how my tune has changed since the New 52 relaunch), discussing Catwoman’s animal activism with Bruce Timm himself, or attending pre-screenings of all three Lord of the Rings films (it was a mandatory part of my job, as I was the resident Lord of the Rings expert).

Yes, women read comics too. It is known.

Make no mistake; I’m wildly passionate about my current profession.  I love what I do and I love the people I work with even more, but gone are the days that I would be paid to rant about Catwoman’s ludicrous stilettos (COME ON) or encouraged to discuss Alan Moore’s latest whimsy, and deep down I miss being surrounded by my fellow nerds.  People who are genuinely interested in the latest episode of Dr. Who or BBC’s Sherlock or whether Katniss Everdeen should have picked Gale over Peeta in the end (of course not). I am fortunate enough to work with some like-minded men and women within my new profession, but the ability to discuss The Avengers at length is no longer a job requirement.

I suppose I do feel as though my nerdy side has been somewhat suppressed ever since I entered the realm of the “real world”, and in a turn of events as unfair as Lady’s untimely demise, I left my job at The Snail a year before Game of Thrones hit the airwaves.  Yeah, I pulled a Ned Stark.

Definitely did not think that one through.

Nowadays, finding someone as invested in the series as I am is nearly as entrancing as a baby dragon.  Nerds, like the dragons of Westeros, used to be common, but they’ve become quite a rarity, and so when I stumble upon one (a nerd, not a dragon) I latch onto them like Bran onto Hodor.  If you let me, I could discuss Jaime Lannister’s glorious mane or Jon Snow’s potential parentage for hours on end, and with all that being said, I believe I enjoyed reading Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire as much as I did because it felt like I was back behind the counter.  Every time I picked it up I felt like I was sitting down at a panel at The San Diego Comic Con.  Reading it was like having a conversation with a group of people as passionate as I am about Game of Thrones, people who just happened to be extremely enlightened and well-spoken.  This compilation novel includes essays covering topics ranging from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to Direwolves and religion, and features authors ranging from game designers to psychiatrists.  Even controversial topics like the sexual violence depicted in the series is covered with a great deal of tact and insight.

When Jonathan Llyr initially asked me to review an advanced copy of the novel for Hardcore Nerdity, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat daunted by the prospect.  I have come to associate the name George R.R. Martin with heavy tomes, you see, and was therefore quite relieved to discover that this book was a feather light 200 pages.  At the time I had only just finished reading A Dance with Dragons, and my feeble arms were still recovering.

You know nothing, Jon…Llyr.

Now that I’ve finished, however, I do wish it had been 900 pages long!  Every essay provides an entirely different perspective.  Every one of them is thought provoking and informative, and although they were penned by highly intelligent and accomplished individuals, not a single one comes across as patronizing or far-fetched. It’s clear that the book was the result of a medley of fans coming together, and is therefore relatable and interesting whether you’re a new or old fan of the series. At times I found myself disagreeing with a notion put forward by one essay, but strong and well-rounded opinions can only be formed when others are first considered.

With that being said, Cersei Lannister is NOT evil, Susan Vaught!  When a lioness takes down a gazelle in order to feed her young is she considered evil?  I think not!

The best thing about Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is that it can be considered a collaboration of conversation starters.  It’s a forum without trolls, a convention without body odour, and an absolute treat for the fans of the series who are now patiently awaiting not only another epic novel, but the next epic season of Game of Thrones.