A Game of Thrones (Review)

Book cover for "A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin.Title: A Game of Thrones

Author: George R. R. Martin

Publication Year: 1996

Pages: 704

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Source: Borrowed from the library

From the cover:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is 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; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

As in so many other cases, I didn’t read Game of Thrones until after I’d watched the first season of the HBO series. And, as in so many other cases, the books are so much better than the movie (or, in this case, tv series).

On of the things that I liked about this book was the scope of it all. It was confusing at first – a bit less so since I already had most of the characters pictured in my mind from the series – but, once I figured out all the interweaving narrators, I really felt myself getting sucked into the story. There was so much going on that there was never a dull moment. I wanted to know everything. And one of the things that is much easier to convey in written form than in visual is the feelings, emotions, and opinions of the characters. Some of the characters who I didn’t particularly care for in the show, I felt more affinity for in the book. (Or the other way around. I didn’t, for example, particularly like Lady Catelyn in the book.)

I also really liked the fact that Martin doesn’t rely too heavily on the fantasy side of things to tell the story. So many fantasy  novels rely too heavily on magic or mystical creatures, and it was nice to read a story that was deep and thought-provoking, but not so far-fetched. Yes, there are dragons and a wee bit of magic at times, but it’s mostly used when telling about the past or explained away by superstition and visual tricks. It’s not always the case that the magical elements aren’t “real”, but Martin also doesn’t allow the magic to overwhelm too the realism of the rest of the story.

Rather, A Game of Thrones mostly seemed to be about characters and conflicts that could happen in any other land that isn’t blessed with the kind of modern-day accoutrements and technology that are present in books with a more contemporary setting. Just because the series isn’t based on the geography of “the real world” doesn’t mean that the events that take place aren’t realistic. Really, the only part of the story that’s overly fantastical is the Others lying North of the Wall. And they take on all the more significance for that, seeming to be more surprising and drastic because of the way they stick out from the rest of the narrative.

Like most other people I know who’ve read the story, I really identified with the Starks in this first installment. I did find other characters amusing and intriguing – like Tyrion and Danaeris, for instance – but I still found that most of my loyalties lay with the Starks. I feel like this shifts later in the series, and my feelings toward different Houses and different characters becomes more complex, but perhaps that’s because Martin wants it to be that way. While reading A Game of Thrones, though, I felt like my response as a reader was more simple: I wanted the good guys to prevail, and I was devastated when it became obvious that that wouldn’t be how the rest of the series would play out.


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