GAME OF THRONES BY GEORGE R.R. MARTIN, Bantam Spectra, 1996 –
With the book already claiming ‘classic fantasy’ status and HBO making a hash of the series on television, I decided it was time to get acquainted with the ‘Game of Thrones’. It turns out to be one of those fantasies where the lure of swords, bows and arrows, knights in armor doing battle and the ‘chivalry’ of the medieval period is irresistible. My Dearest Darling Daughter (DDD), an occasional fantasy devote, ascribes the sub-genre’s popularity to Tolkien.
Factor out the zombies in the north and an ending where dragon eggs are laid in your lap and Game of Thrones is, essentially, a medieval power struggle. It was rather reminiscent of the intrigues and battles found in ‘The White Ship’, a history book (reviewed earlier on this blog) that examined the wars and intrigue between the French and English around the reign of England’s Henry II. Both the English history and ‘Game of Thrones’ could be boiled down to watching which psychopath/sociopath has the most luck and least scruples when it comes to diddling the competition and winning the crown.
Most of the story set in the ‘Seven Kingdoms’, a place where peasants and lords toil with medieval technology, except for the zombies, of course. These kingdoms are in the western part of Martin’s world and ruled by an overlord King from the ‘iron throne’, situated in the south in a city with infamous red gates called King’s Landing. The western lands also include a number of ‘free cities’, situated on an ocean. The merchants of these cities trade with the eastern lands, notably those of the Dothraki, a savage nomadic people.
The seven kingdoms that divide the western lands have two main sections, the Stark family holding sway in the north and their rivals, the Lannister family, in the South. Robert Baratheon is the overlord King, married to a Lannister while maintaining a close ties with the Starks. He won the throne by overthrowing the last of the Targaryen ‘dragon’ rulers and eventually decided it was more exciting to win the throne than to actually rule.
Years have past and King Robert Baratheon is getting old and fat while his Lannister-born wife is plotting to replace him with her son Joffrey. Martin starts mixing the ingredients for his story by throwing Lord Stark and some members of his family into the capital city – the ‘King’s Landing’ pot, if you will. He adds dashes of slimy toads from the King’s Council, then turns the heat on the pot with dark secrets and more intrigue than could be found in a Borgia family gathering. The reader can hardly wait for the concoction to come to a boil.
Lord Eddard Stark, one of the principle characters in this, the first book in a series, is ruler of the northern kingdom at Winterfell. Those who have read Robert Graves will recognize the Stark character as similar to either Germanicus from ‘I, Cladius’ or ‘Count Belasarius’ from the novel of the same name. Stark is noble, competent, ethical and chivalrous – in other words, a sure loser when faced by the duplicitous and conniving villains that inhabit the rest of King’s Landing.
In the meantime, the last of the Targaryen Royal family (The Dragonlords) is hiding out in the eastern lands beyond the sea. Princess Daenerys (Dany), fled to the eastern regions with her brother when her father was overthrown by Robert Baratheon. She marries a Dothraki ruler who disposes of her useless brother while she fixes her sights on recovering the seven kingdoms for the Targaryens.
Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ offer readers a number of engaging characters. Each chapter is told through the point of view of one of these characters and the constant shift proves an effective technique for telling the tale. As the book progresses, there arise a multitude of intrigues and battles aplenty. One can hardly wait for the subsequent books when the zombies and dragons will rev up their jets and add to the general mayhem.
TL:DR – Is your reading pleasure tickled by dark deeds, treachery, intrigue and beefy bozos bludgeoning each other in battle? If so, the ‘Game of Thrones’ is decidedly for you.