Game of Thrones is the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and also the name of a successful TV series based upon the books. I did not at first think this series would appeal to me, because I have not read much in the fantasy genre since my 20’s. However, I have to say that this has been one of the most exciting series of books I have ever read.
I have known a couple of people to turn up their noses when I told them it was a fantasy series, but really, the first few books only fit loosely into this genre. Except for a few scenes, Game of Thrones stays firmly in the historical novel category–except that the world is fictional. OK, the dead are coming back to life, and there used to be dragons. Minor details. Like Gavriel Kay, Martin seems to be using the genre to tell the story of events in an actual medieval country, in this case possibly England or Scotland–I have read reviews that suggested he was telling the story of the Wars of the Roses. In the succeeding books, we slide slowly into the fantasy genre.
The series is set in a world where winters and summers can last decades. It has been summer for a long time, but the Starks of Winterfell know that winter is coming. In fact, that is their family motto, and when they say it, you know they are talking about more than snow. Eddard Stark is summoned to court by his friend Robert Baratheon, the King of the Seven Kingdoms. Eddard helped Robert overthrow the previous king, “Mad King” Aerys Targaryen, years ago to give the kingdom to Robert’s older brother. But Robert’s brother died in the revolt.
Robert wants Eddard to take the position of The Hand, the king’s enforcer, after the death of the previous Hand, Eddard’s brother-in-law Lord Jon Arryn. A hard but honest man, Eddard does not seek or want the honor, but he feels it is his duty to accept. He goes to court, taking along his young daughters, eleven-year-old Sansa and eight-year-old Arya (my personal favorite character). He leaves his wife Catelyn and oldest son Rob to take care of the estate. His bastard son Jon Snow decides to become a protector of The Wall, a huge structure of ice in the north that protects the Seven Kingdoms, but from something more dangerous than Picts. This commitment is for a lifetime, and Eddard is reluctant to have him take it but Jon sees no future for himself in Winterfell. Shortly after Eddard leaves, one of his younger sons, Bran, sees something he shouldn’t have and is thrown off a tower as a result, to awaken paralyzed from the waist down.
Robert has affianced his oldest son Prince Joffrey to Eddard’s daughter Sansa. Back in court, it becomes clear almost immediately to Eddard that Queen Cersei Lannister is running the kingdom while Robert plays and that both Joffrey and his mother Cersei are cruel and vicious. Cersei is also conniving, and Joffrey would be if he wasn’t so stupid. The court is full of secrets and spies, and people are out for what they can get. In the midst of finding all kinds of skullduggery, Eddard discovers a secret about Cersei, much to his peril and that of his family.
In the meantime, Viserys Targaryen, the only remaining heir of the mad king, is across the sea, prepared to sell his little sister Daenerys to the Dothraki war lord Khal Drogo in return for an army and an attempt to restore the Targaryen throne.
And up in the north, bad things seem to be happening beyond The Wall.
These are only a few of the many characters in the first volume, and as the series continues, more are introduced. Martin provides an appendix for you to keep track of them. Even the minor characters seem like real people. You will have your favorites, and you will never know what is going to happen to them next. The complex world—buildings, costumes, scenery—Martin envisages is vividly described, so you can picture exactly what he has imagined.
If this all sounds intimidating, I suggest you get a copy of the book and give it a try. If you’re like me, you’ll be grabbing the next one off the shelf as soon as you finish. Eventually, you will realize the series isn’t finished and you will have to wait for the final book to come out. At least, the sixth book is supposed to be the last one. I have read five, and I can’t imagine how Martin is going to wrap everything up in one book. With any luck, he’ll have to write another one!