Book review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Here is my review of A Game of Thrones. Last week I asked if you would like me to review American Gods, AGoT or something else. Beth said she would like to read this one, so here goes.
A Game of Thrones is a huge novel and the first part of an even larger series (A Song of Ice and Fire). The HBO show is Game of Thrones, but I haven’t watched that yet, so I can’t say anything about it, except that what I’ve seen on Tumblr looks great. If you’ve read my blog during December and January, you probably already know that I loved this novel. So if that’s no secret, let’s get right down to the composition of this book. I tried to make this a proper review with headings and neat little paragraphs. I’ve got a reputation as a real English student to uphold these days, after all… 😉
“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.”
So, as you would be able to tell if you looked up the ISBN above, I bought the eBook version. Actually, it was the very first eBook that I ever bought/downloaded. The only thing that I found lacking about this version was that it didn’t have the maps in the front. I checked in the bookshop – all the hardcopies had the maps in. Eventually, after I had been thoroughly confused by the size of the AGoT world, I just got on the internet and downloaded myself a map onto my eReader. Problem solved. 😛 I’d recommend doing this if you also wanted to get a digital copy.
Let’s talk about the Characters
So. Many. Characters. Mr Martin, are you playing a game called “how many characters can I stuff into a single story”?! I ended up making notes (yay eReaders!) just to keep track of everyone, because it is, of course, not just about the names, but also about family alliances. Especially with the female characters, this became hard for me to keep track of, as they mostly have two sets of alliances that overlap to some degree. They have their alliance to their father’s house and its allies and then the same goes for their husband’s family. Anyway, hard to keep track of or not, this did not detract from the book for me (I’ve dealt with worse). I know there are readers who would not enjoy this level of detail, but I like it.
The book is written in shifting points of view. Almost every character gets the chance to be the focus of character in one or more chapters. However, there are no first-person narrators. I was especially impressed with how the tone and style also shifted every time there was a change of focalisation. When the focalisation is on eight-year-old Bran, the style and the language differs radically from when we get fourteen-year-old Jon’s point of view, or that of their father, Ned. The children did sound like children and the adults like adults. I did not need the chapter headings to tell me who was the focus of character. I could tell from the language alone. I’ve heard people complain about this shifting, but I don’t see what’s wrong with it, except that the cliff-hangers it causes are lovely book-frustrations. It’s a sign of an author’s prowess if they can keep this sort of shifting going on effectively.
And as there are so many characters, you should probably be asking: “Are they any good?” The answer is YES. The character development is so good! There is not a single character that is just good or just evil. At first I thought that there would be a kind of sliding scale, with one very pure character at one end and some hellish creature at the other. Turns out I was wrong. Even the purest dude turned out to be grubby. I also consider it a strong point that I developed sympathy for so many characters – but mostly-very-especially Sansa Stark – as the plot progressed. Sansa annoyed me so much when the story started and I never looked forward to her chapters. I just couldn’t stop thinking, “I wasn’t that stupid when I was eleven, was I? I really wasn’t.” Eventually I was sorry for her. She grew up in such a sheltered environment that she could not understand how evil people could really be and later I could not blame her for her naiveté anymore.
I wouldn’t say the characters redeem their actions as you understand them better. (Joffrey is currently unredeemable in my eyes. I hate him so much, but you never know what the other books might bring.) However, you do get to understand why everyone acts how they act.
Then A Game of Thrones also proceeded to break my heart with the death of a certain character (everyone probably knows who I’m talking about). As I listen to the series’ reputation, I only know that there will probably be many more of those moments to come.
Let’s talk about the Plot
You can take it at face value that it is convoluted. There are many sub-plots, twists and turns, and deceptions. You never know what is going to happen next. It is like the biggest game of Survivor ever. (Is Survivor still a thing? It’s the only reality TV example that I know, so, sorry if it’s a bad one.) A Game for the Throne. Get it? Okay, bad joke, moving on… Everybody has their agenda and if it means bumping someone else off, so be it. Machiavelli would have loved this. (Hypothetically.)
