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4.5 out of 5 stars
A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One
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5,152 of 5,406 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
First off, I'm a heavy duty fan of GRRM. I've read over a 100 different fantasy authors in my time (started at 12; I'm now 32). Took about 5 years off from the genre b/c I felt it was all getting too formulaic and cliched.
So, when I came back to fantasy at the end of 1999, I read the usual: Goodkind, Jordan, etc. and then someone told me about GRRM and man, that was the kicker!
Here are the reasons to choose GRRM. I've also listed the reasons not to choose him to make it fair b/c I know their are certain personalities who won't like this series:
(1) YOU ARE TIRED OF FORMULAIC FANTASY: good lad beats the dark lord against impossible odds; boy is the epitome of good; he and all his friends never die even though they go through great dangers . . . the good and noble king; the beautiful princess who falls in love with the commoner boy even though their stations are drastically different . . . you get the idea. After reading this over and over, it gets old.
(2) YOU ARE TIRED OF ALL THE HEROES STAYING ALIVE EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE UNDER CONSTANT DANGER: this gets even worse where the author kills a main hero off but that person comes back later in the story. Or, a hero does die but magic brings him back.
This sometimes carries to minor characters where even they may not die, but most fantasy authors like to kill them off to show that some risked the adventure and perished.
(4) YOU LOVE SERIOUS INTRIGUE WITHOUT STUPID OPPONENTS: lots of layering; lots of intrigue; lots of clever players in the game of thrones. Unlike other fantasy novels, one side, usually the villain, is stupid or not too bright.
(5) YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BIASED OPINIONS AND DIFFERENT TRUTHS: GRRM has set this up where each chapter has the title of one character and the whole chapter is through their viewpoint. Interesting tidbit is that you get their perception of events or truths. But, if you pay attention, someone else will mention a different angle of truth in the story that we rarely see in other novels. Lastly and most importantly, GRRM doesn't try to tell us which person is right in their perception. He purposelly leaves it vague so that we are kept guessing.
(6) LEGENDS: some of the most interesting characters are those who are long gone or dead. We never get the entire story but only bits and pieces; something that other fantasy authors could learn from to heighten suspense. Additionally, b/c the points of views are not congruent, we sometimes get different opinions.
(7) WORDPLAY: if you're big on metaphors and description, GRRM is your guy. Almost flawless flow.
(8) LOTS OF CONFLICT: all types, too; not just fighting but between characters through threats and intrigue.
(9) MULTILAYERED PLOTTING; SUB PLOTS GALORE: each character has their own separate storyline; especially as the story continues and everyone gets scattered. This is one of the reasons why each novel is between 700-900 pages.
(10) SUPERLATIVE VARIED CHARACTERS: not the typical archetypes that we are used to in most fantasy; some are gritty; few are totally evil or good; GRRM does a great job of changing our opinions of characters as the series progress. This is especially true of Jaime in book three.
(11) REALISTIC MEDIEVAL DIALOGUE: not to the point that we can't understand it but well done.
(12) HEAPS OF SYMOBLISM AND PROPHECY: if you're big on that.
(13) EXCELLENT MYSTERIES: very hard to figure out the culprits; GRRM must have read a lot of mystery novels.
(14) RICHLY TEXTURED FEMALE CHARACTERS: best male author on female characters I have read; realistic on how women think, too.
(15) LOW MAGIC WORLD: magic is low key; not over the top so heroes can't get out of jams with it.
(1) YOU LIKE YOUR MAIN CHARACTERS: GRRM does a good job of creating more likeable characters after a few die. But, if that isn't your style, you shouldn't be reading it. He kills off several, not just one, so be warned.
(2) DO NOT CARE FOR GRITTY GRAY CHARACTERS: if you like more white and gray characters, this may unsettle you. I suggest Feist or Goodkind or Dragonlance if you want a more straight forward story with strong archetypes.
(3) MULTIPLE POINTS OF VIEWS TURN YOU OFF: if you prefer that the POVS only go to a few characters, this might be confusing for you.
(4) SWEARING, SEX: there's a lot of it in this book just as there is in real life.
(5) YOU DEMAND CLOSURE AT THE END OF EVERY BOOK: this isn't the case for all stories in the series. Some are still going on; some have been resolved; others have been created and are moving on.
(6) IF YOU WANT A TARGET OR SOMEONE TO BLAME: this can be done to some extent but not as much. This is b/c he doesn't try to make anyone necessarily good or evil.
(7) ARCHETYPES: some readers like archetypal characters because it's comfortable; we like the good young hero (sort of like Pug in Feist's THE RIFTWAR SAGA); it's familiar and we sometimes like to pretend we're this upcoming, great hero. You wont' get much of this in GRRM with the exception of one or two characters.
(8) LENGTH: you don't want to get into a long fantasy epic series. In that case, look for shorters works as this is biiig.
(9) PATRIARCHY: men are most of the main characters with lots of power (one female exception). ....
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2,853 of 3,060 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
