A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin: Gruesome, with No Black and White

I did not choose to read this book.  Not exactly.  During my holiday in Bandung, I have finished the books I have intended to read.  I suppose I could start reading yet another Warcraft story.  Having read four in a roll, I need something more, shall I say, hardcore.  A Game of Thrones lies in Cynthia’s library.  I said to myself, why not?  HBO adapted the saga as a TV series.  It cannot be that bad.  So I dived into this mightily thick book of fantasy, without knowing what I was getting myself into.

I think, or rather I would advocate that in front of every book cover, there should be an advisory sticker like a film rating for movies or ESRB rating for video games.  This book, in my opinion, is unsuitable for the young adults.  It is bloody violent.  Children wield swords to kill (and then I watched The Hunger Games on a big screen wondering where this world is heading).  There are orgies, rapes, and prostitution.  Underage girls having sex.  Sibling having sex.  The most amazing thing is, there is no moral compass or whatsoever in A Game of Thrones.  There are no heroes, no villains.  Seldom characters are rewarded by doing the right things in life, nor they are punished to do the otherwise.  In fact, most of the time, it is the other way round.  Each chapter is filled with drama.  You could almost smell something bad, I mean really bad is going to happen.  Initially, there were surprises.  Then came the predictability.  Soon, I was numb.  I read somewhere that blood, sex, and money always sell on TV.  This book has them all.

Now, if I may accept a story that is so uniquely set up, in a fantasy world that has no black and white, a realm whereby treachery and brutality is the mean to survival, A Game of Thrones is a masterpiece.  So much details being poured into creating a world filled with a massive number of interlinked living and breathing characters.  Each character comes from a unique background.  Not only that, a history is crafted alongside with the main story.  On top of that, this first book of A Song of Ice and Fire saga to me read like a very long prologue.  In this Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a major conflict is brewing.  This realm is slowly pushed into war from within, a war fueled by vengeance, jealousy, and ambition.  At the same time, there is subtle politics in place that shapes the events.  And, there is something strange happening beyond the realm’s wall in the north.  Creatures unfamiliar to this realm are emerging.  Myths of the dragons start to appear.  Something is brewing.  Something big.  Something mysterious.  But you won’t find the answers in this book.  Because this book is the first of a long saga that is still work in progress.  You have to keep reading to find out more.

Unique to this book, the story is told from a set of characters’ viewpoints.  Each viewpoint corresponds to one chapter.  There are three major Houses in conflict.  House Baratheon, where King Robert belongs.  House Stark, where the king’s right hand man Eddard leads.  And House Lannister, descendants of the blood of Andal adventurers.  The viewpoints are presented by Lord Eddard and his wife Lady Catelyn.  Their daughters Sansa and Arya.  Their son Bran.  Eddard’s bastard son Jon.  Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf who is the brother of the queen (who is nothing like a dwarf).  Finally, Princess Daenerys Targaryen who is the daughter of the previous king and is now in exile.  The initial chapters were a torture to me.  Because I was not used to the shear number of characters and the strange tone used that is specially tailored to suit the lore of the realm.  After I got over the hurdle, I was not able to put the book down.  Switching from viewpoint to viewpoint makes the narrative refreshing, keeps the plot in suspense.  It is a slow and satisfying buildup to the final ecstasy.  The endings are shocking.  They open up more questions than providing the readers with answers.  I am eager to take on the next volume in this series to see more blood, more violence, more sex, and more shame and glory.

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.

The above quote is in essence what this book is about.  After reading A Game of Thrones, I can understand its popularity.  I must admit, I have not read something quite like this before.

8 thoughts on “A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin: Gruesome, with No Black and White”

  1. ” more blood, more violence, more sex, and more shame and glory.” Uh huh, not for me. I get worried too. The world is not heading the right way.

    I didn’t like Lord of the Flies, I don’t want to read Battle Royale (The Japanese version of Lord of the Flies but better), I will be reading Hunger Games to see what the hype is all about.

    There is no moral conflict for me. I know it’s entertainment but the message is one that is very wrong.

    1. JoV – Oh yes, I remember you also don’t like reading Lord of the Flies.

      While moral conflict is OK with me, I think book publishers should do a better job in warning the readers on the book’s content. Like a sticker or something.

      1. I totally agree books should have stickers or PG ratings. I have come to learn, reading books is not necessary a good thing, depending what you read. In my view, there are bad books and good books.

        1. JoV – A mature themed book may not be a bad book. In all honesty, while Game of Thrones is not a suitable book for the young, it is unique in a sense that the story has no clear black and white. And if you think on it, in reality, there is no black and white. Good guys don’t get to be rewarded all the time and not all bad guys get the punishment they deserve.

          But ya, reading bookings, as you said, is not necessary a good thing. We have to choose wisely.

          That, I have your website to rely on 🙂

  2. I enjoy reading books and watching movies that have dark mood, but even for me this one is a tad too dark.

    I do agree with everything you said above. But despite them all, I too can’t put down the book. A Game of Thrones made all the previous fantasy books I’ve read look like children’s books.

    What is great about this book is that every character speaks and thinks differently. They don’t sound like they “come from the same mind”. Also, as a reader, I can sympathise and understand the point of view of the main characters (the ones presented as chapters). Their thinking and action seem realistic, given the circumstances.

    I hope the subsequent books are as engaging, but with better fate for the “good guys”.

    1. Cynthia – I too am hoping that the good guys get rewarded in the end. But, seems to me that doing the right things in life does not lead to a happy ending. In that sense, I will not be surprised that the rest of the series is as shocking and unpredictably predictable like this first one!

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