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Review Revisited: George R. R. Martin – A Game of Thrones

May 20, 2011

Re-read. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (1996)
A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1

Length: 837 pages
Genre: Epic Fantasy

Originally Read: 29 May 2006
Re-Read Started: 29 April 2011
Re-Read Finished: 05 May 2011

Where did it come from? My “epic fantasy favorites” shelf; originally purchased from Amazon.

Winter is coming…
and so are six more books and
thousands of pages.

Summary: Westeros is a kingdom of swords and scheming, a kingdom where allegiances are made and broken, a kingdom that has been enjoying a decade-long summer, a kingdom to which winter is returning. Lord Eddard Stark is content to rule House Stark and enjoy the company of his wife and children, but the King, Robert Baratheon – Ned’s long-time friend and co-leader of the revolution that overthrew the Mad King Aerys Targaryen – has other plans. Robert wants Ned to become the Hand of the King, and with no way to refuse, Ned must go to King’s Landing and attempt to put the kingdom back in order… a daunting proposition while the scheming Cercei Lannister, daughter of the most powerful House in Westeros, is Queen. And meanwhile, across the seas, the last of the Targaryen children wait and plot to reclaim the throne that is rightfully theirs…

Original Review:This book is the beginning of a multi-volume fantasy series, but on the “sword-and-sorcery” scale of of fantasy, it’s almost completely over at the sword end of things. There have been a few hints of magic and supernatural occurrances and magical creatures yet to come, but this book is almost entirely what I would call historical/political epic fantasy. Very concerned with schemes and plots and bloodlines and bastards and alliances and battles. It’s interesting, therefore, that I enjoyed this book so much, since political maneuvering is usually my least-favorite part of fantasy books. For example, I found the succession of Camelyn in the Wheel of Time books incredibly dull. In this book, however, I was able to keep characters and their houses and alliances and plots straight, and I cared about the characters almost from page one. This book also seriously suffers from a bad case of “just one more chapter and then I’ll sleep”-itis.

Thoughts on a Re-Read: It’s been five years since I read this book originally, and between the HBO series and A Dance With Dragons coming out later this summer, I wanted to refresh my notoriously leaky memory. To say that this series is rich with detail is a laughable understatement, so I figured that having things fresh in my mind would be a good thing. It turns out that I actually remembered more than I thought I did; as soon as plot points came up, I remembered where they were leading, and every time a character had to make a decision, I knew they were going to make the one that lead to the most heartbreak (for me) and bloodshed (for them).

There were some things that I forgot, however:

First, while I remembered how much I enjoyed the story, I’d completely forgotten how much I enjoy Martin’s writing style. His world-building, his action, his dialogue, and his character development all wonderful, and – as I said in my original review – he’s great at presenting complicated political maneuvering in a way that’s easy to follow. His prose doesn’t make me want to leap out of my seat, but it smoothly fades into the background, which is exactly what you want when you’ve got a story this compelling.

I’d also forgotten how much happens in this book, and how quickly. Of the six major events that I remembered happening in this book, one actually happens in the next book, one I knew happened at the end, and the other four all happened within the first 25% of the book! And, to make my point, the book doesn’t feel front-loaded at all; the pace keeps going strong throughout – clearly so much stuff happens that my memory couldn’t hold it all.

And what does happen? Is of the no-holds-barred style of storytelling. I’d forgotten how casually brutal these books are. Or rather, I remembered that they were brutal – the Red Wedding is pretty well seared into my brain permanently – but I’d forgotten how unrelentingly brutal they are. Martin’s not shy about doing horrible things to his characters, and having them do horrible things to each other, and no one is safe… and yet I let myself get attached to them anyways, even though I knew (more or less) what was coming.

It’s impossible not to get attached to the characters, is the problem. They’re all really complex, and well-drawn, that even the bad guys are still interesting, and still at least somewhat sympathetic (except Joffrey. Gods, I just want to punch Joffrey in his smug little face, even though it’s not his fault he was raised to be a prattish jerkwad.) On the flip side, even the good guys I occasionally want to slap and yell at to stop being dumb/blind/proud/annoyingly obsessed with their own honor. And the best part is that so many of the characters are neither good guys nor bad guys, but somewhere wonderfully meaty and fascinating in between. I remembered all that in principle, but I’d forgotten just how viscerally affected by these characters I could be.

Oh, I’d also forgotten that Robb and Jon Snow are only 14, and that Tyrion is blond. See what I mean about the leaky memory for details?

