I am desperately in love with all things A Game of Thrones. As an avid follower of the TV series and a big fan of fantasy novels, I couldn’t not read this book. I have been looking longingly towards its place on my bookshelf for months. (Well, actually it was on top of my bookshelf because there’s no shelf space left, oops.) I love what this series has done in terms of making high fantasy more mainstream. There are many discerning people who look down on the genre, so I think it’s great that so many people have gotten behind this series. With the summer months spiraling out before me, I finally felt like it was time to pick up the 803 page doorstop and get lost within its pages!
In the game of thrones, you win or you die.
As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must… and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty. The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, a vengeance-mad boy has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities beyond the sea. Heir of the mad Dragon King deposed by Robert, he claims the Iron Throne.
This is an intimidating book to review, its sheer length, complexity and endless characters make it difficult to summarise in a way that promotes its awesomeness but prevents giving away spoilers. Plus, I think the less you know the more intense the reading experience is. Essentially the one sentence version is that a bunch of power hungry people are fighting over the Iron Throne that rules over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and some of them have more legitimate claims than others.
George R.R. Martin is a great writer who captures a fantastical medieval-esk world that is startlingly vivid. He has a keen eye for giving fantasy readers what they want. There are no overindulgent descriptions about the forging of swords or boring chapters where characters make long treks across desolate landscapes without propelling the story forward. Each chapter and paragraph has its purpose, and you need that with a book of this size. Martin doesn’t overwrite; he writes what is needed and does it with badass style. Every brutal scene is contrasted with something heart warming, and each idiotic character statement is contrasted with an unexpected piece of wisdom. Among the pure fun and escapism are intelligent observations of the human condition, sneaky foreshadowing for events yet to come and jaw dropping plot twists. It’s safe to say, I think he’s a mightily fine writer on all accounts.
The plot of this novel was brilliant, it drew me in from the first chapter and I found it difficult to physically detach myself from the book. I read it in 200 page chunks which is far more than I am usually capable of reading in one go! The story was always pushing forward at a fast pace, making an extremely long book feel not that long at all. While this is an intricate novel and there’s a lot going on I would say there are four main storylines at its heart. First there is the political intrigues going on in Kings Landing one of the richest, most prosperous places in the Seven Kingdoms where there are whispers of plots to get rid of King Robert and his new Hand, Ned Stark, who is unaccustomed to the political games and vicious Lannister family. Second, there is Daneyrs and Viserys, the remaining Targaryen decedents of the mad king who was usurped by Robert. Viserys is desperate to reclaim the throne he believes is rightly his, so he sells his sister to the leader of the primitive Dothraki for a wife, in the hopes of gaining an army. Third there is Ned Stark’s wife and three sons who remain to protect the North. Finally there is John Snow, Ned Stark’s illegitimate son who joins the Nights Watch, an order who protect an immense wall made of ice that bars the realm from unknown horrors that are not entirely human.
A Game of Thrones is a great book for those who are bored with the more traditional fantasy tropes, there is no obscure child destined to save the world, no dark lords or prophecies (well unless you count the repetition of the threat that winter is coming) and no aged wizards full of wisdom with an aversion to the barber. While I’m not saying that Martin’s kind of tale hasn’t been done before, it feels refreshing in midst of more recent fantasy releases. A book that focuses on the made up politics of a fantasy world may sound boring to some, but I promise you it’s not. For starters, fantasy politics is always far more interesting than real politics, second, the stakes are so high for the characters you have come to love that everything is intensified tenfold.
A Game of Thrones is gritty, uncomfortable and bloodthirsty at the best of times, there’s sadistic killers, rape scenes, incest, and that’s just for starters. One character may or may not have eaten a horse heart at one point, ick! Having said that, I wouldn’t call it gratuitous. I feel like these atrocities are in keeping with the brutal world the characters live in and are of benefit to the book. It wouldn’t be nearly as brilliant without it. Although the treatment of women had me raging at times, it was realistic and only made some of the other females more formidable and impressive in their ability to subvert their stereotypes and traverse the world of men just as well, if not better than them. Additionally, I love that Martin is not afraid to kill off his characters. Maybe it’s some weird masochistic thing but there is nothing that makes me feel more connected and invested in a book than when lives are on the line. It puts me on edge showing me that no one is safe, raising the stakes of every action and decision the characters make and I love that. In other words: FEEEELS.
The characters in this book were fantastic. A Game of Thrones is told from multiple third person viewpoints, I believe there were eight in total plus a random prologue dude who only appeared once. This technique worked well because each character was individual and interesting. You get to know and love those on opposite sides of the fight for the Iron Throne and consequently no one is simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and readers have to tread the murky waters of indecision when it comes to most of the characters; there is no sole hero, or at least there isn’t yet.
I love so many of the characters in this novel that it’s difficult to know where to start. They are all heavily flawed and therefore, wonderful. There are the despicable Lannisters who are proud and power hungry. Even though you hate them you kind of have to love them too and admire them for their brutal but effective ways of getting things done. Then there’s Tyrion, the black sheep of the Lannister clan. Born a dwarf and shunned from the rest of his family he uses others’ assumptions about him to his advantage, using his intelligence where others use their brawn. I loved pretty much every quip that came out of his mouth and I think he’s the best character I have come across in a long time. I can’t wait to see how his story progresses!
There’s the Stark family from the cold, harsh North who have strong ideas about morals and honour, especially Ned. At times I had trouble working out whether he was incredibly admirable or plain stupid for sticking to his beliefs. Is there such a thing as being too honourable in certain situations? His character did made me think. His children were just as interesting, they were so young and having to deal with a harsh world. There was Robert, the eldest son who had to learn how to be a man. Jon, Ned’s illegitimate son who has lived a life filled with passive aggressive remarks and rejection due to his status. Arya the youngest, a spirited girl who is only interested sword fighting and pushing against the female stereotypes of her world. Finally there’s Sansa, who I have a bit of a soft spot for. She’s vain and a total idiot on most accounts but she’s also a dreamer. Amongst the brutal deaths and vicious politics she dreams of princes and noble knights, fancy parties and pretty gowns. To me Sansa represents the last of the naivety in Westeros and she has a lot to learn.
Then there’s the brilliant Daneyrs Targaryen (although please never make me spell her name without the aid of Google because agghhhgdff) who is sold by her horrendous brother to a man who doesn’t even speak her language. Reading her story was magical, I got to see her go from a terrified young girl in a bad situation to someone who flipped the scales and took charge of her own destiny.
Even the minor characters were brilliant, King Robert and his turbulent personality, the elusive Littlefinger and Varys, cowardly Sam. I could go on forever! Everything about this book is fantastic guys, everything.
A Game of Thrones was a brilliant first book, and can’t wait to read the rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. It’s hard to determine whether my love for this book would have been the same without the TV series, but I expect it would have been. Both are equally brilliant although the book is slightly more intricate. My unofficial goal will be to try and catch up with the books before the next series is aired on TV. How realistic this is I’m not entirely sure, but I’m going to give it a go! (P.S. Does anyone know where we’re up to in the show in relation to the books? Help much appreciated!) I would recommend this story to males or females 16+ who love flawed and vicious characters, battles of wits and bloody swordfights. I think this novel is pretty accessible, so I would even recommended it to people who are not big fantasy fans, especially if they like the TV show! For now, I will stop gushing and leave you with this quote:
“The High Septon once told me that as we sin, so do we suffer. If that’s true, Lord Eddard, tell me… why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?” –Pg636
Writing Style: 5/5
Character Development: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? Hell to the yes!
Overall Impression: 5/5