The A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, is probably one of the largest fantasy series in living memory. This is in part due to its television adaptation, which has experienced a surge in popularity. Having just finished A Dance of Dragons, the latest book, now would be the best time to start reviewing them. The A Song of Ice and Fire series is one of my favourite fantasy series, and I cannot wait to review them. Starting things off is the first book, A Game of Thrones.
For a little background, A Game of Thrones and its sequels are set on the fictional continent of Westeros, home to the Seven Kingdoms and the neigbouring continent of Essos, which is host to the Free Cities. Plot wise A Game of Thrones is not simple, with many running plot threads. However in this first book the focus is on the Starks, seen primarily through Ned Stark and his wife Catelyn Stark. Their plotline focuses on their rivalry with the Lannisters, and Ned Stark’s investigation into the killing of Stark ally, Jon Arryn. This is arguably the book’s main plotline.
Another plotline revolves around the Wall, a huge structure manned by the Night’s Watch positioned in the country’s wintry north. The Wall’s plot arc revolves around mysterious beings called the others but in reality they are not seen at all aside from the prologue. The Wall is seen through Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard son, who joins the Night’s Watch.
Next is the plotline of Daenerys Targaryen, one of the heirs to Aerys II Targaryen, along with her abusive brother Viserys. After being married off to Khal Drogo, Daenerys spends most of the book trying to earn Khal Drogo’s love in order to convince him to invade Westeros, as well as contending with her brother Viserys and his growing lack of patience.
The Stark plotline is the strongest of the three. The twist at the end sets up the tone of the series. Ned’s execution, in story, shows that the world is not kind for people who put their own honour above pragmatism. It shows how poorly adapted your typical fantasy protagonist would be to a world full of people who are willing to lie and backstab at a moment’s notice. It also tells the reader that the book will not stick to one protagonist and that many more “protagonist” characters could die in the future. Both Jon Snow and Daenerys’ plotlines suffer from being poorly formed, in part due to not having the time to develop properly. Jon Snow does literally nothing for most of the novel, while the only thing of note that happens to Daenerys is the hatching of her dragon eggs at Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre.
Many of the side characters, such as Daenerys and Jon Snow, don’t get most of their character development until later on the series. As a result they come across as bland. Catelyn Stark, despite being arguably one of the main characters, also comes across as a bit bland and uninteresting due to her rather simplistic motives of wanting revenge for her son’s injuries. However the Lannister POV character, Tyrion Lannister, proves himself to be a very entertaining and well written character even in the early stages of his character arc. All the Stark children, are present as window dressing, with their real character arcs not kicking off until the end of the book similar to Daenerys.
Overall the book feels more like an extended prologue to the real story rather than a story in itself. In part this is because of the many character arcs which don’t kick off until the end. However the world is richly detailed and throughout the book there is a brutal pragmatism which deconstructs nearly every trope common to fantasy. Even in this early stage of the overall saga, A Game of Thrones will redefine everything you know about the fantasy genre. Although it doesn’t get going until later, I cannot recommend it enough.
IN A WORD: BRUTAL