Review: A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin (an exercise in discursion)

A Game of Thrones is the first in a planned seven-book fantasy series by George R. R. Martin (he who is Not Your Bitch), recently adapted into an HBO series starring two actors who receive, in general, a level of attention not nearly commensurate to how much I adore them, Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage. The series is all about a great big enormous kingdom and the great big enormous war they’re going to have; there are more characters than I can reasonably describe here; there is a lot of incest and other sexual weirdness; there are massive battles; and everyone seems to die gruesomely just when you are getting fond of them. These are all reasons that I would not have been inclined to read this series, but here I am, finished with the first book and planning to pay actual real money for the second book because I can’t wait for it to get back in at the library.

Now are you satisfied, Captain Hammer?

I don’t know why I put that all in italics. Captain Hammer, Social Sister’s boyfriend, has never pressured me to read Game of Thrones. Captain Hammer has been very restrained. Every time I brought up Game of Thrones and my possible reading of same, Captain Hammer would say serenely, “Yeah. They’re really good books. I’ll lend you my copy if you like.” Or in latter days — I’ve been talking about reading this books for probably over a year now — he would say, “I’ll mail you my copy.”

(Capt. Hammer gets called that because he owns a Captain Hammer shirt, not because he is anyone’s nemesis or because I harbor a desire to shoot him with a freeze ray. Captain Hammer is lovely. If you are wondering what he is captain of, he is captain of answering football questions, being good to Social Sister, loving Tom Stoppard, and getting me a box set of Fagles’s Homer for my birthday. In a box.)

Anyway, earlier this month I went and bought a mass market paperback (glorious to have a mass market paperback to read on the subway, I am really reevaluating my negative perceptions of mass market paperbacks) of A Game of Thrones. I did it because I knew about That Thing That Happened in the second-to-last episode of the HBO series, and I couldn’t face watching it happen. I don’t know why I had this reaction. Captain Hammer told me all along that that the Thing was going to Happen. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t force myself to watch the episode in which That Thing Happened, or even to watch more than five minutes at a time of the preceding episode, since I knew it was leading up to That Thing Happening. (I’m not exaggerating. I have literally been watching five minutes a day of the antepenultimate episode and then running out of steam because I’m too sad about the Thing that’s going to Happen.) So I thought if I bought the book, and read the book, that would give me the necessary distance and then I’d be able to deal with That Thing in the show.

My strategy didn’t work yet. I’m hoping that what will eventually happen is, I’ll get used to the fact of That Thing having Happened and how necessary it was for all the other plot points to unfold, and then I will gain perspective. For now I am still very sad about the Thing. Only now I also care about some characters I didn’t really care about before, and I went on Wikipedia and found out their terrible fates. Bother. I feel like my favorite people have the most misfortune. Another really awful Thing is coming up, much awfuler than the original Thing because a character I like a lot dies horribly, and a character I truly loathe nearly dies, but then instead of actually damn well dying just becomes more loathsome. Goddammit.

A Game of Thrones, in case you can’t tell, totally sucked me in, though I did not really expect it to. A thing is happening. You can tell that the thing is happening because: (1) My subway rides while reading this book have seemed absurdly short, and I have thrice come very very close to missing my stop; (2) I went and bought, bought, the second through fourth books, though I shall not buy the fifth. I want all mass market paperbacks for the subway. I shall wait for the fifth; and (3) I have theories and plans for what must occur next, and in particular I have notions of what all the various characters must do.

This enthusiasm is not to say that some stuff in the book of Game of Thrones bothered me: the above-mentioned incest and violence, the weird, annoying thing of using slightly-different versions of normal words (“Ser” for “Sir”, “rapers” for “rapists”), and also some of the high-fantasy commonplaces that I always find irritating. Like the use of “sex” when you mean genitals, or the use in any context of the word “child-woman”. What does that mean? Child-woman? That’s not a thing! Does that mean young but sexy? Does it mean super mature for her age? You do realize that if you said “man-boy” about, say, Robb Stark, we would all subsequently be unable to take Robb Stark seriously, right? I feel if you’re writing a book that elsewhere spends several pages on the deflowering of a thirteen-year-old girl, you don’t have to use coy little locutions like “child-woman”.

