Review: A Game Of Thrones

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After reading Tolkien we suffered major high fantasy withdrawal and needed similar bookses. What was next, precious? Eventually we decided to try – gollum, gollum! – George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Sorry about that, but I certainly feel like Gollum because A Game of Thrones has become my “precious”. I fell in love with it almost immediately and if anyone tries to take it away from me I will beat them about the head with the other books in the series. (Which would hurt, since they’re each approximately the size and weight of a brick.) It has characters/a world/plots similar to Tolkien but the readability of Harry Potter. Oh yes, the book summary. I used to write my own but I don’t feel like that anymore, so here’s the real one:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

I’m not going to get into a discussion of the plot – I’ll probably leave that for the review of A Clash of Kings – because I want to talk about five things that made this book remarkable. For once, there will be no spoilers (otherwise I’d have put a warning at the top of this post)!

It’s told from the points of view of eight characters – including the antagonists. I usually feel like I should apologize for liking the baddies but that isn’t an issue here. Over time I’ve realized that bad guys may not be bad but just on the opposite side of those dubbed “the heroes”. Good guys sometimes play dirty, and bad guys might have had terrible childhoods that caused them to become the sadistic, bitter people they are now. It’s all relative. Unfortunately, many books don’t deal with this.

Going by the MICE Quotient, A Game of Thrones is definitely a character story. They’re incredibly realistic – stupid, vain, naive, untrustworthy, you name it. I love every one of them. Except for Joffrey. I have never hated any character more. I hope he dies horribly. (But don’t tell me if he does! I don’t want spoilers!)

I was surprised that children narrate well over half of the book. A Game of Thrones was published for adults with mostly adult characters, but kids play an important role too. Young protagonists are nothing new in YA but in (the very few) adult books I’ve read children are usually not much more than comic relief. Arya, Daenerys, and all the rest aren’t just there to look pretty; what they do is genuinely important to the plot(s).

Call me weird, but I love that Martin isn’t afraid to kill his characters. I’m the sort of person who finishes reading something violent like the Hunger Games trilogy and sits there thinking, “The author should’ve killed that guy and that girl… oh yeah, and that person too.” I’m the kind of person who hoped Peeta and McGonagall died, only to be disappointed when they didn’t. Look, I love those two but that’s exactly why I hoped they’d die. You don’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone. Martin killed four of my six favorite characters within the first book but I rather love him for it.

Unusually for high fantasy, A Game of Thrones doesn’t feature much magic, or even many fantastical creatures. If what I’ve heard is correct, that changes slightly over the course of the series but at any rate, it’s nice to have something different. It makes sense because the series isn’t really about fantastic beasts (and where to find them) or wizards never being late – it’s about war and alliances.

I have only a few minor complaints but they have less to do with the book itself and more with the “extras”. At the end is an appendix listing all the characters separated by house. This was very helpful because I’m stupid and took half the book to understand that Varys and Viserys aren’t the same person but Petyr Baelish and Littlefinger are. However, Martin didn’t add a pronunciation guide so it’s likely that the only name I’m saying correctly is “Ned Stark” because even someone like me can handle that. (I’m only being a little sarcastic here.) More importantly, there was no map. Perhaps that was just in my edition, but what sort of self-respecting high fantasy novel doesn’t have a map?!

I recommend A Game of Thrones to anyone who likes to lose themselves in other worlds for thousands of pages.

Rating: 4/5

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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28 Responses to Review: A Game Of Thrones

  1. Andrea says:

    This sounds like the exact type of book I’d love…Ah, character killing. It’s so epic…I mean what?!

  2. Leinad says:

    The free sample I got on my Kindle had a map, so perhaps it was just your addition. I am very pleased to hear that you think so highly of maps, because I do too.

    I read a chapter or two of this book, to see if I would like it, but I didn’t end up buying it even though it seemed alright. It is very long…

  3. krislivo1 says:

    YES!!!!!! I was a little scared to read your review because if you didn’t like Game of Thrones, then I would have to stop liking you so much. Huge load off my mind!

    • nevillegirl says:

      Who’s your favorite character? 😀

      • krislivo1 says:

        Oh man. It changes with every book! I think I like one person, then they disappoint me, or get killed off (curses!). Tyrion has intrigued me the whole way through. Partly for his wit, partly for his sense of honor, twisted though it is, and because he seems to see through people into the truth of them without tripping on his own problems (too much, everyone is very human in their faults – another reason i like these books). Ask me again in a week and I’ll have a different answer…

    • nevillegirl says:

      I find Tyrion rather irritating because he’s misogynistic.* Also, I think the my-life-is-so-awful-my-dad-hates-me thing between Tywin and Tyrion was better in other books – Faramir and Denethor, for example.

      *More so than most people in Westeros, I mean. 😛

      I’m still having a sad about Ned.

      • krislivo1 says:

        How far are you in the books? The first one? He grows on you, definitely. Prepare your heart to lose a whole bunch of people you like. Ned is just the beginning.

        Sadness is coming.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I’ve almost finished the second one. RENLY WHY DID YOU DIE YOU ADORABLE HAPPY-GO-LUCKY WOULD-BE KING YOU.

  4. Miriam Joy says:

    I found Game of Thrones rather traumatising when I read it. I was handed the book and told, “You’ll love it! Alliances and dragons, it’s just a massive fantasy series!” Nobody thought to worn me that the first 100 pages was entirely rape and incest. It got better after that, but the damage was done, I think. I’d have been fine if I’d been warned, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. So I didn’t much enjoy the first book. Nevertheless, I continued, and enjoyed it more as the series continued. I agree with your comment about ambiguous good guys / bad guys. I like doing that in my writing. (I also kill a lot of the main characters so you’d probably like my books, ehehehehe!)

    • Miriam Joy says:

      *warn me. Sorry, I’m on my phone so spelling mistakes are frequent.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I’ve almost finished with book #2 and honestly I like this first one better. Maybe I’m just biased because I miss HEY OTHER PEOPLE SPOILERS HERE Ned. And RENLY DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON RENLY. *sniffle*

      • Miriam Joy says:

        I just found book one too stressful.
        Book three I liked, though I hit my head on a low ceiling while reading a particular MAJOR PLOT POINT because within the space of two chapters it seemed that basically everyone I liked was dead (they weren’t all, but it seemed like it at the time).
        I do find the series very frustrating.

  5. I’m glad for your link, but vivid characters isn’t the sign of a character story. A character story is a story that begins when the character finds himself or herself in an untenable position and goes through the plot in order to either accept their position or get to a new one. It’s self-discovery, basically, and that sort of thing doesn’t often work for epic fantasies… but it might here.

    Good review. I haven’t read the books, and considering some of the things I’ve heard about them, I might not in the near future.

  6. Artgirl says:

    This sounds like a wonderful book. So now I have to read this and AMoG.

    I always love it when antagonists narrate the story. Your descriptions of antagonists in the review are pretty much exactly the story of the antagonist in the first two novels I wrote. In the first book, she’s murderous, cruel, and vindictive. In the second book she narrates half the time, and we see her trapped by unfair laws and the Council that won’t let her help the people. She tells of the horrors of her childhood, and eventually her deepest, darkest secret is revealed. Quite honestly she’s my most developed character.

    As for killing off characters, well, I like it in moderation. Often I get really mad at the author when they kill off a favorite character because I ALWAYS cry, but I suppose that’s a good thing because it means I was emotionally attached to the characters. I’m a bit of a hypocrite, though, because I enjoy killing off my own characters. I get so emotionally attatched to them that sometimes I’ll cry when I kill off my own characters.

  7. matttblack42 says:

    This series has just moved up a couple spots in my “To-read” list.

  8. doctormark says:

    OK, I don’t usually comment over here (I leave that to The Magic Violinist) but I had to on this one. My wife saw your post and said, “Hey, check it out!” For Christmas 2011 she bought me the first four books in this series and they sat there for over a year, only because I don’t usually have a lot of time to read, but I’ve been wanting to for a long time. I picked them up about 2 months or so ago and have now read through all four. The only reason I haven’t started the fifth book is because I had to read our book club book for this month (an excellent read–“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”) and my daughter’s been politely harassing me to finish “All Men of Genius” so she can get at it. Almost done with that one–great book.

    OK, onto my thoughts . . .

    Joffrey? I won’t tell you if he lives or dies, but I will tell you that I hate that guy. I cannot think of a single time I’ve encountered him where I haven’t thought, “Would someone PLEASE finish him off?”

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the good guy/bad guy thing. To me this book reads like an epic history, and epic histories are filled imperfect characters. I sort of love how I can switch loyalties like a hundred times during the course of one book. I also love how Martin is not afraid to kill of main characters. That’s exactly what happens in real history, so why should a novel be any different? Even knowing he does this, though, I still get attached to characters. One of my best friends told me NOT to get attached, but I do it anyway.

    The fantasy elements do become more prominent as you go along, but it is definitely more of a backdrop to the main plot, which is the story of warring families trying to gain control of the kingdom. To me the “wizards” help provide motivation and insight to the “normal” people who then start wars, betray family members, sabotage old friends, etc., etc., etc.

    I, too, have been disappointed in the lack of maps, and when they are available, at the low quality of those maps. I spend half of my reading trying to figure out where places are. I did find an interesting wiki type website with all kinds of information about the books. I found some fan-generated maps on this site: http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Maps. From what I understand, the detailed maps are based on the TV series, but they still give you a really good idea of where things are. WARNING! If you spend too much time on this site you WILL see spoilers.

    OK, I could go on and one, but I won’t. Enjoy the rest of the books!

    • nevillegirl says:

      Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you like All Men of Genius – I’m kind of obsessed with it. Just a little.

      Usually I like or even love villains. I like complex villains who aren’t good or bad but somewhere in the middle. But Joffrey… *shudders*

      My copy of A Clash of Kings does have a map and I’m still trying to figure out if I’m just being stupid and can’t find where Daenerys is supposed to be, or if it’s just not on the map!

  9. Charley R says:

    I love this series so much – rape, incest and traumatising loss of beloved characters included! Well, maybe not “love” these parts, but do think they are brilliant. Also, the fantasy element gets stronger in the later books, as Dany’s dragons grow up. It gets awesome.

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