Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)—George R.R. Martin

The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in a fictional world in which seasons last for years on end. Centuries before the events of the first novel, the Seven Kingdoms on the continent Westeros had been united under the Targaryen dynasty established by the first Targaryen King, Aegon I. As A Game of Thrones begins, it has been 15 years since the feudal lords led by Robert Baratheon killed the last Targaryen ruler, King Aerys II Targaryen, and made Robert king.
     The principal story chronicles a power struggle for the Iron Throne of Westeros after King Robert's death in A Game of Thrones. Robert’s son, Joffrey, claims the throne, along with Robert’s two younger brothers. Several regions of Westeros raise kings of their own, succeeding from the realm and reverting to the boundaries that existed before they were united.
     The second story takes place on the northern border of Westeros, where an 8,000-year-old wall of ice defends Westeros from the Others. The Wall's sentinels, the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch, protect the realm of Westeros (land of the seven kingdoms), whereas the "Free Folk" or "wildlings" are humans living north of the Wall. The Night's Watch story is told primarily through Jon Snow, who is introduced as the bastard son of Eddard Stark, and who joins the Watch, rising quickly through the ranks. In the third volume, A Storm of Swords, this story becomes entangled with the civil war.
     The third story is set on an eastern continent named Essos, and follows Daenerys Targaryen, isolated from the other characters and plotlines. On Essos, Daenerys rises from a pauper sold into marriage, to a powerful and intelligent ruler. Her rise is aided by the birth of three dragons from eggs given to her as wedding gifts: used initially as symbols, and later as weapons.

Summary from Cover art from

My summary/review: A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic fantasy series, already an acclaimed classic compared to the likes of Tolkein. It has been made into an HBO television series titled Game of Thrones. Unlike other fantasy works, there is not a lot of emphasis on the supernatural, on unfamiliar landscapes, foreign languages, and terms…a reader could honestly be reading a medieval historic novel. The introduction of the fantasy elements is subtle and slow. This could frustrate lovers of the high-fantasy genre, but makes this series more palatable to those who find high fantasy outlandish, cumbersome, or weird.  Rather, A Song of Ice and Fire takes on more of a political bent in a complex tale of a fractured kingdom and political upheaval strongly flavored by the War of the Roses. I have never read a book with such an intricate, interlaced, cunningly smart plot; nor have I read more realistic, wholly developed, complex characters. I was instantly and wholly engrossed with this series. I am one of the obsessed! I have read the lengthy (and unfinished) series two times now and still know I could read it a dozen more and pick up on clues and foreshadowing that will culminate in the final book. There are forums, websites, wikis, and an entire Reddit page dedicated to the series. In fact, I recommend readers to make friends with the ASOIAF Wiki because you’ll need it to keep all the characters straight.

My summary/review of A Game of Thrones: Eddard “Ned” Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North is a man who puts honor above all, taking his role as a father, a lord, and a leader more serious than most. Yet his moral ideals create more conflict than peace when he is asked by King Robert to come to King’s Landing as the new Hand of the King, replacing the late Hand—Ned’s brother-in-law and foster father Jon Arryn. Lady Catelyn Stark’s widowed sister tips her off that her husband’s death was not natural. She suspects he was murdered by the Lannisters—a wealthy, power hungry family at the center of realm’s troubles. Though Ned has no desire for the power and prestige that come from being the King’s Hand, his honor forces him to do his duty.
     Along with Lady Catelyn, Ned plans to leave his oldest son Robb and his youngest son Rickon behind at Winterfell. He will take his two daughters, Sansa and Arya, and middle son Bran to court. Lord Stark also leaves behind his bastard son, Jon Snow—the one blight on his impeccable honor. Though raised with his trueborn children and seen as a true brother by them, Lady Catelyn insists there is no place for him at Winterfell with Ned leaving. As a result, Jon joins the Night’s Watch.
     Just before Ned’s departure, Bran climbs one of the ruined towers of the castle and happens upon Queen Cersei engaging in incestuous relations with her twin brother, Ser Jaime Lannister. Jaime pushes Bran out of the window. Bran miraculously survives the fall, but is unconscious. If he lives, he’ll never walk again. The circumstances of Bran’s “fall” are unknown to everyone else. It is with a heavy heart that Ned and his two daughters leave Bran and the others behind and travel to the king’s palace. Once in King’s Landing, Ned Stark will unravel the mysteries surrounding Jon Arryn’s death and his son’s “accident,” but not before learning that honor and justice have no place when everyone around you is playing the game of thrones.
     The story is told through various Point-of-View characters, developing a complex, interlaced plot, and making each character both a protagonist and antagonist, depending on who the current POV character is. Favorites include Jon Snow at the Wall; Tyrion Lannister, the cunning and bookish youngest Lannister, who happens to be a dwarf; spunky tomboy Arya Stark; and Daenerys Targaryen, a teenage girl living in exile who happens to be of the last true heirs to the Iron Throne.
     Sorry that summary was so long, but the book is 704 pages long and that setup will help with other reviews I do. I like fantasy, but I don’t necessarily love it, especially high fantasy. I like mysteries, but they aren’t my usual genre. Political stories? No thank you. Definitely not my cup of tea. I do love me some historical fiction. Somehow, though, I am OBSESSED with these books. I was first intrigued by the memes and jokes and Buzzfeed lists surrounding this series. I was hooked by the second chapter when Bran was pushed form the window. Summer 2013 was pretty much spent in sleep-deprived zombie mode as a devoured the five lengthy books that are currently published. If you embark on this journey, be warned—the series will likely have 7 books and it takes Mr. Martin about 6 years to write each one. Luckily, there is enough meat, unsolved mysteries, and fan theories to warrant multiple readings of the five published books.
     As you’ll see in the warning below, these books are not for the sensitive reader. They portray the medieval lifestyle in all its gory glory, which includes brutal battles, murders, rapes, castrations, torture, and the like. Despite being set in a world where women had few rights, Martin crafts memorable and stunning female characters that demonstrate surprising power and influence.

My rating: 4.75 Stars The plot can be confusing—the wiki became a crutch for me at times—and truthfully, I’d be okay if the language and the graphic scenes were toned down a notch. But this series will forever be a favorite for me. It’s such a rich experience as a reader. As a writer, it was a master class in character development, all kinds of character development arcs, and plotting.

For the sensitive reader: This book (and series) is not for you. A Game of Thrones is probably the tamest of all the series (I noted in my re-read) so maybe a sensitive reader could push through, but the series as a whole contains every swear word under the sun, sexually explicit scenes with sexually explicit language, sexual violence, graphic physical violence, racism, sexism, oppression, and whatever else may offend readers. There’s a reason the television show is on HBO. 

1 comment:

Kate Unger said...

I love the HBO show. I really need to read the books. Some day. :)


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