I had not read Game of Thrones before it became a series on HBO. I had no intention of actually reading it until I had watched one episode. After being hooked by the television series after the pilot, I wanted the back story that I knew a television show could not offer.
George R. R. Martin’s fantasy book is filled with sorcery, beheadings, supernatural beings, incest and dragons. It is set in a different land that is similar to medieval times where seasons can last years. This book takes place during summer where it has lasted nine years, but there is a warning that “Winter is coming,” which is also the goofy motto for the Stark clan in the novel. They do live in the northern part of the country where it is colder and they are a hearty bunch that thrives during the winter, but I think they could have worked on their motto a bit more before committing on that one.
Each chapter in the book is told in from the point of view from a variety of characters with a good chunk of them based around the Stark clan who are happy with their life up in the northern part of Westeros until they are dragged into the political world in the main kingdom. That brings us to King Robert Baratheon and Queen Cersei Lannister. Robert and Ned are childhood friends and Robert’s marriage to Cersei is contemptuous since he is not faithful to her and pretty much uses her family’s wealth to play like a spoiled kid with all the toys in the world at his disposal. Cersei has two brothers, her handsome twin Jamie, who killed the mad king that allowed Robert to take over his reign, and her imp brother, Tyrion. He offers a great comic relief in the novel and is the only Lannister that we get to hear his point of view, and possibly the only likable one in the bunch.
I have only mentioned adults at this point, but they are only part of the focus of the entire complicated story. Many of Ned Stark’s children share their stories, including his two daughters Sansa and Anya, who couldn’t be more different from one another. Sansa wants to grow up and marry a king so she is thrilled when she is promised to King Robert’s son Joffrey. Anya thinks that wearing dresses and doing needlepoint is stupid. She would rather learn to fight with a sword and climb trees. There are also chapters that focus on two of Ned’s sons—his younger son Bran who learns early on that climbing castle walls might lead you to where you don’t want to go, and his older bastard son Jon Snow, who will not get to become a lord when he comes of age so he is going off to join the Night Watch on the Wall, which protects the rest of the land from scary things to the far north.
The last young adult that the story focuses on is Daenerys. Her father was the former mad king who was killed and left her and her brother, Viserys, to grow up hiding from others that wanted to kill them so there would be no true heirs to the throne. Viserys grew up wanting to take his kingdom back so he sells his younger sister to Khal Drogo, the leader of a horseman tribe who has over 20,000 men that he thinks will go to battle for him for the crown. Daenerys starts off as very innocent, but matures and gains self-confidence in herself as the story progresses.
Telling the story from various points of view a chapter at a time is an interesting way to tell the story, but at times it does constrict the flow. There are storylines that could overlap with one another in different ways if that restraint of keeping it in one character’s point of view. I imagine it creates a challenge for George R. R. Martin that he enjoys so that’s why he does it. At times, I wished I knew what Cersei, Robert, Littlefinger, or other minor characters were thinking, but they did not have chapters devoted to them so we have to guess. This is where the television series fills in the gaps by adding scenes to the show that were not in the book and giving a bit more back story to some characters that we don’t learn too much about in the novel.
Another benefit of reading the novel along with watching the series is I know when I don’t have to pay full attention to a character while reading about them. Martin loves to go into great detail about what someone is wearing and many characters have very similar names that it is easy to get them mixed up. It is helpful that there is an index of characters in the back of the book, but I’d rather not have to rely on that when reading a novel. I found myself skimming over wardrobe details or even minor characters that are not mentioned in the series since I figured they must not be prominent later in the story. This sped up the reading process for me, since the book is quite lengthy.
I found reading the novel while watching the series at the same time highly enjoyable. I loved seeing the characters brought to life after reading about them or reading back story on a character after watching an episode. It is a very intriguing story with some shocking bit, especially the incest, and fun, adventures to read about, including the possibility of dragons! I can’t wait to continue reading this series.