A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Summary: In a world where summer can last decades and winter can last a lifetime, there lies the Seven Kingdoms and whoever sits the Iron Throne rules them all. Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell is content in his snowy territory of the north until his best friend King Robert – who recently won a war to rule – assigns him to be Hand of the King. Suddenly Eddard’s family is being torn apart by sinister plots to win the game of thrones where the winner will rule and the losers will die. While the humans are distracted, an even bigger threat may be looming in the North where a supernatural army is gathering, waiting to attack the living and reclaim the winter.
This book was published in 1996, but it’s been getting an enormous amount of attention just lately. Rainn Wilson keeps tweeting about it, Hank Green is loving it, and very shortly (this week?) there will be an HBO series with Sean Bean as Boromir as Eddard Stark. I was given this book by someone who told me it would be my jam. And it so is.
The story takes place in a world with fantasy elements – the seasons are askew so that they last for years and years. When we come into the story it is summer and has been for seven years – though still freezing and snowing in the North – but the every growing threat of impending winter is always there and they say a long summer will create an even worse winter that could last for decades. There are tales of Children of the Forest who ruled the lands before the First Men came, stories of giants and “The Others” who haunt the North beyond the great Wall that is the boundary of civilization to the North. There were dragons alive and well as early as 200 years ago. But besides all that – the human element is extremely similar to the real world in the sort of Dark Ages time when there were knights and kings and bloodshed over thrones.
I keep saying this book reminds me of Pillars of the Earth – except for the fantasy elements and that Game of Thrones is actually good. But the whole Dark Ages feel is very similar. I really like that the language is extremely easy to understand and read, with just enough flair to understand the sort of time period these people live in. Also similar to Pillars of the Earth are the things people talk about and do – it’s the most common thing in the world to constantly talk about prostitution, cutting out people’s tongues, human waste in the streets, etc. It’s extremely vulgar to our sensibilities, but completely normal to them. I find the book accomplishes the tone well though – not overdoing it just to gross out the reader.
Written in third person, the chapters are split by points of view. There are eight characters whose point of view we experience throughout the book: Lord Eddard Stark, his wife Lady Catelyn, their daughters Sansa and Arya, their son Bran, Eddard’s bastard son Jon, Princess Daenerys, and Tyrion Lannister – a dwarf and the best character in the book.
This may sound like too many characters to all be sharing their different view points, but it works out very well. There is a LOT going on in this book. A lot. A lot of stories, a cast of thousands, and these eight are main players and really lend us views of everything that is happening and in different ways. The Starks are the focus of this book and the majority of the main plot revolves around them. We watch as they go from high born family content in their castle in the North to being completely shattered into pieces from the game of thrones. Queen Cersei says (in the book as well as the HBO preview) that when you play the game of thrones you win or you die – and it’s true, sometimes whether you really want to play or not.
My favorite chapters to read were Tyrion’s and Danenerys’ (Dany for short). Tyrion is a dwarf – he is brother to Queen Cersei and her twin Jamie (Spoiler that I already posted on twitter: THERE’S TWINCEST). It’s really weird and amazing that this dude who is described to be so hideous and deformed is the best character in the book, but he so is. He is definitely the role to play. He is so smart and has so much SASS. Sass that often gets him in trouble, but it’s worth it for the reader. Despite his difficulties, he greatly enjoys being alive and does everything in his sassy, little power to keep himself that way. His adventures and exploits are just great and he’s the one Lannister who might just not be evil. It’s cool because while his father, brother, and sister are CLEARLY the bad guys of the book who we’re hoping will meet a terrible demise – with Tyrion it’s much harder to tell. His motives often seem quite different than those of his family even though he of course fights on their side. This is especially apparent when he befriends Jon (Eddard’s bastard). He is extremely likeable despite everything and really I think he may just be on his own team with no one else. In which case I am totally Team Tyrion!
I also really loved reading Dany’s chapters just because they were about something completely different than the main crazy game of thrones plot that everyone else is involved in. Before the current king – King Robert – was on the throne – her brother was King. The Targaryen’s had ruled for a long time, but a war was fought – led by Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark, with help from the Lannisters, to overthrow him. Most of the main conflict in the book goes back to that war that put Robert on the throne. Dany’s brother Viserys and their mother (who was pregnant with Dany at the time) were the only Targaryen’s to escape alive. Viserys is horrendous – absolutely horrible and abuses Dany terribly after their mother dies. He brings her up, hidden away from the kingdom. When we come in to the story, Dany is 13 and Viserys is going to marry her to a Khal of the Dothraki. The Dothraki are horse people who live on the other side of the Narrow Sea from the Seven Kingdoms ruled by Robert. The Khal is basically the king of his little group, but there are many Khals with khlasars throughout the land. Dany is married off to Khal Drogo which is pretty terrible. She’s 13 and terrified, but then…damn, she gets it girl. She grows up at a moment’s notice and relishes her newfound power as Khaleesi of the 40,000 strong khalasar. Viserys continues to be absolutely horrible, but suddenly she has the power to put him in his place. His plan was to use the Khal’s power and army to reclaim the throne from King Robert, but soon Dany is developing her own plans for a son to take the throne instead. She is kickass – in a ruthless, horrible way sometimes – but in the situation she’s in, you really have to be. It is crazazy.
Again, there are so many characters and happenings in this book. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. The detail is really fantastic.
This series was originally planned as a trilogy (surprise!), but is now supposed to be seven books. The fifth is coming out this July. But can I just share the dates these books were published please? 1st book – 1996. 2nd book – 1998 (Ok). 3rd book – 2000 (Reasonable). 4th book – 2005 (What???) 5th book – July 2011 announce date (WHAT?????) No wonder his fans are pissed! We thought JK Rowling made us wait way too long!! Can you imagine? 6 years?? That is bananas. Also this dude is pretty old so he had better HUSTLE himself. What the heck.
Also, I’m totally sharing this even though I kind of wish I hadn’t read it – apparently Martin is a total pretentious ass and hates fanfiction. I will quote Cassie-wa’s tweets in response to my discovery of this – “That is such an insane way to look at your work. If you want to keep it, then keep it to yourself. If you give it to the world, that’s where it belongs. The idea that it’s somehow “yours” and untouchable is a delusion.” It’s a book – it’s meant to be sent out into the world and interpreted in different ways and enjoyed in different ways. It’s not so much about an actual fanfiction creation, but just, again like Cassie said, thinking that your work is above everything and untouchable by anyone else. Get over yourself.
Okay, but he did write an AMAZING book. I will read them and like them anyway… Until I run out of books and then he dies without finishing and I’m sad….
How did this review suddenly get so pessimistic??? Let’s rewind – A Game of Thrones is absolutely fantastic. It’s well worth all this sudden hype and attention it’s been getting lately. I’m totally going to watch the series on HBO and continue with this series. Looking forward to other people I know reading it too so I have someone to discuss it with!!
-Great, not over-complicated fantasy world
-Lots of cool, layered characters
-Super detailed and intricate plot that is fun to follow
-Nothing really. The author is a jerk to fans according to wikipedia (so maybe it’s not true!!)
-My final thoughts – read it!!