A Song of Ice and Fire, #1: A Game of Thrones (BOOK REVIEW)

Since George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was delivered to the world in 1996, it’s radically changed the genre of fantasy literature. Popular tropes within the genre: orcs and elves, wizards and dragons… These were very much the norm (thanks to Tolkien) until that point. Well. Dragons are still around. They’ll always be around. Martin wasn’t the first to incorporate multiple viewpoint characters, and he certainly wasn’t the first to see the fantasy genre veer into grimmer territory, but these are now widely assumed to be his mark on the genre – and as popular as his series has become, why shouldn’t he get that credit? The books have certainly influenced more modern fantasy authors than not. And more recently, with the success of the HBO adaption, it’s known to many as the saving grace of the genre, the series that brought fantasy back to being true literature and not simply cult fiction.

This isn’t the first time I’ve read the book (actually, I listened to it), and yes, I have watched the television program, so expect major spoilers in this review, as I expect you’ve either read the book or watched the show. (For those that don’t care to watch the scenes involving unnecessary promiscuity, clean versions can be found online that don’t affect plot any). For me to call it a review is kind of untrue really. My review is above, in the header image. 9.5 – woo, high score! On reread it doesn’t quite hold its own however, and the fact that I’ve also seen the television series (which sticks so well to the book), it was hard for me to really be recaptured by the plot.

Every chapter there’s a moment or three where you realize ‘so-and-so shouldn’t have done that, what the heck, that will directly influence the next – see, why’d you have to go and do that!’ But at the same token, the book does keep you on the edge like that. Not always, but especially as the climax builds. You keep telling yourself that it can’t end that way, it can’t end the way it ended the last time I read it. And then it does.

That’s perhaps the one thing Martin is known best for. It seems as though he has a serious disregard for the lives of his POV characters, that he develops over hundreds and thousands of pages. The character you naturally equate as being the hero of the story, Eddard Stark, gets beheaded in front of thousands of people (including his two daughters). This shocking cruelty to, not only the characters, but to the readers, is a trademark of his work. And really it only gets worse from here on out.

What is pretty exciting about his work is that he makes you assume the tale will go in one direction, and then an event happens where the tides turn terribly quickly and the fate becomes entirely unknown once more. This happens with one character in particular, Daenerys Targaryen, where you assume she will take her khalasar (a horde of brutish of horse lords) across the ocean to the Seven Kingdoms to reclaim her family’s rightful throne, and then she loses literally everything.

This among others marks Martin as a master of character arcs. Every one of the characters throughout the books journey, be it the weathered Catelyn, the young Aria, the broken Bran – each goes through such an immense change over the course of the novel. I will fault the book on Sansa though, a character who’s viewpoint was so skewed and naive, it bordered on incredulity. Did it really take her an entire year, an entire book, and the death of her father to realize the truth of her dearly betrothed? This just isn’t believable. Of course, after the fact Sansa is a far more believable character, but her arc of them all had the most visible holes.

One thing that was pretty incredible about the relisten was discovering new things about characters who’s futures you are well aware of, making the story pop ever more. It made me stop and realize how truly deep this world of Westeros really is. Despite the political parties at play, despite the massive cast amassed, despite the connections they make, it’s unbelievable how vast and webbed and intricate the history of this world Martin’s created is. I don’t think even Tolkien’s work scratched that much detail, prior to his release of the Hobbit or LotR. In A Game of Thrones the worldbuilding takes second place to the history and lore building. It’s an incredible feat, if ever there were one.

You can almost allow yourself to believe that Martin did plan this to be a trilogy. With the end goal he had, and the short list of POV characters he had to play with, three long books could have definitely accomplished the story succinctly. But it’s clear that his rapid succession of killing one character after another and adding in a whole new slew of POV’s for each successive book kind of killed that idea. There’s also the fact that more of the story revealed itself to him as he went forward. I just wished he’d go forward faster.

Another truly remarkable feat A Game of Thrones influenced in the fantasy genre? The idea of their being no truly good characters and no truly bad. The eyes of the many viewpoint characters often collide with one another, allowing you the ability to feel for the entire cast, on either side of the warfare. Characters that you tell yourself you can’t stand at the beginning of the novel tend to really surprise you as you learn their motivations and mindsets. To this day it’s incredibly rare that you’ll find a truly evil villain in the fantasy genre, because of Martin’s influence.

Although the book isn’t quite as effective the second time around, the brilliance is still ever-evident. Love him or hate him for his work with A Game of Thrones, or his influence on the genre as a whole, its still a classic. At 18 years old, the novel is still at the top of its territorial game.

9 thoughts on “A Song of Ice and Fire, #1: A Game of Thrones (BOOK REVIEW)

  1. I’ve been waiting for a release date on The Winds of Winter to do a re-read of this series 😀 Your review reminded me how much I liked it, though. Awesome stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One thing I would mention is that I feel Martin does very well with, is implicit storytelling. Many of the big events are never really seen but told through simple exchange of dialogues. It is a very interesting way to write a story.

    Amen to not writing fast enough. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ok, I overlooked this characteristic which was challenging the typical low intelligence level I had of fantasy novels. But I was distracted by the fanboy appreciation of meals, costume color coordination, healdry, coats of arms, beverage choices for meals and between meals, lists of names of characters in every aristocratic crowd scene, names of castles. I will say that several scenes stand out in my retrospect. Finally is that he was always in control of the characters. They did what they were supposed to do, live and die unexpectedly.


  3. I just finished the book on Monday for the first time, after so many people have told me to try it and I finally decided to read it as part of a challenge.

    However, I made the mistake of watching most of the episode directly after I’ve read the portrayed chapters and they aren’t as according to book as you claim.
    There are several things that bugged me quite a bit while watching, but I think the worst was that the females got toned down.

    Martin is praised for his portrayal of strong female characters (read actual women), but the show gives their lines to males or changes them and thus undoes his work.
    I agree with you on Sansa, though. As much as I didn’t like the slapping she got after her father’s death, as much would I have liked to do it myself a couple of times earlier… I really hope it’s true and she’ll finally grow as a character with the next book.
    But all in all he has created quite a bunch of interesting characters.

    As a writer myself, I would be quite interested in learning how Martin decides to end his characters (does he create them to be killed or does he decide it along the way?). You don’t happen to know an interview where he talked about this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If anyone knows the inner workings of the man, I cannot say. Let’s put it this way. He’s known for over 20 years how he wants the books to end. Well, after book 5 was released some began to theorize about the conclusion of it all. In an interview Martin claimed that he admitted some fans had already guessed the ending, and that he seriously pondered the idea of scrapping his idea of 20 years entirely to go a different route. Thankfully he realized the folly in this. The guy loves shock value, and to catch you unawares. That’s why A Game of Thrones works so well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think anyone willing to stick with a series for 1000s of pages or 10s of hours will develop a guessing game of how a current character is going to fare in their next chapter installment. So I felt I was almost, but not quite always on the outside admiring his mastery of the storytelling art, rather than immersed in the world he was creating. It kept me going until the end of the epilogue.


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