Initial Thoughts on Game of Thrones (by Bethany)

game of thrones cover image

Pages read: 133 of 674

I don’t know how productive it will be for me to write multiple reviews of Game of Thrones here on the blog. I’m assuming that I’m one of the last few sentient beings on earth who is not already familiar with the books and/or the TV series, so I don’t have any pretensions that my reviews will “help” anyone understand the books or decide whether to read them. To be honest, the person who most stands to benefit from the reviews is me, since if I write detailed summaries and reactions to each book I can use them to refresh my memory when I’m 400 pages into the third book and the guy with the lilac eyes comes back and I can’t remember who he is. But here’s the thing: I have absolutely nothing to say about the first 133 pages of this book. This is not a normal state of affairs for me – normally I can find something to say about anything I read (and a fair bit about books I haven’t read too). But this book is the literary equivalent of a baked potato: it’s inoffensive and straightforward but bland and only minimally nutritious.

Humor me while I summarize: Eddard Stark is the patriarch of Winterfell, which is to say that he’s the lord of the manor, so to speak, and he has a variety of family members and children and other shady characters surrounding him in the expected concentric circles of feudalism. Keep in mind when I say “shady characters” that this is a relative term. The characters who surround some of the other power brokers in this novel are much, much shadier. Eddard is definitely a “good guy” – or as close to a good guy as I imagine this series is capable of. At this point, Eddard reminds me a lot of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, in that he’s an upright, moral character who has made a decision to be the second-in-command to a more powerful man (kings in both cases), a role that will require him to compromise his honest and gentle nature from time to time. In the case of Eddard, the current King, Robert Baratheon, is a life-long friend, and upon the death – likely by foul play – of Jon Arryn, Robert’s previous “Hand,” Eddard reluctantly accepts this position, which he knows will complicate his life in all kinds of unpleasant ways.

Eddard and his wife Catelyn have five children – Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon. When Eddard travels south to serve as the king’s Hand, he brings Sansa and Arya with him. Sansa is betrothed to King Robert’s oldest son Joffrey, although there has recently been an incident involving Arya, Joffrey, a wooden club, a sword, and a “direwolf” that may have soured Joffrey to Arya’s older sister – we will have to see what becomes of this incident as time goes on. Sansa and Arya have the same kind of diametrically-opposed personalities that sisters in literature always seem to have: Arya is the Laura Ingalls to Sansa’s Mary; the Jo March to Sansa’s Meg; the Ramona Quimby to Sansa’s Beezus. Back in Winterfell, Bran is in a coma following a free-climbing accident (please note that this appears to be an “accident” in the Richard III sense of the word: Bran’s injury seems to be payback of some kind for the killing of Jon Arryn and/or a power play by someone or other – I’ll get back to you on this). His mother never leaves his side until an incident happens to convince her that Bran’s fall was no accident, and then she sets out on a mysterious errand. Oldest son Robb is manning the fort back at Winterfell (the family has a rule – There must always be a Stark at Winterfell – that strikes me as implicit foreshadowing: sooner or later there won’t be a Stark at Winterfell and bad things will ensue, right?) and we are told that three year-old Rickon mostly just wanders around and whines. Rickon hasn’t had much screen time yet, so I haven’t yet witnessed said whining first hand.

Before the novel begins, Robert Baratheon – with help from some trusted (and not-so-trusted) friends – forcefully removed the previous king from power, and of course this was an unpopular decision in certain quarters. Most of the Targaryen family – the relatives of the usurped king – are dead, but there is still a super-creepy guy named Viserys slinking around, and it appears that he has just sold his thirteen year-old sister to someone who is possibly even more evil than he is in exchange for the promise of a crown of his own sometime in the future. I’m thinking that his scary new brother-in-law might not be the most trustworthy of persons, but who knows? Maybe I’m just cynical.

These basics of plot and character are truly all that I have to tell you about Game of Thrones. I have nothing to say about Martin’s writing style, and while I don’t really like any of the characters, I don’t dislike any of them either, except for maybe Viscerys and his scary brother-in-law – but even them I dislike in very ordinary and boring ways. Even more strangely – in 133 pages I detected not one syllable of humor. Everything that happens is relayed with the same grim intensity. On a scale of 1 to 10, this book is precisely a five. No more, no less. I suspect I’m in for a long-term diet of baked potatoes. Tasteless white starch – Mmmm. Bring it on.

P.S. None of the weirdly-spelled character names in this novel were picked up by spellcheck. Is this series really so woven into our culture that its characters’ names are in the dictionary? Is it just me or is that kind of creepy?

This entry was posted in Authors, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, George R.R. Martin, Reviews by Bethany. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Initial Thoughts on Game of Thrones (by Bethany)

  1. MarySF says:

    Baked potato is right. However, I will say that it’s a lot like Dickens, if all Dickens’ novels were interconnected in a fantasy realm and if Dickens used substantially less impressive vocabulary. Like Dickens, Martin spends a lot– and I do mean a lot– of time setting up his dominoes so that he can knock them down to spectacular plot-whizzing effect. I read the books in during a petulant summer fit after the series season ended on a cliffhanger. The series is different from the books, but in many ways better than the books. I think watching the series would enhance your ability to enjoy Martin’s writing (and the ludicrous diction that is apparently required by the fantasy genre).

    • bedstrom says:

      Yes, I meant to mention the diction – the pseudo-formal nonsense! If the series is better than the books, wouldn’t that just make me less interested in the books? I’ll probably watch it eventually – for now I think I’ll just keep going with the books until I get fed up – and go from there.

      • MarySF says:

        Martin loves to combine the following words indiscriminately: honey, flower, fire, wine, stone, flame, ice. Fireflower! Flowerflame! Winestone! Honeywine! Firewine! Flowerfire! Iceflower! I began to yell the combinations aloud whenever I encountered them.

      • bedstrom says:

        This is hilarious – I will definitely be quoting you next time I update on the book.

  2. MarySF says:

    Also, I think the main reason that the series is often better than the books is that the series requires merciless editing, which Martin’s publisher clearly never required.

    • bedstrom says:

      In many ways I see Martin’s series as the “male” equivalent of the Diana Gabaldon books, which suffer from the same problem and are of terribly uneven quality as the series goes on. Both of their editors need to grow a set of balls.

  3. Malcolm McGannon says:

    It’s difficult for me to extricate my having already read the books and reassembled their events in diegetic-chronological order from your current review. Thus, it’s hard to not spoil plot points– I can’t remember what events are actually presented when. Rest assured that Bran’s fall will become a lot more interesting in terms of plot significance (I could have sworn you’d already have gotten there, but I guess I’m confused), and Daenerys’ new husband is actually, as the popular parlance is, “a pretty chill guy”.

    133 pages down! Only 2500+ over this and another four books to go!

    Also, while I’m not advocating the television adaptation (fallen as it has into the pit of softcore-pornography, blood-and-gore spectacle to keep pulling in viewers), watching it roughly concurrently with the books did wonders for me in terms of keeping track of who the hell was who. Put a face to the name, and all that.

    • bedstrom says:

      I don’t especially mind spoilers, so if you want to mention something, that’s fine – and in general I assume that the events taking place at the beginning are going to develop more significance as the series goes on. Almost every comment I’ve gotten, both online and in real life, has recommended that I watch the series, and I think sooner or later I will. Does it make sense to watch the first season after book one and so forth, or do they not really line up like that?

  4. badkitty1016 says:

    I think that the seasons of the series line up with the books pretty well from what i’ve been told. I know that season six is pending and they’re going to have to deviate from the books because book six hasn’t been published yet. I believe I have read precisely five pages of this book, and I was hopelessly confused after reading it. I’m glad to have your updates to fall back on whenever I get around to reading these books…. 🙂

  5. bedstrom says:

    You probably read the prologue. I also read it several times over the last 2-3 years. Even after reading it so many times, it took forever for me to figure out who everyone was and what was going on – and then those characters never appear again in the first 133 pages. No big deal – I know it will all make sense eventually.

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