A Game of Thrones, the first novel of the intended seven-book series of A Song of Ice and Fire, is a fantasy epic with action and drama. The story is based in a mythical land in a time long forgotten where supernatural beings, like dragons and “white walkers,” arise with the backdrop of one of the largest and most complicated civil wars ever created. In A Game of Thrones Martin sets the stage for differing groups of people to fight for their presumed rights to the crown, echoing the history of the War of the Roses in medieval England. His creation of a new three-dimensional world effortlessly transports the readers and provides foundation for the action.
Fans of Tolkien’s work (Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit) will love Martin’s ability to create magical lands, with summers that last decades and winters that last a lifetime, that still contain issues and subjects that the reader can relate to their every-day world. Although many may argue that no one can equal Tolkien’s creative masterpiece, Martin has arguably come close to the “father” of modern fantasy literature in creating a world of magical chaos. So much so that some are referring to him as the “American Tolkien.” And in this beautifully illustrated world, Martin has given us a contemporary fantasy epic of colossal proportions.
Although Martin’s plot is compelling and artfully intricate, at its core, the series is character-based. All of the characters have their own intricacies, issues, voices, and problems. Essentially, it is their complexity and their actions and reactions toward each other that drive the plot of the story. We have strong female characters like Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister, to name a few, who do not portray the typical submissive role women played in the Middle Ages. They fight for what they want and do not depend on a man to define their worth. We also have many conniving characters who we love to hate and ill-fated ones who we can’t help but root for.
Martin’s tactful decision to format the series with alternating voices allows the readers to delve into their minds and come to understand them, even to sympathize with the villains—something all good writers must do, for a villain without redeeming qualities is only a stereotype.
This can be most seen in the characters of Jaime and Cersei Lannister. They are part of the antagonistic family and are perceived as one of the main “villains” of the story. However, by allowing the readers to delve into their minds, Martin can reveal that they are also flawed people with specific reasons for their actions. Another comedic “villain” or perhaps anti-hero is Tyrion Lannister who is one of the best characters ever written. His dark humor and his struggles to survive his harsh life give the series depth.
I put “villain” in quotation marks because truthfully, there is no one villain or group of villains. Each character has a dark side and motives behind their actions. Many of them do abhorrent things for what they believe is good or just. Likewise, it is hard to pin-point the true “hero” or heroes in this tale. We would like to think it is the Stark family, but Martin has shown us what happens to the supposed heroes in his story.
A Game of Thrones is wonderfully unpredictable. It is very easy for an avid reader to pick up on clues and predict certain endings of other novels. Often we’re not surprised when so-and-so is revealed to be the villain or the main character ends up dying. But the beauty of Martin’s work is that he breaks all the rules. He does kill off that very important character that you thought the story could not go on without. And the story does go on.
Martin manipulates the plot and characters in such a way that it is always a pleasure to discover the latest twist. It goes without saying that these twists are not the clichéd plot turns that are abundant in other fantasy novels. Martin is able to artfully modify his story (and the multitude of subplots found in the novels) to the readers’ delight. Although we may be angry with him for killing off one of our favorite characters, we forgive him because of the compelling story he has given us to enjoy. That being said, be wary of which characters you become attached to. No one is safe.
Martin’s story is thought-provoking: a discussion of good vs. evil and what humans are capable of doing for love, power and family or lineage. Martin explores the dark, violent and sexual nature of man, and graphically, yet artfully, displays them on the page. Consequently, his series is definitely for mature readers only.
Martin has successfully created a compelling and addicting narrative. A Song of Ice and Fire is a fantasy series like no other. Once you pick up A Game of Thrones you will be in for a thrilling journey.
– Paola Crespo ©2014