I picked up a copy of the Game of Thrones book, fully prepared to face the notorious sex, violence, and immoral acts it was purported to have. Thus, I thought nothing of the cheating wife, the incest, or of the kid being thrown off a tower. I have read far worse in contemporary and historical fiction. Yet when I reached the inevitable death of an innocent, golden-eyed wolf pup at the reluctant hands of its master's father, I felt a tugging of heartstrings. It was then that I realized that George RR Martin can spin a good yarn – one that entangles you in its fine threads before you realize what's happening.
If you are expecting a hardcore fantasy epic, you will find the Game of Thrones book sadly lacking. There is nothing Westeros and its Seven Kingdoms have to offer that you cannot find in any other medieval setting, save for seasons that last years and the mysterious beings called the 'Others' lurking beneath the great Wall in the north. Instead, Martin offers a different kind of fantasy, one that focuses more on the human aspect of the story. Take away the dragons and the magic and you will find that the gritty human nature is still there, driving the main plot of political intrigue, conflicts, and ambition that compel a person to commit acts of murder, rape, or worse.
Still, it has enough fantastical elements in the form of knights, dragons, kings and queens, princes and princesses, and the whispers of magic working behind the scenes. It is War of the Roses in a fantasy world. For someone who enjoys reading both fantasy and historical fiction, Martin's masterpiece is a godsend.
I admit that close to 800 pages is a lot of take in, even for the most avid of readers. Thankfully, Martin's talent is in producing words that provide enough information, but stops short of being tedious. While Martin will not win awards for beautiful prose, his writing keeps the reader engaged. The book never feels dragging and I appreciate more a writer who can keep my attention until the end rather than one who waxes lyrical.
The best and most frustrating thing about the book is that the story is told from eight different perspectives, with each perspective held within a chapter. Just as you start relating to a character and are eager to see what happens to him (or her), you find yourself thrown off for a number of chapters. Yet Martin's character development is also what makes the books so enjoyable to read. His way of creating three-dimensional characters with a great deal of depth, feeling, and back story is what keeps the readers from getting bored. The determination of the 13-year-old exiled princess and child-bride, Dany; the bleak coming-of-age story of the bastard, Jon Snow, at the northern Wall; the raw emotions of young, tomboyish Arya at King's Landing; the noble intentions of Eddard Stark amidst a court of mummers; and the sarcastic wit of the impish Tyrion Lannister are but a few of the assorted cast of players you will find yourself rooting for in this bloody game of thrones.