Mark Hebwood's Reviews > A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
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A friend of mine recently spent a weekend in Milan and gave me a slab of parmesan cheese as a present. He said he went to the local market and they had big forms of the cheese there, each weighing in at some 50kgs or so. Customers would approach the merchant, and if you wanted a kilo, he would cut off a kilo. If you wanted less, he would mete out less. If more, he'd measure out more.

I had a similar experience in my bookstore a few weeks ago. I approached the bookseller and asked him to sell me some Game of Thrones (GoT). He asked me how much I wanted and I said "about 800 pages". He measured out that quantity and I took it home. A week later I was off on holiday and I thought I better get some more GoT - if I was about to like it I would not want to end up without a supply. The bookmerchant at Heathrow airport cut off another 900 pages of text and shoved it across the counter.

I have now had 1200 pages of GoT and am ready to share with you what I think.

I am liking this fine. Parmesan has a good texture, and a spicy taste. The texture and the taste are sort of the same throughout the form from which the portions are cut. This means each bite of Parmesan is to my liking, but no bite is different. The bites are all nice, but they are also all the same.

The first batch of GoT was enjoyable. It ended where it ended - there was no reason for the plot to end where it did other than me asking for 800 pages of GoT. Had I asked for 400, I would have got 400, and the book would have worked just as well (as, by the way, it does in the Italian versions).

So this is my first impression, then. GoT is a soap opera. No more, and no less. It is quite an achievement to produce a well-crafted soap opera, so it is no less. But a soap opera is designed to continue forever, and hence it has no overarching dramatic structure. And that is why GoT is no more.

GRR's plot goes here and it goes there, he introduces characters that carry several subplots, some of these meet and travel together for a while, others remain separate, yet others veer away just before they are about to unite, and continue on separate paths. This is no bother if the reader is not too fussed that there is no major plotline and content to merely follow GRR's characters around. But a reader who is looking for dramatic arcs in the plot, or needs an overall sense of direction, of "purpose", will feel slightly lost.

But lost in what, precisely? Is this fantasy, as the marketing department of GRR's publishers suggests? I am not sure - I think my first 1200 pages of GoT would work equally well as a Victorian novel, with its rivalling family dynasties, orphans, intrigues and haunted graveyards an easy translation of GRR's warring Houses, bastards, plots and unseen creatures north of The Wall. Or a historical novel set in Medieval Europe, ancient Rome, or the great wars. The stock elements of fantasy are there, but GRR's text wears them lightly - magic is merely alluded to as a force lost in the mists of time, monsters live equally only in the dialogue of characters, and those that are introduced are zombies, really, not mythical beings. Dragons did not live before page 780 of the text, and I have yet to meet a proper mythical hero, or wizard.

So in the end, why did I like it? GRR is good at crafting dramatic tension. Many of his characters are well-developed, and have depth. Some tragic moments are genuinely moving. Dialogue is often witty, sometimes humorous, always to the point. The text I read was enjoyable, and it was fun to do so on holiday, when I was recovering between bouts of waterskiing and wakeboarding.

But as there is no real plot to this, I am left with a feeling of "so what?". As there is no obvious purpose to the fluted interactions between the many characters, I have not started to care for any one of them. And as I have not done so, the death of one of them on page 700 or so completely failed to shock me. And if that can happen, I know that the text has not drawn me in. Exactly like a soap opera would not draw me in, but provide easy background entertainment until I decide to switch it off.

So am I going to finish my helping of text? I am not sure. Possibly. Not that it matters though. I can stop anywhere, and would not lose anything for it.
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Reading Progress

July 11, 2014 – Shelved
Started Reading
December 26, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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Joan But as there is no real plot to this, I am left with a feeling of "so what?". As there is no obvious purpose to the fluted interactions between the many characters, I have not started to care for any one of them. And as I have not done so, the death of one of them on page 700 or so completely failed to shock me.

Perfectly stated. My feelings exactly. Far too 'hyped' and lacking in real substance. I simply did not care for anyone in the story, especially once I realised that the author was going to kill them off!! ;)


Mark Hebwood Thank you, Joan. Speaking about characters: my favourite one is Tyrion, and I am enjoying his interactions with Cersei and the council. Indeed, this character's cynical viewpoint is needed so much in the text that i would be surprised if GRR were to kill him off, too. And looking through the blurb on book five of the series, I see that he is still "alive". Which makes me wonder whether the termination of key (in the definition of "often mentioned") characters is not merely a gimmick that GRR employs deliberately, for no other reason than an intended shock value. The "plot" loses nothing with Ned not in it, but it would be disasterously poorer if Tyrion was absent. Still, this was fun on holiday. But I think I am going to read something else now. :-)


message 3: by Al (new)

Al Thanks, Mark. I have avoided these books, and now I know why.
If you want big blocks of cheese, but with substance, try Dorothy Dunnett. I liked The House of Niccolo series better than The Lymond Chronicles, but the latter was the first chronologically.


Paul Fulcher Interesting review. Can see what you are saying but had almost the opposite effect on me. I was quite interested to see what happened but a quick glance at Wikipedia was sufficient to tell me that, I couldn't see any gain from actually ploughing through the book. Much more cathedral city than prime quality Parmesan.


Mark Hebwood Paul wrote: "Interesting review. Can see what you are saying but had almost the opposite effect on me. I was quite interested to see what happened but a quick glance at Wikipedia was sufficient to tell me t..."

I think my reaction was actually similar to yours - I did not care for the plot but was still interested to see where the broad brushstrokes were going. So I read the blurb on the later volumes, rather than wikipedia. Still, I've had enough cheese now and have moved on to something else...


Mark Hebwood Al wrote: "Thanks, Mark. I have avoided these books, and now I know why.
If you want big blocks of cheese, but with substance, try Dorothy Dunnett. I liked The House of Niccolo series better than The Lymo..."


Would you believe it, I actually had some of that cheese! I remember reading these (House of Niccolo) a long time ago and i really liked them. What a great reminder - thanks!


message 7: by Jenn "JR" (new)

Jenn "JR" Nice job on the review! I have found that the characters who may start as likable become unlikable in the tv series - and just want to see the dragons flame and eat them all at this point. :)


Mark Hebwood I watched three episodes of the TV series - must say GoT is not for me, in any shape or form...


message 9: by Jenn "JR" (new)

Jenn "JR" The dragons are awesome, watch the most recent episode and the special effects and dragons scorching everything is pretty brilliant. All the characters in the TV show are despicable.


message 10: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark Hebwood All the characters in the TV show are despicable. Ha ha ha excellent! That made me chuckle.


message 11: by Jenn "JR" (new)

Jenn "JR" Mark Hebwood wrote: "All the characters in the TV show are despicable. Ha ha ha excellent! That made me chuckle."

Hence - my desire to see them all flambee'd by the dragons!

Your friend request made me chuckle - sadly, once accepted I can't reread it or respond to it! bastards!!


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