A Game of Thrones is the first in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. How do I properly summarize and review such a work of epic fantasy? It is vast in its scope, minute in its detail, and ultimately both tragic and promising.
I cannot recommend this to many people I know like I would with many books. It is not as high in its language as Tolkien, at times crude and cruel. It is certainly more brutal and frank, both in violence and salaciousness. The story is told through 8 point of view characters, which really allows for such a vast story to be told in a manageable way for the reader. I will not provide much summary, as there is no way that 800 pages can be fully rendered here.
The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros is a land at peace, at the height of a long summer. But winter is coming.
Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark is lord of Winterfell, and King Robert Baratheon comes to offer him the position of the Hand of the King (the king’s right hand man). Bran, Eddard’s son is injured in a fall under suspicious circumstances, just as Eddard and his daughters, Arya and Sansa, leave for King’s Landing (the seat of the king’s power). Upon departing their safe haven of Winterfell, Eddard and his daughters enter into a world alien to them—every single aspect of their lives is political and dangerous. The scheming Queen Cersei, along with her bratty son and heir to the throne Joffrey, wait for the day that Joffrey will take the throne. Also, Jon Snow, Eddard’s illegitimate son, goes north to join the black-clad brotherhood at The Wall which guards the rest of the land from the mysterious and dangerous Others; he has no place either in court or at Winterfell after his father’s departure. While all of this is going on, on the other side of the land, Daenerys Targaryen, the daughter of the previous king, is in exile, married off to a clan of wild Dothraki horse lords. She comes into her own and has a destiny to fulfill.
To suffice it all, this begins a long and winding trail of deceit and tragedy, machinations and treachery, that leaves everyone wounded at the very least.
One of the things I love about this story is its political and historical aspects. It is clearly inspired by the Wars of the Roses, some characters are patterned from actual historical figures, while others are simply brilliant shades from George R.R. Martin’s imagination. You’ve got to love heavy, medieval political details to enjoy this story in full, as I could see how many people might lose sight of the story. I loved it.
Of the myriad characters, I have some favorites, and some I just want to die. However, like many series, I doubt they will see their end until the series comes to a close. Eddard, Jon, and Arya are wonderfully rich, complex characters. Ultimately good, yet caught up in terrible circumstances. Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Queen Cersei, is of a dark wit, and I really like him. However, I am not fully sure that I trust him—I do not know where his allegiance lies. I love that about him, though. He’s wonderfully unpredictable.
Martin’s mastery of plot is astounding at times. He weaves many threads—a tapestry, really—to form a tight story, with every detail important. Early on in the novel, the Starks—who lie at the center of the novel, a great family, torn asunder in many ways throughout the book—discover a pack of newborn direwolves (fiercer than normal wolves, the symbol of the Stark family), one for each child, even Jon. These wolves are constant companions to the children as they grow protecting them. There is quite a bit of foreshadowing that occurs throughout the novel, in the form of the direwolves, rumors, and folk tales. He also accomplishes a masterwork of fantasy without the use of much magic or wizardry. While I’m all for those fantastical elements, it is good to see that they are not the only thing that can make fantasy work.
The major drawback to the novel, which turned off one of the people with whom I read this book, and gave me pause on more than one occasion, was the sexuality. There are some pretty graphic scenes, unnecessary on the whole. Many of the scenes which surround those actions could be accomplished without such gratuity. That is the only major issue I have with the novel.
Other than that, I loved it absolutely. It is a deeply absorbing story, captivating me from start to finish. I finished last week and have since begun A Clash of Kings, the sequel.