A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
I’ve drunk mare’s milk before. It’s strange, thick, and a little sour, but mostly what I remember is that it was like drinking the milk left in the bowl after finishing my breakfast of Lucky Charms.
I didn’t think I would develop a connection to George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones based on the traditional drink of the country I grew up in, but as I read the story and followed Daenarys Targaryen through her chapters, there was a sense of understanding and even empathy towards her character as she assimilated into her new home. Besides mare’s milk (kumis), I have eaten horse (Beshbarmak and and other dishes), and lived among a traditionally nomadic people group that love horses. Even some of the terms GRRM created for his fictional people the Dothraki had a very Kazakh tone to them (Kazakh Khanate).
In fact, it seems rather appropriate that I read A Game Of Thrones during the month of March, as it is the month in which Nauryz, the Kazakh New Year, is celebrated. (It’s such an important holiday that the Kazakhs just named the entire month of March Nauryz.)
Of course, as I was soon to discover, any sort of connection, be it an interest in a character or a surprising understanding of the book’s world and cultures, was almost always circumvented by some sort of betrayal. I was very much interested in Daenarys and the Dothraki at first, but by the end they made my stomach churn.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin has created a genuine masterpiece, bringing together the best the genre has to offer. Mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure fill the pages of the first volume in an epic series sure to delight fantasy fans everywhere.
In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the North of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
Setting: A Game of Thrones is set in the fantasy world of Westeros and Essos. Westeros is in the west, and is home to the Seven Kingdoms, a unified government made up nine regions, (seven ancient kingdoms): the North, the Iron Islands, the Vale, the Riverlands, the Westerlands, the Reach, the Stormlands, the Crownlands, and Dorne. The capital of the Seven Kingdoms is King’s Landing, from where King Robert Baratheon rules from the Iron Throne.
The Wall stands guard in the northernmost part of the Seven Kingdoms, from where the Night’s Watch protects the Seven Kingdoms from raiding Wildlings and the Others.
Essos to the east is the home of the Dothraki. It’s where Daenarys Targaryen and her brother Viserys have taken refuge, first in the Free Cities and then as a part of Khal Drogo’s khalasar.
Houses & Characters: There are so many characters in A Game of Thrones it would be impossible to share a little about all of them. It’s easier to discuss the major families and houses.
(Mad King Aerys)
Rhaegar – Viserys – Daenarys = Khal Drogo
Once the rulers of Westeros, the Targaryens have fallen low. After Robert Baratheon leads a revolution against Mad King Aerys II, during which King Aerys, his son Rhaegar, and Rhaegar’s children are killed, the two surviving Targaryens, Viserys and his sister Daenarys, live in exile in Essos. A Game Of Thrones begins with Daenarys marrying Khal Drogo, the leader of a Dothraki Khalasar. As part of the marriage alliance, Khal Drogo has promised Viserys an army that will help the would-be king seize the Iron Throne.
The Essos chapters in A Game of Thrones are told from Daenarys’ point of view.
King Robert Baratheon = Queen Cersei Lannister
Prince Joffrey – Princess Myrcella – Prince Tommen
Queen Cersei Lannister – Ser Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer – Tirion Lannister
After the fall of the House of Targaryen, Robert Baratheon is crowned king of the Seven Kingdoms. He marries Cersei of House Lannister, and they have three children. Although at one time Robert was a powerful and fearless leader, at the start of A Game of Thrones he has grown fat and sloth. He does not command respect from his children, and his ambitious in-laws, the Lannisters, have an enormous amount of influence on him and the government.
Very early on I discovered that while there are many antagonists in A Game of Thrones, the Lannisters are the villains. At least in this story.
Although there are many (overlapping) members of the Baratheon and Lannister houses, Tyrion Lannister is the only character with a chapter told from his point of view.
Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark = Lady Catelyn Tully
Robb – Sansa – Arya – Bran – Rickon
If I had to choose a protagonist of A Game of Thrones, I’d say it’s probably Ned Stark, the lord of Winterfell in the North. Ned is an extremely honorable man, perhaps the only person in all of Westeros who is good and who adheres to a moral code.
A Game of Thrones follows Ned as he accepts the role of the king’s Hand, the second highest position in the Seven Kingdoms. Ned has suspicions as to how the former Hand died, and he proceeds to investigate.
Ned’s family finds itself scattered throughout the land. His eldest son, Robb, is left in charge of Winterfell with his mother Catelyn and his younger brothers Bran and Rickon. Ned’s daughters Sansa and Arya travel with their father to King’s Landing. Sansa Stark is betrothed to King Robert’s son and heir, Joffrey.
Jon Snow, Ned’s bastard son, and the one blemish on Ned’s honorable life, joins the Night’s Watch and heads north to the Wall. The true mother of Jon Snow is one of A Game of Thrones’ mysteries (and indeed the entire series, according to my friends who have read further).
Ned, Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Jon each have chapters told from their point of view.
What’s Good About A Game of Thrones
- I really enjoyed reading Jon, Arya, and Bran’s chapters. Jon Snow is a very compelling character, and GRRM knows how to write realistic teenagers and children. Each of these characters has a distinct voice and their chapters are limited in terms of their maturity and understanding. In Arya and Bran’s chapters, this causes the story to take on a rather whimsical aspect, especially as Bran’s psyche is unable to properly process what happens to him.
