When a series of books spawns an award-winning HBO Series, I suppose one should take notice. I have an aversion to popularity contests when it comes to books, but I decided to give this one a try. I was not disappointed.
Probably the best thing this book does is get rid of a lot of fantasy novel norms. The good guys are always good and the evil guys always evil being one of them. This book dismisses that idea by giving each character both lovable and despicable qualities. Even the honorable Eddard Stark of Winterfell in this book has his flaws: he has fathered a bastard child, he is stubborn and headstrong and to be blunt is not political in a place where he should be political. On the flip side the evil characters do have some good in them in at least the form that many fight for their family. Don’t get me wrong, the villains are indeed villains but they often surprise you in some ways.
The novel’s literary form basically switches from character to character. Each chapter begins with the name of the character that is the focus. During that chapter the story is told from their point of view. I find this is one of the best ways to tell a story other than to have just one person the focus for the whole story telling it from a first person point of view all the way. The writer can keep certain secrets this way and pass time quicker simply by changing character.
The world of A Game of Thrones is has a great medieval feel to it but is truly its own world. Magic is this world, at least so far as this book has taken us so far, is subdued but you get the feeling that great power slumbers beneath the surface. Religion and faith magic is very real but also subdued. The creatures of myth are few and far between but you also feel that there will be more to it later. This starts out as a simple medieval tale but as it grows the complication and the power is growing with it. It is like seeing the begining of a long fuse lit, knowing in the end it is going to lead to a big explosion
This is where you can tell that George Martin was writing with his eye on a sequel. This book only takes you through the beginning of the story and sets the scene for later. It provides the needed early character and situational development that will be needed for the sequels. Martin is also not afraid to develop great characters and then kill them off. This is what give the book its realistic feel. The good guys die and evil sometimes does indeed triumph from time to time. Things are not always nice and battles are not glorious affairs but often brutal and bloody.
The story is intensely political. The queen’s words: “you either win at the game of thrones or you die” are very true. Honor in this world can be a real liability as well as an asset. But the bad guys also have their bad moments as they often underestimate the good characters because they are honorable. The weapons of this game are not just swords either; sex and intrigue also have their roles to play. Yep, this is an adult fantasy book so be advised if you see your eight year old reading it.
Are there some conservative themes? Well, to George Martin’s credit, he does not create a world where women are equal to men. Titles are handed down through the male side of the house and this is realistic for ancient and medieval societies. One thing I could note from this is the simple fact that women’s equality is only as much as is allowed by men and this has always been true. Not to say, that there are no powerful women in the book, but they do not achieve their power through claiming they should be equals but by simply being women in the truest sense of the word.
The other conservative theme might be the simple fact that one of the great causes of trouble for Eddard Stark is a lack of funds brought on by wanton spending by King Richard. It is this debt that has put less than savory characters into power. They are needed to constantly raise funds for these overindulgences. Debt is never a good thing and brings out the jackals.
If the book has a downside, it is the simple fact that it is very long. Be prepared for a long read only to realize the story has only started. Things are definitely left hanging for the next book. So if you are the kind of person who wants to see resolution of a story in a single novel, you will not have it here.
All in all, the book is a worthy read that will have you ready for the next one. Definitely worth the money and the time.