A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
Here I am: the last girl to board the Game of Thrones train. I’ve heard the hype and haven’t responded; I’ve listened to people talk about both the books and the television show and haven’t been tempted in the slightest. My slowness can be blamed on my strong moral belief that books are always better than any film or television show, and for that reason should be read before any screen viewing behaviour is attempted. Problem is, there are seven books in the Game of Thrones series, each of them containing upwards of 800 pages; that’s a monumental and overwhelming task, particularly when you have 300ish other books clawing for your attention.
Neither did I believe the hype. I’ve been burnt before with novels which seemed to be taking over the planet, and which I read in confusion, not quite understanding their greatness. I’ve become wary of these types, preferring instead to stick to my TBR list strictly, and let the kids have their fun with the latest crazes. I’ve learned now, after plunging into this particular storm, that I was completely wrong in doing so. The kids and their crazes clearly can sometimes hit on something wonderful.
My first surprise was how easy Martin’s prose is to read. I expected something similar to Tolkien; long, rambling, irrelevant sentences, and lots of names and I’d struggle to keep grip of. This had nothing of Tolkien’s banality – although there are plenty of names, places, grudges and vengeances to keep hold of, Martin somehow contains it all into an endlessly relevant plot without allowing us to lose track. This was impressive, and I hadn’t expected him to grip me so tightly that I’d power easily through 800 pages in a short week.
Martin employs my favourite narrative style – that of multiple voice – with each chapter giving us the different viewpoints, opinions, and desires, of various characters. This worked incredibly well in showing us both sides of the battles, and the reasoning behind the long-held grudges, allowing a complete understanding of situations and histories, and lending an omnipresent feel as the reader in Westeros. Giving us information to help us pick our own side, yet showing clearly that there really aren’t any good or bad guys here – only the draw of achieving power, desire, and gain – Martin gives us all of the cards, just doesn’t explain properly what to do with them.
In fact, the best part here is not knowing who to trust; we know the main characters are out to achieve their own ends, but it’s mostly the sub-characters whose loyalties can and will shift. These betrayals of trust are too delicious for me to describe; just when we think we understand where the plot is going, some form of corruption will take place and change the direction. It makes for an uncomfortable, yet totally delectable experience, and enforces a trust no one mentality, keeping us guessing consistently throughout the pages.
Rather than a story in its own right, this first instalment feels very much like the beginning. I’ve taken the decision to read each of these back to back. Winter is coming late for me, but I’m here for it.