A Game of Thrones

By: George R. Martin

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)

I'm so glad this is a huge book. Series, I should say. I'm also glad that I can go back on HBO to revisit Season One in its delightful visualization of the series. This way, I get to read it, and see it, at the same time.

Not only is this an advantage because the book is just so darn good, but it's also a huge help because it's so darn complex.

I came to HBO's Season One a bit late, so I caught up in a compressed period of time. Usually, this is helpful, because you don't have to wait a week or more for the next installment. I know many people who will go back and re-watch an episode right before the new one so that they'll be refreshed on the story line - and with this book and series, that is almost necessary. But I was still confused, with such an array of characters, plots and subplots and plots within plots.

Dickens is about the only author I can think of who has it over Martin in terms of sheer numbers of characters and tangles of plotlines.

Not that there is anything off, or out of order. It's just that Martin has so vividly created a whole world that's a perfect balance of like earth/not like earth that you feel as though you have been dropped onto some mostly familiar world, and you're trying to figure it all out, and learn where the strings are being pulled.

The story, for anyone who has missed either the book or the gloriously faithful tv adaptation, is set in a mythical place in which several kingdoms vie for place, and for our attention in the book. Many of them are similar to medieval Europe, complete with Kings and Lords and jousts and intrigue. Then there are some wild places "north" of a huge wall of snow and ice, inhabited by "wildlings," and all manner of dark and mysterious beasts and monsters that sleep during the long summer than can last for years and years--as can the long, dark winter that follows.

We are also introduced to the Dothraki, a sort of Attila the Hun bunch, who travel in hoards and ride horses over the plains, stopping only long enough to rape, pillage, and plunder. Married to the leader of on the the Kahlasar (encampments of thousands) is the last remaining Targaryan, a family that lays claim to having controlled dragons in its misty past.

The whole story revolves around a line uttered by one of the main (and most despicable) characters, Cersei Lannister Baratheon, "When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die."

There are good people, like Ned Stark, and his bastard son, John Snow. And there are bad characters, like the aforementioned Cersei Lannister and her lover/brother Jaime. And then there are characters who simply take the main chance, like Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf, and Petyr Baelish, whoremaster and plotter. And there are innocent characters, like Ned Stark's little daughter, Arya, and John Snow's friend, Samwell, who, like him, has entered a sort of knight-priesthood, charged with guarding the wall that stands between the dark and the winter, and the rest of the world.

Much of the story is medieval adventure, but there is just enough "other" to qualify it as fantasy. Martin's imagination is marvelous, as is his knowledge of medieval life. He has blended the two together seamlessly, sliding, for example, the priestly caste of medieval times over to the function of guardians, and mixing a helping of Native American tribal life in with Asian horse culture, while at the same time giving the Dothraki cultural fillips of their own: the men do not cut their hair unless defeated in battle, and wear it decorated with bells.

I've written before about books made into movies, and this is one time when the translation is an unqualified success. Not only have the series-makers been wise enough to simply take dialog as-is from the books (why mess with brilliance?), but as I work my way through the book, I am following along with the corresponding episodes as they appeared in Season One. In many movies-made-from-books, the film makers can't help fooling with the story, the timeline, the characters. Here, there is a faithful recreation but astoundingly imaginative visualization of the story--a win in all categories.

And, as I noted above, by both reading and watching, my experience of each is that much richer. I now realize that in my first watching of Season One, I missed much. By reading the book, I was able to sort out families, follow intrigues, and catch nuances that flew by me in the sheer volume of story covered in each hour-long episode. 

So, even if you have been watching the series, but have not yet read the book, you may want to take the time to read it anyway. Martin is a whopping good storyteller, and the way I see it, in this case, you can't get too much of a good thing!


Elizabeth said…
Nice blog....NEW FOLLOWER!!

Found you in the list in an e-mail from Book Reviewer Yellow Pages.


Silver's Reviews
Elizabeth said…
Thanks for stopping by my blog, Nancy.

I LOVE PORTREE too as you can tell. I agree about the weather.


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