"When you play a game of thrones you win or you die."
"Winter is coming."
Thanks to HBO’s two series, A Game of Thrones is big news at the moment, so I thought I should see what all the fuss is about. I wasn’t expecting to like this book, at least not as much as I did, not being much of a fantasy aficionado. For those of you who haven’t been sucked in by this series yet, A Game of Thrones is the first book in Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, and there are currently 6 sequels, all of which are erring on the mammoth side of the book length scale. ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is often lumped into the fantasy genre, but don’t be fooled - you won’t find wizards in pointy hats, orcs and elves in the fashion of The Lord of the Rings here - as it falls much more neatly into the classification of ‘medieval fantasy’, with knights and kings and elements that would be right at home in a novel about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
The plot is fairly involved and a lot happens. Lord Eddard Stark is required to move away from his home in Northern Winterfell to the South when King Robert Baratheon of the seven kingdoms appoints him as Hand of the King, after the previous Hand died. There is treachery within Robert’s court, and a vengeance driven Viserys Targaryen seeks to overthrow Robert and take the crown he believes is rightfully his following the previous usurpation of his father by Robert. When I read the blurb on the back of the book, which is similar to what I have written above, I must admit that I wasn’t enthused to read the book, but it really is a brilliant story.
This book has one of the largest character lists I have ever encountered in a novel; there are helpful appendices detailing the members of each house which I used quite frequently when I first started reading. Having innumerable characters might put a lot of people off, but they are all painted very vividly which makes for an enjoyable read. Furthermore, with so many characters, each reader is bound to find a character they can identify with. I came to love some characters and completely loathe others - Tyrion ‘the imp’ is my favourite, he is very funny and lends some humour to an otherwise mostly serious book, and Eddard’s daughter Arya is entertaining as the tomboyish counterpart to her prim and proper sister Sansa. I really came to care for some of the characters as they felt very real, and I was close to tears more than once when learning what becomes of some of them.
The narrative is unusual, rotating between eight different perspectives in contained chapters which, when the characters begin to move away from each other, leave minor cliff hangers at the end of each chapter, making the reader eager to reach another chapter from the perspective of that particular character.
Upon embarking on A Game of Thrones, I partially expected it to display more qualities of young adult fiction than adult, or that it might at least parallel Terry Pratchett’s light-hearted style of fantasy. However, A Game of Thrones is very much an adult book - Martin does not shy away from rape, murder, thievery and deceit, which I am thankful for as it makes the story more realistic with regards to its medieval setting.
On a side note, having read A Game of Thrones and having now also watched the first series of HBO’s adaptation, I would strongly recommend people to read the book instead of or as well as watching the series, as the novel is far superior (although Peter Dinklage does an amazing job of portraying Tyrion Lannister). Furthermore the last episode of the first series covers a lot of material from the second book, so if you don’t want any spoilers I would advise you to read A Clash of Kings before watching the finale.
Despite being 780 pages long, A Game of Thrones is completely absorbing and does not lag at any point. Since it is the first book in a long series, A Game of Thrones leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and made me very excited to start reading the sequel - A Clash of Kings - immediately. I immensely enjoyed this book and I only hope the rest of the series is as strong as this first novel. The wonderful characters, the medieval setting and the multiple captivating stories included in the larger plot gripped me from the first page. This is definitely a new favourite of mine, and goes to show what gems you can discover if you crawl out of your comfort zone from time to time.