Pages read: 480 out of 674
It took a while – and I reserve the right to retract this statement in the future – but I am officially hooked on Game of Thrones. When I first blogged about this book, a lot of friends and readers gave me advice about how to approach this series (the most common was “Just watch the TV show, for God’s sake”), and one of the most useful suggestions was from my friend Mary, who compared George R.R. Martin’s sense of plotting to that of Dickens. Once Mary planted that idea in my head, I began seeing a lot of connections between this novel and novels like Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. Like Dickens, Martin requires his readers to be attentive and patient. He tags his characters early on (a dwarf, a man with “lilac” eyes, a man with horrific burn scars over most of his face, a man who is almost eight feet tall, etc.) and I know that I will be expected to remember them by these details when they re-appear.
Like Dickens, Martin structures the plot of his novel around a few interconnected rumors, mysteries and misunderstandings. Early on, Catelyn Stark receives a letter from her sister accusing “the Lannisters” and specifically “the queen” (53) of killing her husband, Jon Arryn. With Ned about to take on the job held by Jon before his death – the “Hand” of the king – Catelyn urges Ned to investigate these rumors. Most of Ned’s wanderings in the first half of the novel, when he spends time tracking down the king’s “bastards” and reading a book about genealogy that he suspects Jon Arryn was reading before he died, are motivated by this promise he made to Catelyn. This sleuthing leads Ned to the conclusion that King Robert is not the biological father of his three children by the queen, who has been sleeping with her brother since childhood (a fact we have had some awareness of ever since Bran accidentally stumbled upon the queen and her brother in a bedroom at Winterfell early in the novel). In spite of all of Ned’s legwork, his revelation about the parentage of the king’s heirs comes to him as a sudden epiphany as a result of an offhand comment from his daughter about the fact that the princes and princess are blonde, like their mother and uncle, while Robert and all of his “bastards” are dark-haired.
Another plot line involves Catelyn Stark’s kidnapping of Tyrion Lannister – dwarf, wiseass, and odd-man-out in his siblings’ sex lives. Early in the novel, an assassin tries to kill Bran Stark with a dagger reported to belong to Tyrion, so when Catelyn and her retinue come across Tyrion by accident, they take the initiative and kidnap him, taking him through some dangerous enemy territory to the Eyrie, which is where Jon Arryn’s widow lives with her coddled, sickly son Robert, who is now technically the lord of the manor. Martin’s conception of the Eyrie is wonderful – my favorite detail in the novel’s setting so far is the “sky cells” – tiny, isolated prison cells on the tops of pedestals hundreds of feet in the air. This kind of prison layout would be frowned upon by the U.N. Human Rights Commission, I think, but as a psychological torture device in a fictional fantasy novel, this detail is fascinating and well described.
I can’t quite get my brain around whether Tyrion is a good guy or a bad guy – in spite of the fact that he is one of the key point-of-view characters from whose perspective the novel is narrated. He regularly invokes his family’s money and power in order to gain favors, but he is generally reticent about his own thoughts about his family, and it’s no coincidence, I think, that he tends to travel around and has never yet been depicted in the actual physical presence of his family. Right now my gut tells me that he’s sort of a “Snape” figure, in that he looks and acts like a bad guy and is accepted in bad guy circles but hides the fact that his heart is actually benevolent. We’ll see.
I’m also becoming more and more aware that Martin is basing his fantasy world on England under the Plantagenets. I’m not suggesting that there is a one-to-one correspondence between historical personages and characters in the novel, but the names “Stark” and “Lannister” sound a bit too much like “York” and “Lancaster” not to ask the reader to consider this connection. Again, I don’t think there’s a one-to-one correspondence between characters, but Robert Arryn reminds me a little bit of Henry VI, who also came to his throne as a weak, sickly child, and it was the infighting between members of his family struggling over the right to rule as Henry’s regent that led to the Wars of the Roses, which bears a lot in common with what is going on now, as Ned is imprisoned for treason by representatives of Queen Cersei because he is trying to prevent the inbred Joffrey from becoming king and as the characters scheme, scatter, test the loyalty of their friends and relations, and generally prepare for war.
Oh, and there’s one more thing. There’s a Wall, and when people die north of the Wall, their bodies don’t decay. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the role of the men who serve in the Night’s Watch at the Wall, and I look forward to the upcoming chapters, when Martin will presumably flesh this plot line out a bit more.
There’s more, of course, but I’ll leave my other thoughts for my final review. Writing all of my thoughts now would cut into my reading time, and we definitely don’t want that.