A Game of Thrones
I’d like to start off by saying I’m a sucker for a good fantasy book. You can call it a weakness, or a predilection, or preference, and I won’t argue with you. Since my dad brought home my first Piers Anthony book when I was a child, reading about sword and sorcery has always made me smile.
Of course my love of the genre does not necessarily translate to my love of a particular book. I’ve read enough epic fantasy stories to find many cliché, obtuse, obvious, or the dreaded fan-boy driveling of an author who is obsessed with their old Dungeons and Dragons characters.
When I picked up A Game of Thrones, I knew straight away it wasn’t going to be one of those amateur pieces. At the same time, though, I recognized right away that George R.R. Martin was in no hurry to rush into the action.
In much the same way as The Wheel of Time, the book began laboriously slow. I admit it took me more than a few tries to finally push through to the end. In fact, with many of these epic stories that are planned to be a series from the start, much of the first book is just set-up, character development, setting and mechanics development, or training to get you in the habit of reading lots of silly names. For A Game of Thrones, there was plenty of that last part.
By the time I had reached the halfway point of the book, I was ready to call it quits on the series. Nothing much had happened and I wasn’t very attached to any of the characters. One of my biggest complaints was that the author seemed to give each of his chapters only a single scene that when concluded would inevitably end with a cliffhanger and a switch to a new point of view. The result was that as each chapter ended I found myself just settling in to that character, only to be jolted over to a new one.
The quick character swaps eventually lost their sting as I took them in the stride of the greater story. Once the hand-full of cast members were established, Martin’s chapter technique seemed fitting. When a chapter ended and a new one began with the new character’s name printed in bolded letters as a title, I would smile and look forward to picking up where we had left off a few chapters earlier.
As my progress reached about 70%, I hit the ‘hook’ as I like to call it. That is the moment when the story has you so fully invested, finishing is no longer in question. 70% might be a new record for leisure in the fantasy setting, one that I’m not sure Martin should be proud of. It seems a bit excessive for anyone but the most invested reader.
Aside from the lengthy introductions, this book did have its charms. It is rare to find an author so comfortable with killing off his characters. The result is a very gritty world where showing any mercy leads to tragic death. Perhaps it isn’t the most upbeat message, but as one character explains, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Martin’s characters are colorful, dynamic, capable of learning and growing yet still subject to their core qualities and weaknesses. Concepts like honor and duty are double-edged swords, as likely to lead to impossible and dire situations as they are to glory. It is not a book of fairytales where the valiant always win, but somehow it does leave you with a sense of hope. Perhaps it’s just hope that all of the books in the series won’t be so dark.
All in all, my biggest complaint was also my biggest distraction from the characters and plot. The sexuality in certain scenes burst forth in an often awkward or haphazard way, both graphic and violent. While some might try to argue that it supported and expanded on the bitter settings and grizzly characters, I believe these parts of the book were little more than the author’s frustrations passing onto the page. After the hundredth rape, I felt less convinced that the men of this world had different values than me than I felt sure that the author had a bad date-night.
After several reading attempts, a long period of development, surprising deaths, beautiful battles, raunchy sex, despicable characters and epic cliffhangers, A Game of Thrones left me with a positive feeling for the rest of the series. While I wont be running out to pick up the sequel today, it will be on my short list for the future. With any luck the author found a nice stable relationship before he penned book 2.