Sunday, October 16, 2011
Published: 1996 by Spectra
Pages: 835 (Mass Market paperback)
Recommended for: most all readers, particularly those who aren't intimidated by the prospects of wading through this tome
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective wall. To the south, the King's powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King's new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself. A heroic fantasy of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and evildoers who come together in a time of grim omens.
I love epic fantasy. The elves and dwarves, long-lost dragons and mages, evil overlords and swords with positively ridiculous names-- I confess to adoring 'em all. What I can't stomach is poorly-executed epic fantasy... so thank the gods of the Seven Kingdoms that A Game of Thrones is one of the best fantasy epics I've ever read! The usual fantasy cliches and archetypes are all present, but George RR Martin works wonders with material which, at first glance, seems like a scenario we've all read about before.
I began this first book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga because the HBO series kept calling to me tantalizingly, with its ridiciously cool tagline "Winter is coming..." and released screenshots of lords and ladies garbed in medieval-esque attire. I don't like to watch a movie before reading the book (so I can kept ticked off at everything the directors/ cast got wrong, of course), so I picked up a copy of A Game of Thrones at Walmart of all places. Unfortunately, the series is no longer available on Demand to HBO subscribers, so I barely got to watch two episodes of the show-- but what I saw was fantastic, captivating, and impressively close to the book. But this is a book blog, so onto the book...
A Game of Thrones has a large cast of characters, all members of various royal houses whom at the novel's beginning appear to be engaged in an uneasy peace. But all too quickly subtle court politics and hidden treachery erupt into full-blown war-- both on and off the battlefield. Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark of Winterfell is billed as the protagonist, but the book actually has many-- a dozen strands of third-person narrative intertwine throughout the novel. Everyone seems to have their favorites, but I have to say I was flipping forward to see when Daenary-- the exiled Targaryen princess--'s next chapter was. Though the world of the Seven Kingdoms is as sexist and womanizing as most epic fantasy settings are, I was pleased to find that we have quite a few strong, dynamic female characters here. Arya, Lord Stark's young daughter, and his wife Catelyn are both clearly intelligent and bold women who defy the stereotypes of their time. Of course, on the other hand we have Arya's sister Sansa (played by a very pretty and talented girl in the series, but am I the only one who wanted to slap her??) and the treacherous Queen Cersei. The dwarf Tyrion Lannister has to be one of my favorite characters as well-- he's charmingly clever and rude, with the impertience of a man three times his size. As for the specifics of the plot, I'm going to remain silent-- it has too many twists and turns for me to even attempt to provide a spoiler-free summary.
Being a history nerd, I noticed quite a few similarities between this "game of thrones" and the War of the Roses. Like the House of Lancaster's historical ensigna being a red rose, and Lannister House's in the book being a scarlet lion. Also, the Targaryen king before King Robert went mad before being murdered, like King Henry VI. Another thing... the vanished race of people who live(d) in the northern woods are called "The Others". I wonder if JJ Abrams and the LOST writers have read these books?
All in all, I encourage anyone who's been considering whether or not to read this book to go for it-- you won't regret reading any of the 800+ pages and, like me, you'll clamor for the sequel, A Clash of Kings.