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?