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A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
4.5
Book Name: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R. R. Martin
Publisher(s): Voyager
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook / Enhanced eBook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: August 4, 1997

I consider myself a fantasy fan and as a fantasy fan I perhaps waited a bit longer than I should have to read A Game of Thrones. But here’s the thing, when you have people telling you every day how great something is, how fantastic and how incredible every day over email, twitter, forums, etc., something similar to fear begins to associate itself with the object of all this praise.

The fear is a fear of disappointment, a fear that it will not live up to the hype, but on the other hand a fear that once you have read this book nothing will quite live up to it. Well I have to say that A Game of Thrones is as everyone told me; brilliant, fantastic, incredible and in terms of how it will affect your future reading – life changing.

To start with, I would like to point out that having now read the book, it is nothing like what I imagined it to be like. When you hear the words epic, politics, kingdoms, you generally begin to yawn. I was expecting a vastly complicated novel that was difficult to connect with – but no, it’s nothing like that at all.

The prologue is a good place to start. Three adventures are out exploring the woods. It is cold, freezing cold, and they are surrounded by the eerie silence of winter. Snow surrounds them and although they are not expecting danger, they are apprehensive. One of the men returns from scouting and inform the other two that they have just found a band of men, dead. The other two seem unconvinced but follow the scout to the location he saw them. They are gone. The other two begin to mock the scout, suddenly, winter creeps up on the three. One stays with the horse, one heads up a tree and the third heads towards where the bodies were for closer examination.

The scout, now in the tree watches his companion and quickly realises something is wrong. It gets colder and suddenly a being appears. This being looks humanoid in some respects, but is more like an elongated white shadow. His companion tries to fight but the ice like being stands toe to toe with him in a sword fight and seemingly mocks him with his superior skills. It doesn’t take long for the ice like creature to get bored and slaughter him. Of course the scout is terrified and is in no rush to get down. Eventually though, after he is sure they have gone he comes down from his hiding place. Ready to sprint away he hears a noise, as he looks round he sees his companion, the one who had just been butchered. Something is not right though, his eyes burn blue. The scout is frozen to the spot as his friend reaches out and chokes him with his icy touch.

From here the story splits into three sections quite quickly. In essence there are three main story lines told from nine different perspectives. The first story being that ‘winter is coming.’ The second being that the King’s throne is in jeopardy. And the third being that an enemy previously obliterated looks to rise again. The stories are told across three very different regions: the Seven Kingdoms, on the Wall, and in the East.

Game of Thrones is set in a land where summers span decades and winters can last a lifetime. As you can see from the prologue; something is coming…Winter. Although to us winter is just a season, winter in Martin’s world could last years upon years and with it comes coldness, darkness, a real struggle to survive in the sense of harvesting, travelling and generally keeping warm. There are sours of things coming with winter (which as you can see from the prologue is a fair concern, but one that not many believe). It is still about a year or two away, but it’s coming can be sensed by all.

I am going to take a breath now and try to give you a gist of the story line. I hope you’re ready. Ned Stark and King Robert many years ago took the throne from the mad King Targaryen. It turns out that the House of Lannisters who were meant to be supporters of Targaryen turned at the last minute, actually themselves killing the King and then handing the throne to the now King Robert. It was a strange move because the Lannisters have a reputation for being out only for themselves and where as Robert goes on to marry into the family, Ned Stark to this day wonders what their motives were.

Years have passed, King Robert is off down South living the life of a King – drinking, sleeping with whores, getting fat – whilst Ned stays North and looks after his large family. Having not seen each other in over a decade Ned is surprised to hear that King Robert is coming to visit and it quickly transpires that the King’s hand (protector/advisor) – someone like a father to each of them back in the day – has passed away under mysterious circumstances. Upon arrival at Ned Stark’s domain, King Robert tells Ned he wants him to accompany him back to the South, which of course means leaving his family behind.

From here Ned heads off with the King and we are introduced to Ned’s children, all of whom own beautiful, protective, deadly creatures known as dire wolves – basically huge wolves, which are as loyal as dogs. Each of them has their own story to tell and will eventually play an increasingly large part in the story.

Moving away from the first story arc, we focus on The Wall where Ned’s bastard son, John Snow, goes early in the novel. The wall is a place for men dedicate their lives to protecting the Seven Kingdoms. They swear never to sleep with a woman, love a woman, involve themselves with their families again and so on. We don’t see them too much in this novel but we do quickly see that there is confliction amongst those upon the wall as to what it is they are protecting the Seven Kingdoms against. It looks as though it is simply those who are those cast out of the Seven Kingdoms or who were born out ‘there’ as slaves, but we don’t really know much about it early on.

The third Arc focuses on the children of the Mad King Targaryen. The brother and sister have a somewhat incestuous relationship and the brother, Viserys, is extremely abusive. He wanders through the East gathering supporters and looks to one to take power from King Robert. His latest plan is to marry off his sister Daenerys to the powerful Khal Drogo who rules a race somewhat like Vikings I guess. With his mind for tactics and brutal mindset combined with Khal Drago’s resources – there could be a real chance of him taking the Seven Kingdoms from Ned and King Robert.

One of the things that make the story so epic in scope and in the way it reads, is the fact that these three stories are so closely connected to each other in terms of what is going on in the world as a whole and yet barely touch each other at the same time. You never once feel lost in the time line and you never get confused as to how things should be linking up. G.R.R. Martin was one of the first authors to do this in such a breathtaking fashion and I think it is for this reason he is hailed as one of the best in the business.

