So, I’m a bit late in arriving to this particular party – and I’m not really sure why. I’ve had a lot of reading to catch up on and from what people have told me, these are really good books. Knowing that, I wanted to get most other titles finished first, some trilogies and series’ that I hadn’t had a chance to finish before diving in to this one – and I’m glad I did.
A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic series of seven books but only five have been published thus far (at time of writing) although two of those five are split into two making seven. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it’s about to get a lot worse and very, very quickly but I’ll try to ease you into it, starting with the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones.
On a side note, I’ll make some references to the television show, Game of Thrones, in this series but this is mostly about the books as I’m sure you’ll have guessed by now.
Getting to grips with the cast
Fantasy and science-fiction books are especially guilty of often being one thing – and while this can apply to any genre, it’s most common here – and that’s that they become too big too soon. Rather than easing a reader in, we essentially blow their minds and expect them to remember every name, person, place, term and such right from the get go, because it will be important later.
This happens in A Game of Thrones too, and because the cast so large and diverse it makes sense that each chapter is told from a different character. Where this falls down is when the story leaps to the other side of the country or a certain amount of time has passed and this isn‘t made clear until later chapters.
What this does, and it does well, is let you invest in a number of characters for different reasons. There’s a lot of death in this book – and the series as a whole – so focusing on one character wouldn’t work because you’d know he or she would survive. George R. R. Martin’s ability to make you care about a character and kill them will infuriate you but again, there’s such an influx of new characters that you’ll keep reading.
There are fights, politics, intrigues, betrayals and deaths. Lots of deaths. And a lot of sex. Do the people in Westeros ever wear clothes? Well, they do but sometimes it really feels like they don’t.
Ned Stark is visited by the King, who happens to be his old friend and the two fought in the war to take the crown. He’s called to the capital to serve more directly as Robert’s Hand and this is where it all starts going wrong. Bran is injured and there’s a mystery around his attacker, Jon Snow is going to the Wall. Ned’s daughters are joining him in the capital and his wife is going on an epic journey of her own from north to south and back again in search of justice.
On the other side of the waters, the last of the Targaryen’s – whose family held the Iron Throne before Robert – are looking to forge new alliances and raise an army to take back what they lost.
There’s more I could say but this is just an introduction for you. I think it’s important to point out that’s no good and evil in this book. Everyone has their own goals and agendas and they all believe in what they’re doing. Everything is grey here, rather than black and white. While you may disagree with one character or family, every action has consequences and the fact they have such conviction is refreshing.
Conventions of the fantasy genre
I’m not going to go into huge detail on this – although I think it may be worth a look at in general in the future. What you’ll discover with A Game of Thrones, and the A Song of Ice and Fire series in general, is that certain things don’t happen as you would expect. The thing is, you might not even realise you expect them to happen and this is why people are so ‘outraged’ by the amount of deaths.
Let’s take Jon Snow first. He’s the bastard son of the Warden of the North, who rules the region for the king. Fine, but because we don’t know who the mother is, and the fact that we share his point of view for much of the book, we know he’s important so we expect him to live and do great things. Then he goes to the Wall. You can still be great but it’s not what we’re used to, with such characters ending up as a ruler or with the gorgeous princess.
What about Snow’s half-brother, Bran? He’s thrown from a window and made a cripple. This generally doesn’t happen to our heroes unless they have a chance to ‘fix’ their problem. This, so far, is not possible and we’re faced with a much grittier world and story. This is quite refreshing and removes the idea that the worst injuries our protagonists will ever suffer are token scars over their eyes to make them look tough and cool.
And the TV show?
I held off from watching the TV show for a long time – I wanted to read the books first or at least at the same time – to really see the differences between them. Now, I’ll hold my hands up and tell you that there are very few times where I’ll say the books aren’t better. It’s different art forms, yes, but I’m allowed to have that level of bias – especially on this blog!
I then rushed through and watched the entire thing by the time I finished the first book of the third book (keep up!) and it is a great show but there will always be changes. Saying that, the first season holds true to the book for most of it and that’s really good – it’s not often I can say that. Going forward though, that does change.