NB: THIS REVIEW REFERS TO THE KINDLE EDITION ALONE! This is a great book, and I've eaten up the series and have been on tenterhooks for George RR to get his finger out and publish A Dance with Dragons for YEARS now. (And the tv series!! Be still my beating heart!!!) But I have to comment on the extremely bad editing of the Kindle edition of A Game of Thrones. It is sloppy and unprofessional. When I first got my kindle, I never experienced this, but now it seems like every book gets worse and worse. I thought Sacajawea was bad, but A Game of Thrones starts out with poor editing and gets progressively more appalling as you get further into the book. People who only read the kindle edition will think that Princess Elia comes from Dome, since that is how it is (almost) consistently spelled throughout the book. (It's Dorne). But on the other hand, the `tom cat' is a `torn cat'- go figure. Little things like that at first, but now, in the last third of the book, the mistakes are coming on nearly every page. Random parentheses, inappropriately capitalized words, italics that make no sense, sentences that end abruptly - that kind of thing. It would be irritating, but something I would just accept in a free edition of a book (maybe). But for a Kindle book that costs more than the paperback, I expect more. I also own a hard copy of this book, and none of these typos are in that edition. I'm not sure how the Kindle editions are made, but I expect the same kind of professional editing that you get in print books. You don't get that here, disappointingly.
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683 of 730 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2003
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
I spent quite a while staring at the blank screen in front of me to come up with a fitting description of A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. Should I compare it to the classic Lord of the Rings for its impressively epic scope? Would it be best to focus on the honest, often painful humanity of the many characters - so rare in a fantasy novel - that personalizes each point of view? Perhaps I could impress other customers here with the sheer brilliance of a plot that weaves so many seemingly disparate stories together to form a believable alternate universe in which not only politics, intrigue, war, adventure and romance can coexist plausibly, but magic as well. How could I do such a work justice?
I might as well get this part out of the way first. Obligatory Synopsis: in a fantasy continent that bears a familiarity to Middle Ages England, Winter is coming. Winter in this world means a sort of mini ice age that will last for seven years before receding. In the always-frosty Northern area, the races of nonhuman beings are gathering to advance with the snows; there are hints that there is an ancient, evil power behind their forces. At the same time in the South, political infighting for the Throne has begun. Overseas, the daughter of the dispossessed former King is maneuvering forces of her own for a bid for the throne. All this is told through the various stories of both "good guys" and not-so-good guys.
For starters, AGOT can't be accurately compared to any other book or series in the Fantasy genre (not without insulting it). The nearest thing of its type is the laborious Wheel of Time series by Jordan - see what I mean? And yet this first in the Song of Ice and Fire series is fathoms above that aimless, droning style. Martin has perfected what Jordan had arguably introduced; the multiple characters' points of view telling the vast saga on an intimate, up-close scale. Never did I feel that I was being strung along, but rather lead by increments toward an incredible revelation somewhere up ahead. Martin builds the suspense masterfully in each book.
But by far the most striking thing about the Song of Ice and Fire is the "rules" that the author breaks. Martin is not afraid to tell the tale from the point of view of some very unlikable, even immoral characters. He is bold about revealing facts from a character's past that challenge one's impressions and assumptions about their ethics. He does not lay all his cards on the table up front, but rather unexpectedly reveals details that later change the whole picture and twist the plot admirably. And his most unusual move: this author even allows "favorites" to die occasionally (no names here...)! These risks pay off well to serve the story as a whole, bring a sense of true humanity to the people of this world and drive the reader on to the next series installment.
It's just too bad that I can't magically transplant my sense of admiration for AGOT onto this page. Hopefully, you are intrigued enough to give it a try; it would be a shame to miss what IMHO could be the best series of the decade.
-Andrea, aka Merribelle
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845 of 914 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I see where a reviewer below faulted A GAME OF THRONES for being so chock-full of "tragedy, bloodshed, cruelty, death, rape, incest, drunkeness, murder, (and) infanticide."
Heh. Where I come from, that's a five-star recommendation.
Glibness aside, the person has a point. A GAME OF THRONES is indeed a graphic, viciously unsentimental novel. It features all the offenses listed above and more besides. It revels in them.
Can't you people see? That's the *point.*
The writers of heroic fantasy like to write about huge and epic struggles between capital-letter Good and Evil. Yet over and over again they demonstrate only the most puerile understanding of what good and evil actually are. In their blinkered, constrained little worlds, "evil" consists of sitting in a dank tower all day sending orcs or demons or what-have-you after the Crampon of Justice or some similarly-named hogwash artifact. Not even the darkest of their generic Dark Lords would be caught boffing his own sister or murdering a child (much less get away with it), and in that fundamentally nonsensical bit of characterization lies the crux of their problem: by sticking horns and a lightning staff onto a one-dimensional pulp villain and calling it Ultimate Evil, they cheapen and debase *real* good and evil.
