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.