Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Fantasy Review: ‘A Game of Thrones’ by George R. R. Martin

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.


Review

I bought A Game of Thrones at about the same time as the series was coming out, I think. I’d been aware of it before but an impending dramatisation made me keen to get to it before the whole world knew the ending and I would be dodging spoilers all over the internet.  My plan was to read each book before the corresponding series was released and to generally stay ahead of the A Song of Ice and Fire curve.  Since the third series either has recently been on or still is on (I try to ignore all references to it!) and I’ve only just got round to writing about the first book, that plan obviously fell apart...

I love epic fantasy and have a lot of patience with first books. I almost expect to feel a few steps behind when I start out on a long series and am happy to spend a couple of hundred pages meandering through back stories, explanations of politics and hierarchies and world building.  I say that so that you know when I say that A Game of Thrones‘ start was slow, it isn’t because I’m not used to the genre.  Because there are so many characters, introducing them all takes about half of the first book.  And I will personally make a gold star for anybody who can honestly say that they didn’t have at least one moment later on in the novel where they went, “Who is this person again?!” (I should add that you don’t get a gold star if you watched the TV series first because that’s cheating).

I’m actually quite surprised that the books have been as widely popular as they have been.  Epic fantasy is always one of those genres that I feel gets a bad reputation for being “geeky” or whatever. And yet, with a dash of Sean Bean, A Song of Ice and Fire became almost mainstream and I saw people reading it about the train station all the time.  I guess that having seen the key characters and themes played out on screen must be a bonus to readers that would normally get frustrated experiencing the same thing on the page.  

There are a lot of reviews for this book that describe how much of a page-turner it is right from the start.  I’m sorry (really, because I know how much of a ruckus this might cause) but I just didn’t see it.  Eventually I was completely hooked and swept through the pages but for the first half, reading A Game of Thrones was by no means a relaxing or absorbing reading experience.  There were characters I instantly loved (Lord Stark, Catelyn Stark and Arya Stark) and characters I HATED but mostly there were characters I grew to love (Jon Snow and maybe Daenerys but I haven’t quite decided yet) and characters I still don’t know what I think about and it took me forever to even draw those meagre conclusions.  There was political scheming, murder, incest, conspiracies, epic battles and family trauma.  It isn’t perfect and it isn’t an easy read but the later chapters do reward your efforts and there were moments that broke little pieces of my heart.

One thing that “everybody” says about this series is true, though.  Martin cares not for your feelings.  Expect to have at least one character you love killed off and to feel as though the world is a dark, dark place for quite some time.  It’s very powerful writing and I did spend the final half of the novel willing my favourite characters to survive and beat their rivals and gripping my eReader ridiculously tightly.  I read it on the 9.30pm train from London to Leeds after a conference about procurement and didn’t fall asleep once. It might take time but trust me when I say that, eventually, George R.R. Martin will get you.

Overall:  I will definitely be carrying on with A Song of Ice and Fire and have no doubt that it will become a series that I love.  This book is the literary equivalent of prepping early for a dinner party; it takes quite a long time and isn’t always super fun but you know that when your guests arrive and you can chatter over a glass of wine instead of clamouring to catch up and fit in yet more prep, you’ll appreciate it.  Think of A Game of Thrones as an investment and you’ll be just fine.

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Date finished:  08 March 2013
Format:  eBook (Have you SEEN this book?!)
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Epic fantasy fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by HarperVoyager in January 2003