Read and or listened to the audiobook in 2017 on 1/25 to page 199, on 2/1 to page 260, on 2/14 to page 387, on 2/28 to page 479, on 3/8 to page 563 on 3/19 to the end. I really liked it but my recommendation is with reservations.
Yes, it is a great series (I’ve read them all previously, this is a second read), and no, I do not recommend the series. I do not believe the series will ever conclude. In fact, the reason I decided to re-read the series is that I think, my memory isn’t my strong suit, that the HBO series has shown the story beyond the end of his last book. I’m uncertain, so I’m reading again.
You may read dozens of reviews of this book and have as many different opinions regarding what this book is about. Robert Baratheon is king (and multiple other titles), and Jon Arryn, is Hand to the King (and multiple other titles). The Hand of the King is the virtual ruler of the seven kingdoms, appointed by the King as head of his small group of councilors. Jon Arryn dies and by many is suspected to have been murdered.
After Arryn’s death, King Baratheon calls on his old friend, Eddard Stark, Lord of the North (and multiple other titles) to serve as Hand of the King. Eddard is the epitome of duty, honesty, an honor, and doesn’t want the job but is ordered to take the position by the King. Despite Eddard’s reputation as a warrior and many other things, he is not privy to all the underlying schemes, plots, and intrigue of the palace court, so comes into the job with a naive innocence, trusting or believing that everyone has the same ethics and morality as he practices.
While adjusting to his new position he undertakes a quiet and subtle investigation to the rumors that the previous Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, was murdered and eventually learns of some of the ongoing treachery against the King. At the time he becomes certain of this treason the King is away from the castle hunting. Eddard keeps the news secret, waiting to tell the King privately to allow the King to make the decisions that must be made that may bring chaos to the seven kingdoms. This is also the same reason he believes Jon Arryn was murdered. He too must have learned of the treason. So now the Lord of the North, Eddard Stark, finds himself embroiled in the Game of Thrones he never wanted to play.▼
Yes, it is a good book, a little slow and complex making it only four stars but here’s why I’m reluctant to recommend the series. I’ve read a lot of long book series. Most of the series I’ve read of these decade (plus) long projects have a new book out every year to eighteen months. Here is the publishing history of “Song of Ice and Fire” series: A Game of Thrones (1996), A Clash of Kings (1998), A Storm of Swords (2000), A Feast for Crows (2005), A Dance with Dragons (2011), The Winds of Winter (forthcoming), A Dream of Spring (forthcoming).
George was born in 1948 and he’s been working on the HBO series for several years now which likely limits or eliminates any of his “book writing” time. He had become a joke in the reading community before the HBO series for his lack of productivity. The point of all this prattle is to back up my belief the series will never conclude. I believe the HBO series will conclude, and I don’t think they will leave off with some giant cliff hanger like so many canceled series do. If you’re going to read the books just understand you may never know how it ends. Also, this book doesn’t really end. It sort of comes to a breath holding dramatic high point and the next page is the Appendix about the great families of the series. From seeing the end of the last HBO show (in 2016) a person may guess the conclusion of at least one of the primary plot lines but not the entire series, A Song of Fire and Ice.
But you want to know about this book, the Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones is the first book in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series. Each chapter is titled by the name of one of the main point of view characters: Bran, Catelyn, Daenerys, Eddard, Jon, Arya, Tyrion, Jon, and Sansa. Each of these characters have their own stories or plot lines within an overall plot. Each view point character also have their own antagonist and related characters that could almost be pulled out into an individual story.
Essentially the primary thrust of this book is foundation work for the larger series. There are a massive number of characters who have complex relationships to groups of characters, families, land or kingdoms. There are hints of threats far bigger than multiple historic families seeking to increase the position of their power in the seven kingdoms, that are at the beginning of the book are united into one kingdom.
That alone would be a massively boring book to read, and since it is largely introduction, the pace may seem a bit slow for some people. It really isn’t “slow” though. Each of the 72 chapters has something interesting, dramatic, and moves the larger story forward. I suggest if you are reading this book, don’t get lazy in paying attention to every paragraph. It is easy to skim through slower parts of any book, but I assure you that you can miss minor details that later in the story become massively important bits of information in this series. To continue with my vague, non-spoiler, part of this review, I’ve been waiting for a reveal of some “secret” knowledge for years. There are a couple paragraphs in this book, within the length of one page, that answer the internal question I’ve been pondering since very early in the book, the first time I read it. Had I known what to look for, or had a better memory, the question to this nagging issue I have thought about for years, is in plain sight.
One thing Mr. Martin is infamous about is his willingness to eliminate primary characters from his story. If you are in the Game of Thrones, as Cersi tells Eddard at one point, “You either win or you die.” Not everyone is actually aiming at the Iron Throne, built out of the melted down swords of defeated enemies, but Mr. Martin creates unavoidable circumstances that drag everyone, interested or disinterested in the iron throne, into the Game of Thrones.
►The King returns to the castle barely alive after being gutted by a wild bore. The king hastily makes some arrangements about his succession and has Eddard write it all down. The instructions are sealed and shortly after the King dies without ever learning of the treachery against him. The king’s death leaves Eddard in a delicate and dangerous position of making sure the transition to the next King goes smoothly and is as it should be. In his kindness and chivalry he tells the people most directly involved with the treason to flee by morning less they find themselves facing severe consequences.
The next morning Eddard is saddened to see the traitors in the great hall. Saddened because he had truly hoped they would escape the tragedy that will come to them as traitors to the King.
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