Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Winter is Coming

A Game of  Thrones

by George R. R. Martin

Published by Bantam Books

4 Out of 5 Stars

A Game of Thrones has been plaguing my Amazon recommendations list for years and, for just as long, I've gone back and forth over whether or not I wanted to plunge in and give it a try.  Some sources used words like epic, Tolkien-esque, and masterpiece, so I would promptly put it on my list for my next bookstore visit.  Before I could purchase a copy, though, I would encounter other sources using words like convoluted, complex, and plodding, resulting in my just as promptly striking it off my list.  And so it went until . . .

HBO.  As much as I hate to admit it, I turned to television to tell me whether or not this is a series I would like.  And I was hooked immediately.  Now I wish I had read the books sooner because it's somewhat difficult for me to separate the book from the series as I have never seen a film or television adaptation stick so closely to the original source material.  However, that may be a moot issue as the very fact that I found the book compelling and suspenseful even though I knew what was going to happen is testament enough to Martin's writing.

Told from alternating points of view, Martin vividly captures a wide cast of characters, but I never felt intimidated by keeping up with who is who, nor did I agree with other reviewers who have stated that the plotlines are "overly complex."  I also disagree with those who say the novel has misogynistic tones--the men are strong and (I would argue) the women stronger.  The court intrigues and the Machiavellian jockeying for the Iron Throne amongst the great houses of the Seven Kingdoms is delightfully entertaining: the scheming, the lying, the seducing, the killing--what's not to love?

I'm also impressed with the world Martin has created here.  Admittedly, the world building is not as complex as many other fantasy novels I've read, but I consider the simplicity of his world to be one of its strengths.  Set in a somewhat medieval time period, the fantasy elements are subtle:  there are direwolves, the Others, the ominous certainty that "winter is coming" (a winter that can last generations).  Plus, there's mention of dragons (and everything's always better with a dragon).  However, many writers in this genre try to stuff their novels so full of fantasy tropes that they almost become parodies of themselves.  Martin's work feels as though you're reading the history of another culture or society; everything seems authentic and nothing forced. 

There were a few repeated phrases that began to vex me (such as "breaking their fast" and the blushing, oh, God, the blushing), but I suppose such repetitions can only be expected in a novel of this size.  I also dreaded the Sansa chapters (simply because she's such an unlikable character) and the Bran chapters (though I suspect Bran has the potential to become a favorite character in later books).  These flaws are minor, however, and I definitely plan on continuing with the series as I have the feeling that Martin is just beginning to weave the tangled web of the Seven Kingdoms.

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