A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
|Book Name:||A Game of Thrones|
|Author:||George R. R. Martin|
|Publisher(s):||Bantam Spectra (US) Voyager Books (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Release Date:||August 6, 2005|
Fifteen years ago a civil war known as Robert’s Rebellion rocks the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and brings about the downfall of the powerful Targaryen family, who had ruled for 300 years. Supported by the great houses of Stark and Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Lord of the Stormlands, fought a bloody uprising that culminated in the Battle of the Trident and the death of the Prince Rheagar Targaryen, the heir to King Aerys II Targaryen.
Now King Robert travels north to Winterfell, the mighty stronghold of House Stark, to call upon his childhood friend, Lord Eddard Stark (Ned to his family and friends), to travel south to the capital Kings Landing, and become the Hand of the King, a position left vacant after the sudden death of the previous hand, a man who had fostered Ned and Robert as boys. Whilst the Royal Court stays, tragedy strikes when Lord Eddard’s middle son, Bran, falls and is crippled, but despite this Ned is an honorable man and places his duty to his King above that of his own lands and family, and so leaves with his two young daughters for the capital.
During the journey south Ned learns that his childhood friend is a changed man, Robert is a drunken womanizer, where once he was strong and vibrant he is now fat and lackluster. Ned soon comes to realize that Robert only wants him so he can devote more time to his own pleasures. After an eventful journey Ned wearily enters the capitol and takes up his new position, only to learn the Kingdom is massively in debt and his fellow King’s councilors have their own agendas. It does not take long for Ned to learn it is the House Lannister that rules through Robert’s wife Cersei Lannister, and also uncovers some sinister truths about the death of Robert’s previous Hand, and a dark secret the Queen and her twin brother Jamie would do anything to keep secret.
As his investigations into the previous Hand’s death uncover intrigue, murder, bastards and treason Ned realizes he has put his daughters in danger and must escape. Before his plans can be carried out the King is killed whilst on a hunting trip and the Lannister’s move to cement their position of power. Ned is left facing a web of lies and uncertain allies alone.
– – –
First published in 1996, A Game of Thrones is the first book in the series entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. Initially planned as a trilogy, the series has grown to encompass five novels. The plan is for a further two novels to complete the series, though some fans and commentators question whether this possible, as the sheer amount of plot threads currently in play would need possibly another four books to tidy up. With the series George R.R. Martin has created an elaborate, detailed world with a recorded history dating back over 8,000 years. Like the books the story is big; its epic, with Westeros a continent the size of South America and a cast of hundreds you’ll need plenty of quiet “me time” to get your head around it all.
I was at first daunted by the scale. Within the first half dozen chapters you’re bombarded with the extended families of the main characters, their histories and the histories of the lands they rule over. If that isn’t enough you have to navigate through the plot and try to join the dots so you know who is siding with whom. Martin weaves a good story, you think you know where you are going and then he magnificently pulls the rug from under you.
I’m a fan of fantasy, but you can forget trying to apply standard fantasy rules here. There are no great wizards, there is no farm boy destined to lead the forces of light (and you’ll be hard pressed to identify any such forces), no grand quest, no magic talisman, no giant tanned barbarian to save the day and tread the jeweled thrones of the world beneath his sandaled feet. You may think as you go along that you get to know the characters he has populated his world with, and that you can label the good from the bad, the white hats from the black. But in Westeros nothing is that clear cut, its near impossible to differentiate the good guys from the bad, sometimes doing the right thing is not always the right thing to do.
What Martin has created is believable characters and placed them in a fantasy setting. You could in the course of your everyday life meet someone like Eddard Stark, a decent man, a man who lives life by a set of rules and standards, a man who is possibly the last honorable man in Westeros. But for Ned it’s just a shame no-one else lives by those same rules.
Then there is Jamie Lannister, a member of the Kingsguard and sworn to defend the King with his very life, but a man – who for his own reasons as yet unclear – foregoes his oath and killed King Aerys Targaryen as the rebellion claimed victory. On the surface Jamie seems more concerned with his reputation than what goes on around him. As does or Petyr Baelish, a brilliantly clever schemer and player of the game, he uses his intellect to toy with people’s minds, making them dance to his tune.
By populating his world with these three dimensional characters Martin has created a world that whilst fantastical, is grounded with very real themes. Every page and chapter is geared to lead the reader to believe they know where the story is going, only to leave them confused when standard fantasy tropes are turned on their head. Unlike many other fantasy stories this has the political intrigue of The West Wing, the double crosses of 24, the scale of Ben Hur and the graphic violence of a Tarantino movie.
There are some negatives though, the story is told from individual points of view – each chapter is titled for the character you are seeing events through – and I did find that not all are as interesting as others. Whilst it’s good to see the intrigue and treachery from Eddard’s point of view, it’s not so good reading his daughter Sansa gushing how great the slimy Prince Joffry is, or when his wife Catelyn bitches for the third chapter in a row about how her husband up and left with the King. But after a while you realize these chapters are there for a reason, Martin is building the characters into more than words on a page, you get inside their head, see what makes them tick. Not every chapter can be action packed with fights, swearing and sex. Every story, like life, is full with mundane, everyday episodes.
And like life, we see the story unfold through the individual eyes of the point of view characters; you don’t always get to see the whole story. In books where there is an overall point of view certain events can be telegraphed, here you don’t always see them coming. And when something big does happen, it’s a shock.
The one thing that surprised me the most about this book was it has the highest death toll of main characters than any other book I’ve ever read, especially considering it is the first book in a series. With most ongoing book series you expect the main characters to carry the story along, not so here. You are left at the end wondering how Martin can continue without what you believe are major characters. But continue he does, because throughout the story he has dropped names, places and events that will come to be important later on. Like real life, people come and go only to turn up again later on. At the end you begin to realize why Westeros is so big and why the cast so numerous.