Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
A Game of Thrones: George R.R. Martin, July 27—August 23, 2015
My rating: ♦♦♦♦♦
A Game of Thrones is known by fans, critics and even those alien to it for its considerable scope. Seven kingdoms, over a thousand named characters and volumes so big they need to be split to be physically printed in this country.
It’s surprising, then, by how astonishingly accessible it is.
This first instalment of the Song of Ice and Fire saga introduces us first to the Stark household, its patriarch Lord Stark and friend to the ruling King. From that vantage point, the map is unfurled and we’re taken by the hand through Westeros and shown, through the connections of characters we know, more of their world.
The action is carried through limited third person narratives rotating between principle members of the various houses. The strategy works. Everything has a double meaning; personal and constitutional. Ned wonders whether to accept his old friend Robert’s offer; the Lord of Winterfell considers the request of the King.
Each chapter contains an almost self-contained vignette and every single one moves the story forward. The writing is descriptive and detailed but never, ever heavy.
One of Martin’s greatest skills is in characterisation. With a dozen lead characters, he creates every single one to be complex and relatable. Despite some truly deplorable acts, you can never fully stand against anyone. You feel, at first, that you should root for Lord Stark with his honour and integrity, but at the same time you want to back the idealistic and – arguably most legitimate heir – Daenerys. Though how can you not cheer on Tyrion ‘The Imp’ Lannister with his acerbic wit and tragic backstory as the ultimate anti-hero. Meanwhile Jon Snow, surely, deserves support as a hero.
These characters are so real, so flawed and so interesting that their personal fates are as much, if not more, the driver of the action, and not simply the titular game of thrones that’s being played out.
The narrative is seeped in symbology and history that makes the world so incredibly real. You can feel the biting cold on the Wall as easily as the searing heat of the Dothraki beyond the narrow sea. And the cultures of the peoples are so interesting, and so carefully thought out, that you never question the reality of it.
In this first book, A Game of Thrones provides a fast-moving adventure with sudden and brutal twists at the most heartbreaking moments. Combining breathtaking description, devastating emotion and thrilling suspense, together with quite possibly the most memorable and realistic characters ever committed to paper, it feels even the bulky running time of part one is very much only the beginning. Martin makes sure we know the ride will be both unpredictable – and unmissable.