Book Review: A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A while back I got a book voucher and asked my Facebook friends for some recommendations of books I should check out and somebody suggested that I give this a whirl.

I was aware of the book because I’d heard good things about the TV series but beyond the fact it featured Sean Bean carrying a big sword I didn’t know much about it.

I’m thoroughly grateful to whoever it was who made the recommendation because I really dug this book.

Its an epic, sprawling fantasy saga set in this wonderfully realized world of warring, fractured kingdoms and feuding clans. The plot is fairly complicated so I’ll try and be brief.

Eddard Stark is the lord of Winterfell, land at the North of the Seven Kingdoms, which touches a wall which protects them from the wilderness of the icy North, and area shrouded with mystery and legends. Stark is asked by his friend, King Robert, to become his Hand, which essentially means his trusted adviser. Eddard is reluctant as he likes the simple life he has up North and has no patience with the politics of court.

However, he suspects his friend, the former Hand has been bumped off by the Queen and her family, the Lannisters, whom Eddard has a longtime hatred and mistrust of. Intent on finding the truth and protecting the King, Eddard goes South, taking his daughters, Sansa and Arya, with him.

Eddard’s eldest son Robb is left in charge of Winterfell under the watch of his mother, Catelyn. Also left behind is his second son, Bran, who overheard something and was almost killed, leaving him paralyzed, unable to remember what he stumbled on.

Eddard’s bastard, Jon Snow, joins the Night Watch, the men who man the wall protecting the kingdom from the threats in the North, where weird things are stirring.

Catelyn soon discovers more about Bran’s attacker and heads South to share her findings with her husband, who is delving into what may have got his predecessor killed and discovering shocking truths.

Meanwhile, across the sea living in exile is Viserys Targaryen, the heir to the man King Robert overthrew to claim the throne. Viserys and his sister, Daenerys, both hope one day to return home. To this end Daenerys marries Khal Drogo, one of the leaders of the Dothraki, nomadic warriors, whom Viserys hopes to use to seize back the throne he feels is his.

And that’s the main thrust.

What makes the book work is that there’s genuine intrigue and some wonderfully characters.

Eddard goes to find out whether his friend was killed and while there sees the toll the throne has taken on Robert. Eddard’s strong sense of honour means that he really struggles in the cutthroat, back-stabbing world of the court. The discoveries he makes threaten the entire kingdom, and you’re totally with him on his journey, surprised by some of the discoveries and sympathetic of a character who is out of his depth and who’s decency may be his undoing.

What also helps is the way Martin switches focus and perspective between a few major characters. Every chapter focuses on one particular character and its a really good way of covering all the subplots and different parts of the story and the country. The Starks are the major focus it appears, but we also see things from Daenerys’ perspective along with the bastard Jon and most interestingly one of the Starks’ enemies, the Queen’s brother, the cunning, witty dwarf Tyrion Lannister.

Tyrion is a wonderful character, devious and sneaky but also a quite likable character, despite the fact he is the enemy of the other main characters. He’s written well, a man who is clever but cursed with a big mouth that frequently gets him in trouble, he’s calculating and underhand at times, but he remains likable due to his humour and the fact you empathize with the character because of the way other characters treat him and also the kindness he shows Jon in particular. While definitely not to be trusted he’s nonetheless charming and you wonder where his journey will take him in the subsequent books.

Martin’s characterization work is really good, and I got really invested in some of the major players. Martin creates these engaging, incredibly human characters, riddled with flaws but also with charming traits and frequently I’d keep reading a little bit longer even when exhausted just to make sure my favourite characters made it through their latest peril safely.

At the same time he has a knack for creating villains who are so utterly evil and detestable that I found myself eagerly awaiting their retribution. I’d put down the book at times incredibly angry with some of the book’s bad guys and hoping soon Martin would write them off in one of the bloody fight scenes he writes with great energy, making them a gruesome, blood soaked joy.

Among the intrigue and blood letting, Martin still manages to forge charming, sweet moments and humorous passages. He’s especially adept at capturing the swaggering banter between the male characters, along with their quieter, inner worries.

But the female characters are not weak by any means, there’s Catelyn, Eddard’s steely, smart wife and their daughter, Arya was one of my favourites, a tough willful young girl who doesn’t follow the rules and wants to stand on her own two feet.

Daenerys, the exiled princess starts off as a weak character, but slowly gains this new sense of toughness as she adapts to life with the Dothraki and even seems to find her place in the world, gaining  a new confidence which allows her to stand up to her odious brother.

Yes, Eddard’s other daughter, Sansa is a bit of a simpering twerp, but it works, not everyone is going to be smart and tough, and it serves to distance the book from more traditional “white knight” fantasy, which Sansa wishes to live in. As she discovers the harsh realities about fighting and the knights she’s idolized its incredibly heartbreaking, and while still far from my favourite character she definitely works well.

Its a definite page-turner and I found myself curling up with it on night shifts and plowing through large chunks of the book, the time flying by while I remained captivated by it, and truly that’s the sign of a great book.

Despite clocking in just shy of 800 pages it never feels too long, in fact, it ends with a tantalizing promise of things to come which means that the follow up, A Clash of Kings is now definitely going to be at the top of my next reading list.

On the reading list.

Martin had me enthralled from very early on and I thoroughly enjoyed what is a great novel that manages to avoid stumbling into the goofy territory fantasy novels have to walk a tightrope over.

Verdict: A wonderfully enjoyable, engrossing saga. Martin creates an entirely captivating world populated with fascinating, engaging characters. A real page turner that provokes a strong emotional connection with the characters. Brilliant. 9/10.

Next up on the reading list: Undisputed by Chris Jericho.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO


3 Comments on “Book Review: A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin”

  1. Bill Chance says:

    Looking for what to read next – I have this book in my Kindle and was wondering if I should move it to the top of the queue. Thanks for the thoughtful review – it sounds like a great summer read.

  2. […] pretty much as soon as I finished A Game of Thrones (review here) I bought the Kindle version of this, the second installment of George R. R. Martin’s A Song […]

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