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Thursday, December 26, 2013

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

First on the agenda: a Merry Christmas to all of those out there who celebrate. I hope you all ate as much as I did. One of my friends gifted me a copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which I will be reading in the New Year and I have just downloaded a NaNoWriMo donor freebie as a Christmas present to myself: the StoryWonk lecture on structure. I will review both book and lecture at some point next year after reading/watching them.

This post will be about a (part of a) gift I was given for my birthday back in September, when a bunch of my writerly friends from uni gave me the A Song of Ice and Fire book-set so far. I finished reading the first book, A Game of Thrones, a couple of nights ago after trying to ignore it throughout November while I was busy writing instead. I'll refer again to the post from Lynda R. Young's blog about reviewing, while I write this one. Warning: Review contains spoilers.

I think the characters in A Game of Thrones are brilliant. With each chapter told from the point of view of either Eddard, Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Jon Snow, Tyrion, or Daenerys, these characters become well established very quickly and begin to develop. Daenerys has been my favourite character since I started watching the TV adaption and in this first book she remains so. At the start she is a repressed child being controlled by her brother Viserys and by the end she has become a headstrong (perhaps a little too headstrong for her own good) khaleesi who is prepared to lead an army back to the Seven Kingdoms herself. The character who rose up my list of 'most-loved' since reading the book would have to be Jon Snow, because I love reading about his inner conflicts regarding his place as a bastard in house Stark and who his mother is, and whether he should desert the Night's Watch to join his half brother Robb when he calls the banners to march against the Lannisters or honour the vows he made when he took the Black. Khal Drogo was pretty awesome too and admittedly I was more upset by his death than by Ned's death, though I didn't see either of them coming when I first watched the series. My least favourite character would have to be the combination of Cersei and Joffrey. Viserys would have made this list too, if he had survived the book, but he didn't, so... Joffrey is, of course, a little brat who thinks he can get anything he wants and once he is on the Iron Throne there is little to nothing to stop him. The whole story just becomes more and more twisted with Cersei whispering in his ear, though he does what he wants regardless of her say. They're both pretty sick, though they definitely make the story interesting. Having said that, I'll also say that the reason I don't like them is because they are the worst of the bad guys, not because I don't think they're excellent characters: they are great characters and play a really important role in the story.

My favourite part of the plot would be along Daenerys's story-line, when khal Drogo finally gives Viserys his golden crown, as promised. Those of you who have read the book or seen the show know exactly what I mean by that. In fact, that whole chapter, right from Daenerys eating the horse heart to Viserys getting his crown, was my favourite part. I think George R.R Martin moves things along throughout the book at a nice pace for the most part, though here and there things slowed down and I just wanted to get to the next action scene. However, the slow parts served their purposes too: I talked a few posts ago about narrative intensity and the purpose served by low-intensity parts of a story between high-intensity parts. George Martin slowed down to explain things to us and develop plot where it was necessary. Without those slower parts, the fast-paced high-intensity parts would have been confusing and less appreciated.

The setting for A Game of Thrones changed depending on whose point of view the story was being told from. The prologue set the scene for beyond the Wall, where dark creatures lurk and the men of the Night's Watch have started to venture without returning. As the story starts up, we are swept into the Stark's place in Winterfell, where the plot that becomes the main focus for the first book begins to unfold. In contrast to Winterfell is King's Landing, where it is warmer than the Starks are accustomed to and they do not hold the same power they did in Winterfell (especially not compared to the Lannisters). After Jon Snow goes to the Wall with his uncle Benjin, we start to return slowly to the things that were shown in the prologue: a colder, darker, crueler place than Winterfell, where neither the fact that Jon Snow is a bastard nor the son of a Stark means anything to anyone. Daenerys take us away from Westeros to the Free Cities and the Dothraki Sea, where the people are just as different as the land compared to where the rest of the story is told. Martin provided appropriate and often elaborate descriptions of all of the places the characters visited, showing how different they are to one another and setting them apart from places in other books.

Although Martin's descriptions of people and place are often elaborate, his style of writing is simple and easy to understand without being dull. Of course, there is a lot of jargon about castles and knights and monarchy and all of that, but once you get your head around those sorts of things I found the book was really easy to read. The only thing I got sick of as far as descriptions went was describing exactly what people were wearing every time they appear. I mean, cool if the knight's got some shiny armour on or the Lannisters have lions sewn into their clothes, but I think most readers started to assume those things after the nth time such a paragraph appeared, so I find the whole paragraphs of such descriptions to be a little pointless and repetitive. Repetitive. Repetitive. Rep-- sorry. I just think that there were a few instances where what he said in a paragraph would have been more appropriately said in a couple of sentences, if they had to be said at all. Also, I think I nearly tore some hair out after the number of times I saw the word 'spit' when it should have been 'spat'. Other than those little qualms, I really enjoyed reading it. The style was simple, yet satisfying.

