Friday, September 6, 2013

Sara's Library: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Book one of A Song of Ice and Fire
Bantam 1996
Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel 1997, World Fantasy Award for Best Novel Nominee 1997, Nebula Award for Best Novel Nominee 1997

Summary from Goodreads: "Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne."

Spanning more than 800 pages and nearly a dozen POV characters, this first installment of Mr. Martin's epic can appear a bit daunting.  As one begins to wade through the tome, it can be difficult at first to keep track of the various characters and their factions, especially when there are several common names (Robert, Brandon, Jon) used for more than one character.  Due to this, it might be good to have some familiarity with the characters before reading, but it's not absolutely necessary.

There are three major plot threads in this first installment, all of which are left to be concluded in later volumes.  The main plot consists of Eddard Stark moving from his northern seat at Winterfell to the southern capital, where he becomes the chief advisor to his long-time friend King Robert.  Eddard becomes embroiled in a conspiracy when he uncovers information about Robert's wife and heirs and must ultimately choose whether to speak the truth and lose his position, or remain silent and lose his honor.  

The second plot thread involves the heirs of the deposed king, Viserys and Daenerys, who live in exile.  When Daenerys is wed to Khal Drogo, the leader of a Hun-like army, the two hope to travel back to Westeros and regain the throne stolen from them.  But the khal is slow to act, and a feud develops between him and Viserys.

Finally, in the far north, the dead have been coming back to life...

Even with its prodigious length, that's a lot to cram into one book, and yet it never reads like an info-dump.  Information is given carefully throughout the book, always incorporated organically in conversation.  The writing is realistic and straightforward; however, there is a sense of repetition with the writing.  It wouldn't suit the tale told here to have flowery writing, but perhaps a thesaurus would be a good investment for Mr. Martin.

The world-building and character development are definitely the strengths of the work.  While the regions and countries can be reconciled with those in our own world, the inclusion of dragons, dark magic, and the old gods give this tale of political maneuvering more flavor than an historical novel might have.  I've read that each new installment increases the amount of fantasy elements, so I'm interested to see how the elements already present are expanded.

With its emphasis on the history of Westeros, I'm reminded a bit of Tolkien, though there are no linguistic exercises here, and the tale is far grimmer, even without one ring to rule them all.  Winter is coming, after all.

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