‘Game of Thrones’ by George R. R. Martin – Review

Richard Madden as Rob Stark, Game of Thrones, The North Remembers

Game of Thrones – I’ve never been well-versed in the fantasy genre; usually, these 900-page books work better as door-stoppers than as reading material.  After finishing Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit in the 9th grade, I spent most of the 10th grade looking for exceptional writers like him.  Terry Brooks (The Sword of Shannara series) was too formulaic and there wasn’t enough realism to Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.  I guess most people don’t go to the fantasy genre looking for realism, but I wanted a fantasy story that was believable—not something where all the good guys were handsome and survived and all the bad guys were flattened Disney villains who died.

I gave up on fantasy by the end of the 10th grade and hadn’t looked back until a friend of mine (literally) hit me on the head with George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. In truth, I only began reading it because I’d recently heard Sean Bean had been cast in the HBO series based on Martin’s work.  Once I turned a page, however, I kept turning more.

George R. R. Martin, the writer

One of the first things you notice about Game of Thrones is that its vocabulary challenges most readers to at least a minor extent—it’s not exactly something you’d pick up and actually finish in middle school.  Martin arms himself with a massive vocabulary, engaging diction, and a mastery of metaphors and unobtrusive descriptions that do more showing than telling.  I find that many authors of contemporary fantasy, thriller, and horror novels tend to be for the masses and do little to challenge readers to expand their vocabulary.  Indeed, Martin is merciless—every page is a tapestry of deftly woven words revealing rather than telling of the intricate and varied cultures that strive —through fire and ice—to seize the Iron Throne.

A Less Fantastical Fantasy

Kit Harington as 'Jon Snow' Game of Thrones - HBO

The story follows and knits three storylines simultaneously: a teetering balance of power in the Seven Kingdoms, a growing threat from outside The Wall by the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, and the rise of an unexpected power from a dying line.  Different characters tell their perspectives—most of them flawed in their own ways—to form the story, so the reader is often unsure of who to root for and if the character is even a reliable source of information at all.  In this sense, Martin conquers one of the pitfalls of the fantasy genre—he makes the story real.  Nobody in real life is absolutely good or bad and their stories, even the ones we tell ourselves, are relative.  People curse in real life; they do in Game of Thrones.  Sex isn’t always about love in real life; neither is it in Game of Thrones.  People die in gruesome ways in real life; they do, too, in Game of Thrones.

In terms of realism, Martin takes a step ahead of even the Tolkien legacy.  Even after facing three entire books and movies of peril (that’s 1,137 pages depending on the edition and 11 hours and 23 minutes on the extended DVD), Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Legolas, and really everybody but Boromir lives.  Martin surprises you by giving points of view to characters that don’t live throughout the book. Moreover, Martin made a choice to make his fantasy book to limit fantasy altogether.  There is hardly much more than the mention of magic, dragons, or other common fantastical elements.  This is a relief to readers who have grown tired of heroes dying dramatic and glorious deaths only to be brought back by a swing of the wand.

The HBO Series

If you want a fantasy book you’re not ashamed to bring out in public, try one by George R. R. MartinA Game of Thrones, the first of his projected six book series called A Song of Fire and Ice, won the World Fantasy Award in 1997 and the Nebula Award in 1998 (previous winners include Stephen King and John Steinbeck, and Ursula K. Le Guin and Orson Scott Card, respectively).

If you still have doubts about reading the books, wait to see the first episode of the series starring Sean Bean (The Fellowship of the Ring), Mark Addy (A Knight’s Tale), and Lena Headey (300) on HBO, to air on April 17, 2011.

Source: Game of Thrones

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