Monday, August 30, 2010

Book review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin’s novel, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996 but seems to be making the rounds now, for some reason. Book One in the epic fantasy series, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” AGoT introduces us to a swords-and-sandals fictional world comprised of the continents of Westeros and Essos. Told in the third person, this book (series) differs slightly from traditional narrative in that each chapter focuses on a different character. Depending on their age and depth of involvement in the major plotlines, some characters get more chapters than others, but Martin manages to tie the action all together.

There are three main storylines in AGoT, two of them closely involving the family of the Lord of Winterfell: Eddard Stark; his wife Catelyn; their five children, Robb (age 14), Sansa (11), Arya (9), Bran (7) and Rickon (3); and Ned Stark’s bastard son, Jon Snow (14). The king of Westeros, Robert Baratheon, asks Ned to serve as his Hand (practically next in command) after the untimely death of the prior Hand and Ned is reluctant to do so, but determines to take the opportunity to investigate his predecessor’s death. He takes his two daughters, the fluttery Sansa and tomboy Arya, with him to introduce them to court, leaving his eldest son Robb to rule Winterfell with Catelyn’s aid. When King Robert is assassinated, a civil war breaks out in opposition to Robert’s weak young son Joffrey laying claim to the throne, under the influence of his scheming mother.

While all this is happening, Ned’s bastard Jon has elected to serve as a member of the Night Watch, a brotherhood of men sworn to defend the Wall which protects Westeros from all kinds of scary stuff in the north. Jon struggles with his status as an illegitimate child for some time until he proves himself to the other men of the Watch. Smart, strong, brave and conscientious, Jon quickly established himself as my favorite character – even though he seemed far older than fourteen (something that happens with all the children in this book, actually).

The third storyline seems tangential but will become more and more relevant as the series continues: set across the sea, a prince in exile – Viscerys, son of the king of Westeros before Robert who was murdered in another civil war some years earlier – sells his thirteen year old sister, Daenerys, to a heathen warlord, hoping to use the warlord’s armies to help him retake the Westeros throne.

There is a lot going on in A Game of Thrones – political machinations, sex, assassination attempts, bloody battle scenes, a hint of creepy otherworldliness and a just a smidgen of magic - but Martin keeps the stories straight and moving along (unlike his brother-in-books, Robert Jordan, whose “Wheel of Time” series I have loved for years until the final books showed the author to be overwhelmed in trying to keep all his plots under control).

I hope the clarity of the storytelling continues through the rest of the series because this is just the kind of thing I like – a long, complicated fantasy series. At this point Martin has published four of the planned seven books: the next three are A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows; he seems to be stalled out on Book Five, A Dance with Dragons, with his fans growing restless. With any luck, by the time I get through the next three volumes, the following installment will be ready.


  1. It's all the rage due to HBO producing the series for TV. I've seen the books but never picked them up. I might check the awesome used book store chain we have here and in Tucson for them next weekend.

  2. Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for setting me straight, TC!