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

There is a lot of hype surrounding A Song of Ice and Fire of which A Game of Thrones is the first book. I knew the name George R.R. Martin from the Wild Card series of mosaic novels, but I’ve stubbornly maintained a blind preference for science fiction over fantasy (easing slightly in the last decade) and thus never picked up A Game of Thrones – until now. With the HBO series starting I figured I had 3 options:

  1. pay for cable.
  2. ignore much of fandom for the next few years
  3. read the first four books in preparation for the release of the 5th this summer. Somehow I felt entitled to that 5th book even before I started the first.

What made option 3 particularly easy to choose was discovering that I could get eBooks from the library ( Los Angeles Public Library in my case ) and as my wife just noted as she saw me composing this, I DEVOUR books in electronic form. She’s experienced my random method of pulling books off my shelf and reading them for an hour only to pick up another. I actually have favorite passages in books I’ve neither finished nor appropriately started. But eBooks I read. On my phone that is always with me. Sometimes on my Kindle if it’s closer than my phone. My sample isn’t spectacularly large, but I’ve only had access to both a smart phone and Kindle for a few months.

And now for the review. 90% of the people that read this review will have already read A Game of Thrones and probably A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows and possibly even A Dance with Dragons due to the persistent nature of the internet. For the rest of you, here’s a quick rundown of what makes this series good reading:

  • EVERY point of view character is sympathetic. They are also firmly at odds with every other point of view character. I fear for each of their lives in every chapter, often quite rightly. It’s good that he has so many, or he’d run out.
  • If there are a lot of point of view characters (there are), there are SCORES of other characters to get invested in. Even the animals have character. The wolves are as distinct as their owners. There are ravens and horses and even some cats that have more personality than some main characters in a lesser work.
  • The magic of the world is in the past – mostly. It’s important. It’s referenced frequently and nonchalantly (that silly monk and his flaming sword [paraphrased] ). It seems to be hidden inside of a birthday cake waiting to burst free and go all Gandolf on a Balrog. The occasional prescient dreams, reanimated corpses and mysterious dragon eggs remind us we’re reading fantasy, but the story and the characters are plenty interesting on their own.
  • It’s hard at times to put your finger on whether you’re reading a murder mystery, a soap opera or the bastard offspring of a political campaign and an insane asylum. It’s all of the above, none (aside from the murder mystery) I usually care for, but as I mentioned before these characters evoke emotions. Good or Bad, there’s hardly any Blah.
  • The shifts between point of view characters are used to great effect. I love that a convenient bit of amnesia leaves the reader with just a tad bit more insight into the conspiracies than any of the other characters have. I love how we see the start of a battle from the point of view of one character and hear how it ends 3rd hand from a different point of view. I love how a pretty major B plot teases us throughout the entire book, laying the groundwork (I hope) for future volumes.

There is a TON going on in these books. When Martin can soften one of the meanest characters in the book by having him show kindness to one of the easiest to hate characters, he can do pretty much anything. I wouldn’t bet any amount of money as to which characters survive the series. I eagerly look forward to seeing more of what’s north of the wall. The two climactic scenes both sent chills down my spine. Believe the hype, but be sure you’ve got the stamina. At roughly 800 pages, this is by far the shortest of the volumes. That in and of itself would have kept me away in the past, but now we have eBooks and that pleases me greatly.

A Game of Thrones on Tagshadow.

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~ by mentatjack on May 2, 2011.

3 Responses to “Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin”

  1. great review, and five great reasons to read these books! Yes, these are doorstopper books, but there is a lot of characterization and a lot of dialog, and I felt they all read pretty quickly. I never felt bogged down by anything, and just like you said, there is very little, if any “blah”.

    epic fantasy soap operas, perhaps?

  2. […] just reviewed A Game of Thrones, and while I have fantasy on the brain, it seemed like a good moment to catch up on the other […]

  3. […] wrote, in my review of A Game of Thrones that the book bounced around between feeling like a soap opera, a murder mystery or some strange […]

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