I'm sure most of these writers realize this perfectly well; the problem is that they're writing to one of the most idiotically attenuated audiences on the face of the planet, people who really want to read the same book over and over ad infinitum with just enough variation from the template to create the illusion of difference. It's a sad state of affairs when we consider that fantasy, which should rightly be the domain of myth, wonder, and what Warren Ellis calls "mad, beautiful ideas," is the second most rigidly unimaginative genre out there (right behind romance, with whom it shares more than a few readers and tropes).
The "Song of Ice and Fire" series is a show-stopping six volume call to arms against this nonsense. Readers who come to the novels expecting another eminently predictable generic quest might be lulled to quiescence in the first few innocuous chapters, but will awake - sooner or later - to the unsettling realization that they're playing George R.R. Martin's game now. In A GAME OF THRONES, he systematically slaughters every sacred cow of "heroic fantasy" and, in so doing, injects a vigor and a zest for life and the written word into the genre that hasn't been seen since the beautiful insanity of Tolkien. Heroes die and villains turn out to be not so bad after all. Magic appears only very rarely, making it infinitely more interesting. The plot steadfastly refuses to go where you'd expect. And lest you purists think that Martin holds fantasy in contempt, consider this: unlike practically every other fantasy writer out there, he's gone to the trouble of writing this novel as if it were the most serious literature: his characters and their motivations are fully fleshed out (Eddard Stark and Tyrion Lannister are especially well-done), his prose is exciting and full of witty and lovely turns of phrase, and his themes are complex and multilayered. In other words, he's actually assumed that his readership is *intelligent.*
After reading this and China Meiville's PERDIDO STREET STATION, I have renewed hope for the future of fantasy. Works like these deserve to be read, reread, and passed to friends; they yank the genre - and its readers - out of bed and lead it blinking and cursing into the light of genuine literary merit.
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128 of 135 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
You have about 500 other reviews to choose from so I'll try to keep this practical and useful. If you're the sort who reads "fantasy" novels to escape from the troubles of your everyday life, run screaming from this book. There is no heroic quest here, and little or no magic. Instead we're given a land that would comfortably fit in next to our own world's medieval history, centered around the schemings of royal families and populated by characters who on average are capable of cruelties that would only be attempted by a great villain in any other fantasy novel.
And yet it's the people who make this book such a compelling read. This is an intensely character-driven novel right down to its very structure, which is broken into chapters dedicated to 8 different characters, each a flawed protagonist in his/her own way. The book itself weighs in at over 800 pages, and very little of that is spent on battles or scenery, or even a resolution to the plot. Instead it's densely packed with the thoughts, feelings, schemes, and observations of the characters, and you're unlikely to avoid getting very emotionally entangled to at least one of them. The combination of this with the brutal setting makes you genuinely cheer whenever a sympathetic character finally accomplishes something positive, or groan with dread when another character makes a tragic mistake. And you might be shocked at how willingly you would murder a character with your bare hands if only you could leap into the pages. I think it's this sort of emotional response that has so many readers proclaiming this series a great work of fiction.
A few potential negatives: The book itself has no resolution, it's an installment in a huge epic that will require a big appetite to finish. Also, there's an unusual level of sexual content, and almost none of it is what you'd call romantic. I'm not squeamish, but I found it very oppressive at times. This is, perhaps realistically, a very unkind world towards women. Finally, most of the main characters are disconcertingly young, ranging from 7 to 15 years old. I think the idea is for them to age into their primes over the course of the series (if they live), but given the overall tone of the book the innocence and brutality can clash uncomfortably.
Overall, definitely read it if you prefer gritty realism and have an appetite for large scale storytelling. Avoid it if you're sentimental or have enough grim reality in your life already. This book is not for everyone.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I won't comment about the story of this great, gripping, 5-star book: I just want to clarify one thing about the Kindle editions (there are two), since there are many reviewers recommending to avoid "the Kindle Edition" altogether. I bought both of them, and what I have to say is that the kindle edition you should avoid is Bantam's [..], which is shamefully riddled with typos (some of them: "Dome", "torncat", "s word", "sept on", "arid" instead of "Dorne", "tomcat", "sword", "septon" and "and"). The Voyager edition, though, is much, much better (not only with none or few typos, but also with a table of contents and more maps).
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143 of 169 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This first book in a series of fantasy novels along this storyline was a worthy read. It is difficult for me to effectively convey what I actively liked about the book without pointing out where I thought it could be vastly improved. The strengths of this book are in its very compelling, epic-style story, with believable characters who possess human levels of trial and error wisdom.

