I’m not really into writing reviews for each book in a series, but since this is the first novel, I will definitely do so — my comments for the other ones will be much more abbreviated (hopefully). Also, warning — SERIOUS, SERIOUS SPOILERS. I am not kidding.
Game of Thrones was something I wanted to read for some time, but it was so damn long that I never really got around to it. Finally, I obviously did. And I don’t regret it one little bit.
Of course, the book has its problems. The names, for starters, are unwieldy, and even Martin himself, I’ve heard, has trouble keeping them safe. I do understand completely that he’s trying to create a world, and in many high-born families, names are repeated over and over again due to tradition. This works in real life, but is very hard to pull off well in a book, because with such a huge volume of characters to begin with, there are too many repeated Jons, Roberts, Eddards, and Brandons. There are also too many names that are similar in sound: Jory, Joffrey, and Jorah come to mind, as do Varys, Viserys, and Aerys. I understand he was trying to build a world in which lineage and honoring via name is important, but in a book, it’s more important to distinguish characters from one another than it is to build a namesake chain.
Another problem is POV. I actually love the way the book is structured — a chapter given to each POV character in third person, jumping around from setting to setting. But the POV distribution is terribly uneven. The POVs in Game of Thrones are as such: Ned, Catelyn, Bran, Jon, Arya, Sansa, Tyrion, and Dany. Now, the problem I find with this is that the POV is heavily weighed towards Starks, and in fact, the only non-Starks are Tyrion and Dany (and technically Jon, but I consider him part of the family even if he IS a bastard, because he has the same viewpoint and up until a point, lived with them. Dany and Tyrion are the only two people who share a different “viewpoint.” What I mean by that is this: The Starks are loyal to the Starks. The Starks all fear and dislike the Lannisters and are loyal to the king. In the beginning of the book, every POV character except Dany & Tyrion are in Winterfell. By the middle of the book, Catelyn, Bran, and Jon are in the North and Arya, Sansa, and Ned are in the South. Only Dany is in a different location, and Tyrion may be in the North or South, but his perspective at least differs, in terms of philosophy and in terms of familial ties, to the Starks and Jon.
This is a problem for me for two reasons: 1) The book is too heavily weighted on the Stark side, and makes it feel like Dany and Tyrion are the odd ones out and 2) it takes literally FOREVER to get back to anything that Dany is doing. The same thing is true for any character, because it’s not like Ned narrates every chapter, but the problem is that Dany is the ONLY window into what’s happening in her area of the world, whereas when Ned is not speaking, Sansa is, and when Bran is not speaking, Catelyn is. I felt that the POV distribution was too uneven in that sense, and either Martin needed to up Dany’s parts a little more, or he should have included a second POV from her area of the world. I fear that in the next few installments, this problem will extend to Jon as well, because he’s now embarking on a very different sort of quest, and his setting and storyline will be like Dany’s: different than all the others. One POV character has already died, so he’ll have to be replaced, and I hope dearly it’s by Robb, but the problem is that will still leave for a highly uneven distribution. Alas.
Okay, problems aside: this book was highly addictive. Those are literally my only two issues with this entire book. The prose was good (I guess? I have no idea, I wasn’t even paying attention — and that should tell you a hell of a lot), and the characters (except Sansa. Dear god she needs to not narrate and also die) are engaging and interesting. Of course, I have my favourites (see: Robb, Tyrion, and Dany), but I don’t dislike many characters — at least from a writing perspective. What I mean by that is yes, Joffrey is a horrible human being, but I think he’s a good character. I do hate some characters and want them to die, but the only one I find really unengaging is Sansa, and unfortunately she gets a whole freaking POV. Sigh. The story is really well written, and the concept and world is totally immersive. Martin has a way of pulling you in, and then you get to an end of a chapter in the South, and you want to know what happens next — but then he takes you back to The Wall, and something else interesting is happening there. Sure, you itch to find out what’s going to happen in each storyline, but I didn’t feel that I was being cheated and kept from knowing things — no storyline was vastly more interesting than another. Of course, I’m particularly partial to Dany’s storyline, and I’m dying to know about the Others, but I also wanted to know what was happening in Catelyn’s journey, and how Ned and his daughters were faring in Lannister central.
The last thing I want to touch upon here is character death. I was shocked to find out who died. From a reader’s perspective, I was weepy and horribly mad, but from a writer’s perspective, I was totally appreciative. Here is a man that is not afraid to kill his babies. And he’s not doing it to piss off the reader, nor is he doing it for fun. He’s killing off characters that need to be killed for one reason or another, and isn’t shying away from the hard, cold truth of reality; that no matter how great or evil a person is, they will die eventually, and sometimes the people you love won’t live, and the people you think deserve death will still be sitting around long after the good ones are gone. So am I upset that Ned, Drogo and Lady die? Yup — you bet. Am I pleased Viserys kicked the bucket? Sure. But I think Martin knows what he’s doing and he’s doing it beautifully.
I’m terrified about the death toll in the upcoming books, but I have to read. I just do. And you should, too.