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A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)

A Game of Thrones  - George R.R. Martin A Game of Thrones is a hard book for me to write a review of. I started reading it about two years ago, but then put it down halfway through and didn't pick it up again until early this year. I wanted to finish the book before I watched the television series, mainly because I didn't want my idea of the characters coloured by the actors on screen.

And, now that I've finished it, I feel strangely bereft, even though I have the rest of the series lined up in my bookcase, awaiting me.

The reason I put this book down in the first place is because I had a lot of crap happening in my life around the time I started reading it and, as anyone can tell you, A Game of Thrones is not an easy book to read. It's a book that, every time you pick it up to read a bit more, you're reminded that no one is safe. Anyone can die. It's also part of the reason it took me so long to read. Every time I put it down for a bit, I had to make myself pick it back up again because I was so worried about who would get hurt, who would die.

Of course, once I picked it up, I found it hard to put down, until the next time...

It kind of sounds like I didn't enjoy this book very much, but it's exactly the opposite (hence the five stars).

As a writer myself, the writing in A Game of Thrones gives me much to admire. I love the tiny details Martin throws into his sentences, and the visual language that makes each word count. For example, I love this line in the prologue: 'The pale sword came shivering through the air.' That's the kind of way I love seeing language used, pushing the boundaries of meaning to give a strong, emotive image. 'Shivering' describes the movement, the cold, the fear. If I can one day write as half as well as Martin, I'll be happy.

Martin's greatest strength, perhaps, lies in his characters. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, from different sides in the main conflict. You can hate a character when in one person's view, and love them whilst in another. And, as my friends keep telling me, characters in this book that you loathe you will grow to love once they are given their own voice. We shall see if that holds true. Playing with the reader's emotions like that, making them love or hate with a twist of your words, that is true skill.

But it's not only the major characters that showcase Martin's talent. Every minor character comes to life, whether it is an old inkeeper who chews sourleaf, a captain of the guard, a brother of the Night's Watch or a lowly butcher's boy. Martin makes them feel like real people, not just background clutter, and, of course, that makes it all the harder when you realise none of them are safe either. I spent quite a bit of time crying (well, getting kind of tearful) over the demise of minor characters whilst reading this, I assure you.

The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is vast and richly imagined. Though the culture of Westeros is mainly based on an English Medieval one, it doesn't mean it's any less exciting and vibrant. The small details are what make George RR Martin's world building so brilliant, from fabric, food and architecture, to weapons, allegiences and politics. There are also cultural differences between North and South, between the worship of the Old Gods and the worship of the Seven. The culture of the Dothraki, the only other culture we get an in depth look at, is completely different to that of Westeros. It's built up around the importance of horses and, whilst it may seem quite alien to us as readers, Martin brings that world to life. I hope to see more of some of the other cultures because I enjoy seeing how Martin builds them up, but hopefully he won't take us there if it's unneccesary.

The plot is largely based in politics, but this is by no means a bad thing. There are plenty of twists and turns, and with characters to be invested in on every side, I have no idea who I want to prevail in the end. The end of A Game of Thrones leaves us in an entirely different place politically to where we started and, at the moment, it's anyone's game. I look forward to seeing where Martin takes us, and (of course) who he lets live until the very end.

The brutality in the novel has sometimes been described as a bad thing. I mean, there's rape, murder, war, torture and blood by the gallon. Yet, to me it does not seem as though it is over done, or gratuitous. The book focuses on a war - of course these things are going to happen, and it adds to the grittiness and realism of the world that Martin does not skim over them. As Sansa is told, life is not a song. War is not all glory and great deeds.

Also, the fact no one is safe, the fact that anyone can die at any time, well... that's true to real life, isn't it? It makes for stressful reading, sure, but I admire Martin all the more for it.

In regards to A Game of Thrones slotting into the fantasy genre, it's a lot more realistic than a lot of other novels out there. There are hints and whisperings of magic, old stories of White Walkers and dragons and Children of the Forest. But we only get hints of these throughout the novel, like cracks shining through a muddy, realistic surface. I'm sure these elements will become stronger as the series goes on, but, for now, I kind of like the fact you don't really know which myths to believe and which are only stories.

One of the only negatives I came across whilst reading A Game of Thrones was his tendency to repeat certain words. The one that stood out most for me was the word 'resplendent', and after a time it started to bug me. Not enough to lose a star, over, however.

Also, the edition I was reading (it came in a boxset) was peppered with typos. I haven't checked them all, but the edition I bought by itself didn't have the one I remember the most, so it might be a problem with the edition rather than Martin's prose.

Overall, I think A Game of Thrones is a brilliant start to what I hope will be an amazing series. I would recommend it to anyone with a taste for a gritty, hard-hitting fantasy tale with twists, turns and shocks throughout. I'm looking forward to reading the rest.