A Year of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (1996)
Written By: George R. R. Martin
Narrated by: Roy Dotrice
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 33 h 48 m (Audiobook)
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1
Publisher: Random House Audio via Audible

The premise:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing—his most trusted adviser dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself.

Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Unparalleled in scope and execution, A Game of Thrones is one of those rare reading experiences that catch you up from the opening pages, won’t let you go until the end, and leave you yearning for more.

Spoilers Ahead!

Discussion: My Year of Thrones continues with Book 1 in the Song of Ice and Fire series: A Game of Thrones. I must begin by telling you that I listened to the unabridged Audible edition of the book. I turned to the audiobook because I knew that this book would not hold my attention long enough to finish it, which is my failing, not the book’s. Reading anything of any length seems to be a challenge for me at the moment, and my work commute is the perfect length for listening to books.

A final word on the audiobook experience: It took a bit of adjustment to the narrative style of Roy Dotrice. I am probably going to get into a bit of trouble with his fans by saying this, but it was irritating at first. There were times throughout the book that he changed the pronunciation of names, so for example, he would sometimes say Joffrey and sometimes say Jeffrey. Sometimes it was Hodor, sometimes it was Hodar. I blame the sound technician for that. He (or she) should have caught it. I also thought Dotrice’s narrative style to be somewhat expressionless in the beginning. However, after 33 hours and 48 minutes of listening, I grew accustomed to it and no longer think so.

Having watched the first season of A Game of Thrones (see my thoughts here), I was intrigued to see how the book compared. I am well aware that in the case of adapting any book or story for television or film, it is a challenge. Parts will be left out. Storylines and even characters will be changed. Such things are necessary. What works on the written page doesn’t always translate to the screen, but that doesn’t always make it a bad adaptation. Still, it is to be expected that the book should be better than the show or movie. People who spend that kind of time in the world created within the book fall in love with it, they feel they know it intimately, and it can be frustrating to see anything we love altered in any way. And the simple fact is that books allow for a lot more detail and background that doesn’t fit into the adapted version. Considering all of that, I was impressed with how much the television series stuck to the book.

I find myself wondering what I can say that I didn’t already mention in my review of the first season. One thing I didn’t talk about in my review of the series is the ages of the characters. The ages of the girls, Daenerys and Sansa in particular, are mentioned in passing: they have yet to, or are currently experiencing their first blood, and while it is said that they are eleven or twelve, it kind of becomes a non-factor for the viewer, we don’t really think about it. Perhaps because I had heard it in the show, and it is reinforced throughout the book, I am…horrified. I know the excuse given is that that was how it was done in the middle ages. In the past century alone, we have emphasized the need to allow children to be children, there are studies on brain development, etc. So if eleven-year-olds were indeed put into what we now consider adult situations, as Martin does, then I think the modern-like child-like behaviors and sensibilities of the characters need to be altered. I don’t think you can have both, without it reading as, well, creepy. At the same time, being so aware of their youth makes everything Sansa, Daenerys, Rob, and Jon go through all the more emotionally fraught for the reader. My heart aches for twelve-year-old Daenerys being sold off for marriage and for sixteen-year-old Rob Stark leading an army to war.

Sansa intrigues me, though. I am going to venture a guess and say that in George R. R. Martin’s mind as he wrote this, Sansa is the heroine, or at least his favorite. I say that because of the little things. Arya is straight-forward “I want to be a knight not a lady,” Rob is all about being the Lord of Winterfell, Daenerys is Khaleesi and the mother of dragons. Joffrey is still a vile little shit, though he does have a moment or two where he shows kindness to Sansa to hide his vileness. Sansa, on the other hand, she has the inner conflict. She is “a good girl.” She has always been the good girl, wanting pretty things. She is going to be queen. Her very nature is tested when Cersei asks Sansa to write to her family and plead for their allegiance to Joffrey. It is tested again when Joffrey shows Sansa her father’s head on a pike. She doesn’t want to write the letter. She wants to push Joffrey to his death. She is a good girl, though, and does what she is told. And yet her mind and her thoughts are already working out how she is going to survive the Lannisters and how she is going to rectify what they have done to her and her family.

In conclusion: This is an intriguing set up for the series. If I hadn’t watched the first season, and listened to the audio version, I don’t think I would have finished the book. That could be just me, though. There is plenty of conflict and intrigue, plenty of crosses and double crosses, and of course I now have an investment in the characters to keep going. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a hint of magic, stories of kings and queens and knights, territorial battles and medieval spies.


1 Comment

  • Shara White February 3, 2018 at 7:40 am

    Do you feel like having seen the first season of the show first that it colors who you perceive and/or interpret the events and characters of the book?

    Regarding the kids’ ages, I thought I’d heard (and this would’ve been forever ago, so someone may need to correct me) that the show aged up the kids a bit, because the age of the kids in the novels was so troubling considering what was happening to them. And I daresay Martin has since expressed regret for how young he made the kids in the novels. Could be wrong. 🙂


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