When people think of fantasy, they often think of dragons, damsels in distress, and knights in shining armor. There is little doubt in my mind that George R. R. Martin’s book A Game of Thrones most certainly delivers, but with a dark twist. The dragons haven’t been seen in over a century, the damsels are scheming and can rescue themselves, and the knights are often more devious than chivalrous. In the land of Westeros, where A Game of Thrones takes place, there are few happy endings, and it is perhaps that gritty and cut-throat atmosphere that makes this book so appealing.
From the start, readers are thrust into the political scheming and intrigue that is the foundation of A Game of Thrones. Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, has died under mysterious circumstances. Now, King Robert Baratheon, ruler of Westeros, is riding north from King’s Landing to Winterfell. His reason? Asking Eddard “Ned” Stark, head of House Stark and Warden of the North, to be his new Hand. Ned agrees to the new post, as he is bound by honor and his friendship with King Robert, but it is a decision made with great reluctance. When Ned’s son, Bran, suffers a near fatal fall, the Stark family is split as Ned travels to King’s Landing with his two daughters, Sansa and Arya, and his wife Catelyn stays behind to nurse Bran back to health. Meanwhile, a house that has fallen into disgrace is plotting to regain control of what was once theirs. House Targaryen once ruled all of Westeros but was forced off their throne by Houses Lannister and Baratheon. Prince Viserys, heir to House Targaryen, has been exiled across the Narrow Sea with his sister, Daenerys. He is determined to reclaim the throne by whatever means necessary, setting in motion a plot whose repercussions reach far and wide. Machinations abound, both in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea… for when you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.
The first in a series, A Game of Thrones has enjoyed immense popularity for years. Despite this, it’s also one of those series that seems to be either a huge hit or a huge miss with readers. For me, it was a hit. I will admit that I thought the first fifty or so pages of the book were tough to get through because they were so slow plot-wise. However, they’re crucial in setting the stage on which this series takes place, and the plot absolutely takes off once you get past them. As the book progresses, readers are introduced to a wide cast of characters, which may be overwhelming. If you lose track of who’s who, though, that’s OK. Martin includes several family trees in the back of the book that help readers keep track of the expansive cast and make sense of how all of the houses are connected. I won’t lie – this book is not rated PG-13. There are gruesome spurts of violence, explicit sex scenes (including a rape scene), and very crass language. If you’re uncomfortable with those, I wouldn’t recommend this book (or its sequels). However, if you like political upheaval, unscrupulous motives, and some extraordinarily morally reprehensible characters, then A Games of Thrones is definitely one you might find interesting.