Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Game of Thrones ~ George R.R. Martin

First things first.  All of you people who went on about how A Game of Thrones is a great epic and so original and OMG you should read it right now (including my husband, who now claims that he never called it epic but he totally did), you are wrong.  And now that that I've said that, we can move on with things.

A Game of Thrones was decent.  It took 70 pages for anything to happen (and then it was a child being thrown from a very high window by - okay, I won't spoil it more than that) and even longer for me to get past the often hackneyed and always excessively flowery writing and descriptions (if I never read the exact details of some knight's armor and sigil again, I would be absolutely fine with it).  Guys, this was a labor of love.  And certainly not love for the author or the genre or any of that but for my husband, because he really wanted me to read (and love) this series.  Normally, if I hit page 100 of a book and I'm bored, I will stop reading the book.  And Game of Thrones took me around 300 pages to get into, so the fact that I read on is saying something.

However, once I got into it, it was entertaining.  It's written from the close third-person perspectives of several characters, which was a useful way of showing what's happening all over the place since this is a story that spans continents (at least, I think it does, even though the map only shows the Seven Kingdoms).  Also, there's a map at the beginning, which is a sure way for a book to get me excited.  Has anyone else noticed that the map is drawn to look like an old crone?  I blew my husband's mind with that observation.

Anyway, I was talking about the characters.  I won't talk about each one because that would take about a week and a half, but as with any book written in this style, you have your favorites and I had mine, so I'll talk about them.  There's little Arya Stark, nine years old and feisty, who loves the old stories of warrior witches and is clearly a warrior-in-training herself.  She's tough, yet is still prone to a child's fantasies and fears, and fiercely loyal (though not to her brain-dead sister, Sansa, who is pretty much one of the dumbest people ever).  Then there's Arya and Sansa's half-brother Jon Snow (who is their father's bastard - bastard I said - and don't you forget it but don't worry, Martin will remind you every paragraph just in case - BASTARD I said).  Because he's a bastard and bears a bastard's surname, he can't hope to ever be anything in life except a bastard unless he joins the black, meaning he puts on black clothes and goes to join the brotherhood of men (who are mostly criminals and bastards) to defend the Wall that separates the Seven Kingdoms from all the scary shit on the other side.  And even though I got very tired about hearing how Jon is a bastard, I did enjoy the story of this lonely boy who thinks he's a man but is still coming to grips with how to be a friend and where his loyalties belong.  I would argue that he learns this lesson excessively fast, but the super-scary wall, which we see mostly through his eyes was creepy and interesting enough to make up for how much of a bastard he is the improbability of his character development.

Finally, there's Danaerys, one of the last two descendants of King Aerys, who was dethroned by the current King Robert about ten years ago.  At the beginning of the book, she's sweet and innocent and naive.  Her brother sells her off to a Dothraki Khal (meaning chief, I think?) in exchange for an army with which he will win back his throne and Dany's all like, well okay then, I mean, this is what I'm supposed to do, right?  But then she suddenly realizes, I'm the Khal's wife and that means I have power and she kicks her brother around some and starts issuing commands, but she's still empathetic, and all-around badass.  She's still a child too though (having been married at fourteen) so there's a lot of learning and making mistakes going on.  Her storyline was probably my favorite of all, partially because the Dothraki are so bizarre and interesting to read about.

One thing that I thought was really interesting about this book was how much being born in America informed my reaction to this fictional world.  For example, why do all of these people listen to child rulers?  There are child rulers all over this novel (ranging from age six and up) and I can't understand how people actually listen to them.  I mean, they make decisions that aren't even backed by a council and the adults all do as they say!  They follow them into battle and die for them!  And that's another thing - you get this sense that there are only a few real people in this novel.  Everyone else is like money, to be thrown around at will.  How many people die to bring the "Imp" to justice?  Far too many!  Nobody should be dying for that, but all of these disposable humans are dying left, right, and center for a cause that hasn't even been explained to them!  And what's even more mind-blowing, is that this form of society is actually based on real-world stuff (in fact, the themes and alliances and even some of the names are suspiciously similar to those of Tudor England, but I don't have enough evidence to make a case for it...yet).  I guess it's one of those stranger than fiction deals - no reader would believe that all of these people would listen to a child's pronouncements if that hadn't actually happened many times in human history.

At times (most of the time), the characterization is simplistic (e.g. Eddard Stark is loyal to a fault and little else, and his wife Catelyn is tough and unforgiving and likes her kids and that's it); the various plots are unnaturally coordinated in time (after ten years of peace, everybody and their mom decides to go to war at the same time); and the symbolism of the seasons is so in your face that you want to write a letter to Martin to tell him to PLEASE GODS STOP TALKING ABOUT THE WEATHER (it's been summer for all this decade of peace and now that things are going to shit, winter is coming, blah blah blah).  However, once I made my peace with these less than compelling details, I was able to be entertained by it and get through it pretty quickly.  I'll read the rest of the unfolding series, though not immediately.  I just hope that the quality of the writing improves.


  1. Kudos to you for sticking it out! I guess if my boyfriend wanted me to read it, I would have done the same. I started the book and didn't get that far. I guess it didn't help that I read it while simultaneously watching the first season of the TV show which moves MUCH faster than the book. So I gave up on it...but I've kept watching the show which constantly makes me wonder if I should try the book again. That's to be determined though...

    1. Oooh, I'm really excited to watch the show now. I have a feeling that it's going to be really good - this story, minus the mediocre writing, with a high production value? Uh yeah, that's going to be great!

  2. Nice to see a balanced review of this book! My husband has been nagging me for about six months solid to read it because he loves the series to the point of obsession but I keep telling him I will read it when I'm good and ready... :P

    1. Was that balanced? Wow, I felt like I was rambling! Good to know! My husband can't understand why I didn't immediately pick up the second book... ah, men. :]