This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

06 September, 2013

REVIEW: A GAME OF THRONES

Cover art by Stephen Youll
Cover design by James S. Warren Youll
(NOTE: The lion on the cover is done in "gold" relief, the lines in this image represents the relief.)

A GAME OF THRONES
BOOK ONE OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
BY
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

ISBN: 978-0-553-57340-4
Pages: 807 (+appendix)
Publisher: Bantam Spectra (Bantam Dell)
First published: September 1995
This edition published: August 2005

On the cover:

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. 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.


   At the moment this is probably the most famous Epic Fantasy series in existence. And as long as HBO keeps running the Game of Thrones (, take note that there's no "A" in the title, ) TV series I don't think that is going to change.
   I think I managed to pretty much ignore the TV series while re-reading this, (my first read was done in the mid '00s,) and I am not going to try to make any comparison to it at all. I will say though, that if you have just seen the series, reading the book(s) is a quite different experience.

   It becomes obvious after a little while that the pacing of the story is glacial. Something that is certainly partly a result of the structure of the story. There is a big cast of characters, and many of them get their own point of view chapters. While this helps the reader come closer to the characters, it also means the story slows down a lot.
   The jumping back and forth between characters to give an "update" means that the progress of the overall story suffers greatly. And the individual characters arcs aren't much better. They all seem to wait for each other, progress is minimal in each "visit" we have to a new point of view. Sometimes it feels like we get a chapter about one character just so we won't forget they exist, and that feels unnecessary.
   Another problem I had with the jumping back and forth was how it effects character development. It does become repetitive, there are lots of small episodes establishing how someone thinks/behaves. But these are often repeated in a later chapter with the same character, and after a while this becomes an annoyance. It really feels like stalling. Which is a shame because Martin's prose is not overwritten, and seems, at the times when it is allowed to do so, well suited to creating a story with a well-flowing but measured natural pace.
   I need to add here that the jumping back and forth between characters does give an impression that the story is moving when it is actually standing still. Something I probably would not have noticed if I hadn't been reading this for review, but which comes obvious when you take notes after reading each chapter.

   I've already mentioned how there is some repetition in the character building, and it did grate on me after a while. But the characters themselves do come so vividly to life that it's almost something that wasn't worth mentioning.
   Martin is very good at getting us into the heads of the characters he has chosen to give a point of view. We do really get to know them well, and we get to watch them grow and find themselves. The latter part is an important point to make here. These characters are growing and finding themselves not only because we meet them in what is to be fair unusual circumstances, but because they are so young. Ned, Catelyn, and Tyrion are adults, but the rest of the point of view characters are no more than fourteen years.
   This does have quite a bearing on what the characters are like, as it should. It also makes it easy to showcase some very interesting contrasts in personalities. Some of the characters are very naive,  and some characters are very resourceful and intelligent. I always find the latter type more interesting, and that is certainly the case here. It's also very interesting that the characters who belong to that category are not the ones you'd guess at from a quick look at who the point of view characters are.

   From all I've written above it becomes pretty obvious that this is a book whose enjoyment will depend very much on whether you can get along with the characters or not. For me that was mostly something I did. There were passages that I felt characters acted in ways that felt too common, familiar to any type of story, and as such predictable. But overall the characters carry this novel, and they mostly do it very well.

   The story however gets a very late start. About two thirds of the first five hundred pages feel redundant. Most of it is character development that perhaps could have been done while the story was moving along. This doesn't necessarily constitute a problem for me when it comes to Epic Fantasy, but it did get a bit grating here.
   The above is actually highlighted by some narrative choices when the story really gets going. There are some battles that may be epic, I say "may"because we never get to see them. The close personal viewpoints means that we become detached from these mass-events to a degree I felt was detrimental to the novel as a whole. There is never a moment when we get to pull back from the personal and see the bigger picture, and for me that felt like a flaw in this type of story.
   It must be mentioned that this felt very original to me, even when doing a re-read after seeing season one of the TV series. Martin doesn't in any way reinvent Epic Fantasy, but he does tell a story that isn't quite like any we have seen before. There are some surprising twists, and the story certainly doesn't move in the expected direction at all times.

   Overall though this is a very good Epic Fantasy novel. It's easy to get immersed in the lives of the characters, and the greater storyline is a really interesting one. This certainly strives for excellence. And while it never quite reaches it, it gives the reader a thoroughly enjoying visit to another world.

   I started with mentioning how well known this series has become, and for some that may be a reason to read this novel. But it really does deserve a read on its own merit. This is truly Epic Fantasy that takes you to a world where anything can happen.

LINKS: George R.R. Martin  Bantam Dell

4 comments:

  1. I just finished reading this book, well, yesterday, so I feel that I can finally comment on some of what people are saying about it! I closed it feeling that while it was a good book, it did have problems, many of which you mentioned here. Very little happening for large chunks of time, jumping back and forth to the viewpoints of a large cast of characters slowing down development. But I also felt that many of the characters were archetypes, able to be summed up in a snappy short descriptive phrase that one might find on tvtropes.org, and while there was a large cast and that made for some diversity, I still felt that most of them ended the book no different than they'd started, and where they'd started wasn't exactly as whole complete characters anyway.

    Still, an enjoyable book, and it did satisfy my craving for some epic fantasy like the kind I used to enjoy in high school.

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    1. I actually read all five books already, and plan to review one every week. There's some issues I have that I'm going to talk about in a sum-up post once I've done all the reviews.

      I'm going to be reading some Epic Fantasy pretty soon, and will put the reviews up not long after. Maybe there's a novel or two there that you'll enjoy... :-)

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  2. More power to you going back and rereading these. I decided before the sixth installment is released (he's actually writing that, right? Maybe he'll be done before he drops dead or something) I will go back and reread starting with book 4 - possibly book 5 depending on where the TV show is whenever he finally does complete it the book.

    Any sneak peak at what epic fantasy you're going to be reading?

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    1. I'll be catching up with Stephen Deas' books (I'm two behind), a trilogy by a new to me female author, and reissues of some classics. And have some e-ARCs of some upcoming stuff too. I'll probably be doing quite a bit of Epic Fantasy for the rest of the year, at least.

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