I read this book many years ago, not long after it first came out and remembered being awed by its scope and the dramatic and realistic flair of the writing. Of course, the passage of time can sometimes alter the way you feel about things – especially genre books. Usually, because you’ve read so many more in-between and educated yourself about the style and tropes that are used, expectations are raised. When I heard there was a TV series based on Martin’s books, I was a bit dubious and, I confess, watched it rather reluctantly at first – but not for long. The series, by HBO, was visually stunning and superbly acted. It’s fabulous to see fantasy being taken seriously for a change on the small screen (I know there are examples that do – but most are film. Few TV shows do honour to fantasy except in a kitsch fashion – I am thinking of Hercules and Xena here and excluding the fantastic True Blood which deserves it’s own paean). On the contrary, this series persuaded me to reread the book – partly to test its appeal again, but also to see how closely the show stayed to Martin’s original vision. Well, in terms of the book and its initial appeal, none has been lost. Once again, I was drawn into Martin’s fantastically realised world with its liege lords, Banner men, dire wolves and the central families: the Starks, the Lannisters, the Taegaryans (however you spell it – sorry!) and the jostle for power that’s described as the Game of Thrones.
When I first read the book, I found the concept and place that remained with me was The Wall and the black-garbed men, the NightWatch, who swear an oath to protect the realm from the Others – the creatures who roam north of the great dividing barrier. Yet again, I was struck by the imaginative scope of such a place and those who dwell within its icy, remote grip and the culture they’ve created. Likewise, the horse lords, the Kalesi, and his bride, the disinherited Danys, were wonderfully drawn. But so are the castles of Winterfell, Kings Landing and the politics and inter-relationships that govern the realm comprised of seven very different kingdoms. Of course, Tyrion, another Lannister, would have to be one of the most memorable characters created: wise, witty, world-weary – he’s someone you initially loathe and champion – the latter becoming the default reaction.
This is such a powerful story that is full of machinations, twists, turns and bloodshed but always underpinned by human relations. As such, it really is a stand out addition to the historical fantasy genre. The TV series is also marvellous and stays true to Martin’s vision, so much so, swathes of dialogue (and his dialogue is rich, offensive, real and engaging) appears in the show.
A terrific book that initiates a wonderful saga. Unashamedly love it and the show – in fact, the theme song is now my ring tone.