George R. R. Martin
A Game of Thrones (Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire)
Bantam Spectra 1996

When the message arrives that the king is on his way to Winterfell, it is received with mixed emotions. King Robert, of House Baratheon, is an old and close friend of Lord Eddard Stark's of Winterfell. Lord Eddard was in fact one of those who put him on the throne in the rebellion against King Aerys II, also known as the Mad King and the last ruler of House Targaryen. But Robert's queen, Cersei of House Lannister, is a proud and cunning woman, always putting her own interest first. And her twin brother, Jaime Lannister, is known as the Kingslayer because of what he did to Aerys II, the king he had sworn to protect with his life. Only a short time ago, Jon Arryn, Hand of the King, died mysteriously. His wife, sister to Lady Catelyn Stark, Eddard's wife, believes he was murdered - poisoned by the Lannisters. Now Lord Eddard is named new Hand of the King, and his oldest daughter, Sansa, is betrothed to Prince Joffrey, Robert's oldest son and heir. Eddard has no urge to leave his castle - cold and harsh - for the southron court of intrigues and power games, but he must find the truth about the murder of his old friend Jon Arryn.

Does this sound complicated? It's more complicated than that. The King's brothers, Lord Stannis Baratheon and Lord Renly Baratheon, are plotting for power. And on the other side of the Narrow Sea, Prince Viserys - behind his back called the Beggar King - is trying to raise an army to get his Iron Throne back. And up north, beyond the enormous Wall, the Others are coming back in a time when people of the south - yes, even in Winterfell - believe them to be long dead creatures of the past or just stories. And that's just the beginning of it...

If you're into grand fantasy epics, this is a book for you. If you love authors like Robert Jordan and Tad Williams, you'll probably love this one too. I did. This 800 pages book is just the first in a series of - or so I've been told - four books, and they will be needed to get this complicated story to an end. From the very beginning we're given several different perspectives on what's happening, mostly Stark perspectives: Eddard's and Catelyn's, but also their children's: Robb's, Sansa's, Arya's, Bran's and Eddard's bastard Jon's, as well as a few others. But unlike in many other modern fantasy novels where this way of telling the story is used, the same situation are seldom seen from different view points. George R. R. Martin is actually quite economical with words, and this is quite surprising considering the large amount of them in this book. (But not so surprising when one reminds that Martin has written great short stories and novellas in the past.) Not every word is important for the plot, but they set the feeling, giving character to persons and milieus without slowing down the action too much. In the beginning, it's quite frustrating with all the names of present and history, all the Houses and all marriages, but after a while - and with some help from the appendix and maps - you'll get the scenario.

Some think magic is the very essence of fantasy literature, what makes it fantasy. In this book magic is not very important. There were dragons - but they're all dead. There were magicians - but that art is forgotten in the Seven Kingdoms. There were children of the forest - some kind of elves - but they're long gone now. But some think the dragons could come back, some say the children still live north of the wall - and young Bran Stark wants to learn the art, so at least there is a promise about magic.

In the Seven Kingdoms, there is a long way from north to south, geographically but also culturally and climatologically. The Starks rule the north, a cold land even in summer - and there has now been summer for nine whole years! They hold to the old ways, the Old Gods of the First Men and a harsh, honest way of life, seeing the southron ways of pomp, glamour and intrigues with great suspicion and dislike. There is no doubt where the author wants our sympathies to be. I come from Northern Europe myself, where we have the same kind of cultural distrust of people from Mediterrean Europe with their flowery ways, although it was much more prominent 50 years ago. I can quite easily identify with the heroes of the story, but I wonder how this series will be recieved in the south - say in Italy. Any Italians out there who wants to give their reaction? It's quite common that the moral values of fantasy novels are those of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but I would say it's more outspoken here than in most others books.

Anyway, winter is coming, like the Starks use to say. Cold days made for harsh people.

When I started reading "A Game of Thrones" I was somewhat suspicious. A book Robert Jordan calls "brilliant", with additional praise from Katherine Kerr and several other well-known authors, as well as Locus, Publisher's Weekly and several newspapers. Could it really be as good as they said? And the answer is "yes". There is a lot more that could be said about it, but I think it's better you read it for yourself. It's definitely worth it.

Karl Henriksson

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Books by the same author:
A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Volume 2)

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