Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Game of Thrones

A few months ago, I read a short story by George R. R. Martin and enjoyed it so much, I figured I had to take the plunge and try the first book of his A Song of Fire and Ice books, namely A Game of Thrones. One of my youth actually recommended this book to me many years ago but I didn't read it then. I'm actually kind of sorry that I didn't. It's an incredible book.

It's hard to pin down one main character; the story jumps through multiple viewpoints throughout its many pages. But I think I can safely say that the story revolves mostly around the Starks of Winterfell. They are a noble family charged with taking care of the northern end of the Seven Kingdoms. Their world gets up-ended when King Robert demands that Lord Eddard Stark become his Hand. Eddard is reluctant but finally agrees, moving down to King's Landing with his two daughters, Arya and Sansa. There he finds himself embroiled in plots and counterplots, mysteries and danger, stemming from the Lannister family, who are connected to the throne through marriage.

Those of you who have read this book are probably frustrated and think I did a poor job of summing up the story. And I admit, that probably is one of the worst plot summaries I've ever written. That's because Martin's plot is complex. There are plots, counterplots, political and familial tensions woven throughout the story.

The characters are superb. No one is what you would call a "good guy." Everyone is shot through with shades of gray. While there are truly despicable characters (Viserys Targaryen leaps immediately to mind), there aren't what you would call superlatively noble characters. Everyone is flawed in some way and it makes for truly believable characters.

And Martin clearly doesn't get too senetimental about those characters. Or, if he does, he doesn't let that get in the way of messing with them, sometimes in brutal ways. That was a good a reminder for me. I tend to be too "nice" to my characters when I'm writing. Martin's book has reminded me that often, the best thing an author can do is dump on his characters. A lot. In horrific ways.

What's truly incredible is the world that Martin has created. There were times I wanted to see a chart of this world's solar system to try to figure out its odd seasonal pattern (years-long summers followed by years-long winter). And I was delighted to discover that modern sciences played a big role in the plot (although the characters wouldn't understand that). Genetics. I'll leave it at that. And the language, the gritty pictures, it all adds up to a superbly crafter story world that breathes and has a life of its own.

A word of caution to those who offend easily. There is blood. Lots of it. There is foul language aplenty. And there's quite a bit of sex too. If you can't stomach that sort of thing, then this book isn't for you. But if you want a somewhat disturbing, very real story with gritty characters and an incredible plot, then check this one out. Just don't wait years to do it.

No comments: