Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin
Bantam, 1996. 693 pages. Fantasy
Who hasn't heard of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones? This first volume in the mega-bestselling series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is even richer and more complex than I'd imagined it would be. Set in the fantasy realm of Westeros -- a kingdom beset by threats from both within and without, and nobody can quite say which is the greater -- the novel focuses on the Stark family of Winterfell, and the political turmoil and intrigue that ensues after eight-year-old Bran Stark witnesses an act that could shake the kingdom to its very core, but is pushed from a tower window before he can speak of it. It's a mystery that his father, Lord Eddard Stark, wishes very much to solve as he heads to the nation's capitol to serve as Hand of the King; however, Ned finds his appointment precarious, dangerous, and in some cases, deadly. Despite shifting alliances, deceptions, and dubious allies, Ned must fight to solve the mystery that shrouds the Iron Throne . . . or else he'll lose the game, and quite probably his life.
With a staggering cast of characters, rapidly-shifting points of view, and near-constant action, Game of Thrones is a must-read for almost every epic fantasy fan. I say almost because Martin's world is a brutal one, and I often find myself ageing the adolescent characters up a considerable number of years in my head (Daenerys is thirteen when she's married to Khal Drogo, Bran is eight when pushed out the window, et cetera). The writing can be pedestrian, but with a plot this compelling and such well-rounded, fascinating characters, it's easy to overlook Martin's compulsive use of words like "shone" or the adverbs that pepper his text liberally. Good (if not clean) fun.