Goodreads description: As Warden of the north,Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must... and dead nemy is a thing of beauty. The old gods have no power in the south, Stark's family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, a vengeance-mad boy has gown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities beyond the sea. Heir of the mad Dragon King deposed by Robert, he claims the Iron Throne.
Epic fantasy is often stereotyped as cliché-ridden and formulaic, consisting of imitators of Tolkien and the like. Although there are many superb examples of fantasy which overcomes this stereotype, Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga defies most fantasy tropes, depicting a medieval-style struggle over the Iron Throne rather than fantastical adventures and heroic quests. Unusually, I saw the TV adaptation first. I watched Season One of the TV series after being told that if I liked The Lord of the Rings, I'd like it. It’s so different from Tolkien, yet just as absorbing. I couldn’t wait to read the books, and the first more than lived up to my expectations. It’s certainly not typical formulaic heroic fantasy. There’s barely anything fantastical about George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world; it reads more like historical realism, with plenty of political intrigue, murder, betrayal, and plot twists and character deaths that surprise and shock.
But fantasy lurks at the outskirts, through the legends of dragons and the sinister Others, horrifying zombie-like creatures whose origins are never truly explained - yet. From the multidimensional characters to the wealth of detail woven into the fantasy world, Martin has created a fantastic and compelling series, and one that does not suffer from being almost 800 pages in length.
Yes, it’s long. I knew that already, considering we get 10 hour-long episodes from the first book alone. But it’s not a difficult read, and it never gets boring – and this is coming from someone who has very little interest either in medievalism or politics! Martin alternates between equally fascinating characters with interlocking storylines. From the outset we see that these characters aren’t cut-out black and white stereotypes. We sympathise with Catelyn, wife of Lord Eddard Stark, at first, but then we see the way she treats her husband’s bastard son, Jon Snow. Then there’s Lord Eddard himself, who reluctantly takes up the position of King Robert’s Hand and is forced to make impossible decisions between honour and loyalty. Meanwhile, the Lannisters are presented as the ‘bad guys’, yet the dwarf Tyrion, cynical and intellectual, is actually one of the most interesting characters, as is Jon Snow, who as a bastard, has little options in life. He joins the Night’s Watch, a harsh life guarding the colossal ice wall from threats from outside, and comes face to face with the terrors from outside.
Elsewhere, Viserys, the son of the former king, killed by Robert, is mad for revenge and wants the throne back. He marries his sister Daenerys off to a warrior leader in the hope of gaining an army to win back what he sees as rightfully his. Dany’s story is vastly different from the others’, as she matures from a frightened girl into a powerful woman who takes control of her own destiny.
Every character’s story is unique and interesting, and consequently it’s a very difficult book to put down. However, I was warned not to get too attached to any of the characters, and with good reason. Martin does not hold back. It’s bloody and violent, crude in places, and every time I thought I knew how things would turn out, another twist appeared! But that, of course, is a mark of great writing, and I intend to carry on with the series to see where Martin takes it next.