Matilda Reviews: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Well, I finally read it. I know I’m super late to the game (haha, get it?), but finally I can join the rest of America in recognizing the significance of such statements as “Justin Bieber is turning out to be the Prince Joffrey of the pop music realm.” (That means he’s a terrible human being, in case you didn’t know.)

And even better, I’m finally free to 1) drink the beer without feeling like a poser and 2) watch the highly acclaimed television series and enjoy Lena Headey’s beautiful but static bitchface. (You know the one I’m talking about.)

cersei4
This one.
cersei5
And again.
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Yep.

(Sorry, I had to.)

But without further ado, on to the book! A Game of Thrones is the first in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

got

I’m going to be honest with you right away—I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I had hoped I would. To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of the fantasy genre. My fantasy literacy starts at Harry Potter and stops at The Lord of the Rings, with a few Terry Goodkind novels thrown into the mix. As a sucker for gorgeous language and acute word choice, the straightforward narrative of books like GoT tends to throw me off a bit. But I suppose that in books like GoT, the beauty of the language is sacrificed to the intricacies of the plot.

With GoT, the overall plot is fairly simple: various houses within the Seven Kingdoms are battling it out—both with actual battle and with sly, illicit scheming—for the Iron Throne. That’s right, everyone wants to be in charge! Everyone wants to be king! (And funnily enough, much of the power in GoT ends up falling into the hands of very inexperienced children.)

What makes A Game of Thrones special is, in my opinion, twofold: 1) the sheer number of characters, story lines, and details involved in fleshing out the plot and 2) the inclusion of fantasy aspects. We’ll start with the characters.

The chapters of GoT are short and rotate among various characters, most of whom belong to House Stark: from Arya, the youngest daughter of Lord Stark, who hates being a lady and wants nothing more than to learn how to properly wield a sword; to Jon Snow, Lord Stark’s bastard son who has joined the grueling Night’s Watch in the frigid north; to the honorable Eddard Stark himself, who seems to be the main protagonist of much of the book; to Catelyn, Stark’s wife; to Tyrion Lannister, who, as a Little Person, is scorned and looked down upon by his family but who is exceedingly clever; to Daenerys Targaryen, who at age thirteen is forced to marry a warrior who doesn’t even speak her language, and who grows magnificently into her power as the khaleesi.

The number of characters was daunting to me before I even began the book. But Martin does a pretty good job of giving each her/his own personality and back story. At least for the main characters, I never had any problem distinguishing them from one another. (There is a character map in the back of the book, which I had to refer to only once or twice, when I first started reading.) I did wish a few of the main players had been more complex, such as Cersei, who seems to be just purely awful (hence, her sole facial expression on the show), and Eddard, who is purely honorable. But other characters had great depth, like Tyrion (who, along with Arya, is probably my favorite)—for the longest time I couldn’t decide whether I was supposed to like him or root against him for being a Lannister, and I liked that. I had to figure him out for myself. He wasn’t black and white.

Now for the fantasy aspects. Within the GoT universe, those who are superstitious believe in creatures called the Others, who were not fully explained, but who seem to be, essentially, zombies. They live beyond the Wall, which protects the Seven Kingdoms from the wildlings (and the “mythical” Others) who live beyond. If I ever end up reading the second book in this series, I hope that it includes more of the magical elements, because throughout the entire book I was hoping to learn more about the Others. As Ben says in Parks and Rec, GoT is human problems in a fantasy world—I just wish there was more fantasy.

My biggest problem with this book was the pacing; it was just too slow for my liking. It took—literally—over 500 pages for any of the real action to begin. Up until then, it was just scheming and whispers and planning and suspicion. I know it’s necessary to let the reader get to know the characters and such, but when a book is over 800 pages long, I must be entertained. I need momentum! Otherwise I’m never going to finish it. And when it drags along… well, it took me about six weeks to read this one. So there you go.

From here on out, I will likely stick to the television show. I want to know what happens to everyone—so, points for the book!—but I’m not willing to read another 800 pages to find out.

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