Lucy Porter reluctantly gives in to pressure to read A Game of Thrones, only to discover that it might not just be the preserve of fantasy geeks after all…
My boyfriend was insistent but I waved him away with a lazy hand.
“Sure, I will.” I promised, knowing full well that there were at least five far more appealing books begging to be read on my shelves before I got around to that sensationalist drivel. Most of my time spent reading was on the commute to work anyway, I reasoned, he’d never find out. However a couple of weeks later, when he noticed that the book I was “still reading” had magically changed cover, he put his foot down.
My lovely, charming (unfinished) book with the American actress, Italian fishermen and lyrical prose was prised from my reluctant hands which soon found themselves carefully turning over an ominously heavy brown tome with some kind of dragon on the front. I weighed it in dismay.
I don’t quite know why I was so sure that it was going to be crap when so many people are utterly enthralled by the entire Game of Thrones universe, although I suspect that a certain Stephenie Meyer and E.L James may have had something to do with my lowered expectations. Plus, even though I end up loving every bandwagon I do eventually jump on, I am incredibly reluctant to do so in the first place. I am nowhere near cool enough to catch these things whilst they’re still hot and seem instead to prefer to wait until it’s all blown over until all that’s left to follow is the receding dust cloud of fading hype.
This series, however, is still enjoying its heyday and whilst the first TV season may have already revealed everything that happens in the first book, writing a review without delivering major spoilers for those losers like me who haven’t quite gotten round to it yet is going to be a little difficult.
But if you are still a Thrones virgin, take my advice: read the book first.
I found the first couple of chapters confusing. Like many fantasy tales, the book contains an intricate world whose workings are absolutely fundamental to the driving of the plot. Although it comes with a handy map and details of the families and houses involved, I still couldn’t quite get my head around it.
However, Martin has a talent for creating not just characters but life on the page. Each one of them becomes a real person and the chaos of names soon melts away. The length of the novel comes from quality as well as quantity with well-designed characters not giving way to an action-packed plot (well, depending on how you look at it).
In fact, the depth of the writing gives the reading experience a quality that I feel the series could never quite capture. We pass backwards and forwards through time to fully illustrate each event with the richness it deserves, delving into the thoughts, dreams and plans of a range of characters whose voices are only truly heard in the gap between the page and the mind. Sometimes Martin uses this to build up to a certain event, dropping hints, creating a foreboding atmosphere so that by the time it has slowly, painfully arrived, you can feel the weight of the unstoppable train that brought you here.
At other times, (many, many, many other times) the turn of events is so astounding that you will have to read the lines again and again to make sure you understood correctly. Because this is the trick with Martin; he will never give you what you expect.
If you’re after the blood and boobies of the TV series, you’ll have to use your imagination a little more (although that might leave you feeling a little disturbed – Daenerys is actually meant to be 13, yikes) whereas those looking for an easy ride might find the sheer length of the book off-putting. However I would never want to give away my first understanding of the story to the televised version and am so glad that I was coerced into reading this before I watched the show. Admittedly, I have only seen one episode yet that already gave away so many subtle layers of plot that took me much longer than an hour of reading to absorb – for example, I had absolutely no idea that Sansa was such a snooty bitch until much later than is portrayed in the show which gave me a delicious sense of plot development.
In short, Martin is a genius who has written something that could and should be enjoyed by all. It exists for the gaming nerds, for the book geeks, for the pleasure readers, for the fantasy enthusiasts… as for me, I’ve found my own social psychology twist on it, extracting my old favourite themes of sexism, racism and social ostracism. Can’t just relax and enjoy anything, me.
I put A Game of Thrones down in a very different sentiment to that which I picked it up with. And then I went straight to my boyfriend’s bookcase and picked up the sequel.
Lucy Porter, Senior Reviewerbookmark me