Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: Game of Thrones and More

I was a latecomer to the Game of Thrones novels as my introduction came through the excellent HBO series. The show was so consistently excellent that I was forced – forced! – to pick up the book because everybody knows that the books are always better than the movie. (There are, of course, notable exceptions like Blade Runner, but not many.). A Song of Ice and Fire - the title of all of Martin's novels - is no exception to this rule. Taking nothing away from the wildly entertaining show, George R. R. Martin books show his incredible talent as a storyteller and first-class world builder. His books are intimidatingly long - all are 700 pages or more - and for this reason, rather than reviewing the three novels I've read (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords) I've simply written an unordered list of my reactions to the books. Note that there are spoilers!


  • Scene. Perhaps as a result of his years working in the movie industry, the episodic nature of his novels – each chapter is told from the POV of one of the characters – works masterfully. Almost every scene ends with a dramatic cliffhanger that feels like a natural culmination of what happened before while leaving you starved for more.
  • Shades of Grey. Martin revels in ambiguity. The novels expand upon many of the no win situations that the characters find themselves in. Look at the famous one: Neddard Stark continually does what on its face appears to be the right and honorable thing to do. However, things are not that easy, and Stark's behaviors dooms him in Martin’s realpolitik world. This might be the grimmest fantasy series I've ever read.
  • Mixed emotions. Martin always shows you both sides of the situation. For example, because he's a horrible person doing horrible things, you find yourself wishing for King Jeoffrey to die. When he finally does, Martin doesn't let you forget that Jeoffrey's a 13 year old boy that never had a chance at a normal life, having been spoiled and pampered and used as a political pawn. None of this excuses his awful acts, but it does make you pause.  


  • Details. Damn the guy is a completist. He details the power structures and families in such numbing detail that it becomes exhausting to impossible to follow the complex lineages - and that's with a guide in the back of the books! Quite frankly I don’t care about a fraction of most of these minor characters and backstory, since most of them are minor to nonexistent characters. 
  • Sexism. There’s a casual sexism to the books that pops up occasionally, usually when talking about whores, that is disconcerting. This becomes doubly so when you see it acted out on screen in the series, dramatized most with 
Differences to the HBO Series:

  • Theon. I was pleasantly surprised that the books contained little to no Theon Grayjoy! The series had way too much of his torture-porn story line that not only served no point but was absolutely disgusting to see depicted on screen.
  • Sansa. While I’m not a Sansa fan - she's way too passive in the show to be entertaining - in the books, you receive so much insight into the thought processes behind her mask that you sympathize with her rather than tiring of her empty expressions. 
  • Wilding Love. The relationship between John Snow and Ygrette, so subdued in the book, is amplified to 11 in the series, not always for the better. Still, I did love hearing Rose Leslie say "you know nothing Jon Snow!"

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