Fittingly, the hold music sounded much like the theme tune to Zelda on the Nintendo Gameboy. After a minute or two of these basic monophonic melodies, the shrill voice came back on. "Sorry sir, we do not have the book in stock, but we can order it for you. It will take three to four weeks." Trying to find a copy of George RR Martin's award-winning fantasy classic A Game of Thrones was proving harder than anticipated. With Magrudy's down - in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi - it was on to Borders, where there was a similar story. "All of the books from the series are sold out, but we can order them for you. Three to four weeks," was the response. "They're very popular right now, I think there might be a film out or something."
Close, but no longstem Elven pipe. The first season of Game of Thrones will soon be over, leaving fans with just the books to fall back on until the next season, assuming they can get their hands on them.
Game of Thrones is the adaptation of Martin's expansive fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, the first instalment of which, A Game of Thrones, was out in 1996. When it was first published, Martin said that this tale of warring households in the mythical land of Westeros would be a trilogy. Plans change, however, and this trilogy soon became a series of seven books, a move possibly helped by international sales in excess of seven million copies.
And on top of the HBO series, there are also board games, role-playing games, collectable card games and a collection of artworks based on the books, most taking the snappier A Game of Thrones name over the wordier series title. There's even A Game of Thrones: Genesis, a strategy video game due out later this year from the French developers Cyanide, plus a series of full-sized replicas of the books' arms and armour. On the musical(ish) side of things, the power metal band Blind Guardian from Germany (where else?) have recorded two songs dedicated to Martin's worlds, War of the Thrones and A Voice in the Darkness. Martin didn't just create an empire on his fictitious mystical world, but here on Earth as well.
Now, while the TV show obviously helps matters, Martin needs to keep his empire going. Of the seven novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, only four have been published. Despite being fairly proactive with the first three titles (each published two years after the previous one), the fourth instalment - A Feast For Crows - arrived in 2005, some five years after A Storm of Swords. That year, Martin noted that the "sheer size" of the unfinished manuscript for the fourth had forced him to split the narrative into two books, with the second due out in 2006. "The tale grew in the telling," became one of Martin's oft-used lines, quoting Tolkien. Six years on and the second of these two is still not on the shelves. The year 2006 became 2008 and then 2009, with Martin posting sporadic updates on his progress (and missed deadlines) via his blog. By 2009, however, many of his fans grew impatient, and were made further restless when Martin started making comments online about baseball and politics and not on their beloved Westeros. When some less-than-constructive messages appeared on various discussion boards dedicated to the author's writing speed, fellow authors leapt to Martin's defence, with Neil Gaiman explaining that there wasn't a contract between writer and reader and that "George RR Martin is not working for you".
Thankfully, the red faces of anxious fantasy fans should be cooled next month, when all 1,040 pages of A Dance with Dragons finally make it into bookshops. There are still some cynics who aren't confident that the July 12 date will be met. "Don't hold your breaths on this one unless you like passing out," advised one helpful soul on Amazon.
Once the book sees the light of day, it's probable many readers will need a recap on the previous four instalments. Six years is a long time to have remembered more than 1,000 named characters so far in the series. Thankfully, there is one place in the UAE readily stocked for such a situation. At the time of going to press, Kinokuniya in the Dubai Mall had 18 copies of A Game of Thrones on its shelves, along with 19 box sets of all four novels. But with the first season of the HBO series nearing its end and a new generation of fans likely to be wondering which elements the show missed out, if any, it might be worth giving the shop a call first. And listen out for the hold music. Yup, it sounds like Zelda too.