Amazon Rating: 4.30 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.42 / 5.00
My Shortest Review Ever
This runs Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy a close second in my list of favorite Epic Fantasy Series ever. It is brilliant: go and read it!
My Longest Review Ever
In order to provide a reasonable synopsis of A Game of Thrones, we must first consider the world that the book inhabits. However, if you want to skip this, I have included the immediate history of the main characters in my Synopsis further down.
The History of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros
The Land of Westeros has a strange and unpredictable pattern of seasons. Unlike those on the Earth, Westeros’ seasons are not linked to the movement of the planet in relationship to the Sun: instead they are controlled by a magical force of some kind. This means that each season may last for several years. At the beginning of A Game of Thrones, summer has lasted for ten years and many fear that a long winter will follow. This belief is spoken most earnestly by those of House Stark, whose family motto is ‘Winter Is Coming’.
Westeros was originally inhabited by the Children of the Forest and then, twelve thousand years ago, the First Men came over the Narrow Sea and made war upon the Children. After fighting for many years, the Children and First Men signed a Pact and they began to live in peace. The Children withdrew to the forests, leaving the Men to the open lands, but the Men learnt from the Children and began to worship their Old Gods of the Forest. During the next few thousand years, many of the noble houses of Westeros were born.
Then, about eight thousand years ago, there came the Long Night, when darkness covered the land for almost a whole generation and ice and snow spread far to the south. With the cold darkness came the Others, killing everything in their path and raising the dead as wights to fight in their army. Finally, the Children and the First Men defeated the Others at the Battle of the Dawn by using dragonglass weapons. They then built the seven hundred foot tall Wall, with the help of the Giants, using ice and magic and created the Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch to keep the South safe from further invasion.
Two thousand years later, the Andals sailed across the Narrow Sea bringing the Faith of the Seven to Westeros. Gradually, they conquered the entire land south of the Wall apart from the Kingdom of the North, which remained a strong hold of the First Men and the Old Gods. The Andals divided their conquests into six kingdoms. The remaining Children retreated further into the remaining forests and went beyond the Wall, eventually becoming a myth or legend, suitable only for fairy tales and bedtime stories.
Five hundred years ago, the Targaryens seized an island close to Blackwater Bay. This noble family from the mighty Valyrian Freehold were all dragonlords and so the they raised a castle decorated with carved dragons and the island was renamed Dragonstone. A century later, the city of Valyria was destroyed most of the population drowned, leaving the Targaryens as the last of the Valyrian noble houses. Three hundred years ago, Aegon the Conqueror and his two sister-wives rode their three dragons to subdue six of the seven kingdoms and built a new capital city at King’s Landing. Aegon forged a new throne from the swords of his vanquished enemies: the Iron Throne. Under the Targaryen rule, the seven kingdoms were finally united, but the strength of the dragons began to fade and the last dragon died one hundred and seventy years ago.
Eighteen years ago Robert Baratheon rose in rebellion against the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen. The rebellion was provoked by Prince Rhaegar’s abduction of Lyanna Stark, Robert’s betrothed. When Lyanna’s father and brother went to Aerys to demand her return he had them set on fire. In response, Robert and Eddard Stark rose in rebellion and, supported by their foster father Jon Arryn, they defeated the King’s army at the Battle of the Trident, killing Prince Rhaegar. Meanwhile the Lannisters betrayed the King and he was killed by Jaime Lannister, one of his own Kingsguard. Aerys’ remaining child, Viserys, escaped with his pregnant mother to Dragonstone, where she died giving birth to a daughter, Daenerys. The two children were spirited across the Narrow Sea to keep them safe from Robert’s wrath. Lyanna was finally rescued, but died in Eddard’s arms, so Robert married Cersei Lannister to secure the Lannisters’ continued support. He took his place on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing, with Jon Arryn as the Hand of the King. Eddard had been married to Catelyn Tully, who had been betrothed to his elder brother, but finally returned to his home in Winterfell with a bastard son, Jon Snow.
