Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
By:  George RR Martin
ISBN:  9780553588484
Available formats:  Hardcover, Paperback, ebook, and Audiobook

My rating:  ★★★★★

In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

A Game of Thrones is a mature epic fantasy that carries a strong European historical undercurrent.  Martin focuses each chapter on a particular character from the third person point of view, so the reader is easily carried from one region of the land to another, giving the story a rich diversity and dimension.  The central character of this book is Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, and the majority of the plot involves his life and his family.  When Ned’s close friend, King Robert Baratheon, visits his home and asks him to come south with him to take the post of the Hand, the king’s most trusted and powerful advisor, the Stark family soon realizes that their lives will never be the same again.  Their family motto—“Winter is Coming”—takes a deeper meaning for each of them.  Before they even depart, they are warned that the previous Hand was murdered, possibly at the hand of the queen and her brother, and their young son, Bran, suffers a strange tragic accident leaving him crippled and comatose.  Stark has no other choice; however, than to accept the post and travel south with only his two daughters.   

Stark’s illegitimate son, Jon Snow, travels north to the great ice wall.  North of the wall lies the Haunted Forest where Wildlings and Others roam and peculiar things are beginning to happen.  It is unclear if it is something inhuman, dark, and demonic or the work of worldly sorcery.  The ever thinning guard of the wall is losing rangers left and right with no explanation, and soon the danger enters their own camps.  Jon is torn between his duties as a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch and the plights of his family to the south. 

To complicate matters further, the son and daughter of the previous king, usurped by Baratheon, are exiled across the sea.  Viserys agrees to sell his sister, Daenerys, to the leader of the Dothraki horse warriors in exchange for his aid in reclaiming the Iron Throne.  As a wedding gift, Dany receives three dragon eggs that are believed to be petrified—but are they???  Dragons are believed to have been extinct for hundreds of years, but Dany cannot help but feel a strange connection to the eggs which are always warm to her touch.  Dany manages to find love with her new husband, and they conceive a son that is prophesied to be the greatest ruler of the world.  Perhaps it is Daenerys, the blood of the dragon, which is actually the focus of that prophesy.

In my opinion, A Game of Thrones is in a league with greats such as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.  Martin brings a whole new world to life as he weaves the mystical so subtly into the realistic.  I was completely drawn into the story just as much as I have ever been drawn into any of my favorite fantasy or historical fiction novels.  I found myself anxious with the fear of the events in the Haunted Forest, warm with the love that grew so quickly between Daenerys and her Kahl Drogo, and heartbroken with the sad losses disappointments the Stark family faced along the way.  Thanks to Martin’s immense descriptive story-telling abilities, I became truly personally invested in each and every character in this read.  The most notable aspect of the story, I believe, is that there never really is an obvious protagonist or antagonist.  It makes the story so much more relatable, because real life is rarely ever clear cut good vs. evil. 

I am certain not everyone will be able to appreciate this book.  It is long (over 800 pages), and the pace can sometimes be a bit slow.  Anyone who can commit themselves, however, should not be disappointed.  I began by listening to the audiobook, and the narrator did a perfect job of bringing the characters and the story to life.  It became apparent to me, though, that I am far too impatient for audiobooks, especially those that are over thirty-three hours!  I am really looking forward to reading the remainder of the series, and I have high expectations for where Martin will take me from here.  I think I might have found another favorite author!!

I first became interested in the Song of Ice and Fire series when I saw a preview for the television adaptation, Game of Thrones, which will debut on HBO this weekend, April 17, 2011.  I am truly excited to see how they will translate this tale onto the screen, and I hope it does not disappoint.  Some of my favorite actors and actresses are portraying the characters, and I am sure that it will soon be high on the list of my preferred television shows and movies.