Book Review: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager (2011) – Originally by Voyager (1996)

Pages: 801

Back Cover Summary:

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the 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.

*Warning: This review does contain heavy plot spoilers*

Spanning an award winning series that has captured the world, the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, contains many brilliant moments of writing, especially when describing setting and providing pivotal character moments.

The most striking element of Martin’s writing is his use of description, which can simultaneously create a beautiful yet powerful image in the reader’s mind. From the frozen wasteland around The Wall and Castle Black to the arid desert lands in the east, Martin manages to make each of them so different yet so richly detailed. The descriptions are not merely reserved for the landscapes in A Game of Thrones; chaotic battles and gory executions are described in a way that adds that visual element that readers look for. As someone who has seen several seasons of the TV adaptation before reading this book, I am surprised at how similar the settings of the show are to the descriptions of setting here. The rich book descriptions have allowed the producers of the show to know what every location should look like, and this is a big reason for the success of both mediums.

The chapters in A Game of Thrones are split based on the character the third-person narrator is following. This was another very good choice by the author for two reasons. Firstly, it allows the reader to be able to witness all of the diverse settings described above and not feel like they are being rushed about. Second, and most importantly, each of the central characters brings a unique point of view of the world to the pages. From the noble Eddard Stark to his bastard son Jon Snow, to Daenerys who is owned and abused by her tyrannical and crazed brother. Readers get to witness the substantial journey of each of the leads as the book progresses. Each protagonist also has knowledge which adds to the lore of the world Martin has created, whether that is the history of the Seven Kingdoms and the Free Cities, to the current social and political landscape of each of these. Yet it does not feel Martin has exhausted the lore in his creative world too early; there are numerous references to other events, cities and individuals that readers haven’t been introduced to yet and from watching the TV series I know that these will all be revealed and explained in good time, which is something to look forward to in the book series.

The last season of the TV series that I have seen included the Red Wedding, an infamously shocking and game changing scene that wasn’t like anything seen before. After reading this first book, I know that this relaxed feeling towards changing the status quo is indebted to Martin. The deaths of Vaserys Targaryen and Eddard Stark are both big moments, considering both feature on the blurb, that are treated as just another scene, though they are done in different ways. Vaserys’s death is loud, painful and very visual, which was also perfectly displayed on the show. Eddard’s death is arguably more powerful. Readers follow him for the near entirety of the book as the lead protagonist, yet his execution is witnessed by another character who closes their eyes, meaning a quiet whoosh is all readers get. This is very powerful as it suggests that when characters are killed, they die in the same way as people in reality, quickly and without one last powerful speech, thought or moment. This is another powerful literary technique that takes A Game of Thrones to a higher level than other epic fantasy novels.

It is little surprise that the television adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire has gone on to be one of the greatest triumphs of the twenty-first century, when the source material is as richly detailed as it is. Whether it is describing a memorable setting or the murder of one of the lead characters, George R. R. Martin makes every chapter count in A Game of Thrones, setting the scene so well for the next instalment. If you liked the series or haven’t watched the series, I’d definitely recommend reading this novel; it kept me hooked and in awe from start to finish.

Star Rating: 5/5

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