- I found the hints about Rhaegar and the events that occurred before Robert took the Iron Throne to be very interesting. I’d rather have read that story.
- Tyrion Lannister and his older brother Jaime are rather immoral characters but very compelling. Tyrion, with his own chapters, is extremely cunning and has a sharp wit. At first, I didn’t care for Jaime at all. Early on in the story a rather disturbing part of his character is revealed, and I was immediately opposed to him. However, his devil-may-care attitude made him perhaps the most appealing of the Lannisters. Plus, he’s known as the Kingslayer, which is a pretty awesome nickname.
- The Others. I would read an entire series just about the Others that haunt the world past the Wall. The prologue and Jon Snow’s chapter towards the end where he confronts one of the Others were two of my favorite chapters.
What’s Bad About A Game of Thrones
- There are too many characters. Each chapter is told from the perspective of the differing characters, and while that makes things interesting and offers different takes on the course of the story, it also makes reading the story frustrating. The characters I was most interested in had limited storylines, while Ned’s little detective mystery, as one of my friends so accurately described it, was rather obvious to me from the start. I found his chapters (and Catelyn’s) tedious, even though I understand that they are the catalyst for the series.
- The lack of hope and the abundance of selfishness: I’ve heard this story compared to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and while I can understand such comparisons, there is one huge difference: The Lord of the Rings, although so very bleak at times, still maintained a sense of hope and justice because it had characters who were honorable and believed in something greater than themselves. The characters in A Game of Thrones are either reactive or deceptive, every one acting in the best interests of themselves. I might like some of them, but there’s so much negativity and immorality. I’ve been told I’m not really supposed to like the characters, which I think is stupid. I don’t want to spend hours, days, months reading about characters who instill feelings of anger and hate within me.
- There wasn’t much of a plot. The first book is really just one very long introduction to the rest of the series. There were about 3 times when I found myself caught off guard, but most of the story seemed transparent, and I think it was because it was just buildup for the rest of the series. I personally don’t like it when such books make up a series. A book should have a beginning, middle, and end, whether it’s the first in the series or the last.
- Winter. It’s always Winter and never Christmas, and apparently it’s just going to get even more Winter as the books go on. When reading A Game of Thrones, especially during a long winter, one should dress warmly and huddle under multiple blankets clutching a hot water bottle. Like I did.
I’m glad that I read this first book. I was interested in it, and it satisfied my curiosity. The series is just not for me. On it’s own, the negativity and immorality within the novel is bearable, but when my friends and coworkers tell me that it gets worse, I can’t bring myself to read another six books. I don’t need that taking up space in my mind, heart, and soul.
I complained while reading this book that it was really long, and it is. However, I’ve read long books before. I don’t have a problem reading books that are hundreds and hundreds of pages long. I have a problem when they’re mentally and spiritually exhausting.
I don’t think I’ll continue reading the series. Maybe I’ll change my mind at some point in the future, but I really just have no interest in it.
Really, all I want to do is wait until the final book is published and then read the Wikipedia synopsis. Because I do have theories, and I’d be interested in hearing if my theories are correct.
In fact, here are my theories, just so I can put them out there, and later we’ll see if I was right. Ready? Beware of spoilers.
Jon Snow is not the bastard son of Ned Stark and some other woman, but instead the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister. It’s clear from the get-go that there is a reason for hiding the identity of Jon’s mother. It’s glossed over as simply that Catelyn and Ned don’t like talking about Ned’s indiscretion, but seeing as Ned is such an honorable man, it seems out of character for him to have fathered an illegitimate child.
Ned’s sister Lyanna was originally betrothed to Robert Baratheon. At some point before the start of the novel, Lyanna was apparently abducted by Rhaegar Targaryen, the crown prince, and raped. This is one of the reasons why Robert fought and overthrew the Targaryens. Several times in A Game of Thrones, Ned mentions his sister’s death and a promise he gave her. He does not go into many details, but as I was reading, I came to believe first that Lyanna had died from sickness. Later Ned described her lying in a “bed of blood” — which in my mind can only mean two things: Lyanna died from being brutally raped, or Lyanna died in childbirth.
Later on in the story there is mention of childbirth, and the phrase “bed of blood” is used once more.
Rhaegar’s wife and children were cruelly killed in the course of the war, and his siblings Viserys and Daenarys had to flee for their lives. It is also mentioned that Cersei has had some of her husbands illegitimate children murdered. A child of Rhaegar and Lyanna would be a threat to the throne, but a threat that could easily be handled.
I think Ned’s promise was to raise Jon and protect him. The easiest thing–and most in character of Ned–would be for Ned to let everyone think poorly of him and have it believed that Jon is his son.
So why is that important? Because at the end of A Game of Thrones, contenders begin to vie for the throne. The series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. Obviously, Daenarys Targaryen, with her dragons, is the “fire” in the series. Jon Snow, with such a surname and living in the wintery North is the “ice.” I think eventually it will come down to just Jon and Daenarys and the Iron Throne. Either they will have to fight each other for it, or they’ll just do what Targaryens do and marry each other for it.
That’s all I got.