The king sits uncomfortably (literally and figuratively) on a throne made of the swords of those he conquered. His court is full of liars and flatterers. His wife has her own agenda. An heir of the ruler he deposed (brutally) still lives and is in exile far away (but not far enough). To top it all, trouble seems to be stirring in the north, a country of perpetual winter, locked away behind the Wall, a place where no one goes because there are creepy blue creatures. The king calls on his oldest friend Eddard (Ned) Stark to help him, but Ned has no inclination to play the game of thrones…
Let’s talk about the Language
Of course, yes, it is slightly explicit. Like with the HBO show, yes there is a lot of sex. My thoughts on that a little later, but I’m just putting it out there in case you might have an objection to the book for this reason. It is so well known for this that I do not really think it is necessary to mention it, but consider this a disclaimer. I would not give this book to anyone under the age of 16 or 17. But that’s just me. This is not about “protecting” kids and teens from sex. They know anyway, there’s no need to try to hide it from them. This just because I do not think you are ready to approach the sex in this book in a mature enough manner that you can move beyond the premise of “Ooh bodies” to see the purpose of the function beyond the physical. I’m simply judging on my own growing up to figure out the age restriction I would personally place on this book. I mean, when my friends and I were 17 and 18, we had to watch Roman Polanski’s Macbeth for class and we thought it was hilarious. We were not able to handle sexuality in a mature manner and we were giggling at bodies. I do not want to know what we would have made of A Game of Thrones.
That said, I should probably mention what I think of this whole business, as I have complained about random sex scenes that annoyed me in my book reviews. I’d admit that A Game of Thrones is the exception to this rule. The “romance” is still not my favourite part, but I never felt that I want to cut the physical scenes out so that we could just please move on. There is a reason for this. In my opinion, George R.R. Martin has his characters well enough under control that he never sacrifices a sex scene that has some political undertone and significance in the power games in the battle for the throne for pure physicality. I’ve experienced that many authors get so carried away in elaborate description during sex scenes that they sacrifice purpose for erotica. If I have to struggle through pages of romance, I would like it to further the plot in some way, please and thank you. Mr Martin manages to do this excellently.
I should probably leave this topic now. I just had a lecture on psychoanalysis today (I hate Freudian theory so much. Always have.) and you never know what I might come out with next due to repressed frustration. 😛
In conclusion, I’m giving A Game of Thrones:
This hasn’t happened since Mistborn, but I think it deserves the rating. I will definitely be checking out the rest of the series (in digital format please, I don’t have any more shelf-space) when I don’t have a million assignments and books to read (like right now).
A side-note: I think this is the most times that I have ever typed the word “sex” during a blog post. The keywords that Google generates for this post should be… interesting. Also, the spam it attracts…
A second side-note: Due to my current obsession with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I found out that a new online web video series has launched recently – School of Thrones. This series takes the story of AGoT and transposes it into the modern American high school, with proms and cliques and parties. At first I only watched because two of the actors I loved in LBD also play in this series, but by the end of the first episode I was like “The Starks as hipsters?! Give me more!” There are two episodes so far and you can find them here.
Right, I hope this review was sufficient. I hope to have something totally different to review in April, because… I have a dastardly plan. No, actually I just want something to read. Something new and different and not prescribed. So I have this idea to pick something that looks cool and that is not too big or expensive from all the new and recommended reads my eReader keeps throwing at me. Maybe it’ll suck or maybe I will discover something wonderful to distract me from all of my homework.
But I’m not spending the entire first night of Easter recess on here – I have a Shakespeare assignment to go stare at. The people in the street are blasting music to celebrate the extra-long-weekend, this post is now 2,000 words long, it’s a lovely night… and I’m doing Shakespeare.
That’s my life. I’ll be back next week with – you’ve got it! – more Shakespeare!