First Impression of A Game of Thrones

I don’t normally make new year’s resolutions but this year I decided to because my reading has slowed down a lot and there are a few big novels I want to read that I might not even start if I don’t set myself a target. I’d been curious about A Game of Thrones for a while and figured I’d make it my new year’s resolution to give it a try. I went in completely blind; I knew nothing about it other than that it was a fantasy novel, and I have not seen any of the television series. I told myself I’d know within a hundred or so pages whether I was going to enjoy it enough to finish it, and I gave myself permission to just drop it if I wasn’t feeling it.

How’s that for a wishy-washy new year’s resolution?

I mean, cut me some slack. It’s been two years since I quit smoking. I’ve settled on pescatarianism after flip-flopping on my diet a bit. I’d like to exercise more but not because I want to lose weight, and that’s a cliché resolution, anyway. Assigning myself a fat novel and giving myself a year felt like a fun little way of joining in.

A month and a bit later I finished it and had to make myself not immediately move on to the next one. I didn’t want to burn myself out. Eight hundred pages of incredibly dense, Gibbon-esque world building and intrigue is enough for anyone, I think. It was a fast 800 pages and didn’t feel like a slog at all. A Game of Thrones is really damn good. George R.R. Martin has put together a very convincing world, populated it with believable characters each involved in a historical event bigger than any one of them can grasp, balanced it all finely as clockwork, and set it ticking.

I will say, though, there wasn’t as much sex as I was expecting, and there also weren’t as many characters being culled as I thought there might be. I was expecting Ed Stark to die for about 400 pages before he actually died. I was expecting the fall to be it for Bran and then he survives? I know Tyrion must not die (just yet) because I know he’s a favourite character in the TV series, and judging from the books I can see why.

I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was a kid and loved it, but I always felt that the strength of its cast is also its weakness. Epic is another way of saying unfocussed, and while it was always interesting to get differing perspectives on the war of the ring, you did also occasionally wonder when you were going to get back to some of the characters you really cared about, like Frodo, or Gandalf. Martin does a very good job of not only developing a kaleidoscope of interesting characters whose fates we are invested in, but in this first novel he keeps them very much focussed on the main historical thrust of events. Yes, we get lots of different perspectives, but these perspectives are on the same thing, and as such the novel doesn’t get too unfocussed.

A Game of Thrones does tick a lot of boxes. There’s adventure, conspiracy, titillation, heartbreak, romance, history, politics, all kinds. I am not familiar with Martin or his other works but I imagine based on this that he’s a man of varied interests and knowledge, both in himself and in his fiction. A Game of Thrones has something in it that can appeal to everyone, I feel, which is probably how it’s been adapted into a hugely popular TV series. I know people who made fun of me for playing D&D who watch this show avidly, and Martin’s omission of goblins and elves probably goes a long way to helping that be a thing.

Except for in the Danaerys chapters. But they have an effect like when we check in on Anton Chigur’s progress in No Country for Old Men. We know it’s something devastating and momentous, but we don’t know quite how or when, yet. I imagine Danaerys has a big effect on Westeros and I look forward to finding out about it in the next novels. Plus, I might complain about it blurring the focus, but it does help cut down on the eurocentrism of the novel. You could argue the Dothraki are a caricature of other cultures, but it’s a change from all the m’lords and ser’s, which can get a bit grating.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Game of Thrones and will be reading the other ones at some point. I don’t tend to read much fantasy, but this novel is making me reconsider my ignorance of the genre. I like SF enough, fantasy probably has some stuff in it that I’d like, and even if it turns out that I just happen to like A Song of Ice and Fire, then that’s fair enough.

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