Monday, December 26, 2011

A Game of Swords by George R.R. Martin

Everyone has been talking about Game of Dragons on HBO and I even read an article about George RR Martin in the New Yorker right around the time that the fifth novel in the series was released! I'm the type of person that would prefer to read the books before seeing any movie or show adaptations and since I'm sure that I will probably have time to read the first five books of the series before even the first season gets released onto DVD, I thought I would start now.

The book was first published in 1996/97 and won various awards for science fiction when it was released. I'm actually surprised i never heard of it or was ever given a copy given my penchant at the time for authors the likes of David Eddings and Terry Brooks. The novel alternates chapters with various viewpoints through which Martin introduces us to the noble houses of Westeros, a fantastical world that seems to be poised on the brink of civil war and endless winter. The first of three major plot lines follows Eddard "Ned" Stark in his home in Winterfell and the perils that his family faces, including becoming the chief of staff of the reigning King (Robert of Baratheon) and finding a litter of six dire wolf pups that have been seemingly abandoned by their mother (the House of Stark has a dire wolf as its mascot). The second plot follow life along The Wall, an isolated barrier not unlike the Great Wall of China that serves to protect the Northern Kingdoms (of which Winterfall is the seat) and all of Westeros from the forces of darkness beyond. The people that staff the wall are often the exiled that aren't welcomed in any other part of the country.We follow Jon Snow, Ned Stark's illegitimate son, as he becomes inducted into the "black," and follows in the footsteps of his uncle Benjen Stark. In the East, we are introduced to Daenarys Targaryen, whose family was removed from the Iron Throne of Westeros by Robert of Baratheon and Ned Stark many years before (when she was an infant). We follow her in her quest to have her family restored to grandeur and to get her family's throne back from the Usurpers.

The plot is very, very intricate making it very necessary to not try to summarize it completely here (or risk spoilers) and also making it necessary to read the books in the series back to back so that you don't forget all of the plot twists that you learned in the previous books. Each book is close to, if not more than, 1000 pages of wondrous description and plot intrigue. I often found myself either referring to the chart in the back of the book to remind me of characters or to the charts that I had made myself. I thought that Martin wrote the plot lines so wonderfully and with such depth that I found myself not wanting to put the novel down because I really wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters. I found myself relating to certain characters more than others (I really like Daenarys and Catelyn and Arya Stark) but all the characters seemed to be really deeply drawn, even the ancillary ones. I also appreciated that the characters and the situations that they were involved in were painted in shades of gray as opposed to being completely black and white, like some of these sorts of novels are. I appreciated this because life is itself shades of gray, and so even in fantasy, Martin makes the point that there are shades of gray. Through the situations and shades of gray, you begin to know the characters on an intimate level usually reserved for close family members and friends and in this manner, Martin manipulates you into a situation where you begin to form some level of attachment to the characters.

On a related note, the world itself is absolutely recognizable because even though there are elements of magic and fantasy, the way that the characters act are the ways that we as humans might often interact and react to the situations at hand. The magic isn't so overwhelming or over the top that it will turn you off. Martin is also an extremely talented writer - one that can come up with witty dialogue at the same time that he can write beautifully expressive and elegant prose that allows your senses to place you in the situation being described. And he demonstrates his ability over and over again to withhold information until the very last minute and that disclosure acts as a hook, making one want to read more an dmore and more (often to the detriment of all things real world). The transitions are usually not jarring even though the chapters move between the different perspectives of the various characters. More often then not, they are seamless transitions. Definitely a must read and addition to your collection.

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