by George R. R. Martin
Review by Abby Goldsmith, January 2002
It's interesting how a reader's perceptions of an author change after hearing all the criticism and praise, and then actually reading the books.
Before picking up George R. R. Martin, I was already a long-time Robert Jordan fan, and an even longer Stephen King fan. I never expected to find an author with the combined best properties of both. Reviews and plot summaries gave me the impression that Martin's world was devoid of magic and overly laden with dry detail. Instead, I opened the first volume, A Game of Thrones, to discover a shockingly rich world and amazingly likeable characters. There is a dark sort of magic involved throughout, but wealth, glory, and power provide the motives and explanations for the rise and fall of characters. We are introduced to power-hungry children who rule by divine right, and their overprotective, manipulative mothers. We meet crippled or freakish outcasts who are forced to survive in a harsh medieval world. There are warlocks and wargs, direwolves and dragons, geniuses who hide behind youthful beauty, and monsters who hide behind a friendly smile. There are ordinary men and women thrown into dangerous and terrible circumstances. There are children forced into betrothals and royal weddings before they hit puberty, and youths who bear the title of "Lord" or "Lady" and all of its inherent responsibilities. The bad guys are not the Dark Forces of Sauron, but simply arrogant, conniving, cruel people who wield an unfortunate amount of wealth or influence. Throw out all of your preconceived notions about heroes and villains. This series has none of them.
Martin doesn't shy away from such topics as incest, rape, molestation, bigotry, and torture in the medieval sense. Gore and sex are described in stark detail. Yet none of it is gratuitous. The violent acts are not condoned by the author. He seems to have the same gift that Stephen King does for creating four-dimensional people. They have the same worries, concerns, and urges that any human in our own world might have. Even the most powerful personalities are tempered by human shortcomings. A character with benign intentions might make a mistake in judgment, or vice versa. As a result, these are some of the most powerful, likeable characters in fantasy and science fiction. Prepare to grow attached to them!
Chapters are laid out according to character perspective, and every one of them seems to end with a major plot twist that induces you to turn the page and keep reading. I marvel that my interest in the series never flagged in spite of the fact that a major character seemed to either die or avoid certain death with every other chapter. Martin takes the meaning of "shock" to a whole new level. We have no real assurance that every protagonist will survive, or that every antagonist will meet justice, because Martin weaves his story in the way of our own world. His personal investment is to the larger picture; not to the individual creations within. As one character tells another, "life is not a song."
We can only trust that justice will be served by the last volume to all those who are deserving. In the meantime, the journey towards that end is entirely worth the time it takes to read. Critics all agree on one thing: No one who reads this saga can forget it.