In other news, Jon Snow is definitely not Sean Bean’s real kid. I didn’t really think about it when I was watching the show, but the book, damn, it really goes out of its way to talk about how Jon Snow is the only one of the kids besides Arya who looks so much like Sean Bean. Nice try, book, but you are not my first rodeo. I am hoping (not expecting) that Jon Snow will turn out to be Lyanna’s son (with Rhaegar or with Robert; or Jon could be all clever and imply the former to the Targaryens after Daenerys dies or surrenders, and the latter to the Lannisters and Baratheons after Cersei dies and Joffrey dies and Jaime reforms and surrenders or dies (oh for heaven’s sake: and Renly dies, and Stannis dies, and Tyrion surely doesn’t have a place in the line of succession?)), and that he will subsequently become the king of all the lands, and Arya will be his Hand, and they’ll finish each other’s sentences and live happily ever after. (I shouldn’t really have to clarify this, but I think I’d better: Not in an incesty manner. They’ll live happily ever after in the manner of normal brothers and sisters.)

P.S. You may wonder: am I reading these books, unfinished series as they are, to fill the howling abyss left in my heart since July 2007 by the end of Harry Potter? To which I say, SHUT UP. YOU DO NOT KNOW MY LIFE. And then I go away and sob and eat a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide ice cream, which it finally occurred to me to track down via internet. Food Emporium carries it. Nom nom nom.

P.P.S. I went on Wikipedia to remind myself in which book the Official Worst Thing of All the Books was going to happen (it’s the third one), and Wikipedia told me that in Westeros seasons can last for years and decades. I feel dumb that I didn’t pick up on that from reading the book. I thought when the characters said all that business about how Bran, you spoiled child, it’s been summer your whole life, I thought they were being metaphorical. So, oh. Weird.

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66 thoughts on “Review: A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin (an exercise in discursion)

    • It takes all my time for sure. When I left Feast for Crows at my old apartment earlier this weekend, I was totally sad. But now I have it back, and I shall devour it on the train tomorrow. πŸ™‚

  1. So, I only skimmed the review above because I just yesterday bought this book. I have seen ten minutes total of the series. I was afraid of spoilers. Thank you for putting it as Official Worst Thing of All the Books – much appreciated. Your PS was hilarious. πŸ™‚

  2. The Official Worst Thing of All the Books is the only time, ever, that I have had to put a book down and not read anything else for a full day and go take a walk in the sunshine because I was so upset. It’s coming up in my re-read and I’m just dreading it.

    And I think you’re right about Jon (and I think it’s Rhaegar, for what it’s worth. The dragon is supposed to have three heads. But if that’s true, who’s the third?)

    • If I hadn’t known it was coming I’d have probably had the same reaction. I was well sad about it. I’m sure worse things are coming in the back three books, because George R. R. Martin is evil that way. I’m hoping no further (*SPOILERS*) direwolves get killed, except Shaggydog can die if he wants to, because I was extremely heartbroken when Lady and then Grey Wind were cruelly killed (*END SPOILERS*).

      I think it’s Rhaegar too. But it might be to Jon Snow’s benefit to claim it might have been Robert. :p I am excited to see Jon Snow becoming a schemer. Up the Starks! Jon and Sansa are going to take over everything by becoming genius schemers. I don’t think Sansa’s the third but I would be strongly in favor of her being because that girl is going to be worth something someday.

      • I think the third has to be Tyrion. Doesn’t he talk at some point about wanting a dragon because no one cares if you’re a dwarf when you’re riding a dragon?

      • Hi Captain Hammer! Did you see how I defended you so this time nobody would think I think you’re a jerk?

        Tyrion — eh, I got sort of annoyed with Tyrion for being such a sissyface and getting all crushy on Shae. WhatEVER, Tyrion. He’s going to have to do some cool things to get back into my good graces.

