A Game of Thrones, by George R R Martin

First of all, I would like to state that I haven’t seen the show based on this series, nor read any of the other books, so if you’re going to comment, I ask that you please avoid giving me spoilers for either. I know these books have been around for a long time, but spoilers are spoilers and I don’t like ‘em.

Now that’s been said, on with the review.

gameofthrones  Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Author’s website
Publication date – August 4, 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

Thoughts: Sometimes I get a craving for the kind of epic fantasy that I used to read in high school. The kind that has a long plot, many books, a traditional fantasy setting, all the earmarks of the stuff that got me into this genre in the first place. A Game of Thrones was exactly this. I started reading it and I felt like I was 16 again, discovering the joys of a richly-detailed fantasy novel with politics and battles and that indescribable feeling of familiarity, of coming full-circle and returning to the old and the awesome.

I won’t deny that part of my review is going to be coloured by that nostalgia. It can’t help but be. Reviewing is part objective, part subjective, and the subjective part is open to influences such as those memories.

It’s for this reason that I was able to overlook many of the problems this book had. It wasn’t a bad book, per se, even objectively. But it did fall back on many standards of fantasy, both in plot and in characters. True, those things weren’t as standard when this book was first penned as they are now, but still, there was a great deal of reliance on them.

Ditto for the characters. Just about every character was an archetype of some kind, able to be summed up by a witty phrase or description as commonly found on TV Tropes. The large cast of characters made for enough diversity that this wasn’t as glaring as it could have been, but on their own, most of the characters were fairly 2-dimensional, without much to them in terms of motivations, personality, or development. There were exceptions, of course (mostly Dany), but for the most part, much of the characters were left to their archetypal actions and thoughts, without much else to define them. Cersei in particular got shafted when it came to character development. It wasn’t that she was irredeemable so much as she was just shallow. I hate to use the term “cardboard cutout,” but that goes a long way in describing how she and others felt to me. Characters, not people. Actors on a stage, not individuals living their lives.

Switching back and forth between multiple character points of view was a good way of showing events in different places while still keeping a third-person limited narrative, but it did serve to slow the plot down somewhat. Surprisingly little actually happens, in terms of an overarching plot, but you get so caught up in all the little details and experiences and thoughts of the characters through whose eyes we see that it’s nevertheless easy to keep the pages turning and the story going.

For all that there are archetypes and tropes in spades throughout this novel, I can’t deny that it was entertaining, the beginning of an epic story that I was more eager to sink my teeth into that I realized. The varied cast of characters made sure there were plenty of people whose chapters I wanted to read, some more than others. Most of the culture expressed was clearly European in inspiration, but there was a nice break with the Dothraki, whose culture was (from what I could tell) largely based on nomadic Mongolian lifestyles. The dialogue was at times stilted, though I can forgive some of that because of the setting and feel of the novel; you almost expect that people will be speaking with outdated and old-fashioned speech patterns in an epic fantasy, and A Game of Thrones delivered just that.

This isn’t the book to read if you want something new and creative in your fiction. This is what you read when you want a return to the old, that comfortable familiarity where everything entertains but little surprises. It’s comfort reading for those who started with or grew up on epic fantasy, and for that reason alone I can overlook some of the poor development and odd pacing. I look forward to tackling the rest of the books in the series, and hope that they only get better from here.

ASOIAF Book Club – A Game of Thrones, Chapters 59-end

Wow, A Game of Thrones is over already. I mean, yes, technically it took me over two months to read, at the pace we were all going, but it was one of those books that you get so stuck into and when you reach the last page, you start to wonder, “Why can’t I just keep going?”

Luckily for me there are 4 other books in the series to continue on with, and the book club will continue!

So let’s get down to this section’s Q&A session and see what we have to say.

gameofthronesJamie: Do you think there’s any room for growth with Sansa? Will she ever find a backbone or do you think she’ll remain a frightened, weak willed pup?

I think there’s still plenty of room for her development. But I don’t think that she’s weak-willed, not after getting the chance to see more of her personality. I think she’s showing strength in a different way. Rather than try to fight back, she’s trying to bend to keep the peace, to put herself in a position where she can make a difference to what she’s come to recognize as a bad situation. You see this in the way she begs for mercy for her father. Begging doesn’t automatically make one weak.

