A Game of Thrones (Revisited)

Written By: George R.R. Martin

Published By: Bantam Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                I’ve been hearing about A Game of Thrones for some time now.  There has been a lot of hype about the book series by George R.R. Martin ever since HBO started airing the television series based on his work.  I am usually inclined to ignore they hype…like the plague, running as far from it as possible.  However, after seeing scenes here and there shown me by friends and co-workers saying, “You’ve gotta see this,” I decided that I should check the novel series out.  Ismael Manzano already reviewed A Game of Thrones, the first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but I felt the need to revisit the novel and offer up a slightly differing view.

                A Game of Thrones centers around the Stark family of Winterfell.  Head up by Eddard “Ned” Stark, the family has enjoyed many a season of quiet happiness.  But lately, signs appear that make Ned uneasy.  Members of the Night’s Watch have been disappearing, many believed to have deserted their sworn brotherhood, but others wonder.  Could the rumors about the mysterious White Walkers of the woods, undead creatures that have swarmed and destroyed entire realms in the past, be true?

                In addition to these strange and more frequent disappearances, Ned discovers that one of his oldest friends, the King’s Hand, has died under suspicious circumstances.  King Robert Baratheon, as close to Ned as a brother, gives Ned the job of King’s Hand, a position Ned dreads.  Not being one to enjoy the political maneuverings of the royal throne, Ned accepts the position, if only to keep an eye on Robert and make certain that he doesn’t come into the same fate as his former Hand.  For the King’s family and advisors are a crafty bunch and one or more of them are responsible for the death of the King’s most trusted advisor.  

                Unfortunately, in attempting to keep Robert safe and investigating the death of Robert’s original King’s Hand, Ned uncovers a secret that threatens to tear the kingdom apart.  In doing so, he puts himself and his entire family at risk and inadvertently starts a war…one that will test the loyalties of every family in the Seven Kingdoms

And that’s nothing compared to the threat amassing in the East.  The heirs of the Tagaryens, former rulers of the Seven Kingdoms, are making plans to return to their kingdom and take back what they believe is rightfully theirs.  With all of the subterfuge and backstabbing in the realm, will they be ready for the return of the exiled?

At eight hundred plus pages, A Game of Thrones is an imposing looking book, and yet I decided to take up the challenge.  I am so happy I did.  George R.R. Martin has created a fantasy novel full of dragons, knights, castles and an underlying sense of magic while still adding in the horror element of zombie-like White Walkers, a murder mystery, secrets some think are worth anything to protect and a kingdom full of spies, frauds and turncoats.  And he does this in such a way as to make you care about it all.  You care about what happens to each and every member of the Stark family.  You care about Robert, despite seeing how much he has changed through Ned’s eyes.  You care about Daenarys, despite her mission to take back her family’s throne.  You give a damn about the dwarf Tyrion of the dreaded Lannister family.  Sure, the Lannisters are considered untrustworthy and we later discover just how devious they can be, but something about Tyrion and all that he has undergone at the hands of his family and others makes you want something better for him.  You want to see goodness in him, even if there isn’t much there to see.

Without giving too much of the book away, there are some standout aspect of the book that I simply have to discuss.  I love the foreshadowing and the metaphors used in this novel.  “Winter is coming.”  It’s a statement made over and over by several different characters in the novel.  It is said so often that someone cleverly made a YouTube video containing a collection of scenes in which the statement is said in the televisions series.  Winter is coming is a clever metaphor for the oncoming of war, a cold and ruthless season to be sure.

The appearance of the direwolf pups at the beginning of the novel, one for each of Ned’s children, is significant.  Not only is the direwolf the representative of the House of Stark, their appearance at just this moment and their protective nature seems to indicate that Stark’s children are going to need this protection in the future. 

The various dreams of the Starks foreshadowing events to come lend some credence to the possibility that the Starks have some magical abilities…perhaps the ability to see glimpses of the future.   Bran Stark's tragic accident, his dream of being able to fly and his obsession with the mythical tales of the magical children of the forest make me wonder…will Bran begin to dabble in magic?  Magic is definitely possible – how else can dragons have re-entered the land when they were destroyed years ago?

Fans of fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings, Arrows of the Queen and more are going to love A Game of Thrones.  But be forewarned – A Game of Thrones is incredibly graphic.  These books are for the mature reader – one that can handle sexual situations and extremely bloody and brutal scenes.  One in particular…and my favorite of the novel…regards a presumptuous, vain and brutally abusive would-be king who gets his golden crown, though not quite in the way he expects.  To say more will give too much away, just suffice it to say that a melted crown delivered in such a manner is…well…yikes!

As for my esteemed colleague's opinion that the book delves too much in history, so much so that at times it reads like the Bible, I respectfully disagree.  I find that the revelations about the various characters' family lines to be important to the story, offering up insight into the character's actions as well as some foresight of things to come in the storyline.  I also rather enjoyed that the author jumped back and forth in the storyline based on the particular character he was focusing on in any given chapter.  This way, the reader gets to see the action through another character's eyes.

I absolutely loved A Game of Thrones and it's fantasy elements added to the intrigue and ruthless backstabbing involved in playing the "game of thrones."  As Cersei Lannister says, "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."  I hear that the television series stays very close to the book and I can't wait to check it out.  Since the first novel ended in a cliffhanger, I also can't wait to read the continuing adventures in A Clash of Kings, the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.


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