Thursday, 21 June 2012

Game of Thrones

Author: George R.R. Martin
Genre: Fantasy
Type: epub ebook
Pages/Size: 720/5MB
First Published: 1996
Series: 1st book in the "Song of Ice and Fire" series
Next Book in the Series: "A Clash of Kings"
First Line: "We should start back," Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. "

Synopsis:  This fantastical story is set in a world where the seasons have been out of balance for almost as long as anyone can remember.  For a lot of the world summer has lasted decades and people are starting to get nervous of the threat of the impending winter which may last indefinitely.  With an possible eternal winter comes the threat of mysterious beings that threaten the lives of the seven kingdoms.

"Game of Thrones" is told via three distinct storylines that Martin weaves together into an epic story.  The main storyline follows the Stark family of Winterfell.  When Eddard Stark, the head of the Stark family, is asked by his friend King Robert to take a prestigious position at court (previously held by Eddard's brother-in-law) Eddard is reluctant to say no to his childhood friend.  He, along with his two daughters, head south to court where Eddard learns that this new position is wrought with danger.  As Eddard begins to investigate something that his predecessor began he learns that there are plots that he never knew existed within the monarchy and unfortunately his family gets entangled in the mess.

The second storyline focuses on the band of men known as the "Night Watch". These men have the sole reponsibility of keeping watch on the icy northern wall safe from raiders and sinister things that are becoming an increasing threat to the kingdoms.  It is here that Eddard's bastard son, Jon has been sent.

The third storyline centres around the life of a young woman named Daenerys and her brother who are the children of the previous king who was violently overthrown.  "Dani", along with her abhorrent brother, see King Robert as a usurper who must be overthrown at all costs.  They are determined to raise an army and make the long trek to reclaim their father's rightful throne.

My Thoughts:  This is a large book to a large series so you can expect to get a rather lengthy review from me.  Go on and get a coffee, sit in a comfy seat and put your feet up.  Go on, I'll wait. ....... Ok, here we go.  Here's my review of this much talked about series ....

After hearing about the epic miniseries on HBO that was based on the George R.R. Martin book series I knew that it was only a matter of time before I had to pick up the first book to see if all the hype is warranted.  Was I impressed by this massive book?  Oh yes.  Martin has created a massive story that is both engaging and complex due to the characters as well as the amazing fantasy world that he has vividly created.  It's a sprawling story of treachery, murder, romance, fights for power and political intrigue. 
Going into this book I admit that I had preconceived expectations of this much hyped book.  I was picturing a medieval feel with a very strong magical element.  Game of Thrones definitely has a medieval feel with it's castles, knights and swords clashing but magic, spells and old crones forecasting the future over a bubbling cauldron?  Not so much.  And{surprisingly} I'm ok with that.  

Also, while this story plays like an age-old tale that centres on the royal families and their elite in the struggle for power its not what I expected. I thought there was going to be some grand quest (like Frodo and his 'precious' ring or Harry Potter trying to kill Voldemort) but it's not. At least not yet. There's also no clear protagonist or even one nasty 'bad guy' to speak of but a melange of characters who add their own bit to the story. I look forward to seeing where this series of books goes so that I can get a better handle on where Martin is taking this series.  You know what they say about making assumptions, well I think the same goes for expectations.  While mine were out of whack perhaps they didn't detract from me jumping into Martin's world.

One of the few negatives that I have to say about this book is that it is hard at times to keep track of all of the characters. There are a LOT of characters involved.  I'm talking more people than a Duggar family reunion.  Some of them even with very similar names which made it, at times, very hard to keep who was who straight in my head.   With the help of the character listing provided in the book I was able to remind myself who was who so I could focus on the story. 

That said, one of the things that most stood out for me in this saga are the characters.  They come off as very real and well thought out. You root for the underdog, want to smack others up the side of the head for making bad choices, strangle the brute and revel in the accomplishments of others. These characters are flawed and the 'good guy' may not be as good as you think and the 'bad guy' may show a sliver of humanity that might surprise you.  I love me some complicated characters!