  3. These books don’t half suck you in, don’t they? All this awful stuff just keeps happening and yet you just have to keep reading. I think it’s an exercise in testing the strength of hope – we keep hoping that surely, sometime, someone has to catch a break, only to have it dashed again and again, and yet we can’t just give up that hope and so have to keep going. That and they are brilliantly written.

    • Hahaha, that’s an excellent description of how I feel about these books. The only break anyone ever catches is the kind where they get brutal revenge on somebody. Not the breakiest break imaginable. :p

      • people catch good breaks. Mostly Dany, but meh. Tyrion gets to be hand! that’s not revenge, is it? Well, maybe just a little…

  4. I just read this, too. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, but I am not sure when I will get around to reading it. I am very proud of myself for finally reading the first book, though. It has taken me forever to get around to it! I was all excited about the edition of a dragon right at the very end of the book. I had been looking forward to it. So, now I am curious about how everything will be developed in the next book.

    • It took me ages to get to it too. I was so put off by the incest. However, I came to terms with it when watching the series, just because I knew all along that those two characters were sleeping together. They don’t feel like siblings when you’re watching them, they feel like lovers, and that carried over into the books when I read them. Yay, and made it less weird and awkward. :p

      Can’t wait to see what happens in Dance with Dragons.

  5. I just bought this book for my nook because of all the people talking about how awesome it is and because I sort of miss reading epic fantasy. I think it’s HP withdrawal… Still, I’m not sure I have it in me for all the awfulness and the dying and the terrible. However, if you can do it, then surely I can do it?

    • To be honest, I found the misery not, um, not as miserable as I thought it was going to be. I’m reading it for the plot much more than the characters, so even when I like the characters, I can recognize the necessity for killing off some of them (if only to thin the herd of narrators!) in order to advance the plot. Also, everything just whips along at a frenzied pace, you barely have time to be sad about any one thing because you’re already on to the next thing.

      It’s much worse in the series though — have you watched it yet? Lots of yucky things happen. I played a game when I was watching the series where I would try to guess when the yuckiest event had happened, and I was almost never right. Almost always, I’d say, Okay, nothing grosser can happen than that horse’s head being sliced off, and then MUCH GROSSER THINGS would happen.

      • Well that’s good to know. If it’s more plot and less characters, that probably helps.

        I haven’t watched the show at all. I don’t have HBO and wasn’t sure I was interested in it when it was at a point you could watch online, if you could at all… I’m not sure. I think watching all the ick would probably be worse than reading it, but who knows. But sounds… gross!

  6. I’ve been looking for a fun, epic fantasy this summer. I’m not crazy about trying to keep track of lots of characters; I prefer quest fantasy stories with one main character or group of characters, but you have me seriously considering buying a copy of this. I’ll have to buy it because the wait list at the library is so long, I won’t get my turn until summer is over.

    • I don’t like keeping track of a lot of characters either. Particularly in this most recent book, that’s been something that’s pulled me out of the story — I have a hard time remembering, especially with characters who are sort of disconnected from the others, like groups of bandits, who goes with what house and whether they’re niceish or nastyish. However, Captain Hammer has been very good about refreshing my memory when I ask.

      I hope you do read them! They are dark but very engaging.

      • Yes, too many characters with all these names and lineages etc. etc. I have to ask my brother to refresh me all the time as he is diehard fan. And each book, it’s like he adds a few more and kills off a few more. πŸ˜₯

  7. I’ve been reading this one before bed, and while I find it mildly amusing, have had no trouble putting it down, so far. I think I’m about halfway through it, and appreciate the warnings about bad things happening to characters. No, I don’t know anything about the one on TV. I live in a cave or something.

    • You know, I think I assume the Game of Thrones show is an even bigger deal than it is, because I saw it advertised so much in New York, in subway stations and buses and things. But it is perfectly reasonable not to have heard of it. It stars Sean Bean! If you’re able to watch an episode or two, I say do so. Many cool things happen in it.

      • *jealous* They had food trucks serving free Westerosi food in New York. Now that’s promotion!

  8. When things happen of a That Thing That Happens variety, then I am completely with you in turning to books. I’ve come to the conclusion that screens offer a person no thinking time, no real room for emotions and dealing with them, rather than just having them. So, it’s the book rather than the adaptation for me every time, although I rarely turn down the opportunity to watch Sean Bean in action. πŸ˜‰

    • I know! I wanted to watch (and then read) Game of Thrones in support of Sean Bean Being In Things In America. I wish he were always in a thousand things.

  9. Oh my. Well. I have tried this series before, and not had much luck with it, and had to give it up after two hundred pages, because, back then fantasy was totally not my bag. But now, I feel like I would really feel differently about this series, having read some Guy Gavriel Kay, and other things like that. But I have to admit that your very energetic and slight obsession with this series makes me think that I need to go pick up some paperbacks, which is a rare feat indeed, because I have been reading reviews of this book all over the internet and leaving whiny comments on how I don’t like these books. You have done the impossible.

    • High fantasy is often not my bag, but political machinations are SO my bag, and George R. R. Martin does fantastically well with political machinations. Many of them. All over the place. Yay. πŸ™‚

      If you do pick them up again I hope you like the series! But I can see how it wouldn’t be great for everybody.

    • zibilee, it gets better, I promise! These 800-page books are a LOT of setup, and then everything goes whirl! Particularly with Martin’s use of tropes….

  10. Now I want to read A Game of Thrones just to find out about The Worst Thing of All the Books. *sigh* Or maybe I shouldn’t so I won’t be so traumatized by it? I’ll just read the book already. πŸ™‚

  11. I’m really glad you ended up enjoying these books. I really like them. I’m really excited to read A Dance with Dragons. I hear there’s a lot of good Tyrion stuff.

  12. Enjoyed reading your review, Jenny! I heard that the first three books in the series are amazing but the fourth is not so, while the fifth which is coming up is also supposed to be excellent. I loved the way you have written the review – writing about ‘the Thing’ without revealing anything about the plot πŸ™‚ Glad to know that you are enjoying mass market paperbacks. Yes, 2007 was a sad year when the last of the Harry Potter books came out. That last Harry Potter book was disappointing to me though. I heard in the news recently that Rowling said that it is her baby and she might come up with more volumes in the future. Hope she does. After reading your review and the comments to it, I am getting tempted to try the first volume of this series πŸ™‚ Nice to see that Captain Hammer commented on this post πŸ™‚

    • the fourth is a good book. not a great book, but a good one. But martin knows that (thank the GODS! Jordan didn’t know when he wrote a bad book, a boring book, or all that jazz) — and the next one is gonna be awesome!

      • What can I say about Jordan – after repeated enthusiastic recommendations by friends, everytime I go to the bookstore, I check the first volume and browse it and see the number of pages and ponder whether I can read it. Then I see that he has actually written fifteen volumes of around thousand pages each and it totally intimidates me! I wish I can muster up the courage to read the first Jordan some day. Glad to know that the fourth Martin book is not that bad as it is made out to be. Maybe I should get into the series one of these days.

    • I’m always pleased when Captain Hammer drops by!

      Social Sister was disappointed by the seventh Harry Potter book also, but I liked it. It’s not my favorite, but it’s in a close second-place cluster with the fifth and the first. (This is not that exciting for the seventh book, because the first-place cluster is the sixth and third books; so actually the seventh book might be said to be my third-to-least favorite, but I don’t think of it that way.)

      • I liked the way you have categorized Harry Potter books into first and second place clusters πŸ™‚ It looks like the second and fourth books didn’t make the cut. I love the first five, and if I have to name a favourite from them, it has to be either the second or the third, though the fourth will also run them close, because it has some beautiful lines in it. I loved the sixth because of so many startling revelations and it made me cry in the end because of the ‘Thing’ (borrowing your phrase :)), but I also found that too many things were happening there which could have been extended into two or more volumes.

  13. I read the first two and have book three but haven’t started it yet. I’m waiting till August and a vacation to enjoy it. It’s sort of tough to wait though…

    The Thing is very sad indeed. My husband hasn’t read the book but loved the show and when the Thing happened he got really angry. Direct quote: “What, why do that? He was the reason for watching! I think I hate this show now. So, how long was that book anyway. It’s in the house somewhere right?”

    • I loved how when the Thing happened on the show, everyone was like, Those gutsy showrunners, what a gutsy move — so silly! It wasn’t their gutsy move, it was George R. R. Martin’s!

      I don’t hate the show now but I do wish the Thing hadn’t happened. I wanted the guy the Thing happened to, to have a happy life.

  14. I just want to say that this is the best way to avoid spoilers I’ve ever read: “The Thing that Happened” and the “Official Worst Thing of All the Books”. The latter scene may have made me yell out. Loudly. Several times. And then again, even when I reread it the fourth and fifth times.

    • Hahahaha, me too. Thanks, I’m glad my circumlocutions worked for you! But I feel like they only work in this context, where you can pretty much guess what the things in question are. I mean that the books under review have to have reached a certain level of cultural saturation for this kind of spoiler avoidance to work. :p

  15. I have no particular inclination to read these, having read a couple of chapters online and been unimpressed and also having recently realized that I often dislike high fantasy. But I had to pipe in and say that I HATE, HATE, HATE it when fantasy and historical fiction authors say “sex” when they mean “genitals.” They need to stop it.

    • Definitely don’t read them if you don’t want to BUT I should just say, the writing isn’t why you read these books, it’s the tight plotting and the political intrigue and deception; and I don’t really like high fantasy either.

      “Sex” for “genitals” doesn’t happen that often. But when it does happen I just hate it so much. I feel like Miss White? In Clue? When she’s all “Flames. Flames, on the side of my face.”

  16. Oh Jenny, you are hilarious.

    I’m reading Clash of Kings RIGHT NOW. And I’m almost done, just a few more chapters to go. I made the unfortunate mistake (which I rarely ever do) of reading A Storm of Swords before reading number 2. *SIGH* so many interesting things were happening in Storm of Swords, but I had to stop before I spoiled myself for Clash.

    And I tried watching the HBO series, but it was soo hard. Though I like Tyrion on-screen more than in my imagination. Like you said, that terrible thing happens and I still haven’t watched that episode. The kid who plays Joffrey is even more annoying than I imagined him, which makes every scene with him screen-smashworthy!!

    Funny thing with RR Martin books so far that I’ve read, I’ll start off hating a character, than suddenly I’ll LOVE that character or the other way around happens. I hated the HOUND at the beginning but now I can’t get enough of him and his backstory… same with Sansa.

    • Yeah, I have a bunch of those. I started out rooting heavily against both Viserys and Danaerys, but she brought me around. Littlefinger I sort of waffled between very mildly liking and very mildly disliking, and then he shot straight to the top of my favorite characters list in the space of about a sentence.

    • Ooo, and you must have spoiled the HELL out of yourself for Clash. But I would think it would still be a fun read!

      Joffrey is vile in the HBO series. I want unpleasant things to happen to him, and I was thrilled when Tyrion bitch-slapped him in the second (?) episode. I wanted that to happen in every episode. :p

      I like Sansa. I like Sansa. I am so convinced that Sansa is going to come into her own and become such a badass political intriguer, and save the day. That’s going to happen. Sansa’s going to save the day. I want Sansa to have something to do other than be stupid, so by God, that girl’s going to save the day!

  17. Aw, I think I know about the other horrible thing (and the non-dying character that you wish would just die) and I UNDERSTAND. I have just pre-ordered the book on Kindle, but after our chat on Friday, I decided to push through A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and start 100,000 Kingdoms and NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. Set aside the Kingdoms and go for book five? Or finish the one before starting the other? I am all angsty about how to make my decision. I would like to THINK that I shall finish Kingdoms first but, well, DwD is being auto-delivered wirelessly and would not be at all heavy to carry around…

  18. I had started Game of Thrones many years ago and didn’t get in very far because it seemed to political for my taste but now, with all of the fuss that’s being made about it, I think I’ll give it another shot. I haven’t seen the show yet either because I rather read the book first, if I ever get around to it. It’s really big..

    • Well, if you don’t like the political stuff, this maybe isn’t the world’s best series for you, honestly. I love the political stuff (even though I do get muddled by all the characters now and then), and that’s my main reason for enjoying the series. Intrigue and deception! Hurrah!

  19. Like Teresa, I don’t have any intention of reading these books, but gee whiz, I loved your review.

    And I was absolutely delighted to meet you! In a book, a coincidence that size would have had me rolling my eyes.

  20. lol I came over hear to say that I had no plans to read these books until now, but I see I’m not the only one. Apparently your powers of persuasion are very strong indeed. Since you did not lead me astray with the last series I tried after your recommendation (Chaos Walking, of course), I will give this a shot.

    • Oh, but, I don’t recommend this series quite as strongly as Chaos Walking. They are a lot of fun and the plotting is very tight and I love having a good series to tumble through, but the Chaos Walking books are better. Just FYI.

  21. I just started reading book 2, Clash of Kings and am loving this series. I also am finding it’s enough to take my mind away from the fact that I’m seeing Harry Potter tomorrow.

    I am giggling away, though, at your identification of That Thing That Happened. Exactly what I think. Mortifying, huh? I couldn’t believe it when I read it in the book. Almost threw it across the room. But, the story is still fantastic and once I got over That Thing That Happened, I was ok. Although I’m still sort of mad.

  22. I’ve been trying not to read this book WITH ALL MY MIGHT, because I don’t want to have to reread the entire series every time a new one comes out (and, given that Mr Martin left eight years between the previous book and the one that just came out,, and that looks like a commonish thing with him, I would totally have to reread the series every time a new one came out or I would have forgotten way too much). You’ve made that a great deal harder.

    I shake my fist at you! (But nicely. In an “I really do sort of want to just cave and read it, and when I do I can be all ‘I blame Jenny and Deanna and Nicki for making the books sound like something I need to read tomorrow, and they were RIGHT, and why did I wait so long?'” way.)

  23. I wish I hadn’t found your blog, Jenny. Damn this post. I told myself I would avoid any and all spoilers no matter what it took, but I just got sucked in and I couldn’t stop reading. Even though you’re just talking about things you WANT to happen or you THINK will happen later on in the series (I just finished book 2), I feel like you’ve permanently altered my reading experience. I see Sansa and Jon Snow in a whole new light. Boo. I hated Sansa. But seeing as I’ll probably have to deal with her and her stupidity til the end of the series, I’m sure I’ll subconsciously force myself to like her now.

    Anyway, I really want to force one of my friends to like the series as much as you do so I have someone to rant about it with. πŸ˜›

    • Sorry! Did I say anything terribly spoilery? I didn’t! I only speculated. I hope you do force yourself to like Sansa, because I am hell-bent on everybody liking her because she will save the day.

      Good luck with your friends! The series is sort of a hard sell but it is nice to have people to chat about it with. πŸ˜‰

  24. I want to like this series so much but haven’t found myself really attached to any of the characters. Jon gets some love, partly because he shares his name with the Channel 4 newsreader and former journalist whom I like a lot. And because he’s a bastard.

  25. Dear Jenny, I just read this. I don’t know if I’ll go out now and buy the first book (I can, I’m doing nothing at work but the bookstore is quite far. So much for appearing to be busy.) You also made me laugh. We have HBO but I downloaded the torrents of all the episodes for Game of Thrones. Haven’t seen a single scene. But there’s a mass market paperback copy with Sean Bean’s face plastered in Book 1. I think I shall get that. As far as the Thing is concerned, my brother even warned me about it (even if I told him early on I’ve yet to watch a single scene). I still have seven hours left before I leave my office chair and I’ve been squirming here wanting to start with the book. Yes, the book. I’ll read the book first before I start with the tv show. But I need to buy it first (and will probably read it in the office tomorrow). And thanks for making me laugh today. The entire week has been crazy-busy-idle-stressful-boring. This post helped. And hopefully, by next week, I’ll be back posting in my blog again (eh, gosh, I still have a blog!).

    Have a great (advanced) weekend! Do search for that compilation of Sean Bean’s death scenes (if you’ve yet to see it). I saw that in one of the websites I visit (Geek Girl or something).

  26. Pingback: Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin « Bibliophage's Buffet

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