17 November 2011

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

~ Winter is coming. (The motto of House Stark)

The Stark family in Winterfell has welcomed a guest to their castle, and it's powerful King Robert and his even more powerful wife, Queen Cersei Lannister. The King never would have made it all the way up North in the Seven Kingdoms to visit the Starks, were it not for the fact that the Hand of the King has just passed away, and King Robert needs a new man to fill the position. Someone he trusts, a friend who has protected him on the battlefield, to lead when he is not there. And he's chosen Lord Eddard Stark to be that man. The King would never choose from his own wife's family; the Lannisters are not to be trusted.

So begins this incredible epic adventure in a medieval fantasy world that only a master of storytelling like George R.R. Martin can create. First published in 1996, A Game of Thrones is timeless in the political game of who should be leader. With Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark and his family of six children (including a "bastard" child from an unnamed mother), it's up to Ned to lead in service and in place of King Robert when the King is otherwise engaged. Ned and his wife Catelynn, along with daughters Arya and Sansa move to King's Landing, while Robb, Bran, and Rickon stay back in Winterfell. Jon Snow, the "bastard," becomes a member of the Night's Watch, the military dedicated to keeping the Wall strong without breach. The Wall is of immense size at about 300 miles in length and 700 feet high, solely to protect everyone from what lies outside of the Wall. Whatever that may be...

With eight characters voicing their stories in alternating chapters, the Targaryens, the Starks and the Lannisters come together in a crushing sweep of adventure, corruption, and loyalty. And let's not forget the importance of murder, intrigue, and scandal. As the Stark children find their place in this new world, Ned secretly investigates the death of the man who previously held his position as the Hand of the King. Could it be murder?

Confession: I committed to reading A Game of Thrones strictly because Sean Bean was going to be in the HBO series.

This is most assuredly NOT a sci-fi book.
Instead, it is all medieval, and a little bit fantasy. Other than some jaw-dropping, creepy moments in which the fantasy element sprang up driving more of the mystery, it's got a strong foothold in medieval times. Castles, horses, cloaks, wineskins, kings, knights, superstition, it's all there and more.

For lack of a better way to phrase it, I just couldn't put this book down. I read 600 plus pages in literally a few days, and this is coming from someone who is no expert in fantasy or world-building. I can't point out inconsistencies or the like, but I doubt if any expert could, because there weren't any issues. Even with my scrutinizing hat on, I was never confounded; it all made sense in this region of a world known as Westeros. And with eight characters holding their own with their chapters, you would think it would get confusing. Not in the least. Each voice was distinct and clear, and their personal stories exciting, turbulent, and page-turning. It is simply an amazing book that will sweep you away and before you know it, you are raging at injustices and crying at the most awful thing that could have happened EVER. And when the book ends, you have no choice but to promptly go to the bookstore, or grab your e-reader device, and get the next in the series, A Clash of Kings.

Is it graphic?
Yes. There is war, rape, murder, incest. It's a medieval world and people are doing horrible things (I mean, some of these characters are just absolutely vile). When I posted a few months back that I was reading this book, I received a comment from a reader who made a decision to not read the book or the series because rape happens in A Game of Thrones.

Well, I researched a bit further on this, and what I learned is that there are some who believe that fantasy and sci-fi authors tend to incorporate rape scenes liberally into their stories. I was a little stumped since I don't think this horrific violence is specific to one particular genre and I could pick up contemporary fiction, YA fiction, or an historical fiction book, for example, and rape is incorporated into the storyline (Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth comes to mind). In A Game of Thrones, there is rape, but there are also scenes when one rape victim stops other rapes from happening, too. So, while I could ruminate a bit more, I'd probably say that while these were horrible events in the story, it didn't make me not want to read the book, the series, or other books in the genre. It's a little convoluted to explain it all without giving the story away, so I'll direct you instead to an excellent post by Feeding My Book Addiction which is where I found the link by Scribotarian. Decide for yourself and if you read the book, let me know your thoughts. And if you have a different opinion, please do feel free to share.

Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you. (Tyrion to Jon Snow, the "bastard" child of Lord Stark)
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come. (The Night's Watch Oath)

Bran: Can a man still be brave when he's afraid?
Eddard: That is the only time a man can be brave.

And on a separate note, the HBO television series is incredible. I watched it all in one weekend and, with the exception of a few things here and there, it is extremely faithful to the story, which I attribute to the fact that Martin was heavily involved in the creation and wrote several of the episodes. And I'm so happy that the actor who played Tyrion, Peter Dinklage, won an Emmy for his performance! YES!

And also for you Sean Bean fans, I leave you with...

About the Author
George R.R. Martin is the author of eleven novels, seven novellas, two novellettes, one children's book, and a score of other writing and editing accomplishments. He was also the writer for seven episodes of the Twilight Zone and fifteen episodes of Beauty and the Beast, including three episodes of the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones. There's so much about this author, I don't have enough space to write it all, so I'll just ask that you:

Click here to visit the author on his website.
Click here to visit the author on his blog.


  1. My son loves this series, but he says it's kind of sad. I suspect it's not for me.

  2. I loved this book. I don't consider myself a fantasy fan, per se, but I think this book has a universal appeal with its perfectly told story. (I'm smiling to myself, as the book I'm currently entranced with, Little, Big, is also a fantasy. But, so wonderful!)

  3. I read the first three books in this series and loved each one. I'm deliberately holding off on buying the next two; I don't want the series to end too quickly. I'm enjoying these books way too much.

    Yes, they’re violent but as a person who reads a lot of historical fiction, and has a soft spot for medieval settings, I don't think the violence is that out of place in terms of the time frame. It’s a rough time. And I'm not defending the violence and rape scenes; I found both disturbing but I do understand when people say they can't read a book because of the violence and rape though. We all have certain things we find distasteful. I wouldn’t say it’s specific to this genre either. I’ve read non-fantasy/science fiction books that have the same level of violence.

    I too loved the HBO series and can’t wait for season 2!

  4. Hmmm. I bought this one, and couldn't get into it. It seems like something I should like. Maybe I'll give it another shot.

  5. My husband is well into the third book, and is dying for me to start the series so we can talk and gush together. It sounds like I shouldn't keep putting it off! I am intrigued by a medieval book of 600+ pages that one can read in a huge gulp! Great review as expected, Natalie!

  6. I love Sean Bean so much, and I'm hoping that he'll start getting better (read: non-villain) movie roles now. Or another regular TV series! I would love to have Sean Bean on my screen on a weekly basis. I have never not loved him in anything I've seen him in.

  7. That was an amazing review. I read this one a long time ago and loved it!! I own the next 3 but haven't read them yet. I'm afraid I'll have to start over again but who cares..it's that good!!!

  8. My boyfriend read this book before me and told me that it would be my kind of book - and I loved it! I don't normally read fantasy but even though this is a fantasy world it is so rooted in medieval type culture that it just felt normal. All of the violence that takes place in the book didn't feel out of place either. Like someone earlier said, it was a tough place. Great review, glad you enjoyed it!

  9. I am listening to this right now and am really liking it, looking for excuses to listen.

  10. I'm toying with getting HBO so I can watch the series...

    I enjoyed your review and thanks for linking back to my post. I added the link to this review to the comments section so my readers can check it out!

  11. Hello! I'm the author of the second blog you linked to, just in case readers are unaware. :) I found your review entirely justified, and just wanted to clarify one point --

    The reason why I specifically mention fantasy as opposed to contemporary, YA, or historical fiction is that there is no reason for rape to be prevalent in fantasy stories. In books that take place in real-world Earth, in societies where rape was -- and is -- an unfortunately reality, and where the attitude towards rape was disgustingly casual, it is more understandable to find stories that centre around rape and uncomfortable portrayals thereof.

    Fantasy worlds, on the other hand, are a complete construction of the author, with no need to create a society wherein rape is so common and dismissed. Why is it that fantasy authors are so drawn to a world where rape is so prevalent? I see countless people defend rape in GRRM's (and other) books by saying that it's realistic because they adhere to an old-Earth model of the universe, and I just don't understand why we put this limit on our books.

