Katherine Herriman's Reviews > A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
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it was ok

At the 75% mark, I was skim reading whole sections of this book. As a testament to how intriguing the fantasy world itself is, I *still* considered reading the second book in hopes of learning some of the mysteries that are introduced but not explored in the first book. Alas, I loved the scaffolding (the world) but not it's heart and soul (the characters and their stories). I didn't care much for any of the characters (with the exceptions of Tyrion and Jon). I found them unbearably cliched, one-dimensional and unlikeable. I'm torn as to whether or not to persevere. On the one hand, I want to discover the world beyond the wall with its creatures and people and I want to read about winter. On the other, I couldn't care less who's on the throne or if there are dragons. I don't care about any of the characters, so he can maim and kill them off as much he likes; I remain unmoved.

I've read several 1 and 2 star reviews, which seemed to mirror my thoughts exactly but it was the 5 star reviews I found fascinating. These reviewers loved the characters and thought them *complex* (good lord, really?), and found the plot gripping (I found it tedious). I'd love to collect psychological profiles of those who've rated it at either extreme. Any takers? :P Seriously, I'm fascinated. I *love* to think about the way people think and perceive, so if there's a Game of Thrones fan reading this who's very self aware, please explain.

But wait, I have a theory...

I suspect this is a book written by a man for men (all three recommendations I had to read it came from men, by the way). I think Martin attempted to throw in a couple of strong female characters with Catelyn and Arya, but they really just pissed off my inner feminist. I actually liked Catelyn at times. That is, until she told a roomful of men that, as a woman, she doesn't understand war strategies and tactics... after having just successfully counselled her son on war strategies and tactics!

The characters of Arya and her sister Sansa make me seethe, so I'll keep this brief. Arya is a tomboy and despises all things girly, Sansa is her opposite (see how "original" these characters are). We're obviously supposed to warm to Arya and have nothing but scorn for Sansa; and I do, as Sansa is a dits! It's the subtext that really pisses me off. I think, in a twisted way Martin is trying to be a bit of a feminist by saying, "look, girls can be like boys too", whilst heaping everything traditionally associated with the female gender upon a stupid little vain woman-child. Nice.

This may seem like a minor detail to harp on about, but I think it nicely illustrates a more general issues I have with the characters -- as i've already mentioned, they are, for the most part, very unimaginative, over-used archetypes.

Unsurprisingly, most of my favourite authors are women. Obviously, there are women who'll like this book and some who don't care about stuff like this. If you're like me however, and you notice and care how male authors depict women in their novels, you have been warned.

In conclusion, there are lots of bits and pieces about this book that are really nice - the wolves, the unique and intriguing places, the godswoods, I could go on. But without a character to love and relationships to care about, there's really no reason to keep reading... is there?
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Reading Progress

July 3, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
July 7, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by faeriecrone (new)

faeriecrone I agree with most of your observations. But I don't think it helpful to criticize the folks who enjoyed the books. I can imagine some might be on a path that needs to explore such archetypes in order to discard them or to give them flesh and soul. I hope this does not sound harsh. My daughter loves the books and I find her usually a quite good one to recommend books for me. We disagree on some books, like this series, but I can understand what she finds compelling about them.

Katherine Herriman Thanks Kath, no I wasn't criticizing the people who enjoyed the books. I think you've misunderstood the feeling behind the psych profile bit maybe? Or maybe it was my sarcasm about the "complex" characters -- that I consider to be criticizing their opinions, which is appropriate in a book review but I think that's very different to ciriticizing the people themselves. Perhaps you can reply and let me know which bit you thought was critical of the people who like the book and I'll clarify. I sent the review to the guy friend of mine who recommended it -- I'll ask him if he was offended and if so I'll tighten up my wording :)

message 3: by faeriecrone (new)

faeriecrone No worries. I think I understand what you are saying.

message 4: by Mike (new)

Mike Haha. *rubs hands* :)

Firstly, I respect what you're saying regarding the seeming one-dimensionality of the characters. Ned Stark? Noble hero. The Hound? Evil mass-murdering psychopath. etc etc. They're set up as such, and I feel that's most certainly deliberate. This is George RR Martin taking hackneyed models of traditional fantasy characters, just so he can subvert them. And he starts to do that in this book (he does it a *lot more* later). It's the Battlestar Galactica model of characterisation: set the Good Guys and the Bad Guys up, then have the Good Guys do Bad things and the Bad Guys do things you sympathize with.

