This book serves as our introduction to Westeros, the fantastic land where George R. R. Martin’s world comes to life.
As well as I can, I will summarize the events of this book, since many of you are now following the HBO television series adapted from this first volume.
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death… I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come. — Night’s Watch Vow, Jon VI, 522
As we arrive in Westeros, we’re far in the north, just beyond the Wall where there have been reports of strange things happening. The Night’s Watch rangers have disappeared, the Others have been sighted, and the Wildlings are on the move. Meanwhile, King Robert Baratheon with his Lannister wife and host make their way north to nominate Ned Stark the new Hand of the King. But tensions rise as the new Hand assumes his duties and finds himself in the middle of a struggle for power, a game of thrones, that may prove deadly.
Meanwhile, across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen is coming into her womanhood as she is married off to Khal Drogo, the most powerful Khal of the Dothraki. One of two of the last of the Targaryen line, together Daenerys and her brother Viserys travel the continent awaiting the time when they can sail across the sea and conquer Westeros which was taken from them when their father, Aerys the Mad King, was slain.
I won’t go into more detail than that because I simply cannot do justice to the sheer enormity and scope of this first book. On a first readthrough, there are so many characters that even the most careful of readers will feel lost (yes, even with the hefty fifty page appendix at the back of the book). There are several major houses that are spoken of frequently that you will want to get to know (meaning… that knowing of will make your life easier): Stark, Baratheon, Targaryen, and Lannister. Guessing the overall plot will be much easier once you have a handle on these houses.
Suffice it to say that Martin is an incredibly detail-oriented writer; rarely dry, his prose is a good mix of action, dialog, and explanation. Since the chapters alternate perspectives, the pace of the novel gets going and never stops, rarely allowing you a moment to become jaded or bored. But therein is another problem that some readers may have with Martin’s writing; because of the quick pace of the novel as well as the perspectives, sometimes events will happen in passing without the reader being able to witness it directly. Key events. Important events, specifically, that one may feel outraged by when they are heard indirectly.
Brace yourself. “A Game of Thrones” is deeply absorbing. Despite its designation as ‘fantasy,’ it reads almost more like historical fiction in an alternate universe; the storylines and characters are believable and so delightfully gray. It’s hard to explain, but somehow the fact that there is no ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ distinction in this novel makes it more engrossing. Who can you trust? Who should you pull for when all of the characters have faults that make them so tragically real?
When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground. — Cersei Lannister, Eddard XII, 488
Verdict: One of my all-time favorites. You won’t regret investing yourself in this series.
Buy/Borrow & Read/Skim/Skip