Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: "A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series has taken on the status of ‘Must Read’ with the constant critical acclaim, the HBO series, and prime real estate positioning of his books at the local brick and mortar. I succumbed to the marketing pressures and decided to check out what all the fuss was about, so I purchased a copy of “A Game of Thrones” the first book in the series.
“A Game of Thrones” is founded on a solid base with a medieval type kingdom in turmoil, and all the big players in royal politics end up duking it out when the ascension of the prince to the throne is questioned. As far as fantastic elements, this book does not go over the top, but rather has it layered in nicely with magic not being front in center, but hiding underground with only a couple people with access to it. This makes the book accessible to those who are usually turned off by the elves, dwarfs, and wizards in traditional high fantasy. Martin also paints a very complex and vivid world that includes seasons (like winter or summer) that can last for decades on end as well as tribes of horse-riding warlords with a rich culture.
It is also clear that Martin is a master of weaving a complex plot that twists and turns through the lives of a vast array of characters that range in age from about ten to fifty, male and female, and gives the point of view of all sides of the conflict. Further more, each character is well developed to the point where they all have traits that both make them strong and weak at the same time. It’s refreshing to see somebody in the fantasy take the time to so diligently flesh out his characters.
However, there are too many characters and far too many character viewpoints to really get the reader fully invested in the book. By page 50 of the first book, I had read eight different points of view from different characters scattered across the world without once having the same viewpoint twice. This made it very difficult to get invested in the book when I wasn’t sure who the main character was, even though it turns out this book has about eight main characters.
And this leads to another problem. With eight points of view and 704 pages, we only get on average 88 pagers per main character. This book was essentially the first quarter of eight separate novels. For most novels, it usually takes about 75 to 100 pages for the first major plot point to hit and the story begins, and each of these separate story lines is no exception. This makes the book then lack much of a (or any) story arc for many of the characters as the journey has just really begun.
As a result, most of the characters undergo little or no change, and the plot really becomes almost like a listening to a history lecture (This book is said to be loosely based on the War of the Roses.) from an eloquent professor. It has it’s entertaining moments and there are a couple times when I found myself wanting to read another couple pages before I went to sleep because the story drew me in, but for the most part I kept going only because I wanted to get to the point where the story became good enough for an HBO series, but that never came.
Perhaps in book 2 or 3 or 4 it gets good, but I will probably not read those. While each of the 8 separate stories started out fine, that’s about all they managed to do. Martin just proved to me he knows how to open a novel 8 times and not that he can finish one. I for one and not about to read another 2600 pages to find out if his epic is going anywhere, and I do not recommend you invest your time in this book.
“The Game of Thrones” receives 2 out of 5 stars.


Ciara Ballintyne November 28, 2011 at 4:39 PM  

It's interesting how two people can view the same book differently. While I wouldn't rank this among my most favourite books (there is a bit too much politics for my usual preference) I did find it a gripping, page-turning read. I didn't find it hard to get into it amd I was bitterly disappointed when I got to the end of book 4 to discover book 5 wasn't out (I had been under the mistaken impression the series was finished). It was one of the most interesting new books I'd read in a while.

Jamie Dement (LadyJai) November 30, 2011 at 1:13 PM  

Ok, this does not help me decide whether or not to read it. 2 conflicting opinions. :) How does it stand up against The Sword of Truth series? That had multiple view points. However, I believe it had, maybe, at the most 10 characters to keep track of. It helped get me into the minds of all the main characters. I liked it. But if there are more, I don't know if I could...I might get lost. So, I guess it's just a matter of going out there and reading it for myself at one point. :P

Michael A Tate November 30, 2011 at 2:30 PM  

Ciara: Yea, it was a very readable book, but it just didn't work for me. Good thing the world has variety :)

Jamie: I've read the whole SoT series, and yes, it too had multiple points of view, but they were slowly developed, and for the most part, the book was focused on Richard. Game of Thrones in my opinion had no focus, which is why I say there were 8 main characters. SoT had 1. Some may like that, just not for me.

Yinka Wills December 8, 2011 at 7:49 AM  

Um, couldnt disagree more with your view, whilst respecting your opinion. GOT is something I read for the first time, just before watching the HBO series. Found it amazing, complex, dense, and the characters were so real that I reacted to things happening to them as if to people I knew.I want to, and yet am afraid to read on- have got to book 3. Viewer reaction to the HBO series is similar.I think if a person likes intrigue, history, politics,battles and swordplay, they'll like Martin's work.

Helen December 11, 2011 at 3:38 PM  

I've seen the television series and I am now at this moment reading the book, I find Martin's writing to be excellent and I have no trouble in following the viewpoints of characters so far no trouble - but then the tv series was very true to the book, so I know the characters already.

Martin in my opinion has weaved a masterpiece here and I actually have the next four books, so I guess I would recommend it.

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