Recommend It Monday–Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Happy Monday!  Ok, who am I kidding?  Those words never belong in the same sentence, let alone be their own sentence.  Still, it is Monday, so what can you do?  I should mention that this post contains some spoilers.  If you are concerned about spoilers, you should probably stop here.

Last week, I mentioned that I would begin Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  I did not begin it; I devoured it.  It’s hard for me to find large periods of time to just sit and pleasure read, but I found myself making the time for this book.  I was hooked from the first few pages.  So much so, that I am going well out of my way to make a trip to the library today for the next book in the series.  The story line is great, but you can have a great story and still end up with a crappy book.  These are some of the reasons why Martin ends up with a fantastic book.

  1. The Characters–I would have loved to see Martin’s work space while he was writing this first book.  There are a million characters in it.  I exaggerate, but not by much.  I had been warned before I ever started with this book that there were a lot of people to keep track of, but I really didn’t have too much trouble with it.  To me, that means that Martin took extra care to keep all his characters straight for the writing process.  He has a firm grasp on all these people, so he can write about them in a way that is clear and easy (for me, at any rate) to keep track of.  I was also thrilled with the complexity of his characters.  There were only a few people that I hated outright (Cersei, Jaime, Gregor) and very few people that I loved outright (Arya, Bran).  Everyone else had this wonderful shading to them.  Catelyn, for example, was a character that I mostly loved, but then she was a total hag to Jon and that made me mad.  Then there were people who were mostly douchebags, like the Hound, but then they showed something that didn’t make them 100% horrible.  One place in particular was with Sansa after Joffrey becomes king.  He’s kind to her in a rather cold, fatalistic sort of way.  It’s just enough to give you pause.  I have something to aspire to with my own character writing.
  2. The Chapters–I really appreciate the different chapter breakdowns that Martin gives the reader.  There are so many people to worry about that it would be very easy to forget things about them, and forget their own subplots.  Martin breaks down the chapters so a different character is the focus of it.  You could get the same plot point from three different perspectives, each one advancing the plot, like a literary relay race.  For example, once Eddard Stark is imprisoned, you might get his perspective, then Arya’s later on, and then Sansa’s later still.  This is especially wonderful because you not only jump from male to female perspective, but from adult to child.
  3. The Subplots–Sometimes, writers will add in subplots as a “beside the point” feature.  They have nothing, really, to do with the main plot, but they give more depth and richness to the characters.  The thing that makes me feel insignificant and small as a writer is that Martin’s subplots almost always seem to advance the main plot in some way.  As I was reading, I kept imagining this world of Westeros as a complicated house of dominoes.  One domino falls here, one way over there, and they start the chain from the bottom as the main plot starts it from the top and before you know it the entire thing is imploding with you in the middle of it.
  4. The Women–Martin gives us some rather strong female characters.  They’re not all strong.  I spent most of the book wanting to smother Sansa with a pillow (I’m sure Arya would have held her down).  I have no use for her, and I’m told I’ll have less use for her as the series progresses.  Oh, goody.  But that’s part of what makes the book great.  Then, we have Arya.  She’s learning blade skills, she thinks for herself (even if she’s not always making the best choices), and she has a strength her sister lacks.  She’s not perfect by any means, but I love her completely.  I’d probably ground her for life if she were my own daughter, but she’s not.  I love that one of the deadliest bad guys is a woman.  As much as I despise Cersei, she is a bad ass.  Sure, there are a lot of people you need to watch out for, but the one I would always keep my eyes on is her.  Catelyn lets us watch her struggle with her weaknesses in order to be strong.  The Lady of Winterfell battles with the mother of Robb.  She does what she needs to do for her son even though it takes its toll on her personally.  Unlike her sister, Lysa, who does what’s best for her and turns her son into an insufferable budding sociopath in the process.  Catelyn and Lysa contrast true strength and false strength.  Catelyn is in a battlefield, exposed to all the dangers and having her action or inaction potentially affecting the outcome of the battles they fight.  Lysa has the strength of the Eyrie and not much else.  She has bravado because she believes her stronghold is impregnable.  Without her walls and without an enemy on her doorstep, she has no risk to her bravery (She should be medicated, if you ask me.  Cersei is cunning-scary.  Lysa is psycho-scary.).  There is no static female characterization to this first book, and I really appreciate that.

I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones from HBO to see how close it was to the book.  I have to say I was impressed for the most part.  All of the child characters are older in the show, and I can understand how difficult it would be to work with children as young as the ones in the book, but their advanced ages took something away from the story.  There’s something more urgent for me in a 7 year old Bran getting shoved out of a window than in a 10 year old.  There’s something more desperate about an 11 year old Sansa getting betrothed to the Crown Prince than there is a 13 year old.  Still, the first episode did an excellent job setting up the show according to the book.

For next week’s blog, I thought I would take a poll.  You can vote only once, and make sure you share!

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