A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

I would never normally pick up a book like A Game of Thrones because I don’t get on well with medieval, fantasy settings. I adored fantasy books when I was younger, but that was because they were magical and fun, with strange and wonderful creatures and heroic characters. As an adult I have never read a fantasy book that I have enjoyed. It could be that I compare every one that I have attempted with The Lord of the Rings – which I love – or maybe fantasy is just not really my thing.

So when I sat down to watch the HBO TV series at the insistence of a couple of friends, I was very sceptical. To my great surprise, I soon found myself hooked by the gripping story-lines, intriguing characters and witty dialogue. By the end of the series, I was desperate to read the book, which has also exceeded my expectations.

For people like me, who are not big fans of the fantasy genre, the A Song of Ice and Fire series introduces the themes of magic and magical creatures very gently. In fact, magic is mentioned only as a lost knowledge that has faded from the world rather than as an everyday occurrence. This makes the medieval world that the story is set in believable and realistic. Towards the end of the book, magic becomes more of a theme, which I think will lead up to it having a larger role as the series progresses.

The central plot of A Game of Thrones is set in the Seven Kingdoms, where the once brave and strong but now fat and drunk King Robert Baratheon sits on his throne. When the Hand of the King mysteriously dies, King Robert asks an old and trusted friend, Eddard Stark to take his place. Eddard soon realises that there are many secrets at King’s Landing – secrets that can kill.

While the deadly ‘game of thrones’ is being played in the Seven Kingdoms, there is a more desperate fight taking place in the north. Further north than Eddard Stark’s home of Winterfell, there is the Wall, which is guarded day and night by the dwindling group of men of the Night’s Watch. Beyond the Wall is an icy and wild land where unimaginable horrors lurk, waiting for the long winter to descend upon the lands in the south. Although we don’t venture much beyond the Wall in the first book, the glimpses that we do get are enough to chill the reader to the bone. The tension built up for this storyline had me captivated and needing to know more.

Yet another thread of a storyline is unravelling in a land far from the Seven Kingdoms and the Wall. In the exotic lands of the Dothraki people, a brother and sister are making their way slowly towards the Iron Throne, to claim back the crown that is rightfully theirs. Viserys Targaryen, the unlikeable and spoilt true king, and his younger sister Daenarys had fled to these foreign lands many years ago after their grandfather, the Mad King, and their father were slain in a revolt led by Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark. I found this plot slow at first, but it is interesting to watch the character of Daenarys grow from a child of thirteen to a much stronger woman.

From other reviews that I have read, it seems that George R. R. Martin’s layout is controversial. Every chapter is told from the view point of a certain character. I have seen this done before, sometimes it works and sometimes it really doesn’t. I enjoy this technique in A Game of Thrones as it allows you to get into the minds of the characters – and there are a lot of them to keep track of!

One thing that I like about A Game of Thrones is the complexity and unpredictability of some of the characters. There is an idea of which families are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’ but the characters themselves are mostly more ambiguous than that. This is true to life and means that the reader never knows what any character might do next. There is a mixture of different characters, but I do have my favourites.

Tyrion Lannister, the intelligent, witty and rude dwarf is the greatest creation of them all. He is rich, proud and extremely funny. I hope his clever plots and schemes will continue to get him out of awkward scrapes for many books to come.

Arya Stark, a young daughter of Eddard is often mistaken for a boy due to her messy hair, grubby clothes and love of sword fighting. She is naughty and feisty and constantly arguing with Sansa, her much more respectable and ladylike sister.

Arya’s older brother, the bastard Jon Snow is one of the obviously ‘good’ characters. Although we don’t hear much about it, he has an interesting back story, which I hope to learn more about. We see the work of the Night’s Watch through his eyes.

For every character that I like, there are about three that I despise. There are snotty princes, twisted Queens, scary knights, revolting whores and many backstabbers. The book is full of gore, violence, sex, dirty words, humour, incest, rape, secrets, lies, treachery and despair. Every chapter seems to end with a cliffhanger to keep you hanging which, although may seem like an obviously contrived technique, makes the book a fast-paced page-turner. I can hardly wait to read the next instalment!

If you would like to become hooked, click the picture below to buy your own copy!

25 thoughts on “A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

  1. Heh, this pretty much mirrors exactly my experience with the book. I actually do consider myself a fantasy kinda girl but after trying and failing to enjoy most ‘medieval fantasy’ after Lord of the Rings I pretty much switched allegiance to ‘fantasy – but not the generic Tolkien rip offs’ and avoided all popular medieval fantasy series like the plague. So though I’d heard of Game of Thrones for years before the TV series I never got the slightest inclination to read it – the covers totally helped there too.

    I’m not sure exactly why I chose to watch the TV series – I think just to see what all the fuss about the books was without having to wade through several hundred pages of trying to sound like Tolkien – but I was blown away. Absolutely loved it. And not just because Sean Bean is a beautiful rugged older man (though he totally is). It felt realistic the characters weren’t your typical heroic archtypes but real people with their own personalities! And the plot was unpredictable! Political intrigue rather than batting people with swords! I wasn’t going ‘so yeah, he’s gunna do that and he’ll succeed because he’s the hero and that’s what always happens’, it felt like something was actually at stake and that faliure was a very real possibility.

