Saturday, 9 April 2011

Book #21 - A Game Of Thrones by George R.R Martin

A Game Of Thrones

I don't tend to read science fiction or fantasy often, the latter particularly which makes my last three book choices including this one quite unusual, but A Game Of Thrones has been adapted for television by HBO and is due to start on Sky Atlantic and I am always one to read the book before seeing the adaptation. On top of that the book was sold to me by a strong promise I would love it by Jen, one of my Twitter and blog followers.

The book throws you in, and immediately I was trying to decipher the What, Where, When and Who of the story.  When  you are thrown into a contemporary world these things are often unimportant at the start because you can place the story within your own reality, and generally I like the writer who doesn't patronise and spell things out. In a fantasy novel on the other hand it's very difficult because you are trying to establish the realities and parameters of an entire world which only exists in two places, on the page and in your head. The novel comes with an appendix at the back, but i didn't discover that on my e-Book til I finished it and even then it didn't tell me clearly what I had wanted to know.

The following contains no spoilers of the novel, as the events take place well before the novel begins and do not form any significant section of plot in the book.

Fourteen years previously Aerys Targaryen was King of the previously independent Seven Kingdoms, which had over time become provinces of one kingdom.
He was usurped by Robert Baratheon, who killed Aerys' heir Rhaegar and Rhaegar's children after Rhaegar had kidnapped his love Lyanna Stark.

Aerys, following a betrayal by the Lannister family, was killed by Jaime Lannister, who earned the name Kingslayer. Robert went on to marry Jaimes' twin Cersai Lannister and make her Queen, because his true love Lyanna Stark had died.

All this has already happened before we join the story and I personally would have liked it explained at the start in some kind of prologue, instead of spending 200 pages piecing it together whilst also tracking the new story.

And so the novel begins fourteen years later with a visit by King Robert to his old friend Eddard Stark.  The novel is told from the point of view of several different characters: Eddard Stark, his wife Catelyn and several of his children Bran, Sansa, Arya and Jon, as well as two characters not from the family; Tyrion, the younger cynical dwarf son of the House of Lannister and Daenerys, one of two remaining children of the House of Targaryen currently living in exile. Each chapter is headed by the name of the character whose world we are focusing on.

By choosing to tell his story from eight different and often differing points of view Martin succeeds in building a detailed and rounded view of his world. I liked this very much, particularly as the characters spread out to different areas of the realm and have different perspectives and opinions on events. Sometimes one chapter's character will reveal to the reader something the next character featured has yet to find out, which complicates matters for them and which I enjoyed. The stories are told from third not first person points of view, but you definitely feel the different voice and character of each one from dutiful Eddard, to spirited Arya to Jon struggling with his illegitimacy and his place in the world.

This is definitely a novel of houses and dynasties and the importance of ancestry it's about rivals and allies and claims to the throne. The Houses Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Targaryen, Tully, Arryn and more are intertwined through birth and marriage some are honourable, others not so, and others changeable according to interest. The structure of the realm and indeed the novel is reminiscent both of Lord Of The Rings and medieval literature. There are halls and mead, jousting and swords and horses and people riding under banners and swearing fealty to their liege. It is full of skullduggery, secrets, conspiracies and treachery behind the veneer of the pretentions of a royal court and it sucks you into its intrigues.

Whilst this is going on, something else is happening, and those engaged in their Game Of Thrones are not paying attention, with the reader, sensing this may later prove to their cost in what will be an eventual total of seven books in the series.
The Wall, is 700 feet high built to protect the realm many years before and staffed by the Night Watch men who swear the length of their entire lives in service to the watch, but what is The Wall protecting the realm from and if the stories are just old wives tales why does it still exist, and just exactly why are experienced rangers vanishing without trace?

This book is good, tremendously good, and not the sort of thing I would normally get excited over. It's so good that I've already moved on to A Clash Of Kings book #2 in the saga collectively known as A Song Of Ice and Fire. It has made me exceptionally nervous though as to whether the TV Series will a) do it Justice or b) make me want to chuck things at the TV. I'm going to dock a point off it for being unnecessarily lacking in clarity about the past, though it makes me wonder if that in itself is going somewhere.

I would say that this is a book I would never have chosen to pick up myself. I hadn't even realised the TV series was based upon a book, so thanks to Jen for recommending it, if the content doesn't sound much like you either give it a chance but if you genuinely abhor stuff like Lord Of The Rings and can't imagine anything worse, this isn't the book for you.  9/10


  1. HBO's Making of Game of Thrones will give you a good taste of how the show will be:

    And here is first impressions from after getting to preview the first 6 episodes: