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.