Normally I start these reviews with a brief synopsis of at least the first part of the story, to give an idea of what the book is about as well as what I think of it. That’s tricky here because there’s so much to cover. Let me try…
Set in a fantasy world that’s similar to but clearly not medieval Europe/Asia, most of the action of A Game of Thrones takes place in the land of Westeros a.k.a “The Seven Kingdoms”. Some few centuries previously these were distinct kingdoms but they are now ruled over by a single monarch from the “Iron Throne”. This monarch, King Robert Baratheon took the throne by conquest from the previous “mad” king and has been ruling for 20 years or so.
As the story begins there is trouble brewing with threats to the throne from within – political machinations, assassination and intrigue at court and without with the remaining heirs of the old kings who are trying to raise an army to attack from overseas. There’s also a possible threat from the frozen north beyond a huge wall to defend against outlaws and the mythic White Walkers, zombie like creatures which many believe have been extinct for thousands of years, if they ever existed at all. The outlaws and wild animals though are real and it’s the job of the Night Watch to guard the Wall and defend the Seven Kingdoms.
A Game of Thrones is one of those books that switches point of view with each chapter headed with the name of a character. We follow about 6 or 7 characters in this way. I have mixed feelings about this. On the on hand it’s good to get the perspective of different characters with different loyalties and motivations. To start to empathise with someone who is on the opposite side of a war to the character in the previous chapter is good in that it stops everything being a kind of black and white morality – which some fantasy suffers from. However the action is then split across different places and Martin plays that trick of building up the tension nicely, coming to a cliff-hanger at the end of a chapter and then switching to a completely different story, which slowly becomes engrossing, tension builds… and so on. It’s a style that has its merits but can be frustrating too.
I definitely enjoyed this book and it was easier to finish than say Under the Dome. In this book whilst there are fantasy elements – the White Walkers, talk of dragons (once again presumed extinct), magic and years-long seasons (“Winter is Coming” is the slogan of one of the Northern kingdoms) – most of the story is to do with the intrigue and politics of gaining or retaining the Iron Throne. With a slight change of wardrobe it could be a 21st century political thriller. But it is engrossing and the characters are well drawn and sympathetic.
A Game of Thrones is part of a series – A Song of Ice and Fire – which is currently up to five books with at least one more on the way. So the story does not so much end as it does find a convenient place to break off. In fact there are plots unresolved, characters missing in action and so on. That said it did feel like a natural place to put a pause but given this I’d’ve been just as happy if that pause had been at 400 pages rather than 835. Still good for the page count.
Will I read the next five books? Perhaps. I’ll read some shorter ones first though.
8/10 – Good solid fantasy with sympathetic characters, an intriguing world set up and lots of intrigue.