I have just finished the first in George R.R. Martin’s series, and I cannot believe how quickly I got through it. I put off watching the show until this year, as I wanted to read the books first. Eventually I accepted that that wouldn’t be happening around exams, and so began watching it- but also bought the books. And following my last exam, sat down for the rest of the afternoon and began Book One.
For so long, I was wary of this series because of how gargantuan these books are. I pictured the kind of novels my dad reads: choc-full of boring descriptions and technical battle terms and stuffy characters. Instead, George R.R. Martin creates a subtle and beautiful world, and equally rich characters. I think one of the best things about this book (and also the TV show) is how virtually none of the characters are entirely good, or entirely bad- they are all 3D. You can’t entirely hate any of them- except Joffrey. I do hate Joffrey. I can’t say I am amazingly keen on Robert Baratheon to be honest either; characters that shirk responsibility at the expense of those around them really get under skin, and in the books this is an emphasized aspect of Robert’s personality. I am also aware of other characters I can later hate, but this book hasn’t introduced them yet. It’s hard to separate what I know later happens to the characters and what is happening now, when it comes to being bias on if I like them or not. For example, so far I can say that Jaime Lannister is not likable in the slightest, though I know his character does develop later on. And, I’m sorry guys, but I will be comparing and contrasting this book to season one of the show, as I know that a lot of my readers probably haven’t delved into the books, but are more likely to have watched the show. I am going to try and encourage you here to do the former as well as the latter.
You get a mix of perspectives in this book, with each chapter being taken by a different character, and focusing on their internal thoughts and their actions. So far we have heard from: Eddard, Catelyn, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Jon, Daenerys, and Tyrion. Some of the characters surprised me in how different they were when you knew their internal dialogues. Also, in how much younger they are in the books. Jon, Robb, Sansa, and Joffrey are all much younger here- though Bran, Rickon, Arya, Tommen, and Marcella are all roughly the same age as HBO chose to portray them. Due to these multiple perspectives, we see the fight for the iron throne from several opposing sides, though Martin seems to choose characters we can view as the underdog to be the voice of the story.
This book ends where the TV show also chose to end, to give you an idea of the narrative timeline it covers- though Daenerys keeps her hair in the TV show, whereas it’s burnt off in Drogo’s funeral pyre in the book. Speaking of Daenerys, I received a slightly different impression of her from George R.R. Martin. Daenerys’ character development is just beginning to become apparent in this novel. Daenerys is also where we see that this is not particularly a children’s/ young adult fantasy book- but adult fantasy. Martin writes about sex and sexuality easily, nonchalantly, and without making it too cringey (as many books do). Daenerys seems bolder than the other female characters because of this element of sexuality, which she eventually appears to become more comfortable with- seen in the scene where she and Drogo make love outside, Dothraki style*. I can see why HBO chose to cast Emilia Clarke in place of an actual 15 year old.
Moving on from characters, to writing style. This book’s world is fantasy rich, and the descriptions Martin writes obviously contribute heavily to this. If you’re lacking in imagination then the descriptions are almost as if you’re watching the action, they are that detailed. Particularly beautiful or useful descriptions include the story about dragons hatching from the moon, the description of the children or the forest and background of Westeros from Maester Luwin, and also the poignant moment that Daenerys walks into Drogo’s funeral pyre. Martin’s style is easy to read- I cannot emphasise this enough, as my belief that it would be the exact opposite put me off for so long. However, the battle scenes…
Okay, so, it wouldn’t be GoT without some battle scenes. And this is where my only critique comes in. I find battle scenes boring. They go on too long, the action is mixed up with too many words, and I basically skim read them. They just aren’t my thing, and Martin’s writing is no exception. I think that unless you are writing the battle scene, they are very difficult to read. As such, I found much of Catelyn Stark’s narrative regarding the antics of Robb and his army fairly boring.
However, overall I encourage you to give this a read- I can’t wait to begin the next one, and plan on getting to at least Book Three before I head back to uni in September.
*Edit!! I also have to add: in the books Drogo is much gentler with Dany than in the show: it’s one change I have to say I wish HBO hadn’t made.