Recommendation: Honestly even better than I remembered it being. Not for everyone, but if complex historicals or epic fantasy is your thing, it’s a series well worth diving into. 5 out of 5 stars.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Who’s being lazy? I am! Ooodles of reviews can be found at the Book Blog Search Engine!

First Line: “We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2011 8:40 am

    I don’t think this is for me, but my son raves over it!

    • May 20, 2011 11:26 am

      Kathy – Yeah, as I don’t think you’re a particular fan of fantasy or historical fiction, I think you’re fairly safe skipping this giant epic series. :)

  2. May 20, 2011 8:56 am

    Oh, Joffrey. In a world of complex and real characters, I’m glad you’re there to hate. While I haven’t watched the HBO series beyond the first episode, I think you’ll enjoy this animated .gif.

    • May 20, 2011 11:27 am

      Omni – Brilliant! I could (…and did) watch Tyrion bitchslapping Joffrey for a good solid minute. :)

  3. May 20, 2011 1:50 pm

    I did a re-read fairly recently too, and had the same experience you did: it was even better the 2nd time around! watching the tv show, it’s hard to remember that in the book Robb and Jon (and Danaerys!) are so much younger!

    • May 27, 2011 9:50 am

      Redhead – I understand the decision to age all of the kids up a little bit, and I’m finding that I don’t really mind it so much… except it’s weird to see Jon and Robb being the same age as Theon… that the only thing about the aging that bothers me.

  4. May 20, 2011 2:37 pm

    I recently finished my re-read of this too. My thoughts are pretty much the same. Martin’s character development is amazing. He can truly make you care about almost anyone and everyone. The story itself really stands up well to re-reads because there are so many layers. Love it, and I can’t wait until Dance!

    • May 27, 2011 9:57 am

      He can truly make you care about almost anyone and everyone.

      Laura – So true! One of favorite things about the series is how often I can swing from loving a character to hating them and back again… even characters that I thought were totally irredeemable.

  5. May 20, 2011 5:05 pm

    I didn’t think it was my thing but from your review, it might very well be. I’ll have to give it a go.

    • May 27, 2011 9:58 am

      Carrie – It looks dauntingly big and scary and thick, but if you’re anything like me, it’ll suck you in and the pages will just fly by. If you do try it, I’d love to hear what you think!

  6. May 20, 2011 8:50 pm

    I do like political machinations, but I do not like incest. I’ve been watching the HBO show though, and it’s pretty good. If the books ever return to the library, I’ll give them a try. I have a game with the show where I try to pick out what’s going to be the grossest moment in the whole episode. I almost never win the game. Last week I was so sure there wasn’t going to be anything ickier than the horse’s head getting cut off (srsly, ick), but then there was a six-year-old breast-feeding, and then a dude got stabbed in the eye. Dammit.

    • May 27, 2011 10:01 am

      Jenny – Heh, yeah, the show is staying true to form in terms of not stinting on the violence. This series (the third book in particular) has some of the most disturbing stuff I’ve ever read… not just because of the violence, but because it’s characters you care about being casually brutal to each other.

    • Kimmi permalink
      September 1, 2011 2:16 pm

      … it’s consensual incest, though. which is far less troublesome. and GRRM has gone out of his way to remove any sense of “power dynamic” in the relationship…

  7. May 21, 2011 10:18 am

    I am so eager to read these books again! I really wish I had them with me, they’re at my parents’ in the US, but I won’t be able to watch the series until July anyway (my parents have DVRed it for me) so I’ve decided just to wait rather than buy additional copies. It sounds like they will still live up to my memories based on your rereading experience!

    And I have forgotten pretty much everything that happened, so I really want to reread all of them before I get A Dance with Dragons.

    • May 27, 2011 10:02 am

      Meghan – Oh, they’re so good (as you obviously remember)! I have so many other books I need to be reading first but really all I want to do is dive into re-reading Clash of Kings…

  8. May 30, 2011 2:40 pm

    I love this series. I wrote a review about it all the way back in 2002. Here it is: http://abbygoldsmith.com/reviews/book/ASongOfIceAndFire.shtml

    Agreed that the HBO series is crazy violent, and they added even more sex than exists in the books! But other than that, they’re doing an amazingly good job.

    I recently wrote a blog entry about it:
    http://abbybabble.blogspot.com/2011/05/dysfunctional-families.html

  9. June 13, 2011 8:49 pm

    I am currently reading it for the first time right now. I was under the impression that it was sort of a literary descendant of the Lord of the Rings, but it pales in comparison to the LOTR. Like you said there is hardly any magic and the setting is not nearly as epic as the LOTR.However, so far I like it. It is just not what I thought it was going to be.

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