Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective wall. To the south, the King's powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King's new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself. A heroic fantasy of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and evildoers who come together in a time of grim omens. The first volume in George Martin's series.
This is a book I’ve heard about for the past several years and when I heard it was going to be on HBO I decided to add it to my TBR list and see what all the fuss was about. I’ve never read the Lord of the Rings (gasp!) and I’m not a big fantasy reader, but this sounded good, so I gave it a whirl. I chose the audio format narrated by Roy Dotrice who did a fantastic job with the various voices and dialects. Most sound British, but his accents for Khal Drogo and his blood riders were appropriately guttural with a realistic sound to them. I really enjoyed listening and then keeping pace with the HBO series while only watching the next episode once I passed that part in the book. It's an absorbing fantasy of the alternate world of Westeros, a land of seven kingdoms and the political intrigues surrounding two of the main clans: the noble Starks of Winterfell in the North and the rich and powerful (and incestuous) Lannisters of Casterly Rock who have a never ending need for power.
What else can I say about A Game of Thrones that hasn't already been said? It was a great story and I'm ready to read on in the series - I'm glad there are so many books in it! Set in an intricately woven alternate fantasy world of Westeros, it's capital is known as King’s Landing, appropriately named, for that is where Robert, the king dwells. Winterfell is a northern territory and there resides the Stark Clan. Eddard (Ned) Stark and his wife and six children (one is a bastard, Jon Snow) reside there. In the land of Westeros the seasons can last for years. Currently it’s summer, one of the longest in memory, lasting several years, but there are signs indicating that ‘winter is coming’ – the Stark family’s "words". The Starks are comfortable in the cold and they are closest to The Wall.
The Wall is a 700 foot high structure that is the barrier between Westeros and the Haunted Forest and the North. It is 300 miles long. Wildlings and monsters are beyond The Wall, including the White Walkers. The White Walkers are back – legendary monsters that haven’t been seen in thousands of years. Many believe it's not possible, that they're only a legend, but how to account for the disappearances and sightings of the living dead? Are they legend or truth? The Wall is manned by the Knight's Watch, men who take a solemn oath to defend the wall and the kingdom from anyone (or thing) that threatens. They must give up their families and pledge celibacy. Most are outcasts and criminals who have nothing else left to do with their lives, but some are noble born and for whatever reason have chosen to don the black and guard The Wall. It's bleak and cold and not the most pleasant of places. To desert is mandatory beheading, if caught.
I can't even begin to go over the whole plot line of this book, but trust me, it's good. It's vast and sprawling as we get to know the various characters and kingdoms in which they live. Author, George R. R. Martin spends a lot of time laying the groundwork for future books. The basic gist of the story is the Lannisters want to control the kingdom. Cersei Lannister is the Queen, married to Robert, the King, who is either clueless about his wife's treachery or chooses to ignore it with a bottle of wine. Her twin brother is Ser Jaime Lannister - and her lover. The king's son, Prince Joffrey, is really Jaime's son (to keep the Lannister bloodline pure). This is the big secret that must be protected. Anyone that learns the truth is going to die, pretty much. The Lannisters aren't the only ones that want the throne - there is also the Targaryen's who used to have the throne, but Jaime Lannister killed the mad king Aerys. Jaime is now known as 'the Kingslayer.' Never mind that he broke his sacred oath to protect the king as a member of the Kingsguard. (A minor matter when it comes to taking over the throne.) He didn't get it, instead Robert Baratheon became king but Jaime's sister Cersei married him. The Lannister's first foothold towards the throne.
Getting confused? Just try listening to it on audio! I admit, watching the series helped a lot, but I've got the characters and plot line under control now.