And he's making a point in each case, with each stereotype. Take Ned Stark. Dour, glum, principled, inflexible, honourable, brave. The "hero"? If he is, he's one utterly unsuited to a life in this world, which is proven by the end of the book. By refusing to compromise, by doing "the right thing" and failing to play a Machiavellian game of politics and war, he dooms himself and undermines his House. Martin is saying "heroes are people who get themselves and other people killed" (to paraphrase Joss Whedon).

This happens again and again. Tyrion Lannister? Bad guy with a heart of gold? Well...not really. He's often a scumbag. But he's a scumbag who is clearly sane, and suited to the world he inhabits. As the book goes on, he transcends the stereotype he's supposed to fit into ("Bad guy cleans up his act and switches sides and everyone ends up loving him"). He stays true to himself, the bad as well as the good. He's a true HBO character - which is why I'm thrilled it's HBO who is screening it.

"That is, until she told a roomful of men that, as a woman, she doesn't understand war strategies and tactics..."

This bit I read as Catelyn being really smart. She knows these are men who won't listen to a woman's advice, so she works through the other men around her to get things done. That's refreshing pragmatism. It feels true. And when it's time to step forward, she does just that, proving she's up to the task. This is a good reflection of historical women in power right from medieval times, in (blinkered) situations where sexual equality isn't acknowledged as an issue.

And take the story of Daenerys Targaryen as it plays out. She's brutalised, forced into marriage with a man who initially treats her like a slave. It's ugly reading. What's the stereotype here? We're supposed to presume the situation makes her "evil". Does that happen by the end of the book? No. It makes her strong, yes, but we're still unclear what will happen when House Targaryen clashes once more with the Houses across the sea.

Regarding women characters generally, again I think Martin is setting up the stereotypes just so he can knock them down. And look at where the book ends: 3 women in positions of supreme power. Arguably, this is a book primarily about women overturning a man's world (and yes, raises interesting questions about how "manly" they've decided to be do to just that).

I've read a lot of fantasy. And I'm dreadfully tired of reading the first books of series that so clearly flag up the way the rest of the series will go. At the end of Game Of Thrones? I had no real clue. And reading the further books confirmed it.

By the way, if you're looking for something really unusual in terms of character and storytelling in fantasy, check out Gene Wolfe's "The Knight" and the sequel "The Wizard". Really, really gorgeous, and demanding, and thinky, and....weird. I've read them 5 times now and they're still unfolding inside my head.

message 5: by Mike (last edited Jul 10, 2011 05:32AM) (new)

Mike Also, this makes for some interesting discussion:


Along with the delicious line "Martin doesn't hate women. He hates everyone." :)

Katherine Herriman Wow Mike, you really blew me away just now. Huh. I think I'm going to have to read the second book with this new paradigm in mind.

Katherine Herriman Hmmm, I think the woman referred to in that thread is expressing a different opinion to me. She seems to have a problem with the way women are *treated* in that world. I understand that gender equality has yet to come to Westeros and women are treated accordingly. My gripe was with the sub-text of the Arya/Sansa dichotomy and the incident with Catelyn (which I think you've cleared up). My feminist criticisms of the book really don't go beyond that. Basically, it was a small thing that made me dislike the author and reinforced my opinions of his cliched characters.

"Martin doesn't hate women. He hates everyone." - I would agree with that, but I don't think it's a compliment. This is part of what I find tedious about the books.

Katherine Herriman I'm relieved to report that Keith wasn't offended by my review -- I'd hate to be thought of as someone who rags out other people when their views differ from my own!

Carrie I totally agree with your idea that this a man's version of a fantasy novel. I said the same thing in my review, so it was fun to see someone else who had arrived at that idea independently. It seemed like the author was trying to pretend that he admires strong female characters, but at the heart of it he is just paying lip service. Enjoyed your review.

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