Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bit By the Bug ...

This past week, I started a new series. I must have been living under a rock to have missed all the hoop-la that surrounds G. R. R. Martin's wildly popular fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, but there you go. I picked up A Game of Thrones , the first book in the series, at the public library last week. As I placed it on the check-out desk, the librarian raised an eyebrow and shook her head. She told me I should probably be prepared to surrender my summer to the series. Then, she told me there are five books thus far, with more slotted to come and that each is, as she put it, 'a tome'. Well, yes.  A Game of Thrones is a very long book, but it is one of the fastest reads I've had in a while. I think the structure of the book accounts for the speed with which I'm devouring it.

Westeros map - HBO Image

Martin has created a fictional world of kings and rogues, legendary creatures and sinister spirits that are woven into a complex plot of political intrigue. The story begins on the fictional continent of Westeros where the House of Stark is introduced. Lord Eddard is a hardened warrior with a large family. He and his wife Catelyn, of House of Tully, are grooming their children for futures that will insure the survival of the Stark family name and political standing ... Sansa is being groomed to marry a southern Prince, Arya is being tamed of her tomboy tendencies so that she, too, will make a good marriage alliance, Robb is the heir and is training to become the next Lord of Westerfall, Brandon and Rickon are youngsters and are just beginning to play at swords and race willy-nilly about the Westerfall castle complex. 

Lord Eddard's life-long friend King Robert, of the House of Baratheon, visits to invite Eddard to become his Hand (the counselor closest to the King). The King's previous Hand has died suddenly and Lady Catelyn receives word from her sister that the death has not been an  accident. The invitation comes at a difficult time because there are strange stirrings in the northern reaches of House of Stark territory. The men of the Night Watch have encountered a strange presence in the wild forests north of the Wall and when some knights disappear on watch duty a sense of urgency is established to reinforce and recruit troops to fortify the Stark boundaries and strongholds. Winter and something even more bone-chilling is coming! Lord Eddard is bound to accept his King's request, though, and he and his family are thrown into close contact with Queen Cersei and her politically
ambitious relatives of the House of Lannister.

Confusing, yes? Yes! However, Martin manages to keep the confusion to the minimum by concentrating his story telling through the experiences of key characters from each House. He keeps his chapters short and approaches them as a screenwriter might, working with short situational scenes that are told from the point of view of an observer of that particular character and scene. He uses strong descriptive language to place characters in their setting and sharp and to-the-point dialogue that serves to move the action along and give the reader an excellent impression of the character's personality.

Image courtesy of 

Martin manages to tell three big parallel stories - House of Stark's family struggle to survive the onset of a dark period of political turmoil, House of Lannister's ambitious and under-handed play to capture the Iron Throne of Westeros from House of Baratheon, and House of Targaryen's desperate ploy to re-build their political power base and return to Westeros to fight for the Iron Throne that they lost years prior to the beginning of A Game of Thrones.  Just from thinking about these three big storylines, I can see that this will be a series of epic length and detail. I can also tell that I will be enjoying it immensely.

I'm hooked. I'm already forming strong mental impressions of what I think the characters look like. I have already formed my favorites list and the list of  'can't wait for them to get their comeuppance'! I can see them in their settings and love the detail of the scenes and the clothing and the food and the atmosphere.  Yup, I'm hooked.

What about you? Have you read this series? Have you thrown the books aside and hung your hopes on the much-lauded HBO television series that is going into its second season? What's your impression of Martin's world of Westeros and Essos?

Note: In writing the post, I found this interesting interview with G.R.R. Martin ... check it out.

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