Monday, October 10, 2011

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

(This is a repost, of my review that appeared on SF Signal recently - reposted here for posterity)

This is the cover I own
Paperback: 720 pages
Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (March 22, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0553386794
ISBN-13: 978-0553386790

**Thar be minor spoilers aboard, so be watchful for you HBO TV watchers that have yet to sail this treacherous book.**

The land of Westeros is a land of old kings, of ancient magics, storied with many fables and gods; but this story is about lies and deceit, debauchery and a struggle for power that will leave you breathless. Nothing is sacred—no vow and no pledge.

Game of Thrones is incredible. A book that passionately explores what drives us and what we will do to achieve all that we desire. Some stop at nothing, and others will lose everything to try and stop them. Who will win? Who is right? And who is playing who?

One thing that stands out to me about Martin’s work is his prose. He pulls off brevity with beauty and almost never tells you more than you need to know. Many times he tells you less, but he does it wonderfully and it lends a certain confidence, that he trusts you to understand and does not feel the need to lead you by the hand down every turn of the plot or nuance of expression. In turn it becomes a rewarding experience. He always manages to lay out the necessary backstory or foreshadowing so that when the reader reaches a juncture everything is apparent. No long and tedious infodump necessary. Thank you. Most importantly it makes the story read quickly and much is accomplished.

The perspective of each character is incredibly effective, making the narration come alive. You feel as if you are walking alongside each character, seeing their strengths and wincing at their weaknesses. Martin does a remarkable job capturing the perspective of the children—more noteworthy to me than the adults because of how well it was done, not because he did any less with the adults. When you read a Brand chapter, it sounds like a young boy, hoping to be more than he is now limited to be; intelligent, wistful of doing more. Sansa is given over to fancy; to being flighty and superficial. Once she realizes the fairy tale is over you can see, as you’ve always seen, that she is an intelligent girl that lets her expectations, her hopes and her dreams override her better sense. Eddard is of course the idealistic, honor bound, proper-to-a-tee lord that sees too late what is going on all around him and is powerless to save himself. Tyrion is brilliant, flawed and bound to his family no matter how much he has been wronged. So many beautifully wrought characters that live and breathe on these pages. This book is worthwhile to read for that fact alone.

I’ve read somewhere that Martin can accomplish more with his character development in two sentences than others can with pages. And I certainly agree.

This is a re-read for me, but I believe for a first reader the story is largely unpredictable. You can enjoy the book from beginning to end, feeling like the author is firmly in control, yet the story takes unexpected turns as Martin makes it feel unique. There is some basic knowledge: You know there is going to be trouble from the North and there will be a blood feud between houses, but besides that the unexpected is the only thing that can be expected.

This is a wonderful tale that is expertly told. It may be gory, sexual and wildly inappropriate with rape and more, but it all fits the story without being overly gratuitous and it meshes too well to call it foul. It lends to the story, and the setting nearly demands it, giving a level of realism that has you reeling at times in shock, and then grabbing the book again to continue.

Game of Thrones is about politics, it’s about human motivation, it’s about what drives us down deep and what will we do when pushed to the edge, and what will we do to achieve what we want.

There are no true cons. Losing wonderful characters may hurt, but each time it is with meaningful intent to drive the story forward and makes the whole that much stronger and more interesting.

The Game of Thrones is fascinating, utterly engrossing and magical. Before I picked it up, I would have never guessed that I would have liked it. Fireballs may never fly, hands are never waived and willpower is never harnessed into magical energy to devastate or mystify, yet the character struggles are so riveting you can’t put it down, and you never know what’s going to happen as Martin shows you time and again that he pulls no punches. No one is safe, and every hero is at risk.

I give Game of Thrones 5 stars of sinister plotting and backstabbing. At times I may have wanted more magic, but it was a want, not a need and Martin consistently showed me that this story could stand tall without any magical artifice or bauble.

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