Jul 27, 2010

A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones

"We should start back," Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. "The wildlings are dead."
    "Do the dead frighten you?" Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.
   Gared did not rise the bait. He was an old man, past fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. "Dead is dead," he said. "We have no business with the dead."

These are the words with which George R.R. Martin starts the prologue for A Game of Thrones, the first of seven planned books of a saga called A song of Ice and Fire, and they only give the tiniest of the clues of what is to come. 
In this first novel Martin begins to create such a complex world and set of characters that it would be really hard to explain without actually experiencing it. Or, at least, the enterprise would take many pages in order to create a good enough synopsis. 

In A Song of Ice and Fire Martin takes us to the fictional world of Westeros. It is a world created in some way after Medieval Europe where the seasons last for decades. When the story begins we soon learn that there exists a huge background to it which we will slowly learn through the words and the memories of the main characters, and which bears a huge importance in how the plot will develop from the point where we start reading.
House Stark banner
When I started reading this book, it quickly caught my eye for some different reasons. Every chapter is written through the eyes of one specific character in a third person limited point of view. The tone and style of the narration will vary depending on who is the main character in each moment: a grown woman, a little girl, and adolescent, a warrior, a king... The big number of main and secondary characters creates a huge amount of personalities interacting with their different motivations in the complex and cruel Seven Kingdoms, something which contributes to the richness of a plot that is really different from which we could be used to when we think of epic fantasy novels. It is not, however, underage reading. Martin's depiction of violence and sex, for example, are crude and realistic. These and other themes and issues that appear on the saga make it a really mature work which is a great distance away from other epic fantasy novels such as The Lord of the Rings, which works for all kinds of readers while A Song of Ice and Fire does not.

House Lannister banner
But what is so different about it? First of all, and probably its most mind-blowing feature is the way in which Good and Evil are presented. When at the beginning of the story the author introduces the first characters to us, we could easily feel compelled to think that we are distinguishing in them the classic characteristic features which make them heroes or villains... a main character who will prevail through the story and villains who will eventually be defeated. But there is nothing farther from reality. From my experience with these books, what makes Martin a master in the genre is his ability to trick you into believing that you are starting to discern what is happening. He uses your own preconceptions and experience from other works that you might have read before to make you believe that you are starting to foresee an exit to the spiral of chaos and sense of oppression towards which the plot has been turning to. That is when he hits you. In that specific moment some tremendous event will take place and blow away everything you believed and whatever development of the story you might have imagined. And you simply cannot stop reading. This is just one of the reasons why I have found this saga so fascinating that after four pusblished volumes of around 600 - 700 pages per book I am still looking forward to the publication of A Dance with Dragons, and I think that I will feel the same before the seventh and last volume comes out.

Jaime Lannister on
the Iron Throne
Without giving any spoilers about the plot, I will just repeat one of the senteces with which The Guardian described the book in their review: Its ambition: to construct the Twelve Caesars of fantasy fiction, with characters so venomous they could eat the Borgias. This summarizes, somehow, the intricacies of the plot, the schemes and battles that take place in the struggle for the Iron Throne. Two main families, House Stark and House Lannister, will be the core around which the events of one of the three main plots of the saga revolves.

The second storyline deals with the events happening to the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch, those who defend and maintain The Wall (a 480 km long and 210 m. tall wall of ice and gravel which separates Westeros from the unknown lands of the uttermost north and the threat of The Others).

The third storyline narrates the life of Daenerys Targaryen in a different continent set to the east. Through the eyes and thoughts of Daenerys, the last heir of House Targaryen, and also from characters who appear in the other two storylines, we learn how her family conquered and ruled Westeros until fifteen years before the point when we start reading. As the Targaryens had been removed from power in a cruel civil war against an alliance of houses led by House Baratheon, Arryn and Stark, Daenerys' ultimate goal is to reclaim her right to the Iron Throne.

The Wall
Right now would be an excellent chance to give it a try if you haven't already, as HBO is putting together what seems to be a high budget TV series about A Song of Ice and Fire, and at least the first season is going to be called after the first volume of the saga: A Game of Thrones. News about it and the novels can be found regularly in George R.R. Martin's Not a Blog, and the series looks like it is going to be something big as they count with famous names like Sean Bean among others. I hope that they create something worth watching that keeps the spirit of the novels. It, at least for now, seems so. Martin has worked on the scripts and the first images seem to be promising.

The studio is releasing the series next year, so we still have time to do some reading before it happens. I myself will be busy with A Dance with Dragons as soon as it becomes available, that is for sure... For now, take a look at the first teaser trailer of the series:


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