Martin also isn't afraid of stirring things up by killing off his characters. There's no mass murder or anything like that but the fact that no character appears to be 'safe' makes the story that much more real for me. You never know what's going to happen! Love that!

With all of those characters you'd think that it would be hard for the reader to have favourites but I did.  I had three favourites.  The top of my list?  The dwarf (the term that the characters used for this 'little person') named Tyrion Lannister. He brought a humourous element to the often brutal and serious read. While he's admittedly a total jerk and out for only himself I can't help but like him.

Other characters who stood out for me were the direwolves, Jon Snow (Eddard Stark's bastard son) and Arya, Stark's 8 year old daughter. The direwolves are massive wolves that each of the Stark children were given and (I predict) that they'll continue to have a role in the upcoming books.  These characters, human and canine, seemed to go a bit under the radar in the overall story yet still stood out for me as being strong characters.  They're 'good guys' with hearts of gold ... so far, at least. 

One of the things that Martin uses deftly is to tell his story using the rotating perspectives of his main characters by having each of them tell their view of what's going on in each chapter. This method helped me two-fold.  It helped me get to know the characters better and view the events in a different way depending on who was telling the story. There were a couple of times when we were shown the same event through two different perspectives which I loved.

Now, it's not all rainbows and unicorns and a huge Game of Thrones love-in here.  I did have another issue and that is that it took me a bit to get into the story.  I'd say the first quarter of the book I had to push myself to keep going.  I was interested but not hooked.  I had to keep in mind that Martin is setting up his massive story and to keep slugging away. After that the characters, for the most part, were firmly set in my mind and I could delve into the storylines.

Now, if you're the kind of person who likes their books to end nicely with all loose ends tied up you'll have to change your tune with this book/series.  I felt that Game of Thrones seemed like a prologue for the future books.  It does have its own storyline but I feel that this book was used to set up the future storylines.  So many things were hinted at (the strange beings beyond the northern wall), the direwolves, Dani's story wasn't in the forefront in this book but I suspect she'll play a more pivotal role in future books.  This only helps me to want to pick up the other books in the series.  Well played, Mr Martin.  Well played.

Another warning is to those who have a more delicate constitutions.  This book has its fair share of gore (we are talking about warring parties) but also has its fair share of rape, incest and, at times, an overly misogynistic feel especially during Dani's storyline.  Was it gratuitous?  I don't think so but I do think that some readers may be turned off by it.  I will admit that my 'ick'o'meter' ratcheted up a notch while reading parts of this book.

This is an epic story that is not for the faint of heart. It is filled with war, incest, murder and intrigue with a very medieval feel to it. That said it doesn't get bogged down in pages upon pages of battle descriptions.  It has characters that have stayed with me and I can't wait to pick up the second book in the series to see what happens to them.  The sign of a truly good book!  Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

2 comments:

April from Comox BC said...

I'm glad you decided to read this series Laurie. You and I have fairly similar taste in books and I have to admit, I was curious as to whether you would enjoy this series or not. I think you'll find the issue with keeping track of the characters does improve. Martin doesn't add a huge number of main characters throughout the series, and does have a tendency of killing some off here and there so it does get easier. I do recommend you read the following books soon though, or it gets tough to remember what happened and where you left off. Oh...and I agree with you about Tyrion Lannister. He actually comes across as sort of a villain, but I love him! Definitely my fave character as well. Enjoy the rest of the series! I look forward to your opinion on them!

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

April -- I was quite surprised at how much I liked this rather daunting book. As for reading the books fairly close together? I had the same thought. I find that, with all of the book that I read, my mind can get a little muddled if I don't keep certain characters/storylines in the forefront. :) I have Clash of Kings on hold at the library in both ebook and paper. Here's hoping it comes in within the next week or two.

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