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Review: A Game of Thrones by George R. R Martin

By / June 9, 2011 / no comments

A Game of Thrones is the first in the epic series by George R.R Martin about a medieval world of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, where dragons once flew the skies and a devilish dead tribe haunt the forests. This first story follows the household of Lord Eddard Stark. An honourable nobleman, close childhood friend of the recently crowned King Robert Baratheon. Lord Eddard finds himself embroiled in a twisted and dangerous plot to seize the throne. Separated from his wife and sons, Eddard is named as the Kings’ Hand, the second most powerful man in the realm.

Meanwhile Lady Catelyn Stark, Eddards’ auburn haired wife, finds herself playing the role of nurse to her middle son Bran, then kidnapper to the man who tried to murder him and finally confidant to her eldest son as he leads troops to battle. Eddard’s bastard son Jon Snow is atop the scared Wall, an infinite structure of ice marking the end of the civilised world and Jon’s half sisters are at court with their father; promised in marriage and learning swordplay respectively. The stories of all these characters intertwine and separate, slowly building the intriguing story of deceit, war and honour.

A third story unveils itself miles from the troubles of the Starks: across the narrow sea where Prince Viserys and Princess Daenerys “Stormborn” Targeryen have escaped the wrath of the new King usurper of their father, King Aerys II place on the Iron Throne. Princess Dany finds herself wed to Kahl Drogo, a warrior horse lord who in turn promises to provide her brother Viserys with an army to regain his families’ throne.

The story is utterly gripping, told through the point of view prose of the key characters you can’t help but warm to most of them, often feeling as though you are clawing at the edge of a cliff at a chapters end and desperate to know the fate of your favourite member of the Stark family. Within seconds however you’re completely immersed in the following chapter which on the surface has nothing to do with what you have just read.

Separating the stories in this way keep the tension constantly at a height, which can sometimes be frustrating; just as you feel you are beginning to see the mystery unravel you are slung hundreds of miles away to the plight of another character. It is all to the books benefit however because it makes you feel unable to stop reading. It is intense and relentless in its intrigue. Yet do not let that put you off, the drama and characters are also complex enough to keep you from feeling bludgeoned to death by the violence and mystery of the novel.

At first Martin’s writing style can seem almost too epic and fantastical for the reader. Albeit appropriate for the genre there is only so much embellishment one can take and it makes the book difficult to sink it to at first. The sentences seem to stutter in places, not flowing from one to the next, whilst his choice of words seem at times stunted and cliché. Once you get into the rhythm of the words however it becomes easier to read and you find yourself even thinking in the fairy tale-esque fashion.

The characters and their relationships are written brilliantly however, and you find yourself hearing the thoughts of some of the most vile people you could imagine, whilst on the other hand you are treated to the inner most thoughts of your favourite heroes of the tale. The characters are multifaceted and believable, even if the fantastic and haunted world around them is not. Martin has clearly dedicated himself to producing a layered world, a place of kings and beggars, men and children, the cruel and the brave. Their landscapes as well founded as our own, their relationships and beliefs so intricate the world of the Seven Kingdoms seems as familiar as your most frequently visited destination.

To the books determent however, Martin’s desire to build such a strong world has caused some of his writing to become over indulgent. Long expanses of needless descriptions, list upon list of family members, the description of bed chambers or the armour of knights fill large parts of the pages. Reading this becomes incredibly tedious and you can not help but wonder if Martin had a word count quota to meet…

The style problems of Martin’s writing also contribute to another of the books downfalls, its length. The book seems never to end, which is incredibly frustrating when you have just found yourself awake until the small hours attempting just to untangle the last few pieces of one of the books many mysteries – only to find you are barely across the halfway point. In simple terms it can make the story seem unpleasantly drawn out and yes, that can be the nature of the Epic Fantasy, but it becomes tiresome after a while nonetheless.

The books problems aside however this first novel in the Ice and Fire series is truly an excellent read. It is hardly a children’s tale of brave knights and beautiful princesses, in fact it even does what it can to destroy any hint of such stories from it’s midst. It is a dark and troubling novel, dealing with disturbing issues such as incest, murder and war. Neither is it light in it’s presentation of such things, the book spares few prisoners, not skirting around uncomfortable or unpleasant issues; which only contribute to the dark fantasy of the world Martin has created. Thematically the book is almost faultless, the dark world of the forests and exotic world of the horse lords both explored just enough to build a solid understanding yet leaving layer upon layer of magic and intrigue, which only contributes to your connection with the characters, as they are experiencing the same concern and confusion. The book is moralistic in many ways and yet questions the generic tropes of honour and trust that run rife in such books. It is hardly a world of black and white, immoral and ethical shades of grey clouding huge parts of the story, furthering that aforementioned tragic darkness.
Countless heartfelt and honoured phrases trouble its pages, Winter is Coming, Dark Wings, Dark News, and others that only further the haunting nature of this medieval and magical world.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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