George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (Bantam Spectra, 1996)
[originally posted 17Sep2001]
One wag on amazon points out that reading Martin is not a good idea of you like your main characters to live through the novel. While things aren’t quite that drastic, this is certainly a work that throws as many monkeywrenches into the works as possible. And the scariest part is that this is book one (of six– and the two that have come out since are both more than three hundred pages longer than this one. This is all setup, folks).
Many compare this to Tolkein in its scope and subject matter. I think it’s a lot closer to what Elizabeth Moon did in her The Deed of Paksenarrion series—Martin shies away, for the most part, from the magical aspect of fantasy and concentrates more on medieval political intrigue and warmaking. Not to say this isn’t a fantasy novel, but it should certainly appeal to readers of political-intrigue books (I’ve compared it more than one to Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel and The Prodigal Daughter) and historical nonfiction. Perhaps Martin will achieve the popularity and status that Moon so richly deserved and never got.
The plot of A Game of Thrones focuses mostly on two families, the Starks and the Lannisters (erm, York? Lancaster?). The present King of the realm of Westron, Robert Baratheon (wed to a Lannister), gets the two families back at each other’s throats when he asks the head of House Stark, Ned, to be his right-hand man. Robert and a few other well-meaning folk attempt to bring peace between the two houses, but it wouldn’t be a six-book series if they succeeded, right? Murphy’s Law operates in spades here. Add in the beginnings of another storyline about the last vestiges of the bloodline of the Targaryens, who were forced out of the country when one of the Lannisters killed King Aemon, and you’ve got the makings for six thousand pages of medieval intrigue that are sure to grab hold and not let go. Which might not be the best thing in the world to do if you have impatient readers, as Martin is releasing books in the series at a rate of approximately one every two years. My advice: read slowly. You’ve got a while before the next book in the series comes out. **** ½