I think, also, that she can be pushed to the limit, especially now that physical abuse and cruelty is occurring to her. I’m actually looking forward to seeing if she snaps and starts fighting back more assertively. I don’t think she’s the type to be easily broken.

Heather: All the chapters have been told from the point of view of particular characters, and the story has gone back and forth along their journeys. Why do you think only these characters have been chosen? What does it say about them over the others?

Most of the chapters have involved characters who are deeply involved in a situation that’s important to the plot, and chapters from their point of view serve as a good way of getting the reading information without having a ton of exposition and infodumping. It also gives a sense of scale; with such a large cast of characters, each in different situations, you get a good feel for the vastness of the world, the difference in cultures and societies, and generally gives the whole thing a very epic feel.

However, there are some characters (Bran, in particular), who seem as though they either a) outlived their usefulness when it comes to perspective but the author didn’t feel like dealing with any, “What happened to him?” questions, or b) are only around now, showing us stuff that isn’t that important, because they’ll play a major part later on and the author doesn’t want them to be forgotten. I honestly can’t tell which at this point.

JoinTheRealm_sigilAllison:  Do you think Jaime and Cersei have developed as characters at all throughout the story?

Not in the slightest. We don’t get to see as much of Jaime as we do Cersei, but they seem weirdly one-dimensional, without much to motivate them beyond self-righteous entitlement. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want… but that hasn’t changed from the first moment they stepped on the pages. I hope they do get some more development as the books go on, because otherwise they’re quickly going to get rather yawn-worthy.

Ria: Mirri’s about-face: expected and in-character, or did it feel to you like it came out of left field?

Both, actually. I didn’t expect it, but it wasn’t exactly out of character. Partly because her character wasn’t very well-defined, but it’s easy to see how kind words masked her bitterness, so while it surprised me, it didn’t seem random or out of sync with what was already established. It was admittedly interesting to see a character who wasn’t what she seemed to be on the surface. They seem to be somewhat lacking in the series so far, at least from what’s been revealed to us.

See what the others in the book club are saying! Jamie | Heather | Allison

ASOIAF Book Club – A Game of Thrones, Chapters 44-58

It’s time once again for the twice-a-month round-up of questions from Mithril Wisdom’s A Song of Ice and Fire book club. We’re approaching the end of Game of Thrones now, the plot’s heating up, and many of the separate stories are really coming together.

So let’s look at the questions for this period and see what kind of answers I can come up with.

JoinTheRealm_sigilJamie: Why do you think Jon Snow goes to such great lengths to protect and help out Sam Tarly?

From what I’ve seen of Jon, he has two very strong personal beliefs: a sense of place, and a sense of justice. He knows where he isn’t allowed to be, he knows where he wants to be, and he can see talent in others. And attached to that, he saw Sam being forced into a place he wasn’t suited for, and by bullies, nd the two things combined into a reaction that was a lot like taking Sam under his wing.

They also had more in common than a first look would account for. They both have been rejected by their families, in one form or another, both felt unwelcome in the places they came from, and both had something to prove. I think that Jon saw a lot of himself in Sam, and there was more than a little bit of vicarious fulfillment going on whenever he helped Sam.

Heather: Ser Jorah Mormont has been by Daenerys as she has grown amongst the Dothraki. We know he has a price on his head by Ned Stark and cannot return home without facing death. Do you think he’s helping Daenerys as part of a new life for himself, or rather he sees her as his ticket back to his homeland?

This one took a lot of thought, because I hadn’t actually paid much attention to Mormont before. He’s unnoteworthy in the way that he’s not a jackass, and so I don’t feel my blood pressure rise when he’s on the page, nor is he a main character, so he kind of fades into the background quite a bit when I’m reading. It’s easy to forget that he’s even still around sometimes.

From what I can remember of him, it seems a lot like he’s helping Daenerys more out of loyalty than anything else. He may have an ulterior motive, but I think it’s secondary to actual loyalty. There are plenty of times where he has done things that he didn’t necessarily need to do if he was just tagging along for the ride, so to speak.

gameofthronesAllison: Why do you think so much emphasis is put on Dany’s dragon eggs in the story so far?

