~by George R. R. Martin
1997 Locus Award Winner
1997 World Fantasy Award Nominee
1998 Nebula Award Nominee
The Song of Ice and Fire, originally envisioned as a trilogy but now expected to be at least seven volumes, is one of those epic fantasy series (along with Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time) that everyone seems to have read except for me. It's actually been quite a while since I've read any straight up epic fantasy, so why is it now that I've finally gotten around to reading the first book, A Game of Thrones? Actually, it's because I played the boardgame (which is an excellent game that I happen to be pretty good at, but that's somewhat besides the point). Of course, the fact that I've been hearing great things about the books for years didn't hurt either. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to increase my geek cred and competency. Only a few days after finishing A Game of Thrones, I was happily catching references to it that I would have missed before.
When Lord Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, dies (some believe under suspicious circumstances), a replacement must be named. Ultimately the king chooses his most trusted friend, Lord Eddard Stark, to be his most trusted advisor. The honor, though accepted, is not one that Lord Stark wants. Suddenly, his family is caught up in the plotting and scheming of court life. As Eddard investigates the death of his predecessor, he discovers intrigues that not only endanger his friend the king, but the kingdom itself. Evidence points towards the queen and her family, the opportunistic Lannisters. But the danger isn't limited to internal struggles--to the east an exiled prince has his eyes set on regaining the throne at any cost and to the north supernatural powers are amassing. A winter that will last for decades is coming, and the kingdom is not prepared.
Each chapter in A Game of Thrones is told from one of nine different characters' perspective. Most of these are Starks (Bran, Catelyn, Eddard, Jon, Arya, and Sansa) while Tyrion is the Lannister representative and poor Will of the Night's Watch is only present for the prologue. Daenerys Targaryen's perspective, while important, is mostly a side-story to the main action at this point. I really liked Martin's use of multiple perspectives--it is almost necessary for a story this huge--and his execution is excellent. I was never confused about whose point of view I was reading, although occasionally the chronology was a bit awkward. Most of the characters were wonderfully rounded--the "good guys" always had flaws and a bit of gray to them. Unfortunately, the "bad guys" were usually portrayed without many redeeming qualities. Granted, we didn't get to see much of their side of the story, so this makes a fair amount of sense. I liked that the book had a strong historical feel to it with magic and such only really being hinted at for the most part. And in general, I particularly enjoyed the world-building which is very complete.
Overall, I enjoyed A Game of Thrones very much. I wasn't blown away, but it makes for a solid beginning to the series. The book doesn't offer much if any closure, almost demanding that at least the next book, A Clash of Kings be read as well. With each book of the series clocking in at over 800 pages, a significant amount of time will need to be devoted to get the full story. Though, that being said, I will admit that I didn't actually feel the length of A Game of Thrones. The book always held my attention despite the occasional infodump or seemingly extraneous material. Martin's style makes for easy reading with just a touch of humor included in what could have otherwise become a rather depressing story. From time to time a word choice would throw me briefly, seeming to be too "modern" for the time, but overall the writing was quite good. I do plan on picking up A Clash of Kings; I very much want to know what happens next.