The Jub Jub Bird

A literary blog with fantasy tendencies

A Game of Thrones – By George R R Martin

game of thrones

This is the first book in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series and is, perhaps inevitably, a slow-burner at first.  The scope is undeniably vast, if not quite epic, with a multitude of characters bringing real depth to Martin’s convincingly realised world.  Seeds of story lines are planted in this series opener, which won’t pay-off until much later, though this instalment doesn’t lack for narrative drive.  A Game of Thrones centres on the extended family of House Stark of Winterfell: Lord Eddard, his Lady Catelyn, their children, wards and courtiers.  Their ordered, family life is thrown into upheaval by Eddard’s appointment as the King’s Hand and subsequent relocation, with his daughters, to the royal court at King’s Landing.  Eddard accepts the honour reluctantly, knowing it will drag his family into the great game of power and politics; and so it proves, as his family are scattered throughout the land and events begin to spiral beyond his control.

Martin’s gift is in creating an endless supply of complex protagonists to populate his world, as the geographic (and demographic) range of the story develops.  Indeed, he makes work for himself here by his – much commented upon – tendency to kill characters off, often without provocation. With so many individuals, the reliable fantasy archetypes are out in force but there’s a whole range of greys and browns between the traditional black and white, sometimes all within the same character.  Perhaps the best example of this is Tyrion Lannister, a hunch-backed dwarf with mismatched eyes and a predilection for drinking and whoring, whose family are among the most loathsome of the series.  Yet Tyrion is one of the more sympathetic characters; only too aware of his own failings, and those of his family, with a profound understanding of the dark arts of power politics, yet often making the most equitable call, standing up for the weak and confounding the scheming strong.  In short, he acts like a good King, while singly failing to live up to the time-worn image of one.

Meanwhile darker forces amass at the edges of the map, here be dragons indeed, waiting patiently until their time comes (again), in future books.  There’s a lot going on here and Martin controls the strands by telling each chapter through the eyes of one of several key characters, who we return to every few chapters.  Through this mechanism we learn much about the details and characters specific to the current location but we only learn of events on a larger scale as the characters themselves do, sometimes long after the events themselves have taken place.  The reader feels drawn into the local action but is constantly aware that larger events are taking place elsewhere and we don’t know what they are yet.  It is a continual source of joy to return to a character and discover how events have moved on in their part of the world and to predict the ripple effects for everyone else.

Small complaints, I have a personal bias towards high fantasy, while this is more knights and kings; though the myth and magic quotient will no doubt increase in later instalments.  I also found the children’s characters and story arcs less nuanced and satisfying than the adults.  Perhaps that’s the way it should be?  It remains to be seen whether Martin can keep all the plates spinning as the story expands in later instalments.  A Game of Thrones is a fine start though, recommended.

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July 7, 2009 - Posted by | Reviews |

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