Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: A Game of Thrones

Title: A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire book#1)
Author: George R. R. Martin
Genre: Medieval Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure
Rating: ★★★★

Game of Thrones

Political intrigue, medieval tropes, and Nordic mythologies—if any of these is your cup of tea (and if you have lots of time in your hands), you should try A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.

It is difficult to condense the storyline, but one thing is for sure: it is aptly titled. Basically, all the events revolve around the metonymic Iron Throne. The Iron throne is made up of one thousand swords surrendered by defeated enemies, forged into the shape of a chair, its edges still sharp and cold that anyone who is not careful enough while sitting on it may get himself cut…or killed. This is said to be the desired effect, for no king should sit comfortably while ruling the Seven Kingdoms.  It took fifty-nine days, the flaming breaths of a legendary dragon, and the blood and honor of so many men to construct it. In A Game of Thrones, more blood is shed and more honor is sacrificed in the name of this throne and what it represents.

In the center of the conflict are the Starks of Winterfell, whose lives are jeopardized after getting involved in the political scandals of the Seven Kingdoms.

I half-expected this doorstopper to be choked with unnecessary embellishments, but I was in for a surprise. Martin takes the straightforward angle—he does not bother with frilly descriptions, yet he still successfully establishes a believable and intricate universe in the readers’ minds. Usually the prose I love is the kind that is slightly tinged by poetry, but I have no problem loving Martin’s writing whatsoever. Martin proves that unadorned realism is an efficient bullet in a contemporary bandoleer of writing styles.

It is important to note that while A Game of Thrones is not the first in its genre, it still stands out for zeroing in on the gritty and rotting portrait of the human spirit. Blind pride and the apathy it entails, humans’ inner animals that are forever lured by the pleasures of power and flesh, honor and the desperate battles to protect it, peace and the acknowledgment of its fleeting sweetness…Martin tackles them adroitly from the minds of eight viewpoint characters, never losing a beat. But that does not mean he neglects showing off the fantasy staples—he dedicates portions of the storyline to supernatural creatures too (like zombie-like creatures and dragons), and he consistently paints the colorful cultures of fictional lands with astonishing clarity.

Now we go to the characters. Tyrion “The Imp” Lannister easily became my favorite POV character, what with his sarcastic thought processes and fascinating outlook on things. I find him interesting and weirdly inspiring. He is practically a dwarf and is a recipient of all kinds of insults, but he never comes off as a pitiful person—what he lacks in physical appearance, he makes up for wisdom. Oh, he does clobber himself with self-deprecation sometimes, but only in a humorous way. His defense mechanism is not letting other people use his own weaknesses to destroy him. But most of all, it is “fun” to read from his POV since he, in theory, is the only viewpoint character who came from “the bad side.” Persuading the readers to root for someone from the enemy camp has never been this successful. Clearly, it is a testament to Martin’s writing prowess.

I also enjoyed Daenerys Targaryen’s chapters. If you get past the fancy name and her being white-haired and purple-eyed, it is easy to see that she is not a Mary Sue at all. She has her flaws, too. She may need a lot of character development, but who doesn’t? From the vulnerable girl who timidly follows her abusive brother, she has shown a passable amount of growth by the end of the book. I believe she will become more developed in the sequels.The Mongol-like culture of the Dothraki is a rough backdrop to her fragile character, and when she gradually learns to melt into it, it is easy to see the change in her.

Anyway, the other characters are quite okay. If Arya Stark has more chapters, I guess she’ll be my favorite too (I think she’s my fictional alter ego, haha!). What I am really expecting, though, is the fleshing out of Cersei Lannister that I saw in the HBO small screen adaptation. I am quite disappointed when I did not see that. The TV Cersei is much more layered than the one in the book, in my honest opinion. I wanted to worm inside her head, to learn where she gets all her twisted ideas, to know what fuels her motivations, to peek at what is really behind her cold facade…but no, I did not even get a glimpse of it. To be fair, she is not a POV character, and all of those who are were not around her a lot. I hope I get to know her more in the next books.

Anyone who reads this book must be prepared to invest more of his/her time for the brick-thick sequels, because there will be no “ending” of any kind in A Game of Thrones. Trust me on this.

Over all it is an amazing start. Four out of five stars!


  1. We love the same characters! I honestly loved all the Starks - Arya and Jon mostly. But Tyrion so nice to read about and I am so happy that the "bad" side has at least one sensible person. And Dany! I love her! The setting of her story was so horrible and interesting.
    But end of that book. I'm still in shock. Haha. How can you kill a character that important? Oh well.

  2. Arya has so much potential! I wish she has more chapters in the sequels.
    Haha, yeah that's what's shocking about Martin. He twists the story into something we never expect! I mean killing the man who's practically the protagonist? I watched the series first so I'm not really that shocked when I read the book. This is the first time I read a book like this. Haha.