From Daenerys’s standpoint, I think they’re a symbol for the lost strength that she hopes to find again. But I also think that’s a very personal thing; even she says that they’re only stones and couldn’t understand why anyone would want them, but at the same time, she’s not willing to give them up if she has another choice.

I think, also, that they’re something of a metaphor for herself, now that she’s pregnant. An egg is something that protects the unborn until they can come into the world and live for themselves, which is exactly what she’s doing. And the fact that it’s a dragon’s egg, and there’s all the mentions of her family having the blood of dragons, the metaphor seems pretty clear.

Ria: What do you think of the chapters from Bran’s perspective? Do they more like filler material, a means to see what’s going on where other main characters can’t be, or do you think there’s going to be something more important that he’ll take a central role in?

I ask the questions I’m not sure how to answer! At the moment, it seems like a lot of filler material with small hints as to what’s going on back at Winterfell, just so we don’t forget. But it’s done so interestingly, through the eyes of a child who doesn’t understand all of the politics surrounding him, that even if they are mostly filler, they’re still enjoyable chapters to read.

I find this with a lot of the chapters written from the point of view of the children. They add an interesting perspective, and usually end up seeing far more than adults give them credit for because often, adults don’t think that children will understand the significance of things. They see things in ways and in places that older characters might not, so it gives a greater sense of scale to the overall story, and gives the reader additional tidbits of info that makes the whole thing feel that much grander, that much more complete.

And a bonus question from Jamie: On a scale of one to awesome, how did it feel to read Viserys getting his comeuppance? Golden crowns all round!

On a scale of one to awesome, so awesome! Everyone was tired of his BS, and when he stepped over the line, nobody was willing to cut him any slack anymore. And it’s about damn time!

Read what the others in the club are saying! Jamie | Heather | Allison

ASOIAF Book Club – A Game of Thrones, Chapters 29-42

gameofthrones  It’s that time again! Time for the biweekly round-up of questions and answers from the ASOIAF book club. This is the third installment, we’re all a little over halfway through A Game of Thrones, and thus far the readalong’s been a wonderful success.

So, on to this installment’s questions!

Jamie: Danaerys has grown quite bold since she was sold off to Khal Drogo, to the point where she has much less of a problem swinging for Viserys ‘douchebag of the year’ Targaryen. Do you think her development is down to her becoming stronger, the fact that she has a child to protect or is she getting comfortable in the safety of the khalasar?

First of all, I’m loving the title of “douchebag of the year.” And it very much applies to Viserys. Let’s just say that I cheered inside a little when she finally hauled back and struck him. He had it coming. For a long time.

I think her development actually comes down to a bit of all three, though her pregnancy is to a lesser degree. I think she’s getting a taste of respect for the first time, coming to understand her new position in life, and is learning that she doesn’t have to live in Viserys’s shadow any longer. She’s seeing people treat Viserys with disdain instead of fear, treating her with respect and admiration instead of derision, and she’s learning that she doesn’t have to put up with his BS any longer. She’s got a safe zone, and it’s helping to make her stronger, giving her a solid foundation under her feet from which to hold her own.

And I love seeing that!

Heather: What do you think of Catelyn Stark’s sudden capture of Tyrion Lannister and her trek to see her crazy sister? Was it a mothers reaction seeking revenge, or a strong woman trying to do her best for the Realm?

I sort of feel like this section of the book has been the “every character hates Tyrion” section. Which kind of sucks, because Tyrion is a really interesting character. Prejudice runs deep, I suppose.

I think Catelyn’s reaction was well-founded, even though I personally disagree with it. She had every reason to think that Tyrion was responsible, at least indirectly, for what happened to Bran. She was still very much distraught over Bran’s injury (and who can blame her), and then someone she saw as a trusted old friend gave her very strong motivation to think that Tyrion was behind it.  And when the opportunity presented itself, she was quick to take advantage of it. I think her motivations were very personal, mostly born of her desire for revenge and less of someone being altruistic and doing what needs to be done. I think most of the characters presented so far in these books would let things slide if it was to their personal advantage, and will go out of their way to seek advantages for themselves. Or if not themselves, their families and/or political allies. Catelyn is no exception to this, from what I’ve seen.

