Alright, I finished the first book in George R. R. Martin’s series, A Song of Fire and Ice, A Game of Thrones and am ready to review.
First a summary. This epic series follows many characters from all over the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, many from one of several houses. Each house, Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Frey etc. have very specific codes of life, motos, symbols of their lineage and family and all are apart of the events that take place in Realm. Events that shape the future, sometimes a butterfly effect that takes time to see the pending tsunami, sometimes a very swift consequence results. With Lords and ladies, peasants, butchers, white walkers (zombies), dragons, dark magic, savages, knights, kings, dire-wolves and the old gods and the new, this story is packed with characters. When the Hand of the King dies, the King announces Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell to take his place, but this means moving the Stark family from the cold wintery North to the Summer South, a move not easy to make. When Lady Stark learns that there may have been foul play regarding the death of the Hand, the Starks agree Eddard must go to discover the truth… And so much truth there is to find! Across the sea, the last of the House of Dragons, the Targaryens, plot to retake the Iron Throne. Meanwhile something is awakening beyond the wall, something that is stirring up winter, a very long and cold one soon to be upon the Realm.
I don’t want to give anything away (for those of you under a rock, who still have not read or seen the show), so that’s about as much summary as I can muster.
So, I’ve already talked about how much I like the show (a lot!) and I mentioned really enjoying the book when I was not finished with it, so my judgement on this one is no surprise -I loved it.
What I think is exceptional about this book is the epic quality. It seems that every character, no matter how large their role, whether they die within 20 pages or last till the end, all have a great depth. I think what adds to this are the roles of the houses, and family ties. Each house has a very specific mood, attitude, and the members of the house all exude those qualities (with some strong exceptions), even the symbols of the house reflect who they are and what they are like. I think that makes the reader already mindful of a history of each house without needing to delve extremely far. It seems that many of the devices Martin uses are along the lines of “it’s the little things.” I think the author does a great job at giving you enough information that you understand the history, and yet he does not bore you with over explaining or lose you in a run down of what happened before the current King. The author allows the history to be brought up in conversations, so the reader gets a piece by piece picture of the entirety all while the current events are changing the future of the kingdoms, in significant, maddening ways.
One thing that took me by surprise is how dang close the show and books are, seriously, nearly word for word. So much so that I am tempted to skip the second book and plunge into the third to keep up with show.
There are 2 things the book offers a (slightly) deeper view into: Bran (a Stark boy, who loses his ability to walk, but gains a third eye type visionary wisdom) and the dire-wolves in general. In the show you see the same three-eyed crow that leads Bran as in the book, but in the book there are a few more dreams, a few instances that show his abilities. For the dire-wolves in the show, viewers understand that they are extensions of the Stark children, but in the book the dire-wolves connection with their respective owner seems magnified. I’m not sure whether it’s simply reading the words versus watching a picture, but something in the book makes them even more of a special addition to the story.
I was talking with someone at work about Game of Thrones and because it’s fantasy, and the author names sound similar, J. R. R. Tolkien came up in the conversation. My coworker looked shocked when I admitted that I think Game of Thrones is better than Lord of the Rings, but here is my reasoning. While Tolkien is an amazing visionary writer and the plot is fantastic, and the characters are loveable, he tends to write several tens of pages on walking in a forest, or a swamp, eating biscuits and elf bread. Don’t get me wrong, Tolkien’s a master of fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t skip full paragraphs, because walking is boring. That’s where Martin shines. He brought the cliffhangers of a thriller into the fantasy, and a character never walks for a full paragraph without something interesting happening or a new thought, or an emotional connection being built. His editor was, hands-down, a genius. Almost every single chapter ends when you don’t want it to, right in the middle of a huge event, or right after a revelation. He leaves you never bored and always wanting more and that’s the secret. Cut the stuff people are going to skim through anyways, reduce it to a concise transition and then cut the reader off from some information, leave them pining for more.
The other, and possibly only other, area Martin outshines Tolkien is character development. While Tolkien has as many characters and races as Martin, their treatment varies. Both authors built up rich histories for the races/houses and the characters themselves, but where Tolkien’s characters are added depth and revealed from a handful of perspectives (mostly good guys), Martin uses each chapter as another character, constantly changing the view until circling back around and repeating. Martin’s characters in general are not specifically bad or good, which I think makes them deeper automatically, because you see each character make good and bad decisions, it creates a grey area of their personality and makes them very relatable, very human and you find yourself feeling bad for the bad guys and wanting to smack the good guys. It complicates how the reader feels about the characters. Also, Martin has the guts to kill off beloved characters. With Tolkien, you could trust that everything was going to work out. Not with Martin, even if you think a person is the main character, there is no singular main character, just the realm and the game of thrones.