A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One
For one thing, it’s right in my genre wheelhouse! Wars and battles and intrigue. The honorable and the dishonorable. Dysfunctional families and friends to die for. Kings and queens and knights, commoners and tavern keepers, prostitutes and sellswords, warrior girls and bastards, direwolves and crows. Oh yeah, that’s my people! Because you see, as Tyrion Lannister says, “I have a fondness for cripples, bastards and broken things.”
Actually, when I started reading this first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin, I thought it seemed remarkably shallow and predictable. The ugly were bad, the beautiful were good. The men were either heroes or villains and the women were either villains or in need of rescuing. But that impression was shattered rather quickly. Certainly there were some who fit these nice little steriotypes but there were far more characters with greater complexity. Close to the end of this novel, I started thinking about my first impression and how remarkably nuanced some of the characters actually are. So much so, in fact, that I am genuinely uncertain as to whether or not some of the continuing characters are on the good side or the bad side. And, for that matter, I’m not certain whose side I’m on because, at least at the moment, there might be more than one good side to be on!
In short, it is the story of a kingdom that had been unified through a great war waged by the king, Robert Baratheon, and his friend, Eddard Stark, and all the difficulty and unrest that still exists in the land amongst the peoples of different regions. In that way, it reminded me of stories of Uther Pendragon. A great warrior who unified a land through warfare and hammered together by brute force a kingdom from marginally loyal regions. In Robert’s case, it is truly hammered together by his great war hammer that crushed the previous ruler. While there is the unrest of political intrigue throughout the land, there is also a faceless looming threat to the north on the other side of a great ice wall. Winter is coming and it is coming in a land where summers stretch on for decades but so does the time of darkness and cold.
Many have watched the HBO series Game of Thrones but I have not yet done so but plan to. What follows is a SPOILER if you’ve not watched the series or read this first book
Oh My God They Killed Ned! Eddard Stark was one of my favorites, perhaps my absolute. And I was stunned when they lopped off his head. Stunned, I tell you! It isn’t just because Sean Bean plays him in the series (although he was killed early on in Fellowship of the Ring, but never mind that now) but because he was so integral to the story! Ned straddled the old world before Robert was king, the current world of relative though tentative order and justice and we readers….at least This Reader… had every reason to assume he was going to be one of the old guard moving into the new chaos. Oh boy was I wrong! Did Joss Wheedon consult on this? I was so upset when he was executed right after he had given his false confession to save the lives of his family. Noooooooooooooooo!!!!
Then, just a bit later, Jon Snow deserts the Black Watch. Once again, I shouted Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!! I swore that if Martin killed that character, too, I wasn’t going to ever read another book by him again. Ever. Of course his friends, in a remarkably moving moment, track him down to bring him home, circling him and reciting the vow they all swore to the Black Watch. His direwolf didn’t even stop them, so clearly was it right for him to return to the Watch. Whew! I was so relieved Snow wasn’t going to lose his head, too! I loved Ned, Jon Snow, Arya, Catelyn and even Tyrion. I was also fond of Drogo and was sad when he died, too, but it was not unexpected. And I loved the direwolves! I often wonder about how the story would be different if told from another perspective and since there are so many storytellers in this book, that nearly eliminates this little game for me. Except for the direwolves. I’d love to hear the same stories told from their different views.
But if there is a character that I am curious about it is the Hound. Sandor Clegan is interesting to me because he is not a knight and will not take knight’s vows though I believe he would readily be made one, is terribly scarred from his brother’s heinous violence and, at least in my view, shows remarkable kindness for one so callous to Sansa Stark. He also seems to fit into this interesting theme (one of many themes it appears) of cripples, bastards and broken things. I, like Tyrion, have a fondness for the broken things of the world.
Another big question I’m hoping the next book answers for me is: what exactly is on the other side of that wall guarded by the Black Watch? What kind of undead ice zombie was it that Jon Snow killed? What happened to Benjen Stark? What is it that walks in the long dark nights of winter?
So, I look forward to the next book in the series, A Clash Of Kings. I’ve taken a break from Ice and Fire for just a bit since my summer reading stack is so very high and am reading something very different. City of Thieves by David Benioff. It is cold in WWII Russia, so it will likely prepare me to dive into the next Martin book. After all, winter is coming.