A Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin
The fandom surrounding A Game of Thrones is the stuff that legends are made of. Millions of people around the world have turned their heads towards Westeros and its game of betrayal, deviant and taboo behavior, breaking of chains, and unwavering family loyalty. Fans eagerly sit down on Sunday evenings to tune in to HBO, the network that brought George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy story to the small screen, and gave us our first glimpse at real dragons born of fire and of a pack of wolves born in ice. But beyond that, as most good stories go, there are books behind the silver screen, where the complicated relationships that spur a rather un-united nation began.
In book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones introduces us to the bulk of the Great Houses and families that readers will soon become accustomed to as the series progresses. House Stark, a family wrought with a loyalty that is as fierce as the direwolves that are the sigil of their home, live at Winterfell and are keepers of the North. Their patriarch, Lord Eddard Stark, is a very hands-on father and devoted to his beautiful red-haired wife, the calculating Catelyn, formally of House Tully at Riverrun. Eddard is wise and honest, almost to a fault, and is very content living out the rest of his days quietly behind the walls of his family home, worshipping at its spirited white tree, and teaching his people the reality of right and wrong. The Stark couple have several children: the bold and handsome Robb, elegant and lady-in-training Sansa, tomboy Arya, and the two youngest boys, adventurous Bran and little Rickon. Also in their care are Eddard Stark’s bastard, a quiet and sheepish young man named Jon Snow who floats upon the periphery of the Stark household, and Theon Greyjoy, ward of Eddard following the defeat of his father during a previous war.
After the death of The King’s Hand, the Lord Jon Arryn, King Robert comes to see Eddard at Winterfell. They have been friends since childhood, despite their many differences in demeanor. Robert has always been boisterous and careless, more adept at chasing women around a brothel or clobbering men’s heads in with a sledgehammer than ruling a kingdom. He is head of House Baratheon, and as King of the Seven Kingdoms, he has come to call in a favor. He is in need of a new Hand, and he has his eye on an old friend. Against his better judgement and at his reluctance to leave following one of his younger son’s accident, Eddard agrees, and preparations for his move into King’s Landing begin.
Cersei Lannister is Robert’s wife, and is the only daughter of what is considered the most powerful family in the realm – House Lannister. Hailing from the indomitable Casterly Rock, the Lannisters are one of the oldest and richest around, and as the saying goes, a Lannister always pays their debts. Robert was promised Cersei’s hand in marriage during the war and was very pleased to collect his treasure when he returned victorious, as the blonde and poised Cersei is considered the most beautiful woman in all of Westeros. The Lannisters are in fact nearly all blonde and lovely, their majestic features just as great a sight to behold as the lion who symbolizes their house. Cersei is also known for her quick and sharp cunning, a trait that is also family borne and bred. She never cared for Robert or his victories, finding him beneath her in both station and in design. Her true heart belongs to only one man, her twin brother Jamie, and although she has bore three healthy children by the ruddy and dark Robert, all three have golden hair.
Joffrey, the eldest of Cersei’s brood, is a spoiled and whining brat of a boy who has been betrothed to Sansa Stark, thus uniting two old families and solidifying a friendship with legally binding ties. But on the trip to King’s Landing, upon which both Sansa and Arya are in attendance, a misunderstanding turns ugly and it is there that a long-standing enmity between the Stark girls and the Baratheon-Lannister family will begin. Cersei’s eye has also been turned towards them, leaving them laid bare in the path of an extremely cold and conniving woman.
Back at Winterfell, Lady Catelyn is beside herself with fury. Not only did her son Bran fall from a tower under mysterious circumstances, but now an assassin has stolen into Winterfell and tried to finish the job. With a dagger left behind as evidence, Catelyn Stark decides to travel to King’s Landing under cover to confer with her husband and try to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that she knows in her heart Cersei Lannister is at the heart of. Why would someone want a young boy dead? What could Bran know?
Settled in to King’s Landing, Eddard Stark begins the investigation into Lord Arryn’s strange death. His widow, Lysa Tully-Arryn, believes her husband was poisoned by the hand of Cersei Lannister in an attempt to perhaps distance Robert from reasonable friends and careful watchmen. Learning of how Stanis Baratheon, the King’s brother, fled King’s Landing shortly after the death of Arryn, Eddard begins to retrace their steps. After further inquiry, he is able to deduce that the three heirs Cersei has produced are actually not heirs at all, but bastards born out of incest between brother and sister.
In a power play true to the Lannister spirit and name, Cersei begins to orchestrate a complex plan full of murder and coverups, all paid for in gold and the exchange of secrets and promises. In the end it is she who ends up on top, seeing her son Joffrey on the Iron Throne and Lord Eddard beheaded in the streets for all to see. But can she retain her power?
While eyes are on King’s Landing, they should be on the East, where a young girl and her brother are traveling through the great grass sea of Essos. For Robert Baratheon to win his war and set himself on the Iron Throne, he first had to defeat the last of the Dragon line, the Targaryens. As their father was having his skull bashed open on the throne room’s floor, Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen were spirited away in the night, mere babes in their nightclothes. They have lived in secret, hidden away by the wealthy and long-minded players of the game of thrones for years, allowing time to plot their return. As true heir to the Iron Throne, Viserys has betrothed his beautiful sister to Khal Drogo, the commander of a savage army of horse lords, in exchange for the war lord’s help in reclaiming his seat in King’s Landing. But Viserys has one serious downfall – his pride. Having taken on the persona of a king prematurely, he believes he can treat anyone however he deems appropriate at the time, including his sister. But what Viserys does not know is that although live dragons have not been seen in Westeros for many lifetimes, sometimes there is something lurking deep within the souls of the most cowering and subservient of women.
A Game of Thrones is merely a snapshot in the world that it becomes throughout the remaining books. While there are more due to come, there are currently five on the published market:
- A Game of Thrones
- A Clash of Kings
- A Storm of Swords
- A Feast of Crows
- A Dance With Dragons
Lovers of the show will enjoy how closely the first book follows along with the characters and plot lines. As of today, the hit HBO show has surpassed the books and has created new spurs and stories. It is not known if the future books will align with the show, but the author is involved in the production of the television series so there is hope of continuity.
A Game of Thrones is a book that I give 5 out of 5 stars to, and I have to say, this was the very first fantasy series I have ever read — and I devoured it. I flew through the books within a few months; I really enjoyed the writing style and attention to detail. I loved the twisting and turning of the families and their backstabbing and drama, and I love the realness and attention to detail George R. R. Martin gives each character. My husband, however, found the second book to be so slow that he gave up and has never returned to it, although he is an avid watcher of the show. I would suggest that anyone who has a hard time slogging through family lineages and detail to try a different route — they may prefer listening to this as an audio book instead of reading it word for word.