I’ll admit it- I hadn’t heard of George R. R. Martin’s 1996 novel A Game of Thrones until just a few months ago. I read a New Yorker piece on Martin and the way he seriously pisses off some fans with publishing delays and the like, and just a few weeks later I heard of the HBO series adaptation in production, starring Sean Bean. I read a good amount of fantasy when I was younger, but it had been a while since I gave an epic fantasy series a shot. Everything started to feel like Tolkien, and I got sick of it. The HBO series looked promising, so I picked up a copy of A Game of Thrones to see what the world of Martin had to offer. I wasn’t disappointed. Epic is the only fair description here.
Book one of A Song of Fire and Ice, A Game of Thrones introduces readers to the land of Westeros and the seven principal houses. The Stark family of Winterfell find themselves reluctantly swept up into a clash of nations. The character list is extensive, the world is sprawling, and the three story arcs are told through eight points of view- Martin refuses to shy away from an epic scale. The story goes that Martin grew tired of restraints in terms of scale during his time as a writer and producer for TV and film, so he struck out on his own as a writer so that he could create as big and cumbersome a world as he liked.
Give the book time to develop. The 892 pages weren’t created to be a single novel- they serve as part one in a grand-scale series. The first 200 pages- give or take- are entertaining but often as not an exercise in character memorization. Family ties, fealty and relationships are key to understanding the actions of the principal characters, so make an effort to learn them.
Never feel like you have a full grasp as to the motivations and purpose of a character. At first, I disliked certain characters and tried to power through their chapters, but by the end of the book these characters were among my favorites. People I was certain would be a cornerstone of the series for the duration are killed on a whim. Martin is unpredictable, and his world is a cruel one.
The book set its hook before long, and I enjoyed the refreshing boldness of Martin’s risk-taking. Not many writers are capable of nor interested in the amount of fact-checking and rewriting required in a series like this. I’ve heard great things about the HBO series, which was picked up for a second season two days after the premiere of the first. Sean Bean seems a perfect fit for the honor-bound Eddard Stark, and in a book bursting with mature content (Parents be warned: sex, rape, incest, and violence crop up throughout), only HBO seems capable of staying true to the feel of the work. I’m truly excited to venture forward in the Fire and Ice saga, and between the TV adaptation and the three published sequels (with three more planned) I know that I’ll be spending a considerable amount of time in the Seven Kingdoms. Take a break from the single-character books you’ve been spending too much time with.