Trying to keep the kingdom together and at peace is Ned Stark. He and his family are a noble and honorable clan. Ned is old friend's with King Robert, who wants Ned to become his "hand." (His old hand died mysteriously). The King's hand is the king's chief advisor. Ned has to go and live in King's Landing to do it. Loath to leave his beloved wife behind, he obeys the king's wishes, but deplores the treachery and conniving that goes on at Court. His honor is his downfall. In my opinion, as good a man as Ned is, he was incredibly naive and all I could do was shake my head over the various blunders he made. He is no match for the Lannisters. But, it makes a good story and I liked Ned as well as all of his children, including his bastard son, Jon Snow. The treachery that goes on between the Lannisters and Starks leads to a war that envelops the kingdom. This war makes a man out of Ned's eldest son, and an unlikely commander on the Lannister side.
Some interesting aspects to the story that I really liked were the mystical qualities in it. The Stark's sigil is the dire wolf. Early on in the story, Ned and his men come across a dead female dire wolf (freakishly large, they are considered nearly extinct south of The Wall) who has just given birth to six pups. The dire wolf has died from a deer's antler lodged in it's throat. The six pups are seen to represent the Stark children, including Ned's bastard, Jon Snow, who gets the one white pup, an albino - white as snow - get it? Duh! They each get a dire wolf puppy of their own to raise. I liked this aspect of the story, and as we see, these wolves play a part in the rest of the story.
Another mystical aspect to the story surrounds the legend of dragons and the Targaryens who are said to have descended from dragons. Viserys Targaryen is the son of the mad king, Aerys, who Jaime Lannister killed (Viserys is a bit mad himself, as we see). He wants to regain the throne himself but he needs an army to do it. He marries his sister Daenerys off to a horse lord, Khal Drogo, head of the Dithraki, a far off land in the South. In exchange for Daenerys, Viserys is promised an army from Khal Drogo - though he never quite gets it. Daenerys and Khal make an unlikely couple at first. He is the ultimate alpha male, huge and big. A commander with traditions towards wives, sex and horses that are completely new and alien to the young and innocent Princess Daenerys. But, she wants to please him and soon she becomes his true mate, the "moon of his life." She embraces the Dithraki way of life. Their story is the only love story in the novel, adding a tragic poignancy to the plotline. Daenerys must ultimately choose between her brother, whom she loves (and fears) and Khal Drogo who is her protector and lover - and whom she ultimately falls in love with. As his wife she is his Khaleesi. I know who I'd choose if I were in her place! ;) Even though Daenerys is young and innocent, she carries the blood of the dragon in her, which comes into play later - you'll see what I mean.
To sum it all up, A Game of Thrones is about one man's quest for truth and justice and the desire to protect his family while navigating the political intrigues that surround his old friend and liege, the King. There is also the scary and eerie scenario that revolves around The Wall and the threat of the White Walkers. Not to mention winter is coming. The crux of the issue is, what's more important? Battling the White Walkers and the danger they represent to the kingdom, or the battle between the Starks and the Lannisters and who should be the next king after Robert? How will Daenerys affect this war - is she the true heir to the throne - or is it one of Robert's bastard by blows? I'm sad to finish this book and I'm sorry to say good-bye to some of the characters I've grown accustomed to. I'll miss them, but I'm looking forward to seeing many again in the next book, particularly Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother to Cersei and Jaime. He's nicknamed the Imp. He was my favorite in the book as well as in the HBO Series. He's likable, and even though he's a Lannister, I suspect he's a lot more honorable than all the rest of them put together! I'm not sure if Tyrion is supposed to be a good guy or a bad guy. A little of both, but only because he loves his family, despite what he suspects they're capable of. He's wise beyond his years and I'm eager to see what happens to him in Book 2. For that matter, all the Lannisters, as conniving as they are, were the most interesting of the bunch of characters in this book. Isn't that always how it is? The bad guys make the good guys look downright dull!
I have high hopes for many surprises ahead!
Now, my big dilemma is, should I read or listen to the next book and should I do it now or wait until next year when HBO's 2nd season is aired? Any advice?
P.S. Read at your own risk! I heard somewhere that George R.R. Martin is evil. Apparently, he has a penchant for killing off beloved - and evil - characters left and right. Let's hope Joffrey is at the top of the list!