Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Complicated. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is complicated. It is hard to appreciate the amount of effort that went into developing the structure of this narrative. After having read A Game of Thrones, that is the one truth of this book that stands out to me. It is a complexity of necessity as G.R.R.M. slowly pulls the curtains up on the theater that is A Song of Ice and Fire.
The complexity of the narrative is centered on the myriad viewpoints and characters that pack the story lines to bursting. Each chapter is titled and centered on the viewpoint of a single character with an extraordinary eight distinct points of view to be juggled by the reader. Taken at face value, it is rare to see an author attempt to develop so many primary characters to say nothing of the myriad secondary characters. Rarer still to be successful.

To make things even more difficult, the age range of these characters is enormous, from small children to age adults. Although one of my few critiques of A Game of Thrones is that the children do not seem to be children but adults with a smaller world view. This very well could be intentional as I am not sure what entertainment could be had from a true recreation of a child’s point of view.

The primary effect of this narrative division is to quickly build up the substance of the fictional world of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms in particular. You are exposed to wide diversity of viewpoints. There are no hard, good vs evil, lines drawn. Each of the characters has their own motivations and reasons for such. In short, it is one gigantic blog of political intrigue. The warp and weft is textured and patterned intricately.

The chapters themselves tend to be fairly short. Afterall, even with a nearly 700 page book, with so many characters things will need to move at a brisk pace narratively speaking. This itself serves two points. It keeps the reader engaged with lively and quickly shifting viewpoints and hides the fact that not much of anything is actually happening.

This statement is relative and must be taken in context. Via the viewpoints of the main characters, the world is spinning wildly out of control. The established order is lurching about mortally wounded. People are dying. Yet, when taken in context of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, they are the petty affairs of small kingdoms.

Jon Snow’s viewpoint obliquely hints at the coming winter and the stirring of ancient enemies. Daenerys Targaryen plots the restoration of her family’s mastery of The Seven Kingdoms. But these are all far off goals. In the meantime, The Seven Kingdoms are embroiled in bitter politically rivalries; so keen on their own ambitions they have lost sight of the larger picture.

This is why the complexity of the novel is so breathtaking and brilliant. A Game of Thrones is nothing more than the setup , the opening gambit, the prologue of a longer opus. As drastic as the changes seem main characters, they are nothing as compared to the future. These forthcoming calamities cast a long shadow over the narrative, letting the reader know that something is coming even if the narrative’s characters may not realize this truth.

In the meantime, G.R.R.M. infuses the story with wit and charm. The dialog is sharp. The viewpoints are distinct. There is a tangible difference between each character. Even better, each character is sympathetic in their own way. Yes, the Stark’s are the nominal “heroes” but the Lannister’s have perfectly understandable motivations. The Stark’s are not always the most honorable and the Lannister’s not always the most avaricious. This simple fact, that everything is layered in shades of grey, just showcases a level of mastery at writing that I seldom encounter.

So, A Game of Thrones was a difficult but enjoyable read. It is not the typical fantasy. It may be clothed in the trappings of Medieval Western Europe but it is something far different. The lack of obvious magic only serves to enhance the impact of the Others and the pending Long Night. The narrative abuses it’s characters. Loss, misery and isolation abound. There is an enormous cast and set of viewpoint to manage. Yet, in all of this complexity there is pleasure to be found for all of it works in harmony; guiding the reader to the future. A future in which winter is coming. I for one look forward to it.

Random House: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Image Source: Random House
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0553381689

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