I haven’t written a book review in a long time. How in the world Can I categorize this blog under ”books” if I don’t actually talk about books?
Time to fix with a review of, not one, but two books from The Game of Thrones series.
There are many people I know who plowed through a Game of Thrones novel as quickly as it took me to finish Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 14 days). I, however, cannot count myself as a member of that club.
But I’ll explain why in a bit.
The first book in the series, originally titled A Song of Fire and Ice, was a fun read. I watched the television series first (what originally converted me) so I knew what to expect. All my friends raved, and rightfully so, that the show was very loyal to the books with some obvious poetic license to draw the audience in.
This, naturally, made things easier for a new reader to delve headfirst into the very thought out realm of Westeros. George R.R. Martin clearly did his homework when reading Tolkien on how to really create a world using nothing but the written word.
The premise of the book starts like any political thriller:someone in high authority mysteriously dies. As a result, the king of the land taps his best friend to take up the yoke, while Secretly trying to discover the cause of his predecessor’s death. Lust, power, betrayal, and more death follow in what the queen puts as “playing the game of thrones.”
“When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.” – Cersei Lannister
The novel has multiple points of view (POV) taken from the lead character, Lord Eddard Stark, members of his family, a member of the opposing family, and a girl on the opposite side of the world. Each POV presents a different perspective for the reader, making the thick line between right and wrong blur as you find yourself rooting for people on all sides of the battle lines. Since Martin is as famous for killing off his characters as Joss Whedon, the excitement increases because, really, anyone can die.
The story is very thought out with Martin having names and back stories to everyone from the squires barely mentioned except in one sentence to the gallant knights who serve the Kingsguard. While this is great and all, my dad put it best by saying, ”I feel like I must have a notebook while reading this book just to keep track of everyone!” This is an unfortunate truth that I came across the more I read. That squire I mentioned is a newly made knight at the end of the book. A serving wench mentioned in the Stark’s dining hall appears several chapters later in someone’s bed. Unlike Harry Potter where I knew Neville Longbottom’s purpose right next to Hannah Abbott’s house affiliation, I am totally lost at whose loyalty belongs to which house in Game of Thrones.
And I know why.
It’s the constant use of the passive voice.
Quick English Lesson:
Passive voice takes emphasis away from the subject of the sentence and places focus on the subject of an action
Caitlin had been cheated on by Ned, producing the bastard, John Snow.
As you read this sentence, did you notice how your eyes get a little tripped up by the wording? Did you have to re-read the sentence just to make sure you read it right? The biggest problem with passive voice is its lack of clarity. First, you think that Caitlin is the subject, but it’s actually Ned. He’s the subject. Caitlin is the object of the action. Jon Snow, in this sentence, is superfluous. You can easily find passive voice by the use of “to be” just before the verb.
Wouldn’t this be easier?:
Ned Stark cheated on Caitlin, producing his bastard son, Jon Snow.
By the way, this isn’t a spoiler. You find this out within the first few chapters. Notice how the second sentence reads smoother with fewer words and in active voice. Now everything is traditionally structured and you understand the sentence without a second (or third) read.
Now imagine sentences, like the first one, spread across hundreds of pages. Yea… it took me a while.
Passive voice, while wonderful for scientific papers does not necessarily work for popular fiction.
As bummed out as I was to not finish the book quickly, Game of Thrones is a good book. It has all the components needed to create a compelling story that begins an epic tale. The tale isn’t done yet and I can’t wait to see who wins the Game.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the sequel. A Clash of Kings picks up right where the first book ends. A new King crowned. A war begins. Winter is still coming.
…and I really struggled with this one.
One of the most admirable thing about Martin is that he really mapped out his world. Maybe not to the extent of Tolkien, but he mapped out each house and their banner men. The problem is… he tends to show off. Martin describes battles, until the end, through dialogue where characters list out their dead as if we, the reader, knew each individual personally. While I love the chance to connect with every Character as if they were real, Martin never gave me a chance to connect with any of them. Except for the main characters, I honestly wouldn’t care who lived and died. The lack of connection made me read the book more like an economics textbook than a tale of fantastical warriors.
In the middle, the story picks up, moving from moment to moment and ending each chapter on a cliffhanger. I blazed through, dying to see what lied on the next page. Each character had a conflict they needed to resolve before it could get more out of hand.
Then I got to the last quarter of the book.
Without spoiling anything, you follow three different POVs during a massive battle outside of the King’s castle. Sounds exciting, right? Not quite. Especially when Martin takes that very moment to talk about all the ships in the battle and their affiliations as well as how fast and strong each is. I found it kind of a buzz kill and a struggle to read through after getting so excited about this epic battle. I understand Martin’s need to truly flesh out thought so that we, the readers, could believe–if only for a moment– that Westeros was real and these stories are their history. However, it dragged the novel out longer than I felt necessary.
With all this in mind, I still plan to pick up the third book next time I’m at Barnes&Noble. I fell in love with many characters and want to see what happens next. I want to know who wins and who loses.
George R.R. Martin created a vast world full of history and”real”people. He has a clear understanding of medieval culture and monarchical politics. I can only imagine the incredible amount of time and dedication required on his part. He also has a fantastic way of making each character relatable to any kind of reader. For example, I could translate the Boy King as a massive bully and Arya Stark as the nerdy girl who finds a way to fight back.
I recommend the series to anyone with a vast fantastical ‘imagination and the free time to take on these big tomes.
Series so far: 4/5.
Next Read:Gamer Girl