Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: A Game of Thrones

I'm arriving late to the whole Game of Thrones phenomenon. It seems that quite a few people have already read the books and watched the (slightly ruder?) television series, partly filmed in our very own Westeros, otherwise known as Northern Ireland. On the recommendation of friends and family, I took the plunge and bought the full series when the books were cheap on Amazon for the Kindle back at the start of the summer. After all, I normally read at least ten books in my poolside summer holiday week, so I'd probably make it through two or three of them alongside my other holiday reading list.

As it turned out, I only managed to read the first book in the series. There's some reading in one of these books! While I could usually get a book read in a day, this one took almost three days of reading, morning, noon and night. It's dense, packed with detail, and it's intense, with the story pulling the reader in and not letting go!

Having enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, this is a more modern fantasy epic with a cast of thousands, and twists and turns in every chapter. Reader, be aware that there are some disturbing portions that definitely wouldn't be suitable for children, including incest, sex and sexual violence, war, and gruesome descriptions of violence. Having said that, it seems that, compared to the TV series, the books are mild, and leave a lot less seen or heard than the TV programmes, pushing the envelope and maximising the gore and lewdness.

The seven Kingdoms are united under King Robert Baratheon, but intrigue, rebellion, and rage are unleashed early on. With warring clans and kingdoms, as well as the ordinariness of daily life, nothing will remain as it is for long. Having read the first book, I've realised that it's better not to become too attached to any character, nor to have favourites, as no one is safe and everyone could perish at any moment.

The style of writing is an interesting approach. Each chapter is headed simply by the name of the character who is in view; and from whose perspective the action is happening. So sometimes, you read of the same event several times, having witnessed it with someone who was there, and then hearing of it again when someone else gets a report of it. But overall, I think it works, and as a new chapter is reached and the lead character is discovered, it leaves you wondering what is going to happen to them or around them - if you can remember who they are! There are a lot of characters to remember, and to keep the various plot lines and locations and their connections together.

In the first book there are some references to the religion of the world, or rather, the religions. There appears to be some sort of conflict between the old, native religion and newer forms brought from elsewhere - the ancient godswood and the newer septs. It's something to watch as the series continues and develops.

The writer has gone to extraordinary lengths to create an entire fantasy world, with families and clans, each with their own customs, banners, and connections. The vividness of winter in Winterfell where the Starks live; the opulence of King's Landing where King Robert reigns; the exotic otherness of the Khalesi; and everything in between. I heard once of a study being done on the importance of food in CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia - Martin is similarly obsessed with food, and what is eaten at banquets and feasts. It would make you hungry reading it!

You may have noticed that I haven't really tackled much of the plot. That's probably deliberate. It would be impossible to summarise it without giving anything away. Far better for the reader to plunge in and discover the world of Westeros, and pick a side to sympathise with.

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin is available for Kindle.

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