Now, Eddard (Ned) Stark is the lord of Winterfell and so he must execute a man who has deserted from the Night’s Watch who guard the Wall to the north. Whilst they are returning from this sad duty, his eldest son, Robb, finds a litter of dire wolf cubs near the body of their mother. As the dire wolf is the sigil of House Stark it is seen as an omen that she has been killed by the antlers of a stag, sigil of House Baratheon. Also, there are six cubs: one for each of Ned’s five legitimate children and one albino for his bastard, Jon Snow.
News reaches Winterfell that the King’s Hand, Jon Arryn, is dead and King Robert Baratheon is travelling north with his entourage, including his son, Joffrey, and Queen Cersei’s two brothers: her twin, Jaime, and the dwarf, Tyrion. When he arrives, Robert asks Ned to be his new Hand, but Ned is shocked at the changes he sees in his old friend and the obvious tensions within the royal family. Reluctantly, he agrees to travel to King’s Landing and serve Robert because it the loyal and honorable thing to do. The Starks’ eldest daughter, Sansa, is betrothed to Joffrey in order to solidify the family link and Jon Snow decides to travel to the Wall to join the Night’s Watch because he cannot go with his father and is not welcome in Winterfell in Ned’s absence.
One day, young Brandon Stark is busy climbing over the rooftops of Winterfell as usual when he hears some strange noises coming from a tower room. When he looks in through the window he finds Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime naked, doing some strange things that he does not understand. Jaime grabs the boy and throws him out of the window saying, “The things I do for love.” As Bran falls from the window his wolf cub howls. Bran’s body in broken, but he lives on, lying in a coma for many weeks as his father travels south with Sansa and his second daughter, Arya, while Lady Catelyn refuses to leave her son’s side.
Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, Prince Viserys Targaryen and his sister, Daenerys, are the last surviving heirs to the Mad King. In order to gain an army powerful enough to retake the Iron Throne, Viserys marries Daenerys to Khal Drogo, a powerful Dothraki warlord who commands over forty thousand men. Among the wedding gifts are three fossilized dragon eggs.
Why You Should Read This Book NOW!
As you can see, this is not so much a fantasy story, but the creation of a whole, complex world, just as we see in Tolkien. Trying to pick out only the important points needed to give you a feel for the plot is a difficult task because this book is both epic and mundane in its scale. We see vast tracts of land and many cultures, with different languages, religions, traditions, attitudes, food, habits, rituals and costumes. We see the political ramifications of characters’ actions written on the battlefield and upon the lives of many thousands. The events that we follow are a turning point in history and will affect the future of every person in Westeros. However, we see it all through the eyes of a select few individuals, which allows us to see the minutiae of detail in their daily lives: the dirt under their fingernails. Each chapter is told from one point of view. These come mainly from House Stark, with Ned and Catelyn, plus their children Sansa, Arya and Bran and the bastard, Jon Snow. However, we also see through the eyes of Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, so we do not get a Stark-biased view of all events.
The world we see is roughly based upon Medieval Europe, but includes aspects of North Africa and the Middle East as well. However, this is not Earth and we see subtle differences all the time. This presentation of the mostly familiar with a few touches of the unusual makes the world very believable, even when there are elements of magic and the supernatural. However, a wonderfully built world needs a believable cast of characters to draw us in and keep us turning those pages, and this is where Mr Martin excels. There are a great number of characters involved in the various plots that weave back and forth across the world, but they are all individuals and they all feel real. I do not intend to provide a detailed analysis of each of even the main characters because there are far too many, but I will speak about some of my favorites.
Ned Stark is a wonderfully tragic character, with so much earnest honor and loyalty. The HBO series cast Sean Bean to play him and he was absolutely perfect, bringing a weary dignity to the man. In many ways Ned is possibly the most annoying character that I have read for a long time, because he is blinded by his own goodness. However, he always acts in a way that makes perfect sense for his character, something that Mr Martin does with all of them: they make decisions that are perfectly natural for them, even if we are screaming at them to do something else.
