Yeah, yeah, I know. . .
I'm ten years late reviewing George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. And to add insult to injury, I have no excuses. How could I, since I was offered an ARC in the summer of 1996? What could I possibly say in my own defense? Just that I didn't want to begin another "ongoing" series and was planning to read the whole thing when the final volume was released. At least that was the plan. . . As you can see, I ultimately caved in well short of my goal after a decade of self-control!
So how does one review a book which appears to be well on its way to become a classic of the genre? I knew I needed to worry about the rabid members of the Brotherhood without Banners. If I didn't like A Game of Thrones, I feared that they would hunt me down, abduct me, castrate me with a blunt knife, tie me up and then force me to listen to various Terry Goodkind audiobooks till death mercifully claimed me. . .;-) Talk about pressure! In the end, I decided to approach this novel as if it was any other book that comes into my hands. I wanted to evaluate it on its own merit, and that's what I endeavored to accomplish.
In terms of worldbuilding, Martin utilizes the traditional medieval backdrop to stage this multilayered tale. Yet there are a number of additions, such as the Wall, that differentiate his world from what has become the norm in the field. This being the first volume of a long series, I have a feeling that the author only offered us a glimpse of his detailed universe. Subsequent volumes will likely demonstrate that this is just the tip of the iceberg in that regard.
The narrative really takes you away, bringing Martin's world to life with an arresting imagery. The dialogues are top notch, and everything rings true. Relatively short chapters keep the reader turning those pages, always eager for more. George R. R. Martin proves to be a master storyteller, dosing every chapter with new knowledge that keeps the story moving forward, while simultaneously revealing secrets from the past.
But what truly sets A Game of Thrones apart from the competition is the characterizations. Simply put, Martin could well be the most gifted fantasy author in that department. What makes this such a feat is the fact that he juggles with a multitude of POV characters, all of them disparate and three-dimensional. For my money, this was the most enjoyable facet of this book. Every character feels "real" and it never looks as though the author is pushing the envelope with any of them. Jaime and Cersei Lannister are two exceptions. But I believe that they become POV characters in the sequels, which should flesh them out a lot more.
And amidst all that deviousness, ruthlessness, and backstabbing, Martin manages to infuse those characters with a deeply involved humanity that only Robin Hobb can match. One only has to look at the relationships between Jon and Arya, Robb and Bran, Jon and Samwell Tarly, Eddard and Catelyn Stark and their children, Tyrion and Bran, etc, to witness this. Seeing the tale unfold through the eyes of so many different characters was without a doubt the most satisfying aspect of this book.
Of course, I was aware that there would be quite a few casualties in this one, with many more to come! Still, I should probably count my blessings and appreciate the fact that my favorites -- Jon Snow, Arya and Tyrion -- have managed to survive. However, I figure that they'll undoubtedly get killed before long! Sansa, who annoys the hell out of me, will likely be there for the long haul. . .
If I were to compare the opening chapter of the three "big" fantasy epics out there -- Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen -- I'd say that A Game of Thrones is probably the most satisfying first volume of the three series. Indeed, even though it lacks the "epic" stuff which both The Eye of the World and Gardens of the Moon are made of (some would claim that this is what sets A Game of Thrones apart), it is a more coherent and easy-to-get-into novel.
This just in: George R. R. Martin is good! Remember: You read it here first!;-)
The final verdict: 9/10
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