Who has not heard of this book by now? Anyone? I think it’s safe to say that by now pretty much anyone not living under a rock, or in a cave with their own dragon has heard of George R. R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones.” We are inundated with images of it on a regular basis and in this day of DVR’s & TIVO people still rush home to sit down and watch it when each new episode premiers; so why are people so utterly fascinated with this series? That’s an insanely easy question to answer; it is masterfully crafted with characters that are either so fatally twisted and cruel or so human in their flaws and good intentions that, as a reader, you simply cannot turn away. Instead you turn page after page utterly and completely enthralled.
What truly amazes me with this first book in this series is how Martin weaves the tale that he does with so many complex characters and detailed story-lines. It’s just mind-boggling to me how he manages to do this and keeps the story-lines straight and we, as readers, are able to follow it throughout the fantastical yet all too familiar Seven Kingdoms that Martin has created.
Martin has the gift for drawing a reader in so completely that we become so intensely emotionally invested that we feel ourselves to be a part of the story and are truly crushed when a favorite character ends up toasted like a marshmallow or has their head loped off and served up for public viewing on the end of a spike. I will do my best to avoid any spoilers in this review too but I am going to say, if you haven’t heard this already, absolutely no character is safe from tragedy in this book. That’s part of the beauty for me though, I don’t see what’s coming, or if I do…I dread it, I hate it for that character; Martin genuinely makes me feel something whether it’s revulsion, despair, sadness, or joy…I feel something.
I readily admit that I’m one of those people who eagerly devoured this book when it was first published in 1996; the release of the television series on HBO simply gave me the excuse I had been looking for to go back and re-read it again and gleefully (I admit) get my husband addicted to it as well.
So, aside from what I’ve written above why do I really love this book? I’m going to start with the main female characters; they’re often spectacular in their quiet power. I have noticed many times people will complain that the female characters in this book are weak or spineless. Really?! I couldn’t disagree more. A female character doesn’t have to be bold, outgoing, or abrasive to have power. They can also quietly bide their time, be crafty, patient, cunning and even acquiesce until the right moment arrives to make their move. Their move doesn’t have to be something as blatant as running a sword through someone and killing them either, it can be quiet manipulation, simply pulling the puppet strings in a subtle way to make the puppet dance as she desires it to. There is often a much larger degree of iron in the spine of someone who waits and quietly manipulates because those individuals have the fortitude not to rush into their actions and that’s what we see in these female characters. Yes, at times they may appear weak and spineless…but take a closer look.
Of course there are times in this story where we see abusive situations as well, there are many shocking moments. The setting of this story is a very male dominated world. Daenerys Targaryen is most definitely a victim of this male dominated world at first. She is subject to the whim of her twin brother Viserys and his machinations but we watch her throughout this story morph into a woman of great strength in spite of or perhaps because of the trials she has to endure. She truly begins to learn she is made of sterner stuff!
Cersei Lannister is a character many see as a massive bitch, and yes…she definitely has this in her. However, she is another example of a female character having been a pawn in a man’s game but Cersei isn’t willing to settle for what men want her to do she is a manipulative and vindictive creature and from her view she is this way out of necessity. She has children to protect, granted their parentage is questionable but they are her children nonetheless and she will do what she has to in order to protect them and ensure their eventual right to the throne. This type of manipulative behavior takes a spine of steel; she’s no meek castle mouse. Cersei knows how to orchestrate the political royal games and have people owing her favors they will eventually come to regret ever having to pay back. Cersei’s own ego may just get the best of her yet however.
Then we have the Stark women: Catelyn, Sansa, and Arya. At first Catelyn appears to be a typical “Lady”, running a household, loving her husband, and watching over their children. A typical wife; however, each day she also has the daily reminder of her husband Ned’s infidelity in the form of his bastard son John Snow. Can you imagine the daily gut-wrenching pain of that reminder, of never being able to put that betrayal behind you, of being expected to accept that child into your own family? This woman knows pain on a constant basis but she still adores her husband Ned. This shows Catelyn to be an extremely loyal character with ethics and a strength borne of duty.
The Stark girls in this book are still quite young but both are thrown into danger. Sansa is still quite naïve and idealistic about life having been protected and shielded by Catelyn for so long but she has a very quiet inner strength. She observes and learns quickly how things are really done. She learns how manipulative court-life can be and finds out early that one wrong move can cost a life. Arya, on the other hand, is a rebel, she doesn’t want to do what’s expected of her and is the quintessential tom-boy. She is a scrapper, stubborn, adventurous, and wary; these are all characteristics needed to be a survivor in the Seven Kingdoms. So as you can see, these women are much more than just abused victims in this book each has a strength completely equal to any of the male characters in the book.
The male characters in this story are just as complex as the women are too. Ned and his older son’s, including his bastard son John are all loyal, ethical, honest men. You immediately like all of them because they all have such honorable traits, even though it is often pointed out to John that he is not in fact a “Stark” but a “Snow”, a name given to bastards of nobility. They even treat their ward, Theon Greyjoy, as a member of the family even though he is technically a prisoner. These aren’t bad people but their lives are soon to be turned upside down!
The Lannister men, are well….fascinating. Tyrion quickly became my favorite character of the book. He’s irreverent, intelligent, pragmatic and simply magnetic in his personality. He’s pint-sized and knows his lot in life will never come close to the life of privilege his siblings enjoy so he makes the best of his life by drinking and wenching his way through it with a sense of humor and razor sharp wit. You quickly learn this little man has a huge heart. He has compassion for others less fortunate because he knows what it’s like to be less fortunate and in my view he has the strongest sense of loyalty and ethics in the entire book. He will stand up and fight for what he believes in, even when others shirk responsibility.
Jamie Lannister is the quarter-back of the Lannister team and has enjoyed the status of “Golden Boy” in his wealthy family his whole life. Unlike Tyrion, Jamie has looks, power, money, and all the privileges his station in life could possibly provide. He battles for glory not necessity and is known as the “King Slayer” throughout the land. Jamie may be shiny and pretty on the outside but inside his motives and morals are more than tarnished; he has an unhealthy attachment to his twin sister Cersai and is solely responsible for one of the most gut-wrenching moments of this book for me. There are glimpses of a conscience though with this character, they are few and far between in this book however. Is he redeemable? That remains to be seen.
Honestly I could go on and on and on about many of the characters in this book but each is as intriguing and unique as the next, so I’m not going to do that. Suffice it to say that this book is chocked full of amazing characters and plot twists. This “Game of Thrones” is not for the faint of heart, it’s a game of life and death and no one is safe!
Next up…Book 2, “A Clash of Kings”