Here's my beef: These are great characters. Why in the world does this author throw forty of them at the reader at once? I know, I know... he has two other books to help flesh out the ones who aren't killed by the end of the first book. This author can't be accused of not having main characters... he does, about seven or eight of them, and I liked his style of giving us a look into them all. My issue was with the continual need for the author to throw in a couple dozen more, all at once, and expect the reader to suddenly understand what the impact of their vague existence is, when they do something plot-connected later on.

If you're an ADD-style reader like me, you won't even remember who's who a few chapters later, when the son of the cousin of the deposed king's vassal's daughter says fatal words that effect main characters he's never interacted with. Sound confusing? It certainly can be. It's grueling to sit through histories of fringe characters that we're supposed to be concerned about, but that are easily confused with their relatives, or other fringe characters of a similar name. Some of these characters have nicknames, too... and the author changes which name he's using for the same person in mid-paragraph! Arrrgh!

So, this book was an enjoyable 'skimaround'. I read deeply about the characters that were important and interesting, and skipped over the long details about the political scenes between people who made no real difference. At the end of the book, which was obviously set up to get you running off for the next, I was happy to have read the stories of five or six characters, but also not really sure I was looking forward to having to wade through the same confusion to follow those characters into the next couple of books.

Good stories, neat perspectives, and an author who isn't afraid to have his characters live, die, and be very human. I liked it! Did it live up to the hype people passed on about it? Not completely... but again, this is from someone with a short attention span. I would certainly recommend it to any fantasy reader, but unless they are the patient type, I would recommend it as a borrowed or library checked-out book, to give it a first taste.

