A Game of Thrones: Book One of a Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (New York: Bantum Books, 1996. 720 pp)

George R. R. Martin is an American author and screenwriter of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Born in New Jersey, Martin earned a B.S. and M.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University. He began writing fiction in the early 1970s with his first works earning him a Hugo and Nebula award. In the 1980s, he began writing in Hollywood for the The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. Martin is best known for his critically acclaimed epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which was developed into Game of Thrones, an HBO television series.

The Consuming Quality of Role Playing Games

I have a friend who has metaphorically lost his life to World of Warcraft on multiple occasions. Fashioned around a fully realized fantasy world, World of Warcraft offered almost everything one would require in life. With an online community of support, my friend would play this computer game in marathon sessions as he battled enemy clans, bought and sold in the marketplace, and worked diligently to gain experience. Upon quitting the game (and selling his level 60 characters for a generous sum), my friend warned against the dangers of role-playing games (RPG) arguing that they remove individuals from reality by substituting in its place a fake world.
Similarly, despite my affinity toward sports video games, I find myself most often lost in an RPG. I can play a couple games of FIFA 12 and conclude my session in an hour. On the other hand, the RPGs I have owned impelled me to play for hour after hour until time melts into infinity.
For me, the draw to RPGs surrounds the concept of a universal made-up world. These games don’t focus on a single character in the world we know; they create from scratch an entirely separate plane.
To translate this illustration to literature, George R. R. Martin’s first installment in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, carries similar life engulfing qualities.
Biblically weighted at over 700 pages, A Game of Thrones comprehensively tells the story of a fictionalized world in three separate settings. The principle storyline follows murder and political intrigue that brews war in the united Seven Kingdoms. The protagonist, Eddard Stark (Ned) rules the northern state of the Seven Kingdoms from Winterfell.

Danger in the Seven Kingdoms

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Upon housing Robert Baratheon, king of the Seven Kingdoms, in Winterfell, Ned learns about the death of the lord holding the office titled “the Hand of the King” and King Robert’s resulting wish for Ned to fulfill that vacant office. While honored by the offer, Ned feels wary about the position, especially considering both the dubious death of the previous Hand and the untrustworthy nature of Queen Cersei and her powerful family of House Lannister.

Traveling south to the capital city of King’s Landing to fulfill the office, Ned encounters evidence of political espionage that forces tension as rival nobles quarrel for positioning in the event of the unfortunate death of the King.

The Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch

In the second storyline, Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow, swears an oath to the Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch. At the northernmost boundary of the Seven Kingdoms lies a 700-foot high and 300-mile-long wall fortifying the nation from the unruly and supernatural evils of the forest beyond the wall.
From legend, we learn that the forest is occupied by the children of the north, supernatural forces that bring life to dead men’s bones, and the darkness of winter.
By this last point it is important to note that this world experiences seasons in a remarkably different way than we normally do. For them, seasons last for years. In fact, currently, the Seven Kingdoms have lived in a 9-year-long summer. Seasons, as always, end; and the Stark family eerily pronounces that “winter is coming” at every turn of events.
Jon has sworn an oath with the Night’s Watch to protect the Seven Kingdoms from these evils beyond the wall as the winter darkness approaches. With summer comes hope and optimism; the purely horrific stories of winter have faded in citizen’s memories but Jon worries that the old wives’ tales of pure evil beyond the wall might be true.

A Dethroned King of the Dragons

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Finally, across the sea in the Free City of Pentos, Viserys Targaryen, deposed heir to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, lives in exile with his sister Daenerys (Dany). With the hope of compiling an army to retake the throne from “usurper” King Robert, Viserys weds his sister to Khal Drogo, a powerful leader of the Dothraki, a nation of nomadic horse warriors.

The Targaryen family is said to have come from Dragons and for her wedding, Dany receives three fossilized dragon eggs for a wedding gift. Much like the dinosaur bones we see in museums, dragons in this world only exist in memorialized story and in fossilized bones.

Beautiful Prose and the Disconnect of Power

Setting aside the dense plot, Martin writes colorfully about his setting. Discussing Winterfell, the castle in the north through which the Stark family rules, he writes,

“The gods of Winterfell kept a different sort of wood. It was a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. It smelled of moist earth and decay. No redwoods grew here. This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armored in grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, or ironwoods as old as the realm itself. Here thick black trunks crowded close together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil. This was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows, and the gods who lived here had no names” (18).

On top of the gorgeous writing that vividly depicts the setting of this story, Martin’s epic tale illustrates the evils of power and its disconnect with the common man.

“’The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,’ Ser Jorah told her. ‘It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.’ He gave a shrug. ‘They never are’” (196).

At the core of A Game of Thrones resides this very idea present in the previous quotation. Enemies to the north, the east, and at the center of the King’s court position themselves for the throne. Every step for each character leads them one step closer to open conflict and worldwide war.
With beautiful prose and an intriguing plot, Martin keeps the readers eyes glued to the page. Much like World of Warcraft consumed my friend into marathon sessions of game playing, A Game of Thrones kept me up at night as I found myself reading one more chapter; and then one more chapter; and then one more chapter. Of course, A Game of Thrones, like many RPGs, is not for everyone. I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy epic literature and fantasy novels.

Verdict: 5 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards
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