Thursday, October 20, 2011

REVIEW: A Game of Thrones


A Game of Thrones is the first book in George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. I've known about these books for a while, and by that I mean I've nearly fainted when noticing their doorstop-perfect build while browsing for books at the bookstore. Seriously, if you had to use a paperback to kill a man, pick up a George R.R. Martin book. The first book was released in 1996, which means I'm really getting a jump on this thing (it's okay; I was late on The Godfather, too). No doubt, the popularity of the HBO series (which I have not seen) also piqued my curiosity.

To try to condense the plot of A Game of Thrones would be a fool's task. Thankfully, you've come to the right place. Using the viewpoints of multiple characters (I think there are eight main ones), George R.R. Martin treats us to a sweeping tale of love, lust, vengeance, betrayal, duty, honor, family, power, redemption, and pretty much every other theme you can think of.

The Stark family, I think, is really the focus of the book. Ned Stark is the lord of Winterfell, a bleak, wintery land that could give Hoth a run for its money. When his friend King Robert comes to ask Lord Stark to take on the duties as his number-two (the King's Hand), Ned reluctantly agrees. The decision is a pivotal one, setting up a series of moves and counter-moves that take the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and move characters around like chess pieces.

King Robert was once a brave and bold man, but now he is no true king. After marrying a woman from the shifty Lannister family, the king grows fat, belligerent, and unobservant. He enlists Ned as help, taking Lord Stark away from Winterfell and moving him south. Let's just say a lot of bad things happen (one of Ned's sons suffers a grievous injury, it turns out King Robert's former King's Hand was murdered by one of the Lannisters, Ned and his family are branded as traitors, succession of the King's line comes under question, Ned's bastard son--hated by his wife but loved by Ned--joins a dangerous group of rangers tasked with keeping watch of evil forces north of a barrier called the Wall).

Meanwhile, in a different book, the former royal family displaced by King Robert's line struggles to gain a foothold. The Targaryen family was cast out as rulers after a mad king...um...went crazy. King Robert led a rebellion against him...and most of the Targaryen line was wiped out, save two surviving heirs, Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen. Viserys, who's kind of a spoiled, idiotic brat, arranges to sell his sister as wife to Khal Drogo, the powerful leader of a wild people called the Dothraki. Daenerys' story is one of pain, suffering, more pain, more suffering, loss, and rebirth. Seriously, nothing good happens to her. Then again, nothing good happens to anyone in A Game of Thrones.

The book has several subplots, most of them compelling. There's the journey of Ned's brave bastard son Jon Snow; the emergence of Ned's oldest trueborn son Robb as a pivotal figure in the Seven Kingdoms. The other Stark children have their own cruel adventures as well. The dwarf of the Lannister clan--Tyrion--also plays a large role in the events that unfold, as do the machinations of his sister (King Robert's wife) and brother (Jaime "The Kingslayer").

Old families clash; old allegiances whither and die while others are forged anew.

Winter is coming...and it is good.

LOVED

-Tyrion the Imp; this guy gets most of the good lines and provides all of the book's scant levity with his wit
-Epic, sweeping scope
-Complex, well-developed world that feels real and steeped in history
-No character is safe from injury or death--you never know what's going to happen
-Really felt like there were strong characterizations for most of the principles
-Ned Stark, damn him, is one honorable man (as are his sons...even the bastard Jon Snow)
-Most of the plots and subplots are deftly juggled and intertwined
-Direwolves!
-Main houses all managed to seem unique

DIDN'T LOVE

-I wish someone would strangle the blasted crows and ravens; "corn, corn, corn!"
-Don't expect to laugh at the wacky antics of the Stark family
-A sense of hopelessness runs throughout the whole book
-The length; good God, the length...not for the faint of heart
-A lot...and I mean A LOT...of characters to juggle and keep straight
-Prepare for medieval sex that is both crazy and comical
-"Ser" in place of "sir"--my mind couldn't get used to this even after 800,000 pages

THE VERDICT

I don't read a lot of fantasy books. Sweeping tales of kings and knights hold a certain appeal, but I've never really been into those types of stories. In this case, I thought I'd try something different.

To my utter surprise and shock...A Game of Thrones gets a scintillating 5 out of 5 on the Ray Liotta Quality Meter (what is this?).

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