"When you play the Game of Thrones, you live or you die."
I first read this book about 13 years ago when it first came on in paperback. The reason I picked it proved to be a bit ironic but that's a tale for another time. HBO has recently aired its version of the series which has sparked an interest in the book at my office so I went back to read through it again (I am also watching the TV show which so far is quite loyal to the books).
I had almost forgotten how great a book it is. Its a fat book packed full of story goodness. Initially there are two plot lines. The peripheral storyline involves the exiled princess Danaerys. and the main plot involves King Robert and the Lord of the North, Eddard Start. The main plot quickly branches into many storyline involving most of the big players and each chapter is written from one of several characters' viewpoints. The cast is quite large and you are fed lots of backs story and world information early on and its easy to lose track of who is who and many of the minor details get lost. On this read through - the first in 4 years, I am picking up many tidbits that I had never noticed in earlier passes.
What is the book all about? Well, if I had to define it, I would call it a medieval political thriller. The author, George R. R. Martin, used England's War of the Roses as inspiration. The book's main plot involves intrigue between the realm's major houses as they jockey for power. There is lots of sex, violence, and intrigue. There really isn't much in the way of magic. Dragons have been extinct for centuries and monsters and other things that go bump in the night are the stuff of children's stories (although the prelude would indicate that there is still something out there).
All of the characters come across is human. While you can easily classify some as heroes and villains, many fall into the grey in between and all have their faults and failings. The best example is probably Tyrion Lannister. The Lannisters can easily be viewed as the villains of the tale. Tyrion is a dwarf with mismatched eyes, and lacks the beauty of his kin. He is the stereotype trickster. His tongue both gets him into trouble as well as out of it. He seems to be involved in lots of awful things but its hard not to cheer for the underdog. While Tyrion can be merciless to his enemies he has a soft spot for other outcasts and cripples and will go out of his way to assist them.
This is not a Disney fairy tale. Don't expect the heroes to win or things to work out in the end. This is a realm where cheaters do prosper, and where might makes right. The climax of Game of Thrones punches you in the gut and leaves you reeling. The ending will leave you begging for more. Thankfully the awesomeness continues on though books two and three. I found book 4 dreadfully disappointing. Hopefully when book 5 is released in July it will get the series back on track.
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