Review of Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (1996) (A Song of Fire and Ice Book 1)

Bottom line: This book has graphic sex and violence, and I didn’t enjoy the story or characters enough to balance out the disturbing elements.

Rating: Not Recommended

Blurb:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. 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.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. 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.

Review:

This is one of those books that I was late coming to, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I borrowed the first three books from a friend, assuming that I would at least like it well enough to want to finish as much of the story as I could. Unfortunately, I was only a hundred pages or so into the first one (they’re all huge – about 700 pages) when I realized that that was not going to be the case. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to finish the first book, but ploughed on through it – mostly to see if it would redeem itself at the end (it didn’t).

My main hang up was the sex and violence. I will admit that I am fairly squeamish about graphic content, so if your stomach is stronger than mine, it may not be as much of an issue for you. Explicit sex, multiple rapes, incest, murder in all kinds of interesting ways, and so on. The book has a quasi-medieval setting, so this kind of content is not unbelievable, but it did feel excessive.

Even apart from that, I found little that I liked. The story shifts viewpoints and subplots quite a bit, and it can be difficult to maintain all the various threads, timelines, and how everything fits together. More, I found it hard to care enough about any of these individual elements to want to follow the stories through to the end. Of all the characters whose viewpoint you share, only a few of them are sympathetic at all.

His setting had the potential to be interesting, but I didn’t feel like I could visualize it all that well. I feel like most fantasy authors err on the side of over-explaining their universes, but Martin erred the other way. He spends a lot of time referencing the old and new gods, for example, but even after 700 pages, I didn’t really feel like I understood what that system was. Or why there are zombies.

Another irritation for me was the spelling. I know that it is fairly common for the genre to take common words and spell them in different ways, but this happens a lot in this book and it was like the written equivalent of nails down a chalkboard for me. Worst offender: “Ser” instead of “Sir.”

I know a lot of people who are really into this story, whether through the books, the tv series, or both. I can understand the appeal on some level – there is plenty of action, and the storylines are very intricate and fast paced – but it just didn’t come together for me. Or, to be more precise, it came together in all the worst ways for me.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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