Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

(Ed. note: #37)

I don’t really know how I got peer-pressured into reading A Game of Thrones, the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. I’m not usually into fantasy novels, the exception being the Kushiel books and anything Tamora Pierce has ever written. I enjoy the historical fiction element that is present in many of these novels, but I could do without the dwarves, elves, and whatever fantastical creatures that usually populate these world. I read Lord of the Rings—no need to travel roads that are imperfect in comparison. Still, I Kindled A Game of Thrones and fell in love.

Martin is a beautiful world builder. The fictional Westeros and the surrounding lands are so grounded in reality that I can imagine them as medieval British counties, complete with a working feudal system. The geo-political and family squabbles feel drawn out of history books. And not an elf to be seen. Sure, there is a dwarf, but he’s an actual little person, not a mythical axe-bearing hairy guy.

This book’s plot is based on setting up the following books, but it is not short on action. Through different viewpoints separated by chapter, we follow the House Stark, headed by honorable Lord Eddard Stark, and its relations with the throne and House Lannister, the queen’s family. Historically speaking, the plot reminded me of King Edward VI of England and the Woodvilles. We see a once valiant and fair king run to fat and indolence while his wife’s family worms and grasps its way into higher echelons of power. Still, that’s only part of the story—and it would be cruel to ruin it by telling you more.

Martin is an interesting author in that he loves his characters, yet is utterly brutal to them. Granted, it is necessary to the plot, but he seems to enjoy lulling his readers into a sense of security with a certain character, then ripping the rug out from under the reader’s feet. It’s jarring, but it gives the book a kind of paper-turning mystery, the kind that makes you finish a gigantic novel in two days. I look forward to seeing HBO’s treatment of this book in the upcoming series, though I hardly think that it will be able to capture the heart-pounding joy of reading a well-plotted novel. Doubters, pick up this book—you won’t regret it.

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