|A Game of Thrones|
|George R.R. Martin|
|Bantam Spectra Books, 835 pages|
|A review by James Seidman|
I had been expecting this series to be a conflict between elemental forces of good and evil, like David Eddings' Belgariad or Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. However, A Game of Thrones is something quite different. While magic, fantastic creatures, and similar fantasy elements are present in small doses, the book really focuses on a complex multi-faceted conflict between several different groups.
Most of the story takes place in the Seven Kingdoms, which was united into one kingdom by a foreign conqueror three centuries ago. The last king in this conqueror's dynasty was so insanely cruel that about fifteen years before the story begins, a civil war placed Robert Baratheon on the throne. The last heirs of the old dynasty, a teenage boy and girl, live in exile with dreams of somehow reclaiming their throne from "The Usurper."
Robert's kingship remains tenuous, both because he is the first in his dynasty, and because he is a lousy administrator. When his most senior advisor dies mysteriously, he turns to his friend, Lord Eddard Stark, as a replacement. Stark reluctantly agrees to move to the capital, putting himself and his family at risk. He finds himself quickly drawn into the same web of intrigue and politics that may have doomed his predecessor.
Complicating matters further is the weather. While the people in the story do not understand the orbital eccentricities that govern the planet's climate, summer and winter can last for varying periods. The planet has enjoyed a decade of uninterrupted summer filled with bountiful harvests.
Only those living in the extreme north (like Stark) remember the dangers of the winters. Many evils accompany the cold weather, so much so that earlier generations built a huge wall of ice barricading the northern end of the realm. Summer is just starting to give way to autumn, and lore has it that long winters usually follow long summers. The defenses on the northern wall are inadequate, and cold weather seems a distant threat compared to the intrigues that threaten to rip the nation apart.
Several words of warning are in order regarding this book. First, the first several chapters are somewhat ponderous reading. Martin packs in so much background information that it's a struggle to absorb it all. A little patience is quickly rewarded however, as the book turns into a gripping story.
Second, no one could even mistake this for anything other than the first book in a series. The book ends with most of the plot lines unresolved. Many of the chapters exist more to set up material for future books than because they contribute to the action in this one. Since series like this often run about two years between volumes, it may be well into the next millennium before we find out how all of the issues started in A Game of Thrones are resolved.
Those issues aside, this is a marvelous, exquisitely written work. It is a rare author who can create such vivid characters, detailed settings, and suspenseful situations. The story was also surprisingly unpredictable, something I can't say about very many books. It definitely deserves the publicity it has received.
Copyright © 1997 James Seidman
James Seidman is co-founder and president of a small start-up company, which means that getting review copies of books is the only way he can afford to indulge his craving for science fiction. He lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs, and twenty-seven fish in Naperville, Illinois.
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