CBR Review 9: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

This book was recommended to me by my friend’s husband, prior to all the buzz about the HBO series, but I didn’t start reading until a few weeks before the show premiered. I don’t actually have HBO, but watched the first episode at a friend’s house. I may not get to see the rest of the episodes for a while, which is disappointing, as the series seems to do an excellent job of presenting an enormously compelling and exciting story. I have pushed aside the library book I have been eager to read to move on to the second in the series, as I am so eager to see what happens next.

I am not sure what I can add to the discussion of the book that hasn’t already been said thousands of times already, but here we go!

A Game of Thrones is a densely written and long fantasy novel, focussing on a set of characters and events over a period of about a year in a medieval-type land. The story is told from the point of view of multiple characters, including an eight year old boy. The characters are very well developed, and Martin is generally very good at showing the faults and virtues of many of the characters, so that it is not necessarily easy to categorize them as good vs. evil, as happens in many fantasy novels. I understand that the characters are further developed in this regard (insight into motivation, etc) as the series progresses. The action is well paced, and any battle scenes are careful to show confusion, pain and grief along with bloodlust. The political machinations that are the true heart of the story are very well planned out and seem to progress logically. Martin certainly doesn’t solve any of the problems laid out in A Game of Thrones, which naturally makes the reader eager to see what happens to the fascinating characters.

A few further notes based on what I have read online, largely in relation to the series. There seems to be a fair amount of sex that is graphically described in both the series and the book, and some people seem to be bothered by it (the Daenerys marriage in particular). I actually found that the sex scenes in keeping with the tone of the story and what would have happened in a similar time period, so I did not find them particularly jarring. Daenerys was married off at 13 and the book suggests that many other girls would also have been married at the same age; given that the life span in that society is likely fairly short and the mortality rates surrounding childbirth would likely have been dreadful, it makes sense that the teenagers (as it seems the boys could also marry young – Joffrey being an example) would be expected to start having children relatively early in life. It seems that none of the marriages in the book were ever begun as anything other than a strategic arrangement on the parts of their families, so the willingness and feelings were not a consideration, so much as duty. The series depicted the initial sex scene between Daenerys and Drogo as a rape, while the book presented it as a pleasurable and consenting encounter, but I think that was kind of a shorthand way to show how their relationship developed and in all likelihood a more realistic presentation of how that situation would have played out.

Martin’s willingness to kill off or hurt sympathetic and/or main characters is also remarkable – the end of the premiere episode of the television series made me gasp, even though I already knew what was coming and had already been horrified by that part of the book. It makes the story seem more urgent and and the motivations of the characters more compelling. Martin uses some nice language and vivid descriptions throughout the novel, and gives necessary backstory for both the characters and the countries in a way that makes it blend seamlessly with the active narrative. I highly recommend this book, and am excited to start A Clash of Kings.