Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - Winter is Coming

Pros: Full of kings, giant wolves, dragons, intrigue, battle, and more.
Cons: Only if you can't handle long books with plenty of court politics.

The Bottom Line: It's a solid fantasy book, full of rich history and multiple stories. If you want a lot of magic and excitement though, look elsewhere.

Yep. Nicole's finally read George R. R. Martin. Or you could say I jumped on the bandwagon. Hey, with HBO making a series featuring Sean Bean and Jason Momoa (yum!) how could I resist? Besides, for years people have been telling me I should read them. Well, one down, six to go (yes, I know there are only four books on the shelf - he has three in the works).

Enter a land where summers and winters can last for decades at a time. Where a massive Wall keeps the Others at bay in the far north. In the south, plots brew and politics reign. It is decided by the king that Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell is to be the next Hand of the King. The previous Hand died under rather...interesting circumstances. He hopes to find out why he was murdered and so leaves his beloved home for a place where, if you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Surrounding his story are the stories of his children whose lives will help shape this land of the Seven Kingdoms. And across the sea is another force seeking to return-one with the blood of the dragon.

That's the best I can come up with short of pasting in the blurb from the back of the book. Each chapter is given to a different character, which makes for some nice diversity in point of view shifts:

~ Lord Eddard Stark - Lord of Winterfell
~ Lady Catelyn Stark - Eddard's wife
~ Jon Snow - Eddard's bastard son
~ Sansa - Eddard's eldest daughter
~ Arya - Eddard's youngest daughter
~ Bran - Eddard's second youngest son
~ Tyrion Lannister - dwarf son of Lord Tywin Lannister
~ Daenerys Targaryen - youngest daughter of King Aerys II Targaryen

Everyone is often in a different place. While many of them start out their particular narratives at Winterfell, they eventually split up and go to all sorts of different places. Frankly, I wish I had a big topographic map of Martin's world so I could really get a sense of where things are and how much of a pain it is to travel - or even better, one of those raised relief maps. That would be nifty. You get to see the massive Wall in the north, which keeps out the Others as well as brigands. You travel to King's Landing where all of the ugly backstabbing court action happens. You get to move down the Kingsroad with an army or two on their way to pummel one another (that's where I think a good map would be the most handy).

Everyone, with their different ages and places in life, has a unique piece of the story to tell. Sometimes I even found myself skipping ahead to that person's next chapter to see what happened to them before flipping back and continuing in order. My particular favorites were Daenerys, Arya, and Tyrion.

Whether you can handle this giant story depends on what you like to read. I enjoy fantasy, but I like fantasy with less court politics. I tend to avoid that sort of thing because politics suck no matter where you are. So if you're hoping for all sorts of battles with ugly creatures or magic everywhere etc., this isn't the book for you. There are those sort of fantasy elements, but they are few and far between. Still, I also like a good, well-written story, which is why even all the politics didn't get me down. While this book wasn't sort where I was so enthralled that I had to keep reading (if I hit a Catelyn chapter, I found it pretty easy to make that my stopping point), the stories were intriguing enough to keep me interested (particularly the three above). Likewise, Martin gets extra points for including the direwolves and all their awesomeness. Me, pass up a book with giant wolves that aren't evil? High fives all around.

I loved Martin's descriptions, even if I think he is one of the only guys I've ever read that describes clothing and armor in detail *almost* every time someone appears on the page. But he makes it sound so cool, and does it quickly and effectively that it's okay. The trickiest part about this book and probably the subsequent books is all the people and all the names. There are a lot of them to keep track of. Even Martin acknowledges at the back that there were truckloads of details to keep in mind and pay attention to. I think I might have been okay had he not used more than one name for a person on multiple occasions. You might get full names (Lord Petyr Baelish), slightly shortened names (Lord Baelish), first names (Petyr), or a nickname (Littlefinger). And just like that, four names. If you don't pay attention, you'll get lost rather quickly. And as I said, there are a lot of people involved.

I'm definitely going to continue reading the series (after the way this one ended, how could I not?), but I'm not leaping to purchase all the books yet. I can get them from the library, and I'm perfectly content to wait. Besides, I have other books I need to read on deck, so I'm all right with the break between novels.


*It's kind of interesting to see how many people actually continue on with this series. I put a hold on the next book, and the wait in line is much shorter than for this one.

Notes from the playlist: "Lonely Dusk" by Machine Vandals

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