I’ve been meaning to start reading the Song of Ice and Fire series for a long time now. It’s always looked interesting and when I discovered they were adapting a television show from the books, one that looked wicked awesome (forgive my Maine-isms), well – that pretty much sealed it. My best friend was a fan and after several conversations about the series, with her telling me that I had to read it and me saying I knew I needed to, she loaned me her copy of the first book.
Upon starting the novel, I realized that A Game of Thrones, although it had similar qualities to books I’ve read in the past, was a bit different from my usual choices. I don’t normally pick up books that have a lot of politics and political intrigue in the plot. However, the further into the book I got and the more attached I got to the characters my mind turned away from the “I’m seriously reading about politics?” mentality and more toward “what is the secret and what will it mean for the kingdoms?!”
The character development is just incredible. Just when you think you’ve got a character all figured out they do or say something that completely throws you for a loop and, depending on how you feel about them, will either bring you immense satisfaction or disappointment. I particularly enjoyed the transformations of John Snow, Robb, Sansa and Arya Stark and especially Daenerys Targaryen as they grew up and were affected by the events around them.
John had lived at Winterfell all his life, surrounded by his father and half-siblings, most of which, except for Arya and Robb, didn’t accept him. Catelyn Stark, especially, looked upon him with disdain and wanted nothing to do with him. Although he loved his father very much, he wore the name bastard like a curse. After a conversation with Tyrion Lannister (the only good Lannister, in my opinion), he began to feel less and less ashamed of who he was. Tyrion told him to embrace it, own it and then nothing anyone said about his parentage could ever hurt him again. He went to the Wall as a young man who had been insulted, beaten down and made to feel inferior but when he began his training it quickly became obvious that he was the most skilled, the most talented and the most driven of all the young men who were planning to take the Black of the Night’s Watch. Upon this realization the then became rather proud of himself and a bit pompous. However, after another heart to heart with Tyrion, he began to take less pride in his successes in the training field and began to help his peers with their fighting skills.
Robb and Arya Stark have to grow up very quickly in a short amount of time. While the girls went to King’s Landing with their father, Robb and his younger brothers stayed behind at Winterfell. When tragedy strikes young Brandon Stark just before Ned and party set out, Catelyn becomes inconsolable. She stays by Bran’s bedside and is incapable of handling matters of Winterfell. Robb steps up and takes over duties as Lord, making decisions necessary to successfully run their northern kingdom. When disturbing news reaches them from King’s Landing Robb gathers the northern armies together and begins to march south. Arya, the youngest of the Stark’s two daughters was always a little tomboyish, preferring to play at swords with her brothers than to sit with the ladies and embroider fabric. After arriving in King’s Landing, Ned sets her up with a fencing master, from whom she begins to properly learn how to wield a blade and to fight. The lessons he teaches prove useful when Lannister guardsmen interrupt one of her lessons to take her into custody. She escapes them easily and manages to live secretly on the streets of the city. Unlike her sister, Sansa doesn’t realize that the Lannisters and the Prince, Joffrey, may not be as sincere as they seem or have the best interests of the kingdom at heart. She defends her beloved prince whenever Arya says anything against him and still believes in him up until the day he has her father beheaded for treason. Sansa comes to know the true heart of Joffrey and realizes her errors far too late.
Dany, in addition to Arya and John, is one of my favorite characters in the novel. Her brother sees her as nothing but a bargaining tool and mistreats and verbally abuses her. She has been beaten down by her brother for years and dares not defy him in any way, making her quiet, meek and reserved when we first meet her. Though she doesn’t want to, she is forced to marry a man she has never met, Khal Drogo, leader of the Dothraki clan. While he frightens her at first, she warms up to him and eventually loves him. She is treated like a queen by all in the clan and she gradually begins to feel that she is worth more than what Viserys has made her to believe. As time passes she eventually sees herself as the queen she is and stops taking the abuse from her brother. When a drunk Viserys enters sacred ground of the Dothraki and points a sword at her pregnant belly, she tells him to stop but knows it’s too late for him. She does nothing to stop Khal Drogo from giving him exactly what he deserves. And I feel that, although she loses a brother, she is freed from his constant oppression and is able to more fully grow into the queen and the person she has been all along.
It’s a truly excellent book that I highly recommend. It’s a wonderful blend of political intrigue, fantasy and coming of age stories. And unlike many fantasy novels, Martin doesn’t overwhelm the reader with magic and the supernatural, though there is evidence of it throughout the book. There are only a very few moments in the book when the reader is present when something otherworldly is going on – the white walkers, waking from their millennia-long slumber, the witch who helps Dany save her husband and, most importantly, the dragons Dany helps to hatch. These little glimpses into the magic of Westeros only whets the fantasy appetite, getting the reader more excited for what new brand of magic will be revealed next and also helps to really focus on the political plots woven throughout the story, and that’s really what the book is about – the story of different houses, all trying to do what they think is best for the realm, some of their ambitions a little more self-serving than others.
But while the kingdoms play the game of thrones and you watch tensions mount, wondering who will take the crown in the end, there’s that little thought nagging at the back of your mind. Sempas tell their young charges tales of the long winters that brought with it wild things of old that killed everything in their path and wiped entire villages and cities from existence. And far to the north, beyond the wall and away from the trouble in King’s Landing, things long thought dead are stirring in the darkness.
Winter is coming.