JoinTheRealm_sigilAllison: So far, I am generally pro-Stark and anti-Lannister, but in the case of Catelyn vs. Tyrion I am torn. Who do you feel allied with in their situation?

In a general sense, I hve to agree. Not so much in the families themselves, but the characters that have been shown to us so far. Jaime and Cersei are rather despicable in their actions and what I’ve seen of their motivations. Most of the Starks seem to be the good guys, the people with a dose of good sense when the world around them is going crazy, though most of them are pretty young and we’re seeing the world as skewed by a child’s perception (though that doesn’t stop me from thinking that Arya is made of awesome).

But there are exceptions, and yes, Catelyn and Tyrion are pretty much those. I don’t mind Catelyn so much. I can understand her actions, I can figure out how she thinks, but she’s not high on the list of my favourite characters. Tyrion breaks the mold when it comes to the Lannisters, though. I love his snarky attitude, the way he thinks, the way he can hold his own when the rest of the world seems designed to put him down as low as possible (no joke intended with that, either). I feel far more allied with and interested in Tyrion than with Catelyn.

Though I will admit that my sympathy for Catelyn rose somewhat when we got the chance to see her sister…

Ria: It seems that the author uses a good deal of archetypes as a base for his characters. Do you feel that this weakens the story when characters are models bordering on stereotypes, or does the large cast with a diverse number of archetypes balance that out?

I think this is actually Martin’s weakness when it comes to this series, or at least what I’ve thus far read of it. Most of the characters we’ve seen are pretty much archetypal, often bordering on stereotypical but sometimes just leaping right across that line and being as stereotypical as you can imagine. When you can sum up a character or their family or overall situation with a simple witty phrase or a section of TV Tropes, then there’s a problem. The unhinged mother of an ill child (doubled due to Catelyn’s unreasoning hysteria over Bran while he was still recovering, but mostly I’m referring to her sister here). The snarky cripple. The hopeful child cripple. The irresponsible monarch. The bitchy queen. The desperate-to-prove-himself bastard. The spunky girlchild.

The large cast of characters does compensate for this somewhat, and indeed it was hard at first for me to pin down what felt so off about the characters. I liked them. They were interesting, and I enjoy seeing what’s happening to them. But they are built around a frame of a concept, and it seems almost like Martin is relying on the events of the books to flesh them out into realistic people rather than having them start off that way. It’s reminding me a bit of how Robert Jordan handled many characters in the Wheel of Time series. Large chasts of characters can compensate, but mostly because it increases the overall diversity. The indvidual characters are not quite as diverse and well-rounded as they first appear, because of that.

But while I think it is a weakness in the writing, it’s not spoiling my overall enjoyment of the book, so I can forgive that much.

Read what the others in the book club are saying! Jamie | Heather | Allison

ASOIAF Book Club – A Game of Thrones, Chapters 15-28

JoinTheRealm_sigil  As I read more of A Game of Thrones, I’m still feeling exactly what I did when I first started. That is, this is exactly the kind of epic fantasy that I’ve been craving for so long, searching for but being mostly unable to find. As each chapter goes by and I find myself drawn into the plot and interested in the characters, I’m more and more glad that  decided to take the plunge and join this readalong book club thing so that I had a good excuse to start reading books that it seemed everyone and their mothers already knew the plot of.

As part of the book club, every 2 weeks we read about 14 chapters and ask each other questions regarding what we just read. Here’s this week’s batch of very interesting ponderings.

Jamie: Littlefinger and Varys banter really well with one another; I love their back and forth as they try to outdo one another. Who do you prefer and why?

This is a tough question. I think I’d have an easier time deciding who I didn’t like more and why. Neither of them particularly appeal to me, and for different reasons. Littlefinger’s got the smooth banter thing down very well, but his arrogance and know-it-all attitude really turn me away from liking him as a character. I don’t doubt that he’s going to be interesting, but as for first impressions, mine’s not a very positive one.

