Saturday, 18 November 2017

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

Age group: 16+

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher’s write-up:

 ‘Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men. All will play the Game of Thrones.

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plot, lusts and intrigues; to the vast frozen north, where a 700-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from dark forces that lie beyond. The Game of Thrones. You win or you die.’

Ever since HBO launched a TV show based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire; where the TV show was named after the first book of the series, Game of Thrones. While I was suggested the TV show by many of my friends, I could never get past twenty minutes, for I found it too gory but then, I decided to give in years later when I picked up the first book of the series.

 It happens in a new world created by the author which is simply referred to as the known world­ in the books. The story is divided into chapters told from the third person perspective of the main characters which include Eddard (Ned) Stark, Catelyn Stark, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Brandon Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.

In Westeros, a continent to the west of the known world, Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King (chief adviser) of the Seven Kingdoms, dies under mysterious circumstances. Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell and a close aide of King Robert Baratheon succeeds as the new Hand and moves to the capital with his two daughters and starts investigating the cause of Jon Arryn’s death. His daughter Sansa is betrothed to Joffrey Baratheon, the song of King Robert and Queen Cersei. However, strange events start to unfold – Ned Stark’s young son Brandon is pushed off the tower and whilst he was being treated, there was another assassination attempt on him. Catelyn Stark, the Lady of Winterfell gets to know that the knife used in the assassination attempt belonged to Tyrion Lannister, from the house which Queen Cersei belonged to. This leads to political instability and a war between the House of Stark and the House of Lannister.

On the other side, in the continent of Essos, you have the Targaryen siblings – Viserys, the pretender to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms and his sister Daenerys, plotting to retake the throne for the family. The Targaryens were ousted by Robert Baratheon twelve years ago by means of a rebellion. Viserys is trying to form an army large enough to travel back to Westeros and retake the Kingdom and for this, he secures an alliance with a nomadic tribe, the Dothrakis, by marrying his sister to their leader Khal Drogo.

There is also another angle to the story, from the point of view of Jon Snow, who joins the night watch, who guard the Northern Wall of the Seven Kingdoms. Jon Snow is the bastard son of Ned Stark and the more he spends time at Night Watch, the more he gets to know the truths of the order.

The plot was slow, and the title was highly misleading, for, the Game of Thrones does not even begin till the death of the King, which took place after I was much more than half into the novel. Till then, all I had was some childish fighting between teenagers – Sansa and her sister Arya, Arya and Prince Joffrey. The first 500 odd pages of the book effectively seemed like a filler wherein the story was going directionless, there were three different perspectives, and within that, excluding Daenerys and Jon, the six others are at different locations within Westeros, each of them pursuing different interests. And when you have so many perspectives, inevitably you also have so many characters that it was becoming extremely difficult for me to keep track of characters, events, the setting and the whole unfolding of the plot lacked coherence. I had to take multiple breaks while reading this book and from the time I started reading this book till the end, I read six books in between to keep me distracted from the utterly boring pages of this book.

I understand that this is a long novel and I have experienced something similar with The Luminaries (which is slightly longer than Game of Thrones) and there too, I felt lost for the first 200 pages but it didn’t run as long as in the case of this book. But I would concede that the author did a reasonable job in establishing the characters during the initial stages – Ned Stark as the man bound by honour and duty to the king, Tyrion Lannister – the cunning yet witty dwarf of the Lannisters, Cersei – the manipulative queen, Joffrey the arrogant young prince who feels too entitled, Sansa the conformist and Arya the rebel. I felt that Tyrion Lannister proved to be the only saving grace whose presence would help the reader to at least look forward to the next chapter from the perspective of Tyrion for at least, they were interesting.

After the death of King Robert, the novel, took the turn for the better, with things moving fast, the war for succession getting very tense, with the Starks on war against the Lannisters, the King’s brothers staking a claim to the throne, I breezed past the final third of the novel and considering that the series would continue along similar lines, I would give the series another chance and would eventually read the second book in A Song of Ice and Fire.

With that said, an interesting final third does not exonerate the author for boring me with fillers for a substantial part of the book and on that note, I would award Game of Thrones, a mere five on ten.

Rating – 5/10

Have a nice day,

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