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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire 1 by George R. R. Martin

Book 1

I've just finished reading the Game of Thrones for the second time - I started reading the series back last year and got through the first two books but life got far too hectic for awhile there and I couldn't get into book three.

The recent start of season four of the TV version, which I love, enticed me to pick back up on the series, but rather than pick up where I left off I decided to go back and start again.

Despite the fact that I've always read a lot of fiction, I've not read that much in the fantasy genre. I've done Lord of the Rings of course, a fair few of the Conan stories, most of the Discworld books, a smattering of Michael Moorcock and a few other authors but precious little else. I guess you could call me a casual fantasy reader rather than a committed fan.

 I'm not sure why this is since I do quite enjoy the genre, but too often I've been put off by the thought of elves, goblins and dragons - they're just not my sort of thing.  And quite often I don't get the books that fantasy fans seem to love. Stephen Kings's highly regarded Dark Tower series for instance bored me into closing the covers somewhere around the third book, and that series is hailed by many as King's masterwork.

However Game of Thrones, although a high fantasy, reads more like an historical adventure story than a fantasy. Yeah there are dragons, well in the last few pages at least and there is magic of sorts but the fictional world within these pages comes across as a slightly skewed version of medieval England. If you love fantasy then you'll obviously adore Game of Thrones, but I think that those not into dragons, goblins and wizards will be able to enjoy this book. It's wonderfully written with a great command of the language and some wonderful visual passages. I read the book on my Kindle and found myself highlighting similes that struck me as particularly effective, or passages that I thought were either technically beautiful or wonderful in the effect created.

His shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment Tyrion Lanister stood tall as a king.

Like a man who carried all of the sadness of the world upon his shoulders.

Arrows had sown a terrible new crop and watered it with blood.

What is surprising is how faithful the HBO TV series is to the books. I saw the series before reading this book and I can't think of many differences between the two. The way Ned Stark injures his leg towards the end was a minor difference, and there seems to be a bit more sex in the TV version,  but most of it was as I remember from the TV series. Another surprising thing about the book is how quick it moves, given that it's a little more than 800 pages in length. The author tells the story from many viewpoints, and each chapter comes from the viewpoint of one of the various characters who play the game of thrones. This works well and gives the story a thickness of texture that brings the fantastic world to vivid life.

I did find the way that Ned comes to realize Joffrey is not the true son of his beloved king, Robert as slightly weak, and not at all scientifically accurate. This all hinges on hair colour - Joffrey has blond hair when the King's bastard children all have dark hair, but then the King is married to Cersai Lannister, and the blond hair is a trait of Lannister blood, so I don't think hair colour would be enough to either prove of disprove the boy's paternal heritage. I'll have to consult my Jeremy Kyle guide to proving parentage to see if hair colour is sufficient proof of where an horrid little git like Joffrey comes from. The seed is strong, the book tells us. Still that's a minor quibble and it doesn't seem to have bothered anyone else but I did find the part of the plot to be a bit daft. The seed is strong, the book tells us but Ned Stark could have been wrong. The hair could does not  conclusively rule out that Joffrey could indeed have been Robert's true son - mind you we know Cersai was having loads of sex with her own brother, Jamie and that he is likely the father of all of her children. OK I'll go with the hair colour thing as being proof that Joffrey is the bastard incestuous spawn of bonkers Cersai and the actually quite cool Jamie, because that's the only thing in the book that bothered me.

I'm going to immediately read the second book, and then I'll hopefully continue the series further than the third book. These really are addictive books, wonderfully written by a talent that fills me with awe. I found myself marveling at the way Mr Martin weaves his complicated  and multi-layered story. The reader inside me was thoroughly entertained but the author side of me was seething with jealousy - how the fuck did you do that? Man, I wish I'd thought of that phrase, used that metaphor. And Martin's grasp of character is the truly magical element in this book. Each and every person comes to vivid life in the reader's mind, and the suspense created keeps the pages turning.

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