Of course this book series has since transcended the bonds of its binding and become an acclaimed (and very good, too) series on HBO, but before all of that there were the books, and make no bones about it, the books are monumentally better. In fact, the novels are so intricate that even with entire seasons devoted to each one there should be no real comparisons. While George R.R. Martin shouldn’t be confused with the second coming of J.R.R. Tolkien, he does know how to sell a plot and create a believable world in which his characters can play their “game.”
What first struck me about the novel is the difference of the world within its borders from the one that we know. It appears to be set in an earlier time period than the present due to the description of styles of dress, the castles, and the lack of modernities, but because of its other peculiarities there is no definite answer to that question. Instead, what we as readers are given is a history of these seven kingdoms, including the vague references to dragons long thought to be gone from the land. Ultimately it is the history and culture of the world that draws us in from the start.
The bulk of my investment in the book comes through the introduction to the Stark family, holders of the castle and grounds of Winterfell, to the far north of the seven kingdoms. More so than any other family or group in the novel, Martin delves into what makes the Starks special, and special is the only term that can adequately describe them. While they are insular, they do interact with the world around them through the lens of a code espoused by their patriarch, Eddard Stark. The author does a great job of explaining the motivations for Stark, his wife, and his children.
As a counterweight to the Starks are the Lannisters, scheming pretenders who are described nearly as in depth as the Starks. In every great novel there should be balances, and if the Starks are on the side of good, the Lannisters are decidedly bad. However, Martin does a great job of humanizing them to an extent during sections of the book (and indeed the series, too) that keeps readers on our toes wondering what to make of the family, and wondering if we can separate some parts of characters from others. By the end of the novel the battle lines have not only been drawn, but blasted through.
For a relatively large book that starts a series, A Game of Thrones moves with a quick pace, each chapter told through the perspective of a different major (and sometimes minor) character. Because of these shifts it becomes possible for us to follow Cersei Lannister, Eddard Stark, and the prodigal Daenerys Targaryen who isn’t even in the seven kingdoms at the opening of the novel. It is a style that flows smoothly throughout the course of the book and is what allows for the fast pace. There are also plenty of surprises and deaths that test readers and jar emotions. These surprises are necessary and inserted at exactly the right spots for full effect.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys alternate worlds with their own histories and cultures different from our own. It is easy to get invested in the book and the series from the very start because of the language used and the swiftly moving plot. I also highly suggest reading the book before watching the first season of the show because the book is definitely still better, no matter how dynamic the show has become.
I give this novel FIVE stars.