As far as originality goes, I haven't read anything like this before. The only other epic fantasy set in an alternative universe that I've read before is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and this is very different, though still awesome. If the Lord of the Rings movies are an accurate reflection on the books, which I have not read yet, than I would say it is also nothing like LotR, minus of course the presence of Sean Bean in the screen adaptions. I think the different story-lines that are playing alongside each other in book one of the ASOIAF series are all really original and told well. I can't wait to see how they all come together in the end and I'm really enjoying playing the guessing game.

Overall, I loved this book and I can't wait to continue onto A Clash of Kings some time in the new year (once I've finished reading The Watchmen and The Fault in Our Stars).

One last thing... did anyone else who has read this book noticed how Ned sometimes reflects on Lyanna's death and thinks about telling Jon Snow about his mother at the same time? In his reflections, he always remembers Lyanna saying "Promise me, Ned." But what's the promise?! It's never said. I've heard (thanks to a certain friend responsible for me receiving the box-set of books for my birthday) that there is a theory going around that Jon Snow is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen and since I noticed that little coincidence myself while reading this first book, I'm starting to understand. I shall leave my fellow readers to think on it.

My next review will be on the TV series Breaking Bad, which I have also recently finished, but I might leave that one for another week or two while I try and figure out how I feel about it.

Have you read A Game of Thrones or seen much of the TV series? Please feel free to share a little review of your own in the comments as I'd love to know what others thought of the first part of the story. A merry Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone out there. 

- Bonnee.

19 comments:

  1. 'Spit' was originally a noun and a verb. The verb form was changed to 'spat' to fit in with other parts of the English language but both ways are correct.

    Also, I'm glad you liked it :)

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    1. I still haven't given you enough hugs for thinking of getting me these.

      I like the part where 'spat' fits in with other parts of the English language. The way he uses 'spit' instead just feels so jarring!

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  2. Glad you liked the book. It's amazingly complex, and Martin's done a great job of weaving all these various parts into one epic story. I do agree with you about the clothing. He does like to describe what people are wearing.

    I'll say this (without getting too spoilery, I hope): when Ned met his fate, I nearly threw the book across the room. Not so much because of what happened to thim, but because I didn't *want* him to do what he did. At first glance, it seemed out of character for the honest-to-a-fault Lord Stark. However, I also realized the reason he did it was also in character, if you know what I mean. Martin did a fantastic job in that instance of pitting two sides of Stark's character against each other.

    Glad you've enjoyed your Christmas!

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    1. I know what you mean about Ned there: honor or the chance to save his family? A tough one, but I guess he figured he could spare the other Starks a bit of trouble if he said what he said.

      Hope you had a lovely Christmas :)

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  3. I hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday! :)

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    1. Thanks Shari, and the same to you and your family :)

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  4. I agree with a lot of what you said. Having now read them all, I am jealous that you have all that to come. :)

    One this I will say about this book, compared to other fantasy, is magnitude. The sheer scope of this world down to every detail is phenomenal. Martin manages to create a world so huge, vast and rich that it is one of the most believable worlds I have read.

    Have a Happy New Year :)

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    1. I'm really excited to keep reading :)

      You're absolutely right about the world-building; it is phenomenal. The differences despite similarities between the settings within the story make it so believable.

      Thanks for visiting :)

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  5. Haven't started the books or the series, but I can tell just how epic in scope this series is. The very thought of starting it is almost daunting! :)

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    1. Just dive in head first; that's what I found was the best way to get started.

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  6. Although I've never read any of the books, I certainly hope so one day. It sounds really epic!

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    1. Definitely give it a try at some point, and I hope you'll enjoy it. :) Thank you for visiting.

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  7. I have not. I probably will at some point, but I prefer my fiction clean.

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    1. By 'clean' do you mean without the excessive gore and smuttiness? Understandable, though I am not in agreement. I hope you would enjoy the story anyway if you did get around to reading it.

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    2. Gore doesn't bother me, promiscuity does.

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  8. Thanks for reviewing the book. I didn't read it but saw the author in person about two years ago. Never heard about him and was surprised about the long line outside the book store of fans waiting to see him. But I saw a few episodes on TV, but it's not for me. Too slow and serious. I'm smiling every time I watched because on each episode Daenerys is nude, probably to increase the audience watching the show. I like contemporary stories and recently enjoyed seeing the second movie of The Hunger Games. Happy New Year !

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    1. Admittedly, I hadn't heard of Martin either, until I started watching the TV series in 2012. I think there are a lot of people who enjoy the amount of nudity, especially where Daenerys is concerned, though after season 1 the nudity levels decrease. It doesn't deviate much from the book in that sense, though.

      I haven't seen Catching Fire yet, though I heard it was better than the first movie. I might venture down to the cinema at some point :) Happy holidays :)

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  9. New Year waves a Magic wand over this world,And behold,Everything is softer and more beautiful.Advanced Happy New Year greetings and also Thanks and Smiles:) for ur support till now Dear Blogger Buddy God<3U:)

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