21. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
I watched the first episode of the HBO mini-series and decided to finally read the borrowed book that had been sitting on my shelf for a month or so. What I can say is that this book is enthralling. I had a hard time putting it down. Martin, a well-known fantasy writer that I've been planning to read for years, creates a fantasy world of Seven Kingdoms where winter and summer each last for years. One of the longest summers in memory, nine years, is coming to an end, and winter is coming.
We meet the Stark family, a Great House from the North, who once were kings, but are now united under the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. The father, Lord Eddard Stark, helped win the throne of the current king Robert Baratheon. The mother, Catelyn Stark, is of the Tully family of Riverrun, a Southron Great House. Their five children are Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon. Eddard also has a bastard son, Jon Snow, who lives with the family, but whose mother's identity is unknown to everyone but Eddard. The king comes to visit the Starks, with his wife Cersei Lannister and her two brothers, the handsome Jaime, murderer of the last king, and the ugly dwarf Tyrion, also known as "the Imp." Eddard doesn't trust the Lannisters, but when his king asks him to serve as his Hand, his chief advisor and executor, he can hardly refuse.
What I like about this book are the characters. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different character, each of whom has a unique voice and perspective. I even wished I could hear more perspectives at some points, which speaks to Martin's character-building skills. I think this is what gets people into the book. These characters are sympathetic, interesting, relatable. But this is what makes it worse when bad things start to happen. The book is so mesmerizing because a torrent of misfortune falls on the characters you're rooting for and you keep reading to see them finally succeed. They don't, not in this book at least. It's a soap opera tactic though, what more horrible things can I do? At some point, it's senseless. I've come to expect every minor character to die, so I know not to get attached.
While I understand that this is a series, I prefer it when books, especially first books, follow a sensible arc on their own and stop in a reasonable place. Eddings does not do this either, but, in my opinion, he's the better writer, so I'm more willing to forgive him. A Game of Thrones ends rather abruptly, so that there aren't even loose ends, it's as if it's simply unfinished. Of course, it is, and there is a second book, and a third book to come out soon that fans have been waiting on for years. While now I'm in the mood to read more, give me a few days, and I could easily move on. I probably won't read this again, because the shock value is over.
This probably isn't going on my list of SFF Literature, but then again, I wouldn't contest somebody's argument that this is a Good Book. Yet, my criteria are more about feelings than hard facts. I want to somehow acknowledge that this book has entertainment value and even some social value in its portrayal of characters' actions and reactions, but that its value is somehow not significant to forwarding human understanding through writing? Or not insignificant, but not hugely significant? I'm working on it.
*Edit* I incorrectly stated that there are only two books in the series so far, there are actually four books already out and three more forthcoming.