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!
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