I found the first 800 pages of the book were some of the best fantasy that I had read, and really, the scope of the novel is mind-blowing. The characters feel so real and you never know which way the story is going to go. Martin is brave in assuming that the reader is at least relatively intelligent, and pathed the way for many modern day fantasy writers to build their work in complexity, by realising they do not have to spoon feed readers of this genre.

That being said though I refuse to leave you with the view that this book is perfect. Because there are a few flaws that bring down this fantastic epic, to the extent that I have friends who couldn’t finish it. The biggest one for me was the ending…the last 100-200 pages. It almost felt as though Martin wanted to write the book to be 1500 pages and then realised that was too long and squashed in into 1000 pages. The ending seemed to be off pace from the rest of the novel and some of the really emotional scenes lacked true emotion and reaction – to the extent that they seemed almost falsified or ‘too be continued’ and never were.

With those few points losing the book half a star, because pacing, to the majority people (myself included), is thoroughly important. But the book still stands as one of the great achievements in fantasy literature.

Yes…Back to my original point. I was right to be scared because having read Game of Thrones I probably won’t look at another book quite the same ever again. The word epic takes on a whole new meaning, the scope of the story and simply the amount of interwoven story lines. It takes a very special author to create all these branches of a story and yet not cause a reader to get lost.

The thing with a Game of Thrones is, once you’ve read it, your view on literature will change. Your bar will raise and your perception of a good book will be transformed forever.

You can read a recap of the book by Jamie Procencher here, as she looks ahead to the HBO TV show soon to air on US and British television!

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Rating: 9.2/10 (13 votes cast)
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, 9.2 out of 10 based on 13 ratings
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5 Comments

  1. the_hound says:

    Hi Marc,

    You’ve got a good eye for fantasy books as always – but a few criticisms if you don’t mind 😉

    1) Don’t stress out too much trying to explain the story to the reader, if they want the story they can read the synopsis on wikipedia or amazon, what we as the reader want is your opinions.
    2)What are your specific opinions – we know you appreciate the prose of Martin, and are a little critical of the rushed ending, but how about say characterization? For me the beauty of Martin is the characters – no black and white characters, each characters has strong psychological motivations and reasons for being the way they are. A possible criticism though could be of the female characters – they seem to either be scheming bitches or plucky young heroines fighting against the constraints society puts on them. But having said that its fantastic how you perception of a character can change based on what character’s eyes you are viewing them from – Catelyn Stark for example can be a strong and noble woman in Ned’s eyes, but a scheming bitch in Tyrion’s eyes….
    And how great are some of the characters? Tyrion is a real joy to read about for example….
    3) Also to get a real feel for A Song of Ice and Fire you need to read all 4 books – you made a good start by approaching this review as a first time reader, but a lot of the discussion points between fans are based on how the series continues from here ,,,,

    • Overlord says:

      I really appreciate the critique – let me try and give a few explanations 😉

      I purposely tried not to go any further than the first book because Jamie is posting an article that will cover the ‘trends’ a little more and ‘Martin’ as an author. I wanted to concentrate on the story and give my view of the story… I think a lot of people see it as this huge political thing, but really the story is about three locations that will soon be a part of each others fate.

      The characters were very good but it would be a bit of a nightmare to explain all 9 characters 😉 The characters in my opinion were good, but I don’t think they have developed enough yet, being only book one, we probably only had about 100-150 pages on each character and what I would call the three ‘main’ characters still have a lot of growing to do I would say.

  2. the_hound says:

    That is true – your perception of some of the main characters will be flipped 180% by the end of Storm of Swords. (Especially the Lannisters who are all c*nts in A Game of Thrones)….

    Certainly there is three main locations : The Wall and Beyond, Overseas and The Seven Kingdoms. One of the criticisms that us fans do have with Martin is that he majorly overcomplicated the story set in The Seven Kingdoms to the extent that A Feast For Crows was entirely set there which has led to his writing problems over the past decade.

    His other problem is the timeline – and I wonder if you got a sense of foreboding that the Stark children and Daenys are so young in A Game of Thrones – and that the dragons were only hatched at the end of that novel? Cos it causes problems later on!

  3. Khaldun says:

    I didn’t have the same issues with the ending of this first book. I thought the pacing was fine the whole way through, but perhaps my perceptions are flawed as I plowed through this book in two days the first time I read it, putting everything else except the necessities on hold.

    I would say the novel deserves a five star rating if only because of the fact that it seems to get better and better with every reading (as do future novels in the series). I’m not sure it’s possible to write a more perfect novel if writing in a low-fantasy and multiple POV realm of gritty realism. My only sidenote would be a warning that if you can’t handle swearing, sex, violence, or tragedy, you probably shouldn’t read these novels. Otherwise, as far as I am concerned, they stand as some of the best novels(genre or otherwise) on the market today. The only book that came close to reaching A Game of Thrones’s influence in my life was Rothfuss’s debut ‘The Name of the Wind.’

  4. ibeeeg says:

    I hear you about the fear that sets in before reading a book that has been talked about so much. On the flip side, I also allow fear to set in a bit when I am raving about a book; fear that I will set the bar to high for the person I am “shouting” at to read said book. I am currently in feeling this about a different book. {{sigh}}

    I tore through this book in a matter of days. It is overwhelming; in a great way. For me, I had no issues with the pacing whatsoever. The change in POV was smooth, and fantastic. Truly, I was mesmerized throughout this read, but what makes this a great book, IMHO, is the whole series. This book is rock solid; an incredible foundation for all the other books that follow. I can certainly see myself re-reading this one down the road.

    You are right in saying “once you’ve read it; your view on literature will change… your bar will raise and your perception of a good book has transformed forever” that was very true for me.

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