    So of course as soon as I finished I grabbed the books and raced through the first. Now I’m struggling to stop myself reading the rest before the next TV series (I really enjoyed being shocked at the plot developments and I know I’ll be horrible and nitpicky if I read the books first).

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    • Well I had a few friends who were addicted to both the book and the series, so I started watching it with them and got sucked in. It definitely had something to do with Sean Bean too!

      I can’t believe you have managed to stop yourself reading the second book! I’m trying to slow down so that I don’t run out of books. It could be years before the next one is out!

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      • That’s the other reason I decided to limit myself to reading each book after the TV series. I can wait the year or so between TV series but am not sure I could manage a several year wait with nothing new (plotwise) to keep me going if I rushed through the books now and was left hanging for the next.

        Am still totally impatient though so had to grab the DVD as soon as it came out . Now to see who else I can get hooked onto it…mwahahaa

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  2. How interesting! Like you, I’m really not a fantasy person, although I did enjoy Lord of the Rings when I read it ages ago. In fact, I find even the cover of The Game of Thrones offputting – too fantasy-ish (talk about prejudice… um). But so many people have been preaching about this book, even those who’ve never touched fantasy before.
    Personally, what still holds me back is the medieval setting, so I was wondering if you regularly read books based in the Middle Ages, or was this an exception? Because if, apart from the fantasy-exception, it was also an age-exception for you and you still enjoyed it, that might mean I might enjoy it too! 🙂

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    • I have to say that I don’t usually read things set in the Middle Ages (I can’t even think of an example of when I have to be honest!) I have to say, the cover of A Game of Thrones really put me off and was one of the reasons it took me so long to finally pick it up! But I’m so glad I did now!

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  3. This book has been on my bookshelf for several years and was even recommended by a teacher on a fantasy writing course I once took… but it has just been gathering dust. With the HBO series that everyone seems to be raving about, the book seems to have garnered new appreciation. I guess it’s time to finally read it. Thanks for the great review.

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    • Yes, you should definitely pick it up and read it. Just make sure that you are not too busy as you will want to spend every spare moment reading it! I hope you enjoy it – let me know what you think!

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  4. Before HBO came along and introduced A Game of Thrones to a segment of the audience that wouldn’t have been caught dead in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore, I think the novel was badly hurt by the perception that it was just another Tolkien clone, something that (God knows) the bookstores have far too many of already. I spent more than a decade proselytizing to friends about this book with little success after I first read it in the late 1990s. Now it’s finally broken through to a mass audience and no one could be happier than I. Not to insult The Lord of the Rings, which is a clever fantasy series that should have been allowed to remain a one-of-a-kind experience, but Martin’s triumph here is that he totally breaks out of the Tolkien mode and writes something for adults that isn’t an heroic quest story, doesn’t deal in a bevy of non-human races and deals realistically and in an adult way with the suspenseful, compelling problems of as dysfunctional a combination of royal families as one is ever likely to see on paper (or on television). I think the whole Song of Ice and Fire series is wonderful (I’ve read the first five, which is all that have been published to date) and strongly recommend them to anyone, absolutely anyone, who thinks that they hate fantasy novels. Because they’re very, very wrong.

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    • Thank you for your comment. I couldn’t agree more with what you have said about Martin breaking away from the ‘Tolkien mode’. After reading The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager, I thought I would love similar fantasy books, but always found that I could not get into anything in that sort of genre.

      I do also love that A Game of Thrones is more gritty and realistic. I like the fact that it is very clearly for adults and has a lot of adult humour. I still wouldn’t immediately read another novel in the fantasy genre without a recommendation (yet) but am definitely more open to the possibility!

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  5. I still enjoy the fantasy genre, but I really have to be in the mood for it. My husband is reading this series right now (he’s on the third book), but I don’t know if I’ll ever read it. I’m not too keen on the way women were treated during that time period, so although I’m sure the story is a good one, reading it would involve a lot of eye rolling and teeth sucking. We’ll see.

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    • Yes, there is a lot of bad treatment towards women in the book which has offended a lot of people, so might be best to steer clear if it upsets you. You could maybe give the TV series a go first to see what you think? That way, you can always stop after one episode and not feel you have to finish the book!

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  6. So far I’ve only read the first one, but I really enjoyed it. George RR Martin is a great storyteller – he really knows how to build suspense. He seems to feel no sentimentality towards his characters, which makes it all the more suspenseful. I liked all the complicated machinations between and within the different families.

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  7. I’m glad you’ve discovered the joys of this series! I tend to view it as a series you “graduate” to after you’ve read Lord of the Rings. Not to say that Tolkien’s work is in any way less significant than Martin’s (I think we are all aware that it is, in fact, greater in significance), but the characterization and gray morality of Martin’s work is something that is more readily appreciated by readers with a more mature perspective on the world.

    As someone who’s read all the books so far, I would like to give you the warning I deliver to everyone who has only just begun to read the series: prepare to get your heart broken several times over, but know that you will find yourself celebrating in the most unexpected moments ;).

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    • I have had this warning many times already! So, it’s made me think through all the terrible things that might happen. I hope some good things happen too though and can’t wait to find out what grizzly deaths some of the horrible characters have to suffer! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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