But after enduring “Wizard’s First Rule” earlier this summer, I felt like I should give a fair shake to one of the giants of the genre–the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin. “A Game of Thrones” is a novel that’s long been on my bookshelf, sort of mocking me with its lengthy page count and complex political storylines. Each time I’d think about reading it, another book would come along to distract me.
Finally a reason other than “because it’s there” came along for me to read it. A book club I participate in chose it for our August selection. Finally, the motivation I needed.
And, at first, I was pleasantly surprised by the novel. It starts off well and manages to avoid a lot of the cliches that doomed my reading of “Wizard.” Namely the book assumes the reader has half a brain cell and can follow the on-going plot without the need to have characters sit around and contemplate events up to this point every 20 or so pages. For that, Martin should be commended.
Of course, Martin does include a long list of characters and relationships in the back of the book to help readers out and there were times at the mid-point I found myself flipping to it to keep in mind who relates to who and how. I say this because Martin has created an epic group of characters for the story. And that can be a good thing or it can be a daunting task. Add to it that the story shifts among multiple viewpoints and it would be easy to get lost in the details.
However, Martin never lets the reader get too far lost. There is a portion of the story in the middle where things slow to a crawl, but that’s only because Martin has to set things up for the final third of the novel when revelations begin to occur and the action jumps up a notch. I’ll admit it took me a while to plow through the middle third but the first and last third of the book are simply some of the best epic fantasy I’ve read of late. Of course, when the comparison is “Wizard’s First Rule,” that’s damning by faint praise. But the thing is “A Game of Thrones” works because it doesn’t fall back on the typical fantasy tropes. For a fantasy novel, there is very little of the magic usually associated with such books here–at least until the final few pages.
Also, I’ve heard Martin has a habit of taking unexpected turns and not keeping any character safe from death at any time. That certainly begins in this first novel, where based on how certain characters were developing and casting news for the HBO series, I assumed at least one or two characters would make it through the entire series.
Apparently that’s what I get for assuming.
The story is a long, complex and intriguing one that ends at a place that I’m curious to continue the journey. At least after in the near future. The idea of picking up the near 1000 page sequel to this one seems a bit daunting right now but I have a strong feeling I’ll be back to this universe soon.