Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, is an astonishingly powerful fantasy epic, following the story of members of the noble House Stark. It's a medieval style fantasy tale, with noble lords ruling over the "smallfolk", and rather cleverly both relates and distances itself from our medieval history by its slight deviations from our world - certain titles and names spelled or pronounced a little differently, differences in religion. Throughout the book, magic behaves like it does in our world - a relic of the past, not really intruding on daily life except in tales.

Where it differs from most other fantasy I've read is the emotional power of the story. The characters, while not overly complex or subtle, bind you to them. When a character is injured, you care; when a loved one is killed, you are stunned, and have to read on to see the aftermath. It's got a lot of the sense of history and depth that The Lord of the Rings has, but with a much more vivid emotional landscape. It's a story for adults, not for teenagers, which separates it from most fantasy.

I picked this up after reading and hearing quite a few recommendations, and seeing some of the press about the television series that is being made based on the series. Even with all the recommendations, I was still surprised by how powerful this book was, and by how often I'd find myself thinking about what twists might come next - how horribly things might turn out for the characters in the story.

And this is a book where things turn out badly. Martin heaps hurt upon hurt on everyone in this story. A character at one point says that in the game of thrones, you win or you die. The game of thrones is how nobles refer to the maneuvering for supremacy among them. And people die, and get betrayed, and betray, and kill. And just when things look as bad as they can get, they get worse. No good deed is left unpunished, and you can't help but feel for the characters, and imagine yourself in these situations, seeing your children and loved ones in peril.

About two thirds of the way through this book (around the 600 page mark), I realised that it was going to end soon, and that it was the first of a series. I kind of knew, but had blithely ignored it. But when the announcement came out that book 5 of the series was due to be released in June, it dawned on me that I urgently had to buy the next book in the series. Annoyingly, the bookshops I checked either had nothing, or had four copies of this book, and none of the rest of the series. I've now placed an urgent order with The Book Depository*, and the books are hopefully flying across the planet to me now. I'm quite bothered by the fact that I now have to read a different book, rather than starting immediately on A Clash of Kings (which I'm not linking to because I'd have to find the page, and there might be spoilers).

* Buy there. Or at Better World Books. Book prices in Australia are absurd.

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