A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Cover Concept by Lorenzo Princi, 6 June 2011

A Game of Thrones

Author: George R.R. Martin

Reviewed by Lorenzo Princi

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
A Game of Thrones is the first book in the series A Song of Fire and Ice. George R.R. Martin blends themes from greek myth with historical influence (The Orestia and the war of the roses come to mind) to create an epic masterpiece in a genre overflowing with generic dragon slayers and peasant boys turned heroes.

A web of lies, complex story arcs, family loyalty and personal honour make A Game of Thrones the Godfather of fantasy fiction. The characters, far from being the two dimentional serving of ice queens or shining knights and virgin princesses are much more reminiscent of those from Sophocles; stubborn, incestual, deceiptful, murdering, bastards and betrayers.

The world Martin sets his character upon is pure fantasy perfection, a detailed and complex universe in its own right, unveiling itself as we read. It has a landscape we can touch, colours we can see and a history we can believe. We are able to comprehend and imagine it due to a balance between familiarity and the twist fantastic. On the surface, we could be in Camelot or Sherwood Forest but there is something more that lies beneath and beyond.

The story catapults us into this world with a grim prelude in the tragic tradition; a supernatural eerieness which sets the tone and warns of a coming outworldly darkness. This is then left to stew as the plot centres on (as the name suggests) a political and physical battle to win the throne of the 7 kingdoms between the 7 ruling (or richest) families. For better or worse, all the characters therein are uncompromising in their own way, whether that be a stoic honour or a Machavellian attitude. This is the struggle which makes the story so intriguing, whose will will bend if any and which approach is to be the winner's?

The telling is broken up into perspectives rather than chapters. We following one of the protagonists (from the three main houses; Stark, Lannister and Targyrean) in turn as the story progresses and their deeds intertwine to create the greater narrative. A fresh approach that lets us forget about chapter numbers and focus on the plot. This also allows for Martin to leave a series of cliffhangers behind us as we move from one character's segment to the next. An added bonus to this clever work is that though the honourable Starks will generally take our sympathy we are able to understand the motivations of characters from the families we would otherwise label "the bad guys" and think nothing more of.

The words of house Stark "Winter is coming" remind us constantly that we have picked up the story after any golden age or peaceful summer reign. Enemies enter the realm from within and without. Much like Tolkein's The Lord of The Rings we are reading a transitional piece, the old days are forgotten, the young of each family are the key players despite their tender years. All first impressions are void, the seemingly strong are weak and the seemingly green, very much grown. Youth will inherit the world as the days get shorter and the night's colder. A Game of Thrones is a blistering read on a grand scale with a climax only as far away as your page turning speed. Read it and I highly recommend the viewing of HBO's excellent television translation.
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