Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Review: A Game of Thrones

I know I'm a little behind on this: Thrones came out in 1996. And I'll admit it: I grabbed the book after watching the premier of the HBO show. Nonetheless, I finished the book and enjoyed it enough to post a review on Goodreads. For those of you who don't have a Goodreads account, here is my review as originally posted there earlier this week.

 A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was pretty good. Martin has an amazing gift for creating deeply realistic historical fantasy. The writing is good, though most of the action is described in passing or exposition in dialog, which some might fight a little dull. It more than makes up for this with strongly woven characters with complex personalities and relationships. Even the worst of them are identifiable, and the best of them have flaws and shortcoming that make them intimately human. It's easy to get lost in the words and imagine yourself a participant in the story, either as a bookish maester studying chronicles of a bygone era, the young son of a minor lord being told stories by a septon, or a freerider or mercenary collecting tales in a smoky tavern from old knights and veterans.

If I hadn't known this was the first in a series, I may have been disappointed with the end. The conflict introduced early in the book is not quite resolved by the end...in fact, the events of this book appear to complicate it dramatically. It isn't until well into the book, quite a bit past the middle, and the conflict that is ultimately resolved in this volume of the series is resolved, and even then it leaves the reader hanging. This is good if you've decided to invest yourself in the whole series (as I have) but not if you're just looking for a single-shot read. The complications that arise to promise to keep the story moving into the rest of the series.

Some of the character resolutions are a bit disappointing. I don't want to give anything away, but one of the most interesting characters in the book has a most unsatisfying resolution--though Martin kind of makes up for it in the end. Also, there is a relatively glaring plot-hangup that requires the reader to believe that a certain character in the book is too stupid to notice something DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF HIM in the years before (and the months including) this book. Martin manages to justify this by having the character in question be a womanizing, hedonistic drunkard...but at times it strains credulity that he wouldn't at some point look up and go, "Hey, waitaminute!"

Nonetheless, this is a highly enjoyable read. My favorite character is the imp, Tyrion Lannister. He's really the only Lannister in the book that I didn't want to beat with a Dothraki whip. There are plenty of characters to love, and more than a few to love to hate. And the characters actions are believable and consistent without being predictable--usually. Plenty of betrayals, twisted oaths and backroom dealing to keep you guessing.

All of this happens to the backdrop of some greater, more powerful danger lurking just outside the gate--or, the Wall as it were, as the noble houses and armies of the world play their "game of thrones," oblivious to nightmare on the way. This is reminiscent of the squabbles of real-world powers while global problems like climate change and overpopulation threaten everyone with equal fervor.

Overall, Martin has written a great book. The moment I finish writing this review, I intend to begin reading the second in the series. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done with it.


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