Bradley's Reviews > A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
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really liked it

4.5 stars. I have mixed emotions about this book. I had debated for quite some time about whether to read it. I had multiple friends say that it is inappropriate and full of sex and violence and I had other friends strongly suggest it saying it was the most well-written fantasy they had ever read. Ultimately, what pushed me to read it was after having a conversation with a man I deeply respect on an airplane to Boston this past August. He is a statistics professor and LDS bishop who loves fantasy and he said "If you love fantasy, do yourself a favor and read Game of Thrones." He did caveat his suggestion with warnings that content could be pretty harsh, but he still recommended it.

I don't think that the book needs much introduction - it seems most everyone is aware of the series thanks to the HBO rendition of it. It also seems like many people have strong opinions of the series, whether they read it or not. Coming into the book, the main things I had heard about it was that it was violent, had sex, contained very grey yet realistic characters, was dark, didn't contain many fantasy elements, and that the author wasn't afraid to kill off main characters. All these things are true, but there was much more than that.

First off, the book was pretty graphic. It did contain some sex scenes (maybe 5 or so?) that were quick but a little too descriptive for me. Some weren't very offensive, but the ones involving rape were awful. In my opinion, they didn't add to the book at all and were completely unnecessary. Content-wise, the hardest part for me was the violence. I didn't think I would ever say that as I have read lots of violent books, but none hold a candle to this one. Characters are killed in many different violent ways accompanied by descriptions about the sword piercing their throat, filleting their chest, etc. Again, I felt the graphic detail was unnecessary. My guess is that many would argue with me on these points but I honestly feel that including graphic material only takes away from the compelling story. I understand George R. R. Martin's claim that sex and violence are a part of life and thus they are a part of his story - that is fine, just don't make it so descriptive and off-putting. I have read numerous books that contain sex and violence that are handled much more tastefully.

I didn't intend to comment so much on the graphic nature of the book - but I feel like it is a strong component of what separates people from reading or not reading the book. Now on to the rest of the book. I really enjoyed it. The book got me hooked from the beginning in a way no other fantasy had. The author does an amazing job of fleshing out his characters, even the many more minor ones. In many fantasy books that I have read, the main characters are well fleshed out, but the side ones are just caricatures that you don't really pay much attention to. Not here. There are many 'side characters' (I use that term loosely as there are a LOT of characters in this book so arguably all of them could be called side characters at some point) in the book and you understand their background, their loyalties, and their motives. A large reason for this is that the powerful kings and leaders throughout Westeros are mostly all related somehow so everyone is someone's cousin or sibling. This makes side characters become important because their lives and passions directly influence the more central characters that you care about. There are definitely a lot of characters in the story and I would be lying if I said I remembered all of them, but overall, these characters will stay in my mind for a long time.

It seems that George R. R. Martin is famous for two things - creating grey characters and not being afraid to kill off main ones. I had heard that it is hard to know who to root for as there are two sides to every character and I found that mostly true, but not completely. I definitely had characters (mostly relating to the Stark side) that I was completely rooting for and others (mostly on the Lannister side) that I rooted against. I wasn't expecting to feel as one sided given what people had said. On the other hand, out of all the characters, there was only about two that were completely evil and only about 4 or 5 that were completely good. Everyone else is in between and I found myself switching between liking them or disliking them as the novel progressed. Some I disliked but I found myself thinking more about them and their point of view and realized that I may have made the same decisions as they would have if I had been there. Cersei Lannister says at one point "When you play the game of thrones, you win or die," and you feel that. You know that if the more vile characters don't act in the way they do - they will likely die. This doesn't make you dislike them any less, but it makes you realize that you can't completely fault their actions. As for killing off main characters, I think this likely described future books. In my opinion, not too many main characters died. Nevertheless, because I had heard that 'no one is safe' I did find myself getting more stressed/anxious than usual with some of the scenes. For instance, one particular scene about halfway through the novel involved the Stark child, Bran, being held at knife point as a ransom and I had to stop reading and breathe because I honestly didn't know if this boy (who I liked) would get killed. I don't recall feeling that same level of suspense in other books.

The plot in this book is much different than other fantasy novels I have read. Most fantasy novels clearly lay out the good guys, the bad guys, and the objective (think Frodo, Sauron, and the One Ring from Lord of the Rings) and you read on to find out how the good guys can overcome impossible odds to complete their objective. I understand that this is a generalization but most fantasy I have read follow this pattern - which I am perfectly fine with. I love the good vs bad, somewhat predictable stories. If they have interesting worlds, characters, plot twists, or magic systems, then I will usually like the book. This book mostly follows how different groups of people are fighting to gain power or stay alive. The drama lies not in a fantastical element, but in the various political shifts and alliances that occur and how it influences the different characters. In the hands of a dull author, I don't think this approach would have worked, but George R. R. Martin nails it. The world and atmosphere feels tangible and since the characters are so well realized, you can't help but not care about what happens next. I also found that the book had a nice balance of more emotional/captivating plot lines such as the Stark/Lannister conflict at King's Landing, with more mysterious/mystical story lines like Jon Snow's or Dany's (which are more setting the stage for future books).

At this point, I am not quite sure if I will read the next book. If I do, it would be because (1) I feel attached to these characters, (2) there are many more that I am interested in getting to know better, and (3) I want to figure out more about the fantasy elements in the story regarding the Others, dragons, etc. If I don't read it, it would be because the tone of the book wasn't very uplifting. There was simply way more hard things that characters had to go through than good - and the lack of bright spots combined with the grim feeling sometimes was affecting my mood.

Fittingly, I feel a little 'grey' about recommending this book. Mostly I would recommend it (for someone of appropriate age of course), but not overwhelmingly.
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Reading Progress

August 7, 2014 – Shelved
August 7, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
August 19, 2014 – Started Reading
October 13, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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Farrah Very interesting review brad!!

Brooke Hmmm. I think I need to read. But soooooo long. How long did it take you to get through?

Bradley Haha it was long - didn't feel long to me though. It took me like two months to read (and listen to, I did both) but that is because one of those months I had a month long exam that I had to pass to stay in my PhD program so I didn't do too much reading. I think it is a good book for people who aren't way into fantasy as it isn't too fantastical. Haven't you seen the show? I hear it follows tho book closely - so if the show interests you then the book likely would too.

Brooke I have watched the show. I'm dying to know what happens next which is why I want to read the book but I think I'm going to have to read like 6 of the books in order to catch up to the show and find out what happens next. :)

Bradley Haha true - I am pretty sure they are on book 4 for season 5 so you'd just have to read 4 of them:) - but I think they get longer as they go.

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