Daenerys Targaryen begins the book as a thirteen year old who is bullied and belittled by her brother. However, by the end, she has become a Queen and has developed amazing strength of character, wisdom and leadership skills. She is a great example of a female becoming powerful in man’s world and she does it all with great poise and bravery.
Sam Tarly is a secondary character who joins the Night’s Watch and becomes great friends with Jon Snow. He is fat and readily admits to being a coward, but he is intelligent and a very staunch friend. His father has rejected him because he is not a manly man, but Jon’s wolf, Ghost, accepts him straightaway: it seems that Ghost can detect good people and has excellent taste.
The bastard, Jon Snow, is something of a puzzle because he is supposedly Ned’s. However, Ned displays such dedication to his family and his honor that it seems almost impossible to imagine him being unfaithful to Catelyn and there is a lot of speculation about Jon’s parentage amongst the book’s fans. Jon is only fifteen and so he can be a little immature at times, but he is brave and loyal to his family and friends. When he first reaches the Wall the other young recruits shun him, but he soon becomes their leader and even persuades them to be kind to Sam. He is accompanied by his wolf, the albino Ghost, who has a wonderful sense of humor and great perception. In many ways, Ghost is much wiser than Jon.
Arya Stark is nine years old and hates being a girly girl. She is much happier climbing trees and learning how to use a sword than sewing and learning how to be all nice and polite. She does not want to be a noblewoman or a lady because it is stupid and boring. She is incapable of sitting still or keeping her hair tidy or walking daintily and she hates her sister, Sansa. She is much closer to Jon Snow than to her full siblings and he presents her with her own sword, which she names “Needle”. Arya is spunky, intelligent, resourceful, stubborn and brave. She is unwilling to compromise and has great strength of character. Her wolf is called Nymeria and she is as willful as her mistress.
That leaves my most favorite character, perhaps my favorite of all the books I have ever read: Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is a congenital dwarf, with a disproportionately large misshapen head and stunted limbs. He is often referred to as The Imp by his enemies. In the HBO series he is played by Peter Dinklage who won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance, which was outstanding. Tyrion is one of those rare disabled characters who is almost totally comfortable with himself. Being physically challenged, he has developed his mind and reads almost constantly. He is intelligent and very perceptive, being one of the most politically astute characters that we encounter. He uses peoples’ underestimation of him against them and is a good leader of men, using his own weakness to inspire them to greater courage. He is witty and clever, although sometimes his tongue gets him into trouble. He is unswervingly loyal to his family, especially Jaime, who seems to be the only one of them who treats him like a normal person. He is also one of the few honest people in the book: honest with others and, most importantly, with himself. Life keeps dealing him a dreadful hand, but he plays the game exceptionally well and with style. I am not the only person to have a fan-crush on Tyrion. Here is Justin writing about him at Staffer’s book Review:
Tyrion Lannister is the most iconic character in fantasy. Gandalf? Please. Drizzt? Pfft. Pug? Elric? Belgarath? Thomas? No. No. No. Tyrion is the cats pajamas, ok? He's tortured, and callous, but also tries to do the right thing. Or does he? Is he only doing what he does to pay back his shitty father? I have no idea! That's what makes him so amazing. That and he's a killer limbo player.
These are just a few of the memorable characters that I have grown to love and care about whilst reading this book. There are some that I have grown to hate, such as Queen Cersei and her obnoxious brat, Joffrey and others that I want to know more about, like the eunuch Varys, who is the spymaster in King’s Landing. However, I must warn you that this book is not a fluffy saga of heroic deeds and gallant knights. This is a bleak world where the good suffer and the evil win through by being . . . well, evil. If you cannot cope with the possibility of seeing characters you love die, then this might not be the book for you. However, if you want a world that comes to life as you read and characters that will make you love, laugh and despair, then you should get a copy and dive in: you will not regret it.
Other (shorter) reviews:
As a side note, the HBO series is very true to the book and is also excellent entertainment, though with a little more sex and naked ladies! :D
Also, if you want to follow my thoughts as I re-read this book earlier this year, you can find the links on my Challenges page.