Book Review of A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

by JoHarrington

This multi-award winning novel came highly recommended. The first in the 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series lived up to the hype and left me wanting to read more.

One friend was so determined that I should read 'A Game of Thrones' that he bought the book for me. Thank you, Aaron!

He was only one of a number of people who had told me that I'd love the story. They were all right. I lay on my bed and read over 500 pages of it in a single day. It kept me gripped. When real life intervened to make me put the book down, my mind remained lost in that world. I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.

'A Game of Thrones' has won the Locus, Hugo and Ignotus Awards, while being nominated for more. I can totally see why.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) by George R.R. Martin

What is A Game of Thrones About?

Warring fiefdoms and strict social etiquette. It's about a ruling class struggling to survive, when a wrong allegiance can mean death.

Within living memory the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros have been brought under the rule of one high king.  But that did not bring political peace.

Behind the scenes, powerful families have been vying to gain overall control.  No longer on the battlefield, but in the bedroom and the courtroom.  Now King Robert has discovered that his reign isn't as stable as he once supposed.

Meanwhile, a sinister, supernatural force is aligning behind the northern wall; and a deposed prince is working to secure an army abroad, in order to seize his birthright throne once more.

This is a world where it's not just swords and cannons that have to be feared, but dragons, dire wolves and other creatures too.  Yet of them all, human beings still seem to be the most dangerous.

'A game of thrones' is mentioned twice in dialogue, thus giving the book its title.  This is what it's called, when nobles play for the ultimate prize of sovereignty.

Fan Art Inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire

Are the Seven Kingdoms in Britain?

As a Briton reading this novel, there was much which appeared quite familiar.

George R.R. Martin has stated that he based his stories on the English Wars of the Roses.

The geography of Westeros, in A Game of Thrones, is recognizably England.  At least, it's inspired by the country.  There's even a wall, which is patently based on Hadrian's Wall, in the north.

Winterfell is Northumbria, with an option on Yorkshire too.  Dorne is an amalgamation of Cornwall and Devon. Riverrun read like a description of Cheshire.  The story doesn't take us to Casterley Rock, but I'm expecting the Marches. Its rulers certainly act like the Norman Marcher Kings.

Even the races living there can be ethnically allocated.  The Andals are the English.  The First Men are the Celts (with a bit of Viking thrown in for good measure). Yet the folklore and customs are used so interchangeably, that it's probably better not to try and superimpose reality over the top.

For all of that, this is not Britain, unless it's set in some parallel world.  It's as close as Tolkien's Middle Earth is to the same; and owes more of its inspiration to Lord of the Rings, than it does to actual history and folklore.

There's a common recommendation that, if you like Tolkien's work, you will like George R.R. Martin's work.  That's fair enough and I'll repeat it here.

Games of Thrones Map of Westeros

Game of Thrones World Map

Multiple Points of View and Several Protagonists

Forget about 'black and white'. This is a vivid tale told in all hues of the rainbow.

George R.R. Martin is a great story-teller, which is the reason that his A Song of Ice and Fire series is so popular.

The thing that I loved best of all was that nothing was black and white.  Each segment passes from one viewpoint to another.  We get inside the minds of individuals on all sides of this multifaceted struggle.  It's no good siding with one family, when the next chapter will align us with their mortal enemies; and back again.

There are no two-dimensional characters in this tale. Whoever emerges as a favorite is likely to be very human.  Those we take sides against may well redeem themselves later on, then betray our loyalty again. 

Nor is anyone 'safe'.  Martin has no compulsion against killing off major protagonists, nor stopping bit-players taking center-stage.  There is a stark realism here, even as dire wolves and ice creatures roam about the narrative.

If you prefer to be told who to love or hate, then this is not the story for you.  If you are alright with letting a story unfold, then condemning or embracing as circumstances allow, you should read A Game of Thrones right now.

Is A Game of Thrones Sexist?

I was warned before reading that I might find the stories to be very male-centric.  This was not a problem. Men and boys make up 50% of my species and I quite like them. 

But I was also warned that the book series was anti-females.  This was going to be more of an issue. 

Having now read book one, I have to say that I don't agree that Game of Thrones is at all sexist. The etiquette and culture of the world appears to view women as second class citizens.  The first choice for monarch is always the sons.

That isn't the same as saying that it's an anti-female story.  Some of the strongest personalities in the tale are female.  Even where their station in life seems second place, some of these ladies take their opportunities and succeed.

Yet it's not one of those stories where gender makes much odds. There are annoying women, weak women, strong women, ordinary women.  It's a tale where realism wins out every time.

A Game of Thrones Kindle eBook

A Song of Ice and Fire Books 1-4 Box Set

Sex and Violence in A Game of Thrones

For those worried about such things, there should be a warning here that there is sex and violence in A Game of Thrones.  Sometimes even at the same time.

It's not gratuitous.  Martin doesn't linger on every thrust with obscene abandon, but it does serve to underscore the realism.  People get hurt.  People die.  People make babies.  Some sacred cows are also slaughtered, in instances of incest.

However, much of this is also left to the imagination of the reader. We are usually not inside the mind of the person or persons that it's happening to.  Onlookers will see that execution and we get their emotional reaction too.

It's not a story which glorifies the darker side of humanity, but nor will it whitewash it out of existence.

Companion Books to A Game of Thrones

Want to learn how to cook the food in the tales? Or find your way across Westeros? Or ponder the deeper philosophical questions raised? There's a guide here for you!
Updated: 12/30/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/18/2013

I've not seen the TV series, but the books were great!

Rose on 12/18/2013

I like the TV series and have been wondering whether to try the books or whether they would be spoiled for me given I've seen the TV version.

JoHarrington on 01/07/2013

You're very welcome and yes, I do recommend it. Remember I've only read the first one, but the first thing I did was get the next two onto my Christmas list! I now have them sitting here ready to be read.

I certainly enjoyed it. Enjoy your Kindle!

JeanBakula on 01/07/2013

Hi Jo,
I got a Kindle for Christmas, and it's my new favorite toy! I love to read, and was unsure if I would miss holding a book in my hands. But now the Paperwhite is so light, it's easy to be wherever you are and have great light, clear words, and a lightweight device easy to hold in one hand, And I have small hands. I like fantasy, and was wondering about the Game of Thrones, so after reading your review I may consider it (after I read all the stuff I already have on the Kindle)! I like series things, I read the Hobbit Trilogy in my 20's, and recently finally got around to Stephen King's Tower series of 7 books. Thanks for a good review! Take care.

JoHarrington on 01/06/2013

Thank you for your comment, Eric. I've got the next two books sitting here ready to be read. I'm looking forward to doing so too.

I also need to find out the television series based on these novels. I'm certainly a new fan too.

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