Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Review: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
First published in Great Britain in: 1996
This edition published in: 2003
In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.
As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must... and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty. The old gods have no power in the south, Stark's family is split, and there is treachery at court. Worse, a vengeance-mad boy has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities beyond the sea. Heir of the mad Dragon King deposed by Robert, he claims the Iron Throne.
I debated on whether or not to post this review. Like many people, I became fanatic about HBO's Game of Thrones this year and, suffering withdrawal pains as I wait for Season 2, I decided to head to the source material to get my fix of Westeros. Because of this, it's difficult to give my impressions of the book - I already knew the whole story and knew it was a brilliant one. All my thoughts on it are about how it compared to the TV series and whether the book is a necessary read for fans of the show and so this review, I'm sure, can only be understood by people who already are. Apologies for that!
If George R. R. Martin's novel had been made into a movie, it would have had, at most, 3 hours to tell the complex, sprawling story and much of it would have had to be excised. Luckily for us, it was made into a television series and so got 10 hours instead. From my perspective, there isn't very much in this book that didn't make it onto the screen in Season 1 - many scenes were adapted word for word and even though some were left out, I feel that the show still managed to convey everything that the book conveyed. I actually think that some scenes that the TV writers added (the scene where Robert and Cersei discuss their marriage, for example), were stronger than the ones that were omitted - I know this might be heresy to Martin fans!
But of course, all the best moments from Season 1 came from the book and they are no less thrilling to read about than they were to watch. Martin's dialogue is what I like best; those lines just crackle and every conversation between characters is sharp, clever, often funny and leaden with meaning. In the novel, each chapter is told in the POV of a different character; rotating between Ned, Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys. It is nice to get the internal monologue from these characters and to know exactly what they're thinking at certain times. When characters like Catelyn and Dany act strong and invincible, it's interesting to see that in some ways it is an act and that inside, they feel much less sure of themselves.
One thing there is a lot more of in the novel is the history and geography and culture of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond. Normally, I'd expect to be bored by this but I do find the way that Martin has created this entire world - down to the tiniest detail - to be fascinating. I think because I was already familiar with what was going to happen plot-wise, I was able to enjoy these details and not get impatient for the story to move along.
All in all, I'm glad I read the book, if only because rumour has it that the story gets even denser in the following books and it's likely that HBO will have to cut out more for Seasons 2 and above than they did for Season 1. If that's the case, then I would prefer to read all the books alongside the TV series, so I don't miss anything. My only regret is that I think I should have waited until right before Season 2 airs to read A Game of Thrones. Season 1 was a near-perfect adaptation and is still fresh in my mind. If I'd waited, then by next year I'd probably have forgotten a lot of stuff and reading the book would have been the best way to revisit it.
My advice to everyone is to know the story: Read the book or watch the TV series or both, it doesn't matter, but you must experience this story, because it really is one of the greatest ever told.
Rating: 4.5 stars