This is my first post in a long time, as I’ve been pretty busy recently. Now that the dust has settled, I felt I really couldn’t avoid writing a review of the most recent book I’ve read. It’s a big one. It’s Game of thrones.
At any given point in the last few years, at least one of the titles in the Song of Ice and Fire series has been riding highy in the bestsellers list. And now, having (belatedly) read the first book, I can see why. Quite simply, it’s brilliant.
Theoretically, this is fantasy fiction. And it does have a few fantasy elements, such as the zombie-like predators ‘the Others’ and, erm, dragons. I like fantasy fiction, but if it’s not usually your cup of tea don’t let that put you off. Between the two supernatural threats of the Others in the austere, frozen north (‘ice’) and the dragons in the exotic, passionate east (‘fire’), a kaleidoscope of colourful human characters display very human characteristics as they battle, intrigue and scheme to try to seize the Iron Throne. Aristocrats, warriors, courtiers, children and outcasts find themselves caught up – sometimes unwillingly – in the struggle. The stakes are high, and this is what provides the story with its page-turning drama. As the heartless Queen Cersei explains to the honourable (and therefore clueless) Eddard Stark:
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
All this brings to mind historical dynastic struggles such as the War of the Roses, and in fact Game of thrones reads like completely believable historical fiction. Like Cynthia Voigt‘s Jackaroo, it’s set in a sort-of-medieval-but-not-really landscape. The Europe-ish continent of Westeros has knights, jousting tournaments and a feudal system, whereas the Asia-ish continent Essos has bazaars, dancing women and a tribal horse-riding warrior people named the Dothraki. These medieval touches supply a vivid and realistic atomsphere without the author’s imagination being cramped by the need for historical accuracy.
The story is told from multiple viewpoints, which means we can see the motivations and rationale behind different characters’ actions, making us more sympathetic towards (most) of them. It also makes the story absorbing as the story flicks back and forth between different plot threads. Martin is not afraid to kill off major characters, even those whose eyes we’ve been seeing the action through and are consequently emotionally invested in. This is another thing that makes it realistic, especially when compared to action movies where the hero escapes a thousand bullets whilst sketchily-drawn minor characters die all around him.
If you haven’t read Game of Thrones, I advise you to do so. And if you’ve read all the series so far and can’t wait for George R. R. Martin to publish the final two (or possibly more) books, I’d recommend giving Maurice Druon’s Accursed Kings series a go: as well as being one of Martin’s influences, this is a fantastic series in its own right. Meanwhile, I’ll probably be spending the next year or so reading the other six books of A song of ice and fire.