“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” When you finish the last page of A Game of Thrones, the first novel in G.R.R. Martin’s fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, you still have no idea who will end up winning. Published in 1996, the 800-page fantasy thriller brought Martin fame and admiration; the rest of the series skyrocketed him to Time’s 2011 “100 Most Influential People In The World” list. A Game of Thrones has since been fully adapted into a successful HBO mini-series, and it’s easy to see how the story keeps fans hooked.
Martin’s land of Westeros — a continent that spans from frigid northern tundra to Mediterranean-esque summer lands — defies the natural laws of seasons. In a place where summers and winters can last anywhere from months to centuries, the novel commences amid the foreboding omens of a dangerously long winter.
Families reign over lands, and the most powerful ones fight for the Iron Throne, the seat that is meant to have authority over all the seven kingdoms of Westeros. The two dominating families, the formidable Starks and the clever Lannisters, engage in a feud, triggered by the sparks of incest, suspicions and attempted murder. When the two major powers disagree, the lesser ones of Westeros have no choice but to pick sides. To make matters more complex, while in exile overseas an heiress to the Iron Throne conspires with foreign allies in hopes of repossessing what is rightfully hers.
Martin, however, keeps readers wondering, “Who really has the right to the throne?” Should family (by blood or by marriage) be the deciding factor, or is it the character of a ruler what makes him a king? If it’s the latter, who can be trusted? Martin’s plots keep readers fixated on what becomes not only a story, but also a legendary fantasy world the likes of which has not been seen since Middle-Earth.
Yet this world remains outside the Tolkien-fantasy genre. The line between good and evil is as ambiguous in Westeros as it is in the world in which we live. The characters that defend both sides are so real and so relatable that it is difficult not to sympathize with (and sometimes dislike) all of them. Martin creates a realm that is more bloody and war-torn, more politically intriguing and more vulgar than the most popular classic fantasies. The honor and virtue of a knight, the word of a king, the ethics of politics and the morality of humans are all questioned. A Game of Thrones is a clear choice for any reader that is looking for witty wordplay and complex plots full of multifaceted characters, set in a world so imaginative that critics are already calling Martin’s series one of the greatest fantasy classics.
Original Author: Tina Shah