Game of Thrones is everywhere. Everywhere – Twitter; the train; the bus; magazines; newspapers; and of course bookshelves and TV. I was a little late to the – I think we can call it this now, in a slightly ironic way – phenomenon. The original series of books is actually called A Song of Ice and Fire, which I didn’t realise until I read it on the back of my copy of book one – which is called A Game of Thrones. The TV series is called ‘Game of Thrones’, and its bloody everywhere, so one can be forgiven for thinking that’s what the book series was called too…
My boyfriend, sister and two friends have all read/are reading the series, and my boyfriend and dad have championed the HBO series (I would link to it but am frankly terrified of spoilers), so, eventually, I thought I’d give it a go. I was in the middle of a 500-page book I wasn’t enjoying very much, so I bought A Game of Thrones and got going.
It is well written, but reads very easily. It is not written like a thriller, but still manages to be a page-turner. Frankly it’s compulsive – you just have to keep going. The strange little prologue creates a billion questions, and at first the compulsion to read comes from the desire to find out what it meant and what happened next; but after the first chapter, you’ve almost forgotten about the prologue and you keep reading nonetheless. Each chapter centres around one of the key characters, though some that seem (and prove to be) rather important don’t get a chapter of their own, namely Robb Stark. Which I still find odd. Maybe he gets his own chapters in the other books. Oh well. Either way the personalised chapters mean that the reader gets a wide perspective on this very wide story, which is very helpful seeing as so much happens, with so many people involved.
Essentially there are two main families – the Starks and the Lannisters – and they have a long history of not really liking each other. When the King’s Hand (sort of his right-hand-man) Jon Arryn dies suddenly, Lord Eddard Stark is recruited to replace him by the king, who happens to be Eddard’s old friend Robert Baratheon. To take up the post, Eddard must leave his home at Winterfell in the North and travel to King’s Landing in the South, leaving his family behind. In the end some of his children go with him, but the family is divided. This is where the trouble begins. Eddard is more or less obligated to become the new Hand, and must do what is expected of him. This is a bit of a theme throughout the book, if unintentional. Obligation, honour, reputation and most crucially power mean everything. And, surprise, surprise, this often results in misery and tragedy. Hold onto your hats…
To read this book, you must be prepared for the fact that a lot of bad things happen, and often to people who either don’t deserve them or that you rather like. And they really are unpleasant things. A lot has been said about the amount of violence, and especially the amount of sex and nudity in the TV series, and there is a lot of all that in the first book. Daenerys’ storyline can sometimes seem to be made of just sex and violence and not much else, but luckily she does have a personality of her own, and an intriguing story arc that I am eager to discover more of. She is the sister of Viserys, technically the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Their father was deposed and killed, as was their older brother and his family. The two youngest Targaryens were exiled and when A Game of Thrones begins they are old enough for Viserys to decide to challenge the Usurper (King Robert) and the Kingslayer (Robert’s brother-in-law Jamie Lannister) and claim the throne for himself. He is a fiery, impulsive, angry young man who refers to his capacity for anger as ‘the dragon’. Hmm. Daenerys is rightly quite scared of him, and is dragged along into his adventure, as it were. Poor, poor girl. As she often says, she just wants to go home. No such luck. Hers is a very dramatic story – early on (this won’t ruin anything) she is married off to Khal Drogo, leader of the horse-riding people the Dothraki (literally, they only get off their horses to sleep and… you know, other stuff). He is a big, scary man. Daenerys is terrified; but she soldiers on and let’s just say book one ends very differently for her than how it began.
Early on I started to get ‘favourite characters’. I liked Eddard and his wife Catelyn, their young son Bran. I also liked Eddard’s illegitimate son Jon Snow (every time I just think of Channel 4 news…) and I didn’t like Tyrion Lannister. This was all pointless. Fortunes change so quickly and dramatically in this book that there is no use in getting particularly attached to or particularly hating anyone. Things happen, and your opinion changes. Sometimes it stays the same, but, like I said, no use getting too attached. These characters live in a cut-throat world where whoever has the power makes the decisions, and some things are never going to change. It’s not an easy world to live in, and sometimes it’s not an easy world to read about. Tragedy and destruction are always around the corner, and Martin‘s skill as a writer means that you really feel for the characters when things don’t go their way, even if you try not to. By the end of the book, I was exhausted. It’s over 700 pages long, so my eyes were tired, but I was emotionally exhausted as well. It is a dramatic and eventful book, and one that I very much recommend.
I have purchased book two (A Clash of Kings), but am taking a break by reading a couple of other things before I start it. I know I will read the whole series, and I know it will be knackering! But I also know I’ll really enjoy it.
A Game of Thrones was first published in 1996 by Bantam Spectra (an imprint of Random House) in the US and Voyager Books in the UK, and reprinted by Harper Voyager (an imprint of Harper Collins) in 2011.