Tuesday, October 28, 2014

7 Days of Novels: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

AGoTA Game of Thrones is a party that I am late to, albeit it one that I was inevitably going to get to. Actually, it's not that surprising that I'm late to this; I think the only pop culture phenomena I was ever on time for were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Still, that probably means that I'll be expected to have a lot to say about it.

I really don't. It's an okay book. That's not to say that it's mediocre, that's to say that I enjoyed it enough to want to read the sequels...and that's about it. I'm not dying to watch the show, although I will for completionism's sake. I'm not dying to write fan fiction about the show and I'm not on Amazon looking for a copy of A Clash of Kings. To me, that's really all there is to say about the book. It's a good read, but I could have lived my entire life without it and never have felt like I was missing something.

Of course, it's only fair to say more. That description fits a lot of other fantasy novels I've reviewed, after all. It's only because this story has been overly hyped that I feel like “it's overhyped” is enough to say about it. Had I experienced this story in its natural order, before the television show was created, I'd probably feel a lot more enthusiastic singing its praises. Still, there is somebody reading this review who hasn't read the book or watched the show yet, so let's be a little more specific.

A Game of Thrones, the first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series, is a light fantasy novel. Unlike most fantasy novels, there is no quest, or group of adventurers. It's a group of semi-related characters having their own independent adventures, tied only by the kingdom they take place in. for that reason, I consider the book to be the equivalent of King Arthur, except with modern day writing conventions. Of course, modern writing conventions make a hell of a lot of difference in a story like that, so that comparison in truth might not go any farther than me. Still, the story of lords, knights and their equivalents partaking in training, dangerous adventures, conquering and incest with a touch of light fantasy puts it squarely...on the edge of my interests, in the realm of what I'm sometimes in the mood for.

So perhaps what I should look at is, why do so many other people like it? I'm going to start with the wide range of characters. There is not one character that got appreciable page time (normally I would say screen time, but in the case of this particular story I'd rather not risk being taken literally) that I disliked reading about. The closest thing to a main character is Ned Stark. All of the point of view characters except for one pass through his sphere of influence at least once, with a solid half of them being his children, one being his wife, and one being a short-time guest at his home that we get to know through his interactions with one of Ned's sons. From there we have Ned himself, leaving only one point of view character that's outside his sphere of influence.

So let's talk about the one that only barely has anything to do with Ned at all. Tyrion Lannister is an interesting character. He is directly related to the vast majority of the antagonists of the novel, and is even beloved by some of them. Still, compared to any of the other characters, he is his own man. His ties of family are strong, nearly as strong as they are for every other character in the book, but they are tempered by the fact that nobody wants anything to do with him and he is just as happy to let them stay away. Physically handicapped, Tyrion Lannister is every snarky nerd in the audience, although one with just enough Slytherin in him to be an interesting character. He's a character who is used to having nobody on his side but his own wit, and the end result is that there is never a dull scene with him in it.

While Tyrion has his snark, the other point of view characters either embody the moral traits of the audience or the ones the audience members wish they had. One character interrupts a culture of unjudged raping and pillaging to demand that no more rapes will be perpetrated by members of the group she is part of. Ned's entire arc is about the fact that he is too noble for his own good, which is likely to draw in readers on both sides of the spectrum.

Another item that seems to draw a lot of people in are the stakes, and I will be the first to agree that they are real. The fact that I tend to read a lot of materials with real stakes might imply me to care a little less about this, but that does seem to be a huge draw for much of the audience that Game of Thrones has. The show does not shy away from child-murder, though it might be giving too much away to say exactly how young of an age that extends to. It's not just death either. The culture in this book extends completely to actions and their consequences.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the book is that it is impossible to see where this leads. A Game of Thrones has no ending. To be fair, it's not completely abrupt in the sense that most of the plotlines are moved to drastically new places toward the end of the novel. Still, while this sets up a new book very well, it doesn't end the first one. The end feeling is a bit of an anticlimax after a strong novel, and a bit of disorientation if you don't have the second book to pick up afterward.

It goes without saying that I would recommend A Game of Thrones to most adult audiences. I would probably recommend the reader be a bit older than I would for Lord of the Rings, as you might imagine, but that falls on personal taste and is related to things I've already described. If the subject material isn't too dark or mature for you, though, there's a lot to enjoy, though you probably need to be in it for the long haul to truly enjoy it. If a light fantasy novel series with high stakes is your cup of tea, though, there is no reason not to give A Game of Thrones a try.

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