And Varys… Well, he seems more like a caricature than a character, and I suspect some of that is feigned, giving people exactly what they expect to see so that they underestimte him, but ugh, he’s painful to read. The very image of a weak effeminate fop, stereotyped and unpleasant. And I don’t know enough of the character yet to know if that characerization was more of an author failing, thinking that was how a eunuch would act, or whether there’s some deeper and less cliched purpose behind it. I hope for the latter, but not knowing enough yet,  can’t really say.

Heather: Arya and Sansa are clearly very different personalities with very different views on the world, despite coming from the same origins. Which do you identify with the most? Do you think the chasm building between them is becoming too great to be bridged, despite their father’s efforts to keep them closer?

Good question, and a complicated one to answer. I love reading about Arya, and she’s got that kind of strength that I only wish I’d had when I was younger, and indeed wish that I could have now. She’s my clear favourite when it comes to picking which of them I’d prefer to read about.

However, I can relate to Sansa far more than I thought I would be able to when we first saw her on the pages. I can relate to her desire to be a good girl, to do what she’s told and fit into the life people have made for her and please those around her who matter to her. She’s more than a little on the shallow side, but she’s also young, and I can foresee enjoying more of her perspective as the books go on.

I don’t think the gap between the two sisters is too wide to bridge. I think that, if they’re willing to make the effort to reach each other, they’ll be able to, and be all the stronger for it.  They’re both young, willful in their own ways, but I don’t think that’s insurmountable.

gameofthronesAllison: Ned Stark seems to be a pretty honourable guy so far–he obviously cares about his family and duty is important to him. I liked the part where he gives Arya back Needle and arranges for her to have lessons. However, I can’t bring myself to like him, because I have this foreboding feeling that he is going to do something terrible and make me hate him. What do you think of Ned so far?

So far, I like him. I like his exasperation with politics, I like the fact that he seems to be a fairly honest down-to-earth man who knows his duty and is more than content to carry it out. Sometimes to a fault, I admit, and he’s thus far made a decision or two that have been based on politics and duty that have made me annoyed.

But overall, I like him. And if something does happen where he has an about turn and ends up being a jerkass for a time, or for all time, I like the way he thinks enough that it will be interesting to see it happen to him. If something like that was to happen, I imagine that’s how he’d be seen from the outside, and he himself would be unhappy at having to do something so awful.

All hypotheticals, of course. If he does pull a 180 like that and the rest of you know about it because you’ve watched the show, I bet you’re all chuckling at me right now!

Ria: What do you think of the situation involving how Jon turned enemies into allies on the Wall? Effective strategy, or overused Saturday-morning-cartoon plot device?

I have very strong feelings about this situation, and I could probably write a whole post based on it, but I’ll try to keep things relatively concise here.

Turning enemies into friends by helping them overcome their own weaknesses, holding out a friendly hand to them, can work, even if it’s cheesy as hell. But it all depends on the reason they were enemies in the first place. Some of his adversaries didn’t get enough character development at first for me to see whether they actually were lonely and scared and unsure and beaten down by Ser Thorne and really just needed a helping hand, or whether some of them were just natural jerkasses. (One of them I suspect is more the latter than the former…) So it can work, but there are a lot of “what if”s in that scenario that rarely get explored when writing about it.

But what really bothers me about that situation is how Jon was forced into it in the first place. In his dressing down about how he was acting the bully in the training yard, fighting properly against those who didn’t know how to fight properly, I won’t pretend that I didn’t get angry. Jon was essentially being blamed for being too good, and the reaction of his superiors was basically to tell him to stop it. It wasn’t Jon’s fault that he was pitted against those who had no skill. Yes, he was thoughtless for not considering it, but it’s the job of a supervisor/overseer/commander to spot these things and give everyone a chance to train. If Jon’s too good for the newbies, then get him to train with someone who has more experience. Instead, he was accused of bullying. Life on the Wall isn’t supposed to be fair, perhaps, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that such a situation is a bad one for all around, and it’s not the job or a raw recruit to point this out to his superiors.