On a side note: This book can be rather raw in places, which is certainly in perspective and story appropriate, but some of the language and adult themes make this tale a more mature one.
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61 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" is similar to Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" only in the number of characters, depth of back-story, and shear bulk. With regard to plot and narrative, they take a totally different tack.
Jordan pulls in hundreds of deliberately classical elements, and applies his own distinctive twists and turns, but the result still fits solidly within the expected behavior of standard fantasy. Rand is the protagonist-hero, the Dark One is the archetypical evil presence, and the obvious outcome is that the boy gets the girl(s) and finally defeats the minions of evil in a final climactic battle.
That's not really the way SoIaF is working out. Where Jordan takes standard elements and then customizes them somewhat, Martin sets up all of the standard characters, roles, and props, and then he kills them. Gruesomely. This leaves the author with a nicely blank canvas on which to develop his own, utterly unpredictable plotlines, and leaves the reader in a state of numbed shock such that any preconceptions and expectations are forcibly suspended.
What Martin then chose to populate his tabula rasa would make a Nazi stormtrooper squirm. Rape, incest, fratricide, pedophilia, rape, infanticide, cannibalism, vivisection, and more rape are bandied about in SoIaF like "channel" and "ta'veren" are in WOT. In other words, it's a rare chapter that does NOT contain some combination of these and other colorful activities.
Had Martin written the Wheel of Time, by the third book, most of the Emond Fielders would be dead, Egwene would be married to Couladin, and the reader would be surprised to find himself in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Eliada in the fight against Shai'tan.
I guess I'm suggesting that it's not really a children's fantasy. Structurally, it made me think of Raymond Feist's extended Riftwar series with a strong "R" rating. With regard to overall tone, it left a bitter aftertaste reminiscent of Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (which was a great and powerful series, mind you).
About halfway through the second book, I decided that if something cheerful didn't happen soon, I was just going to quit reading. Well, a few interesting things did happen, and I suppose I shall pre-order each new volume as well, just to find out where the heck Martin is going with this plot. But I'm not sure I'll like the answer.
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65 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Looking for that elusive book that grabs you from start to finish only to leave you begging for more? Are you tired of the same old fantasy cliches such as elves, dwarves, and evil wizards? A Game of Thrones is the kind of rich literature that any fan of character driven fiction should read. Martin's writing is very tight, fluid, and has a smart, professional quality. The setting sets itself apart from other fantasy settings by being quite realistic when compared to other fantasy novels. The world is populated by humans. There are no elves or orcs roaming the wilderness. There are no would-be adventurers slaying fanciful beasts for glory and treasure. Instead you have what reads like earth medieval history. You have Kingdoms, and Lordships; cutthroats and brigands. Characters that you love to hate and characters that you'd love to meet. Plots, intrigue, deception, and betrayal that all combine to create one of the most compelling novels I have ever read. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up. It will most likely jump-start your love of books. Enjoy.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
It is difficult to offer this book praise that hasn't already been offered, but I would feel remiss not to chime in as this is without question one book among the best I've ever read. The book is structured so that within the main story, there are a large number of other stories, each reliant upon a specific character. What the book amounts to is a collection of stories about a large cast of specific and very deeply developed characters that, when taken as a whole, begin to paint a picture of the larger "story-behind-the-story." Each individual chapter of the book rises into climax and resolution, giving it the feel of constant action and tension, while continuously setting up future conflicts. The main story doesn't resolve, and in fact deepens just as the book concludes, paving the way for what promises to be an explosive second volume. I'll wrap up with a few comments to respond to some of the reviews I read before starting this book:

1. There is a good bit of sex, and some profanity, but only as seems necessary to establish traits and personalities of the main characters. Although at times graphic, these parts are not drawn out or dwelt upon and are not typically made to be focal points of the story. They are accessories for the sake of characterization, doing their job well, driving the reader to deeper love/hate of the character involved.

2. Anyone who says that the plots don't resolve doesn't understand the structure of the book. This isn't one story. It is many that are interwoven.

3. There are indeed ALOT of major characters, and at first it seems daunting to try to get to know them all and keep track of who is doing what. Trust me when I say this resolves very quickly as you get to know the characters and their houses and involve yourself with their lives. This is what makes this book rich. It is a depth I've not seen in any other novel I've read.

4. The book leaves much to interpretation. Being character driven, you will love some characters, and you will hate some. The beauty is that, much as in real life, the choices are left up to you. There is no real "good guy/bad guy" here. I find that within the same houses there are family members that I truly love, and those that so anger me I can almost experience them tangibly.

I can't say enough about this book. It is the most deeply developed, emotionally moving, heart stirring, adrenalin pumping, vastly entertaining, beautifully and classicly written piece of modern literate art I have read in a very, very long time. Just wow.
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