Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1996.
A Game of Thrones has been made popular by the HBO series Game of Thrones which has produced six seasons to date. The producers of the HBO series did an amazing job of staying true to the text unlike most cinematic renditions of books. A Game of Thrones is a tale of dragons, knights, and conspiracies that takes place in a land where summers and winters last years, and winter only brings bad omens.
A Game of Thrones follows three major families: The Starks, Lannisters, and Targaryens. Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark resides in Winterfell and is Warden of the North and good friend to the king, Robert Baratheon. Robert and Ned fought together in rebellion against the wicked Targaryen king fifteen years prior allowing Robert to usurp the throne and rule himself. Daenerys Targaryen is the daughter of the deceased king, and she lives in exile building power to retake the throne. Cersei Lannister is the wife to the usurper king, Robert.
The Hand of the King, as in the right hand of the king, Arryn is dead and Robert has asked Ned to return to King’s Landing with him as his new Hand. Lord Arryn was a mentor and beloved friend to both Robert and Ned. He is survived by his wife, Lisa, and son. Lisa so happens to be the sister of Ned’s wife, Catelyn, and sends a letter to her warning her of the Lannisters. She believes they plotted and assassinated her husband. This grave news makes it hard for Ned to go to King’s Landing to be the Hand of the King, but his duty and honor lead him to go to get to the bottom of this conspiracy.
Just before Ned’s departure from Winterfell, one of his younger sons, Bran, climbs an abandoned tower and stumbles upon Cersei having an affair with her twin brother, Jaime. To hide their affair, Jaime pushes Bran out of the window. Thankfully, Bran survives the fall, but just barely. He slept practically in a coma for a while, and when he finally woke up, he was paralyzed from the waist down and lost his memory of the tragic event. If he had remembered, then that would have helped Ned put the pieces together to figure out why Arryn was assassinated.
Ned eventually figures out why Arryn was assassinated. Robert’s supposed children are not even his. They are the illegitimate children of Cersei and Jaime. This means that they should not inherit the throne after Robert, and Ned is honor bound to inform Robert of this treachery.
While all this is happening, something more sinister is arising in the north. The Starks have a saying “Winter is coming,” and it reminds and warns them of the dangers of past winters and some of the ancient evils it brings. Winter not only brings cold and famine, but it also brings the Others, or White Walkers. Many believe them to be long gone if not a myth. The Night King leads them as they raise the dead for their sinister army destroying all living things. This was why the Night’s Watch and the Wall were formed. Many have forgotten, but the Night’s Watch remembers, and clues are coming forth signaling the return of the Night King and his White Walkers.
Martin writes each chapter from a different point of view of a select few characters. This is good because it allows the reader to view the story from different sides. The reader never reads about the same event simply from a different point of view, though. Each chapter is still mostly in sequence from the previous one.
There are multiple story arcs taking place in A Game of Thrones. Daenerys is trying to regain the throne usurped from her family while she is exiled in Dothrak. Cersei is trying to make sure her children inherit the throne even though they are not King Robert’s children and rightful heirs. The Starks become entangled in the conspiracy and feud of the throne that turns into an all-out war between the Lannisters and Starks. Bran is recovering from his fall in Winterfell and learning how to live without the use of his legs. Jon Snow, the illegitimate son of Ned Stark, “takes up the black” joining the Night’s Watch upon the Wall.
Jumping between the story arcs and characters can be confusing at times, because the reader has to shift gears and reorient themselves to the character and story arc. Trying to keep track of different story arcs can be overwhelming because Martin jumps between them sometimes leaving the reader hanging. The character may reflect upon previous events to help fill in gaps, though. This style, even though confusing and overwhelming at times, keeps the reader wanting to for more and continue reading. It also breaks up the monotonous feel of following only one character and story.
There is too much sexuality in this book. Only in two occasions is the sex necessary for the plot. When Bran catches Cersei and Jaime having an affair, it clues the reader onto the conspiracy and foreshadows their cruelty and willingness to do anything to have power over the throne. Daenerys marries a Dothraki horse lord, khal, and becomes pregnant with his child. Robert hears of this and orders her assassination so that her son cannot make claim on the throne. This also causes her to grow up into a powerful young woman and queen.
Other than these events, the sexuality is excessive. The amount of detail Martin gives in sexual encounters is pornographic in nature. During war, as atrocious as it is, soldiers may take women for themselves especially in a harsh society as one Martin provides. It is one thing to mention raping, visiting brothels, and a married couple sharing their bed, but to give detail of sexual encounters is unnecessary.
Martin entwines history with magic. The way he writes of knights, castles, and war brings one back to the Crusades and Medieval times. Holdfasts answer to their liege lords in time of need, and they all pay allegiance to the king. When that king becomes cruel or incapable, the lords rise up in rebellion to overthrow the king or claim their own sovereignty seceding from the kingdom. Magic is minimal, but dragons are talked about as historical creatures, and everyone is in awe when they are reborn. Just like the dragons, the White Walkers are talked about in history, and their return brings fear to those who remember. There is just enough magic to make it majestic for the reader.
Martin writes a realistic story full of death, the realities of war and barbarism, and heroism. Most stories have the hero winning out in the end, but Martin takes a more tragic route. The reader keeps hoping and waiting for Ned Stark’s honor to bear fruit, but it eventually causes his execution. When a wicked and corrupt queen helps her cruel son rule, it is no surprise that an honor bound lord is executed as a traitor. The help Ned thought he was going to receive in revealing the truth only turned out to betray his trust. Sadly, this is true of too many people. They only do what benefits them instead doing the right and honorable thing.
Martin provides a realistic and historical world that happens to have dragons and things that go bump in the night in A Game of Thrones. Anyone who enjoys knights, war, and dragons can enjoy this book. This book is not for young readers, though, because of the excessive amount of sexuality Martin writes into the story. In fact, this can turn away many potential readers. It would have been better if Martin left most of it out and focused on the rest of the story. Yet, he writes an entertaining and enthralling story dealing with conspiracies, treachery, and war. It is no wonder that it has become a popular book and made into a popular HBO series.