    Rape in YA, contemporary, and historical fiction is realistic because it has actual precedent. Rape in fantasy is gratuitous because the author decides to create a society in which it's necessary, and without which a book is derided as "unrealistic". I can understand why people want to read books like this, or why it doesn't bother some people -- but for me, it's just not something I want to read. Hope that helps! :)

  12. Lora - Thanks so much for stopping by! I value everyone's opinions when it comes to books most especially! :)

    Your thoughts are interesting and thought-provoking. It's given me pause to consider what might be drawing the line or crossing over it. As I mull it over, though, I do feel I've come to the personal conclusion that while it doesn't affect whether or not I might read a book, I can see why others may feel differently.

    I only contend with one aspect which would be your thoughts on rape being more believable in historical fiction, thus acceptable to read (not the right word for me to use!). To me, fantasy-genre fiction, most especially those set in an alternate medieval world, seem to very much so represent "real" world medieval history and uses the horrible violence of that time to represent how primitive and brutal people in this "fantasy" world are. It becomes an even more credible world in the book for me as the reader.

    What GRRM creates represents the worst and the best of "real" world times. Lines are strongly drawn to heighten nobility in the face of violence. In some cases, the reader is even more invested in the story, cheering for good to triumph over certain evil. When I read a book that is directly drawing on our own "real" world history and using it as a foundation for the medieval world in their book, I don't have any qualms in believing the setting and primitive acts to punctuate the need for revenge of one character over another, etc.

    I think your friends may have recommended GRRM to you as you mentioned in your post because it is so grounded in a medieval era (at least for book 1, I'm still reading book 2). Quite frankly, if someone told me that what I was about to read was historical fiction set in England with a paranormal twist every now and again, I'd wholeheartedly believe it! :)

    A long way of writing that, as I mentioned in the post, to each their own. :) I definitely appreciate your thoughts on the matter, and I love viewing other perspectives. I encourage you to stand by your belief system, especially if what you might read just doesn't make you comfortable.

    However, if you do give it a go and read GRRM, let me know! I would love to get your thoughts!

  13. awesome review Natalie! I bought the series for my iPad but have yet to start it....am anticipating i need a chunk of time to devote to the books if i really do like them and right now i just don't have that chunk ~ i keep hearing wonderful things about the series though!

  14. Interesting discussion! I agree with Natalie, GRRM clearly was inspired by medieval England (as most "epic-fantasy" writers), so the use of rape or violence doesn't shock me. I don't remember thinking it was gratuitous at any point (unlike certain scenes in HBO's adaptation). The violence among the Dothraki, in particular, however graphically described, communicates clearly their type of society: brutal, apologetically patriarchal, rewarding the survival of the fittest.

    If he had created a world where the power men/women was different, I'd probably feel differently. Actually, that would happen if, for instance, GRRM chose once again a rape story-line around House Tyrell.

  15. I started reading it because Sean Bean was set to star in the HBO series too, haha.

  16. I loved this book. And the whole series, right up until book 4, which sorely disappointed me. As did book 5, I admit. But I keep hoping for a return to the plotting, pacing and writing of the first three books for the remainder of the series :-)

  17. As to the rape in this series, I think it becomes more disturbing as the series continues. Not just actual rape, but characters (ones I used to like) really wanting to rape other ones, or wanting to be raped by others. It does begin to feel very gratuitous, at least to me, and really cheapens the way that rape can effect a person.

    I often feel authors use rape and incest as a tool to tell the audience about their characters. "Oh, these characters are serious deviants because they rape others." It's an easy and I think lazy way of conveying brutality many times. I think there are many other ways to show a character's personality than through physical violence. So I can completely understand why people think it is a trope used far too casually. The same excuse is used for a lack of diversity in epic fantasy's characters- a dearth of POC characters is often waved away by "Oh, but the person was inspired by Medieval X, and there were no other races around X at that time." But, as Lora said, if authors are completely in control of their world, then why can't they just make it a more ethnically diverse world? Would that be SO hard to believe? It's a charged topic.

  18. This was one of the first books I downloaded on my Nook and. I can't believe I haven't read it yet.