So with that in mind, the whole situation felt like an enforced guilt trip, a morality lesson that didn’t hold much water. Jon was doing what he was told, and then was blamed for doing it too well. And then forced into the position of having to essentially do someone else’s job, training the others. I didn’t like that scene at all. It was powerful. It was emotional. And it tripped all the wrong triggers with me.

Read what the others in the book club are saying! Jamie | Heather | Allison

ASOIAF Book Club – A Game of Thrones, Chapters 1-14

JoinTheRealm_sigil Every 2 weeks, I and others (Jamie from Mithril Wisdom, Allison from Geek Banter, and Heather from Reading, Writing, and Everything In Between) aere reading through approximately 14 chapters of the books from George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and then giving each other some thought-provoking discussion questions about what we just read. Here’s this set of biweekly questions.

Jamie: In the few chapters that we’ve seen already, Tyrion is amazing. His snark and wit mark him out as one of my favourites. Do you think his role is more the comic relief or a juxtaposition for the cruelty of his sibling Lannisters (opposites in appearance as well as personality)?

From what I’ve seen, Tyrion’s wit goes far beyond providing comic relief. I wouldn’t want to cross words with the man; I think anyone who does it bound to come out on the losing side. It comes across as both a weapon and a coping mechanism. When faced with all the difficulties he has to deal in terms of physical ability and treatment from others, it’s easy to see how he would have sought anything that would make him stand out in a positive light. The fact that she chose to sharpen his mind and give as good as he gets in order to hold his own makes him one of the strongest characters we’ve met thus far.

Heather: Have you already seen the television series before reading the books? If yes, has it influenced how you read them?

I think I’m probably going to be in a minority here when I say that I haven’t seen the show at all. I’ve got a stubborn little corner of my brain that doesn’t like me to watch adaptations before I read the source material. So this is a great new adventure for me, and I’m coming in blind. I have no preconceptions beyond a few vague things I’ve heard mentioned online (like how rocks fall and everybody dies :p), and personally, I think it’s allowing me to read the books in a somewhat pure form. I have no images of actors of scenery in my mind beyond what my own mind is creating, no voices for characters that I’m not supplying for myself. And it’s a great experience, seeing tiny bits of the world unfold for me and knowing that it’s all new and exciting.

gameofthronesAllison: What do you think the names chosen for the direwolves say about the children’s personalities?

A surprising amount, and I’m sure that was intended. Robb naming his direwolf Grey Wind seemed somewhat uninspired, pretty but pompous, and I don’t know enough yet to see if that reflects the character or not. Sansa naming hers Lady seemed similarly uninspired, but more from a lack of imagination than anything else, and that tallies with what little I’ve seen of Sansa thus far.

Arya’s direwolf’s name of Nymeria and the story behind that name showed a lot about how Arya yearns for more than she’s getting, a life of adventure and meaning and a desire to go down in stories, where what she’s getting instead are needlework lessons and scoldings about how she’s just not as ladylike as she ought to be. Nymeria is her hope for something better, and I love that.

Bran’s direwolf, well…

The name of Rickon’s direwolf, Shaggydog, made me grin, because that is so what a toddler would name their suddenly-newfound pet.

And Jon Snow’s direwolf, Ghost, says volumes about him. Aside from the empathy he feels with the outcast of the litter, a ghost is something that’s there but isn’t, seen but unseen, and has more than a little taboo about it. Just like Jon himself. And I think that Snow shows off Jon’s personality in more than just name. Her silence makes me think that Jon is going to get overlooked until he can’t be anymore, until he does something too great to be ignored, and to gain him whatever place he feels is rightful.

…Can’t tell I really like Jon’s character, can you?

Ria: “[…] a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” What do you think about the veracity of Tyrion’s line there, especially in a world that seems to prize physical strength more highly than intelligence.

I need that quote on a t-shirt or something, because it just jumped right out of the pages and won’t let me go. I think that as much as this sentiment is true at any point, it’s especially notably in societies that tend to undervalue intelligence. Tyrion sharpening his mind on books gives him a place in a world that would otherwise dismiss him at best or heap cruelty upon cruelty at worse. He may not be able to wield a sword with any skill, but a sharp mind is an even greater gift.

Read what the others in the book club are saying! Jamie | Heather | Allison