Monday, July 15, 2013

A GAME OF THRONES


Review of A GAME OF THRONES by GEORGE R.R. MARTIN
(first in the A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series)

I almost didn’t review this one. There are a couple of reasons why I won’t review book. The most obvious is that I didn’t like the book. However, sometimes I find books that I honestly did enjoy, but I still have so much criticism that it would look like a negative review. I go for sincerity in my reviews, so if something bugged me I want to be candid with any potential readers. If a lot of things bugged me, it doesn’t mean I didn’t still enjoy the book but it starts looking less and less convincing in review format. Last, I tend to avoid classics and hugely popular authors. For example, I recently re-read both THE CATCHER IN THE RYE and some Jane Austen novels and passed on reviewing those. As you may have guessed, A GAME OF THRONES falls in the latter category. Popularity is a relative concept, but - especially since the television spinoff - most people have at least heard of this series. One of the purposes of my reviews is to spread the word about great books, especially those that might not be getting the attention they deserve. While I hardly think my endorsement will help A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE climb the next notch on the popularity ladder, another purpose of my reviews is because I enjoy writing them so even if this series doesn’t need any extra addition here are my thoughts on A GAME OF THRONES:

Not that I expected anything different, but it was clear right from the start that this would be a complex story with so many characters that I might struggle remembering who’s who. Nevertheless, I invested in the characters quickly and rather indiscriminately. It didn’t really matter whether I saw any of myself in a character, admired them, liked or disliked them, considered them a villain or comic relief, Martin makes every segment enjoyable reading, every character and conflict interesting. I’ll admit there were a few moments when I struggled keeping track of this huge cast, but that tended to occur more with periphery characters. “First circle” characters stayed in my mind pretty vividly, even though it was indeed a notably huge first circle. Also I read numerous books a time. Usually this habit doesn’t confuse me as much as people might think, but this was the first time I’ve read a book that I thought probably required my monogamous attention.

I liked the quick, short chapters alternating between so many different perspectives. That structure certainly grabs the reader early. With so many characters, Martin has no need to fill space lingering on slower parts. We bounce from dramatic scene to dramatic scene playing out all over the place and leave the more mundane moments, days, months, etc. to the imagination. That being said, I didn’t feel really hooked until about 100 pages in. Hard to say why, but my best guess is with so many characters it took longer for me to ease from interested to connected.

Another reason I often avoid reviewing classics and wildly popular books is because my opinion is unavoidably tainted by everything I’ve heard before reading the book myself. In this case, while I did love this book it still suffered from all the times someone has told be it’s the absolute best thing they have ever read. Too much to live up to! Not to mention that it all comes down to taste. Secondly, I’d been warned many a time about all the deaths. One in particular had already been spoiled for me. The result: I don’t think I invested as much in the characters as I would have if I read this book without hearing a word about it beforehand. Expecting some beloved characters to die, I guarded my heart accordingly and, thus, didn’t feel any deaths as strongly as I might have otherwise.

I was very curious to see how a big a role magic would play in the story. I ticked off its absence (or subtlety) as I read: no magic in the first four chapters, none in the first hundred pages. Honestly, this whole first book seems to be setting up the reintroduction of magic into this world for the rest of the series! I’m both amused and impressed that Martin could so successfully market a fantasy book with so little fantasy, but that probably helps its appeal for the non-fantasy readers not to mention that everyone’s simply looking for a great story. And this is indeed a great story.

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