I’ve had this book sitting on a shelf for ages since someone gave it to me with the recommendation that I might like it. So, when the TV adaptation of the series began and got great reviews I decided it was time to finally give it a go, because as I don’t have Sky Atlantic it’ll be sometime before I get to see it and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
And now I regret having left it on the shelf for so long because it’s a truly great book. More discussion follows, but there will be plenty of spoilers so don’t read further if you want to remain pure.
One of the things that most impresses me about Game of Thrones is the pacing. Martin spends approximately the first half of the book introducing the characters and letting the reader get into the world he’s created. His talent shows in the fact that what’s effectively a primer and introduction isn’t dull exposition and ‘as you know…’ dialogue but revealed through the interplay of the characters. Indeed, you could argue that the first half of the book is a brilliant piece of misdirection in that it appears to be setting up one story – Ned Stark’s mission to protect the realm from the consequences of King Robert’s actions since he took the throne – and then pulls the rug from under the reader’s feet by revealing an entirely different story.
Martin makes an interesting choice from the start in the story he does choose to tell. For many authors, the tale of how the various Houses joined together (or didn’t) to overthrow the Targaryens would have provided sufficient fuel for a series of novels, but that’s all relegated to the background in favour of the much more interesting tale of what happens after. Indeed, a lot of the world of the novel is set after epic events of history in a world littered with the monuments and memories of times gone by, where the magic that normally pervades fantasy novels appears to have faded away to nothing. By fixing each chapter as a snapshot view from one character, we get to see lots of different takes on the world which fit together expertly to let us know what’s going on – or at least, what appears to be.
It’s in a few sections in the middle of the book where things take a turn for the unexpected and while they are definitely twists, it’s to Martin’s credit that they all flow naturally from the events that have gone before. Viserys is killed, then Robet dies and Ned is taken prisoner and suddenly the characters who appeared to be there to witness the tale being played out around them are thrust into the centre stage. It really is a masterpiece of storytelling and character, and I can’t recommend it enough.