George R. R. Martin





Book One of A Song Of Ice And Fire
Bantam, 1996
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

In the Seven Kingdoms, winter is no momentary hardship. Summer has already lasted more than ten years, and winter is expected to be at least as long. In winter, dead-alive beings from the cold country will have time to take over the Seven Kingdoms, if they are allowed. During the long summers, children grow up who have never seen one of the Others, and there are many people who have forgotten they exist.

In the Seven Kingdoms, the preoccupation is ruling-class politics. King Robert, under whose leadership the mad king Aerys II and his family were deposed, is busy roistering. He is leaving the governing to his representative, the King’s Hand, and his council. Robert hates his ambitious queen Cersei, but he does nothing to control her as she positions her family, the Lannisters, to take over the Kingdoms. People have begun dying by poison, and the whisperers know who is responsible.

Obviously the Lannisters will have to be opposed. The one clear leader among the nobles is Eddard Stark, Warden of the North. Eddard was at Robert’s side as King Aerys was conquered, and unlike Robert, he has retained his honor and integrity. Robert promotes Eddard to King’s Hand, to rule the Kingdoms and create a balance of power with the Lannisters. That makes two rivals for power in the Kingdoms. Across the sea are two children of King Aerys. The daughter Daenerys has married a powerful lord of the Horse People, in a deal meant to win their family’s throne back. That makes three. And have you forgotten the Others? Just about everybody in the Kingdoms has, except the Black Watch. The Black Watch is strung inadequately out across the northern Wall, against the time when the Others will again attempt to overrun the Kingdoms.

This is an overview of a complex situation. Author George R.R. Martin doesn’t describe it the way I have. He tells the story by having eight people live it for us. Simplified down to one personal viewpoint at a time, each sees a different portion of events.

Eddard Stark, dragged reluctantly from the North to control a situation Robert has already allowed to go too far.
Catelyn Stark, Eddard’s wife, forced to deal with an attack that drives her into a premature offense.
Sansa Stark, Eddard’s daughter, betrothed to the crown prince Joffrey, blissful because he looks just like her dreams of the perfect knight.
Tyrion Lannister, the queen’s younger brother, a bitter dwarf whose cleverness is bent on winning respect by any means necessary.
Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of King Aerys, sold into a marriage alliance by her brother Viserys, finds more potential in herself than anyone ever expected.
Bran Stark, Eddard’s younger son, crippled in the Lannister attack that ultimately leads to war.
Arya Stark, Eddard’s rebellious younger daughter, on the run from a Lannister vendetta, which she ignited when she forced Joffrey to expose his true nature.
Jon Snow, Eddard’s illegitimate son, hasn’t forgotten the Others. They are his problem. He is in the Black Watch.

A GAME OF THRONES is a masterly interweaving of all these elements and more, so vividly written you can’t look away. At 800 pages, there is plenty of room for characters to evolve, country to be explored, and mysteries to emerge. The last page is definitely not a stopping place, so have the sequel A CLASH OF KINGS ready. The throne of the Kingdoms is up for grabs.

Sep 2003 Review


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