Author’s Note: this review was written back in 2012 on a website that — thankfully — no longer exists. I wasn’t the best writer (or even reviewer) at the time, but there were a few gems that I feel stood the test of time. This is one of them. I hope you enjoy it!
A lot people have been asking me to read this novel. It has been making the rounds recently what with the T.V adaptation on HBO and the recent reprints of the books in nice, glossy covers, on display, at my local book store. Though, before I get into this review I should probably tell you something: I’m not much of a fantasy fan. Though I read from several different genres, Science Fiction has always been my corner. You could probably chock it up to bad luck as well that my first exposure to fantasy was Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series and the earlier World of Warcraft novels based on the MMO, both of which I didn’t like. Though, one can say I have moved on to greener pastures since then, having read the Narnia, Redwall and Lord of the Rings books (which are part of the modern fantasy canon anyway), none of them have been able to truly blow me away. Even J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter books couldn’t keep me interested past the second book and even supposed non-readers were going ape-shit over that series.
Seriously, a crack dealer couldn’t sell their drugs as fast as those books did.
And do you want to know what’s even more terrible? My favorite fantasy series, if it even counts among die-hard fans, is the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer and even it starts to lose its luster by the end of the fourth book (read the next four in the series at your own risk). It’s pitiful that I have to say that that series meant for middle schoolers is one of my favorites, with Narnia and Redwall coming at a close second and I think I know why.
Fantasy never seemed to want to walk on the “dark side” as I like to call it. For most fans of the genre, it seems to be all about the escapism and living vicariously through a “Chosen One” type of character and twisting it to become some Oliver Twist, rags to riches, good guys will always come through within the last fifty pages, storyline that just did not appeal to me as a reader. Yeah, call me a glum, cynical, emo-goth, but I cannot stand those types of novels. If I know for certain that it’s going to shit smilely faces at the end, why should I read it? You honestly think I can be surprised by that? Sci-fi seemed to at least be much more willing to take a more risky route in terms of storytelling by making their genre darker and grittier for it’s audiences. It’s those reasons alone that have turned me off from the genre of fantasy for several years until this point; despite the fact that Michael Moorcock and even Richard Morgan have been breaking new ground for years trying to drag fantasy out of the rainbow room. So can Game of Thrones change my mind on that? Well, keep reading, I dare you!
A Game of Thrones: a hard cover novel thick enough to beat a crack dealer to death with.
Game of Thrones was written in 1996 by former screen writer George R.R Martin, who participated in the writing of several short stories in the 1970s that spearheaded his writing career on T.V., even writing for the 1987 series Beauty and the Beast. The series had a bit of a slow burn in terms of gaining popularity. Though considering he’s a man who once worked in Hollywood and has two middle names to call his own, I suppose that helps.
“Yeah, I don’t know why have two middle names either.”
The book starts with the murdering of the King’s Hand by a mysterious assassin, along with the killing of two rangers and a lord at the hands of an ancient foe, both incidents occurring on different sides of the continent and it’s off to the races. From there this medieval tale takes an interesting turn as it soon transforms into not your average fantasy novel and becomes at its core, a mystery whodoneit scenario, based in a fantasy setting. Though the book is told from multiple perspectives, it mainly focuses on Lord Eddard Stark, as he tries to help his good friend, King Robert, solve this mystery of this murder while trying to navigate the political interests and intrigues of other lords and advisers, all wanting control over the Seven Kingdoms. Being also a fan of detective noir novels, I was immediately engrossed in the story. The characters were multilayered and had several competing interests with one another, not to mention most of these characters motivations were kept hidden throughout, leaving me to guess and even second guess their true allegiance to Stark and the other major characters.
My favorite character by far was Tyrion Lannister, if only because he’s such a likable smartass, as well as being a dwarf. His cunning and intelligence seem to make him the most interesting and dangerous character since he’s basically playing off of, as well as conspiring for and against, with three different factions throughout the novel.
If there is anything bad I can say about this book, if at all, it is the pacing and the amount of characters in the novel. Like any fantasy book, this one often tends to dwell on more often than necessary I feel, on the lore and history of the Seven Kingdoms. A trope often employed by fantasy writers, mainly because I suspect they seem to have no choice in terms of providing proper exposition, but could have been edited down or expanded in dialogue. Also, since the novel is told from seven different character’s perspectives, there is a bit of difficulty in trying to follow the multiple story lines and some character story arches were more interesting than others. Especially when Martin tries to tie up his character’s journey’s at the end, with the exception of the last chapter, I felt that the story ended fifty pages ago and the rest was epilogue. There’s also such a girth of secondary characters that their appearances half-way through the novel tended to run together until I was basically assigning them a generic blank face and clothing when they made their appearance again to interact with the main characters. I’m thankful for the index that is provided on the back, otherwise I would’ve been lost on who’s who. Though like I said, minor nit-picks.
Overall this is a very great book that keeps you at the edge of your set until the very shocking conclusion that definitely made me rethink the genre of fantasy. It’s dark, it’s gritty and most of all intriguing. I’d say it might be one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read, though I’ll let you decide how much weight you’d want that endorsement to carry. I can’t wait to read the last two books in the trilogy…
Holy Seven Hells, he’s got five more of these books!?