10 May 2011

A Game of Thrones

In the fall of my senior year of high school I took a class called "Contemporary Literature" and it was the easiest class I've ever taken.  We had to read six books greater than 200 pages each published after 1981, write one character bio, one book report, draw one book cover, and do one other thing (that I can't remember anymore).  If we read a book over 600 pages it counted as two books...so guess who read three James Clavells and one Tom Clancy in about two months thus acquiring a permanent pass to the school library for the rest of the semester during the class period?  Me, and I started with the "A"s and read my way through the sci-fi/fantasy section of the library.  Fun, yes, but with the consequence that I binged on fantasy literature so much that I stopped reading the genre when I started college. 

Meaning I never read George RR Martin's A Game of Thrones when it was first released in 1996 (I started college in 1996 so giant, fat hardcovers that I was reading included my biology textbook and very few, if any, novels).  I continued to not read it even after I started working for a bookstore and about about every third week some sad-eyed fantasy fan would come ask if we had a release date for "A Song of Ice and Fire #5" or "George RR Martin's Dragon book" (which we didn't, this being 2007 or later).

However, HBO has got a miniseries up and running based on the series - Game of Thrones.  And it has Sean Bean.  And Lena Headey....and it looks good.  Really good.  So good, in fact, that I stalked the show's website looking at the videos posted there.  I decided that I really ought to at least read the first book in the series.  I don't get HBO (I refuse to pay the insane amount of money it would take for me to get the three channels I want to watch along with the 250 other channels I don't care about) so what do I have to lose?

Only my sanity.  I ordered up A Game of Thrones on my handy-dandy nook and spent all Friday evening, Friday night, and Saturday reading.  Reading, reading, reading.  I couldn't stop.  I couldn't have found a place to stop if I had to (and I didn't need to, so lucky me).

This is a fantasy book that is light on the obvious fantasy elements.  "The Others" live north of a giant Wall of ice that was apparently built by magic centuries ago.  The seasons are irregular, summers and winters last for years.  There is talk of dragons and mages but no one has seen a dragon for hundreds of years (there are dragon skulls in the secret passages of the castle in King's Landing).  The Stark children find direwolves - gigantic, prehistoric-ish wolves that supposedly don't ever live south of the Wall.

Martin structures the book very cleverly.  Each chapter is told through the viewpoint of one character so the narration passes around to the characters unevenly - Bran, Eddard, Jon, Catelyn, Sansa, Arya (all Starks so far), Tyrion (a Lannister), and Daenerys (an exiled Targaryen).  If you have a favorite character *cough* Tyrion *cough* you eagerly wait for the narration to get back to him/her.  The similarity of Westeros to Arthurian/Medieval tales was a big draw for me and I got into the extensive heraldry Martin uses.

Here's where I talk plot points and big cojones (if you haven't read the book and don't want it spoiled for you then quit reading now....ok, henceforth you are forewarned).  GRRM has a set of stones, let me tell you.  Very few authors would be ballsy enough to set up a major moral center for a story (Eddard Stark), give him a fatal flaw (honor), and then BEHEAD HIM in the climax to book one of your seriously epic series.  Seriously.  I started shouting, paging back in my nook, then forward, then back, repeating, "I can't believe...he did...HE DID HE KILLED OFF THE MAIN CHARACTER!!!"  Now who's the good guy?  Are then any good guys?  Also, everyone in this book is young, really young.  As in, Daenerys is thirteen when she gets married off to a horselord (think, nomadic hunter/gatherer tribe) and the gets pregnant and widowed all within about nine months.  And the boys are all supposed to be crazy-good knights by the age of fifteen or so....  I agree with the writing decision of the HBO producers to age everyone by two or three years.  The young ages of the kids works in the book but it is a little icky or improbable...and doubly so if on the television screen.

A Game of Thrones is a book that really reminds me of an old storyteller, sitting by the fire and telling the tallest tales imaginable.  You hang on every word.  So much so, I already bought books two through four and pre-ordered book five for my nook.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go see what happens to Sansa with Cersei's clutches and if Jon turns into ghost chow (haha, made a pun - only if you've read the books).

Addendum:  Have since acquired A Game of Thrones on audio read by the amazing Roy Dotrice.  The man got a Guiness World Record for the number of distinct character voices he creates for this audio book.  It. Is. Amazing.  Love his voices for Tyrion and Walder Frey - fantastic.

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