Book Review: A Game Of Thrones
Updated: May 5, 2020
The Game of Thrones series shot to international popularity when the TV show premiered in 2011. But turn back the clock 16 years, and George R.R. Martin was only just publishing what would soon become one of the best selling fantasy books of all time.
I was never that interested in the TV show (probably because the entire thing is bums and tits and I was 10 when it started) but when classmates started raving about the books, I was suddenly interested. YA Fantasy is something I can talk for days and days about, but the world of Adult Fantasy is a bit murky for me at the moment, and I didn't really know where to start. Hearing that the most popular show on TV (at least up until the end of season 7, anyway) had a good book it was based on gave me a jumping off point.
Unfortunately, the books tend to go for about ten quid, and there's 6 of them. Being 18, essentially unemployed, and incredibly stingy, I wasn't about to go and spend sixty quid on books that I may or may not have liked. So it turned into a bit of a waiting game, debating whether or not to say sod it and buy the massive value pack from The Works, until finally my mum used the pandemic to have a clear out and found the first book buried in the deep, dark depths of our conservatory. Seriously, I don't think even the mice wanted to go in there before.
As a result, 'A Game of Thrones' was added to my quarantine reading list, and I set off on what I hoped was going to be a fantastic journey into a world beloved by millions. Reader, let me be the first to say - God, I was wrong.
It started off okay, I got about 50 pages in on the first day and was enjoying the pace. I mean, sure, there was the occasional derogatory word that made me suck air between my teeth and cringe and hastily read past the section, but it wasn't very often and I was mostly able to ignore it. It was when I got to the 'inciting incident', or (SPOILER) Bran falling out of the tower, that I started wondering what the hell I was doing reading it.
Basically, the thing that kicks off the entire plotline, is a six year old catching a brother and sister having sex. Yeah, I know - gross. I almost gagged when I figured out what was going on.
From that point onwards, it was just a disappointing spiral into misogyny and hatred. At times, I wondered whether George Martin had ever actually spoken to a woman, let alone understood that we're real people! There's been lots of criticism of this part of the narrative over the years (rightfully so), and a lot of the time 'fans' defend it by saying that that type of speech would have been natural for the time period the story is set in.
Sure, okay, you could argue that. But this isn't a historical fiction novel, it's not non-fiction - it's fantasy. There is no need for it to conform to how people behaved in the past, or follow ancient customs because it's literally a MADE UP world; for all we know, the women could've been running the entire thing!
The time period it's set in is never explicitly stated either, meaning that any argument about it being set in the past is moot because, again, for all we know Martin could've been describing the future. Basically, in my mind, there was no need for the incessant onslaught of misogyny and blatant slurs; the book was written in the 90s, and we weren't exactly still condemning women to scrub the floors by that point.
I feel like I've been beating the book up a lot, and even I have to admit there's a reason it's so popular. The plot was engaging - loads of Kings going to war over a throne? Yes please! - the characters were complex, and the pace was quick enough that Martin could explore a huge period of time, but not so quick that I was left wondering what was going on half the time.
For the most part, the structure was good - I liked seeing the story from multiple points of view, and the way Martin interwove them made them feel less like individual perspectives, and more like a complete narrative. The only downside was seeing Catelyn's perspective because I kept getting bored by her. Don't get me wrong, she's a woman with a lot of layers, but quite frankly it was annoying to keep hearing her lamenting about how she felt powerless when she was (quite literally in some cases) telling the people around her what to do.
I wanted to see more of Daenerys, enthralled by her gradual change from subdued little sister to powerful and confident khaleesi, even if the methods Martin chose for getting her there left a bitter taste in my mouth. From what I know of the show and the books, Dany eventually descends into madness, and the short snippets of her life I saw throughout the book made for a good set up for this - she's experienced a lot of trauma, and that's got to come through at some point.
Sadly though, the excellent writing and complex, interwoven tales kept getting overshadowed by the repeated, unnecessary use of derogatory terms - so much so that I eventually just had to pretend they weren't there. They were detracting from the story and kept reminding me just how much I hated them, and so any time I saw them I kept getting angry that yet another man felt it was okay for him to say these things, even if it is 'just' in a book.
I figure that derogatory terms don't have any place in modern literature, and the only times they should be included are when:
1) they are necessary and add something to the story (i.e. it's a story of recovery or an insight into repression)
or 2) when they are being quoted in a work of non-fiction, as something someone has said directly to the author
The use outside of these parameters always feels to me as if the author is just using them for shock value, or even because they just like the words. Every word in a book should count for something, and be used to give an overall feel for the story. When you've got racist, misogynistic, or slurs of any kind without good reason, it cheapens the reception and makes me uncomfortable. I've often put books down because of it, and I think that's why it took me so long to complete this one.
In the end, it took me roughly a week and a half to finish all 740 pages. To put into perspective how slow that is for me, I once read the entire Harry Potter series in five days.
Though I enjoyed the plot and discovering how the characters were constantly evolving, I often kept finding other things to do instead of reading because I didn't want to have to read abusive literature in order to get to the good parts. Sometimes I even did school work before I forced myself to pick it back up again.
I usually try and take one thing away with me from every book I read, so that I can feel like I've learnt something from the time I've spent engaged with the writing. Even if it's just a simple thing, I like knowing that I've got something out of the experience. With 'A Game of Thrones', I really struggled; I couldn't find one thing that I wanted to take away with me and remind myself of for the coming days. In the end, I gave up.
Would I recommend the book to you? No, unless you're really good at suspending your imagination and forgetting that at least 1/5th of the words are slurs. In case you hadn't already guessed, I'm incredibly glad that I didn't bother buying the books themselves, and I won't be continuing with the series. It feels weird saying that, because I usually try and finish a story to completion even if I'm not the biggest fan of it (see: The Red Queen series!) but I genuinely believe I'd go insane if I tried that with this series.
Sorry George R.R. Martin, you're going in the bad bin!