George R.R. Martin: A Game of Thrones

After so many people have told me to try it and I got more and more curious about it, I finally decided to read it as part of BiblioSmiles Summer Book Challenge 2014 as the book someone else picked for me. And you now get the review as fifth part of this Book-Week.

What is it about?

4 of 5 stars

Life in the North, in Winterfell, is harsh, cold and simple, but when Eddard Stark and his kin are visited by the King of the Seven Kingdoms everything changes.
Ned becomes Hand of the King (most important advisor) and he is to accompany him to Kings Landing, the seat of the king. Taking his daughters Arya and Sansa with him he strives to uncover the truth about his predecessors death; leaving behind his wife Catelyn and their son’s Robb, Rickon and Bran, with the latter heavily injured after a fall from a high tower.

Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow uses his father’s departure and leaves with his uncle to join the Night’s Watch, a fading brotherhood that guards an ice Wall at the northern border of the realm. He is accompanied by the Queens dwarf brother Tyrion Lannister, who simply wants to see the wall for himself, but unlike Jon returns to re-join his family again, when he is accused for a crime and taken prisoner.

Meanwhile across the Narrow Sea the last descendants of the house Targaryen join with the Dothraki (horse riding warriors) to regain their rightful place on the Iron Throne.

The reading experience

I read this book in English and somehow expected it to be more complicated, but I understood it quite well. (Except that in my mind “after a fortnight” was on the day after tomorrow and not in two weeks…)
With relatively short chapters it was nicely split and I could read at least one during a bus trip.

At first I thought – as many have warned me about this – it would be confusing to read about all these different characters, from all these different angles, but it wasn’t. As written before did I think the book would be written in I-perspective from each character that got a chapter, but I soon learned it wasn’t that easy.
While it is a partly omniscient narrator and it doesn’t feel like a complete personal narrator either, does it mainly focus on what the current character knows and experiences, yet it is no I-perspective, as the character is still referred to in the third person.
It is an interesting perspective to say the least.

For reference’ sake was the focus of this book on: Eddard, Catelyn, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Jon, Daenarys Targayen and Tyrion.

As I said before was I quite captivated by the story and barely wanted to put the book away and I probably would have finished the book far sooner if I had given into that urge.

The only thing that bugged me about the reading was that there were barely any – if at all – paragraphs and a chapter was a complete block of writing and all this with a rather small font.

The characters

Martin is praised for his portrayal of strong female characters (read actual women) and I agree with this. His cast is that varied that you have all kind of different personalities and amongst them those highly praised strong women, but his men are just as diverse. I really enjoy the portrayal of the characters in the book so far, especially Arya and Daenarys. I really liked how Ned handled the whole thing with Needle (or generally interacted with his family) and I grinned while Dany gave her brother a piece of her mind upon their arrival in Vaes Dothrak (Home of the Horselords).
On the other hand was I just as shocked as Catelyn when she met her sister again. Sansa though is a different leaf altogether. As much as I didn’t like the slapping she got towards the end of the book, as much would I have liked to do it myself a couple of times earlier… I really hope it’s true and she’ll finally grow as a character with the next book.

As for the men, I don’t know what to make of Tyrion.
He’s an interesting character, with good advise and clever lines, but he still seems a bit too superior to me at times. Even with his physical restraints he can do a lot of things with seemingly little effort (- and just to be on the save side: This is not intended to be a pun.). Of course his pain is mentioned, but it still feels a bit too much like “look at this character, he is an imp, but look how awesome he is”. Kind of like one of those imba-characters in games or role plays. I still enjoy the scenes he’s in though.

Jon on the other hand is one of those characters that I don’t want to like, due to a possible death, but still do. It’s great how he changed from lordling to tutor and protector of his Black Brothers.

The others have so far had only little screen time and I don’t really know what to say for them. Some of them surprised me with their actions (the Hound/Sandor Clegane), others were pretty constant in their doings (most Lannisters), again others leave me pretty confused (Tyrion, Varys) and then there are those that are nice to have around in a scene (Bronn, Samwell Tarly, Ser Jorah Mormont).

I know I should not get too attached to the characters, but I already have a couple of favourites. With my luck in these kind of things will pretty much all of them die…

A side note for all interested in translations: From what I read so far are some names very strange and sometimes literally translated. The Lannisters e.g. became the Lennisters, Jon Snow is Jon Schnee (German word for snow) and Theon Greyjoy is Theon Graufreud (grau means grey and freud is an abbreviated form of Freude/joy), Kings Landing is Kings Mouth (Königsmund) and probably some other things as well…

General Opinion

I did not expect to like the book as much as I did, but it became the highlight of the books I read last year. I’m really curious how this story will continue and if those characters that I now know will even make it the the currently last book.

For everyone still considering if starting with this series is worth it, let me tell you: It is.
It is incredibly written, very interesting and captivating and has such a refreshing variety of characters that all those pages the book has are sooner behind you than you think.

I also noticed that the characters have a different view on peoples ages, but when I read Sansa‘s comment on how old someone was, who was closing in on twenty two I certainly had to take a moment to let this sink…
Sure she is eleven and a brat (if you haven’t noticed already, she’s also my least favourite of the Stark-bunch), but people can’t have high life expectancies if mid-thirties are considered close to death and mid-twenties regarded as old, but it does fit the context.

Stuff I’d like to add

I made the mistake of watching most of the episodes directly after I’ve read the portrayed chapters and they aren’t really as according to book as I’d have liked.
There are several things that bugged me quite a bit while watching, but I think the worst was that the females got toned down and males got their lines.

As a writer myself, I would also be quite interested in learning how Martin decides to end his characters (does he create them to be killed or does he decide it along the way?). Does anyone happen to know an interview where he talked about this?

Some of the stuff above was by the way already used/mentioned in these Reading Together: #2, #3 and #4 and in a comment over at Geekritiques Review of the book, just so you know, why it may sound familiar. 😉

On a side note: I think it’s funny how his name shortens to GRR…maybe that was the reason why the first family he introduces have their Direwolves… 😀

On a completely different note: I’m on my way to Cologne to visit the  Harry Potter Exhibition with Unmei tomorrow.

PoiSonPaiNter

© For the cover belongs to its rightful owner

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7 comments

  1. Thank you so much for your review, and your personal takes on the characters. I also enjoyed the discussion of the German translations of the names.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the first book so much, the series is really surprising and all around great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, glad you liked the review.

      Since I wrote the article I learned some more translations and I kind of do believe that they wouldn’t feel that weird if I had read the book in German. 😀

      When I finish a couple of more books I’ll certainly check out your Blog. It looks interesting, but I’m afraid I might accidentally stumble across some spoilers. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. His initials come out to GRRM. Many pronounce it as “GRIM.” Because that’s how his writing is – grim. Good review. The rest of the series is excellent as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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