So, apparently this is Kelley’s favorite book. She moderates a web forum about it and made me read it a couple years back even though I insisted I don’t like fantasy. I confess that when I read it, I found A Game of Thrones confusing, overlong, and dull…a BOY book. Kings and knights and wars and beheading and bloodlines and family crests and treason – bleh, not for me (If I wanted those things I’d read classic King Arthur…also boring!).
Earlier this year, though, when I gathered up a ton of books to clean off my shelves (see Kelley’s post about this here), I found myself thinking about the series again. Surprisingly, I remembered quite a few of the details of these two boring books somewhat fondly and decided to give them another try. (I think when I read them initially, the fourth book was just coming out, but I never got that far…probably just through two or maybe part of the third).
On my reread, I found the first in this god-awful long series (THAT much hasn’t changed, Kelley, sorry), much more enjoyable. The characters and plot (and their somewhat tenuous connections) suddenly started making sense and I realized I still had unfinished questions: How would Ned Stark keep his family safe and still keep his honor after being forced to serve the king? What is beyond that darn wall? What about the pretty exiled horse girl and her dragons? Who IS the rightful king of the seven kingdoms? What is up with that dwarf…and how come I like him even though he’s clearly supposed to be a bad guy?
What stood out for me this time:
The descriptive parts about landscapes, backstory and other exposition are SOOO boring. I don’t really need six descriptions of someone’s bloody head that was hacked off or what sort of gross food was eaten at the feast or what castle walls look like. It took me at least a 1/4 of the first book reread before I got past all that and got used to the descriptions and finally came to enjoy the language. It does seem to fit the vaguely medieval time period, though, and it grew on me over time. I still find the dialogue bits MUCH more revealing and interesting, though. And, in all that wordiness, it is helpful to find clever little kernels of future story arcs that are hidden.
Also, let it be said: I HATE books that shift point of view to multiple characters (especially when there are more than two or three). Why? Well, it’s confusing. And, I just don’t CARE about minor characters enough to know what they’re thinking and feeling. I want the author to just get on with it already and stop derailing me with all his useless trivia. I do feel like G.R.R. Martin and other initial-heavy authors (ahem, J.R.R. Tolkien – a namesake?) who create these vast fantasy worlds get so caught up with their maps, and their created languages, and their centuries of mythology and oh, I don’t know what all, that they forget people don’t read to see the brilliance of their landscapes or the vast scale of their epic imaginations or whatever, they just want the story thankyouverymuch. In this, I kept finding myself wanting to skip to the vignettes about the interesting characters.
And oh my goodness, then there are the characters. Characters who seem important, characters we just like, characters we hate, characters we ignore because their names are boring/similar to others, characters we ignore because their stories seem boring, characters we confuse with other characters because who can keep track of the damn houses and their family lines, characters who are trueborn and bastard and bannerman and SNORE.
(I know, I know…this seems like an awfully ranty post for a book I really did like. Hmm, I guess I’m less gushy about reading I enjoy, but here goes.) The character NAMES are awesome. I mean, just…perfect. See? Cersei for the devious queen (after the witch/queen Circe in Greek mythology?), Daenerys Targaryen for the exiled dragon princess (nearly unpronounceable and exotic), Ser Barristan the Bold (regal and knightly), Shagga son of Dolf of the Stone Crows (brutish and uncouth), Prince Joffrey (much more pretentious than Jeffrey, and good for a king-in-training), and Robb, Sansa, Eddard, Arya, Bran, and Rickon Stark (those sound appropriately lord and lady-ish). Well done.
The book also has excellent and funny dialogue (which breaks up the draggy expository parts), particularly about unsavory deals, conspiracies and sex. I also really like that the books are character-driven, have a bit of mysticism but not so much that it feels completely unrealistic, and feature surprising twists that we don’t expect.
Off to book 2!