Dark Paladin writes "Recently, I asked readers to recommend some good books that were out there. There were crows for the usual crowd, like Terry Pratchet, Nail Gaiman, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, so on and so forth. But one name that kept coming up over and over again as a "must read" was R. R. Martin and the book "A Game of Thrones". So after the umpteenth "you've got to check it out or I'll burn your hat", I decided to give it a shot. And discovered one of the best read fantasy novels I've read in a decade. The story is your base fantasy stuff - "long ago, some bad things happened, but things are good - but watch out - the bad times are coming again!" Read on for the rest of his review.
But Martin does it by focusing not on one main character, but on a whole slew of them, each chapter a view from their perspective as events rage around them. Mainly around the Stark family, who's patriarch, Eddard Stark, is the Lord of Winterfell, a country to the far north who's job it is to keep up the Wall - think "Great Wall of China", only make it out of ice and stone. The Starks put a lot of stock in honor and duty, concept that must serve them well to survive a world where summers can last for years - and the winters even longer. Eddard has known war and battle once in his lifetime, when he and his best friend Robert lead an army to overthrow the Mad King almost a generation ago. Now, with his 5 children and 1 bastard child, he looks forward to a life ruling his castle in peace and training the next generation to be Starks.
Or he would, but when Robert comes calling asking Eddard to become the "Hand of the King", Eddard and his family are put into a living chess match, where loyalties shift like chameleon color, and sometimes, the pieces are lost forever. And with all the court intrigues, something dark, magical, and deadly hovers in the background, like an avalanche about to fall without warning.
What makes Martin's writing so compelling is his ability to tie us into a fictional world as fully realized as our own. It's a gritty and disturbing world, where royal families can marry brother to sister to keep bloodlines pure, Mongolian horde empires have their own brand of laws and morals, and a joust is as celebrated as a professional wrestling match - and far more dangerous. He does have a tendency to go overboard in describing the littlest detail of what armor one person is wearing and how it gleams in the sun with cloaks as soft or supple as sin (I think he used that phrase around 3 times in the book, and it was old the 2nd time), but its also those little attention to details that makes the world breath.
But more than his descriptions of the places and events are his writings about people. As I mentioned, each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, so you get the perspective of Arya, the tomboy princess on moment, the next the view of Tyrion the Imp, dwarf (physically, not Ghimli) who's royal family opposes the Starks and reaches for the crown. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, things you love them for and things you hate them for. And as they interact with each other, you can see all the chess pieces on the board moving, wheels within wheels spinning as Martin brings you closer into the story, making you feel a connection with each of them - even the ones you are certain are less than moral or good. He also has no compunction about killing off main characters, which means you can't trust that the "Good Guys" will make off all right in the end.
It's a book about the love of family, how it can be twisted into something terrible and ugly, or used as a tie that binds together. It's a story about the price of honor, duty and loyalty, and what those words actually mean. It's a great book, and I'm eagerly looking forward to trying out the rest of the books in this series to see if they keep up the excellent quality of this one.
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