Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
David and I listened to this 28-CD audiobook during at least 4 trips between Nashville and Northern Kentucky. That’s how long this book is. It has a cast of thousands, and apparently the voice actor has a world record for the number of character voices he does in the audiobook. (I wonder if Jim Dale’s Harry Potter recording held the previous record.)
There are so many disparate plots weaving together in this series that I don’t even know where to begin with a plot overview. Eddard Stark is a main character, the Lord of Winterfell; his wife and six children are also subjects of considerable focus. Lord Stark is a close friend of Robert Baratheon, the high king, who comes to appoint him to be Hand of the King, like his chief of staff. There’s a mystery surrounding the death of the previous Hand. The family of Cersei, the queen, is rich and powerful and may be overreaching. And there’s another entire drama about the two young Targaryens, last of the ruling family that Robert overthrew and slaughtered to gain his throne, as they join with a clan of fierce Dothraki warriors. The novel switches among multiple points of view so that no facet of the story is left unexplored. The language is slightly stylized, but the characters talk in a very earthy, matter-of-fact way, and are often funny.
The book is most interested in the characters who are misfits in some way: Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf; Jon Snow, a bastard; Arya Stark, a tomboy; and Bran Stark, who loses the use of his legs, are all given considerable attention and sympathy. It was really interesting to see issues of disability and difference treated so seriously and sensitively in a fantasy novel; it’s not what you expect.
The plot twists made my jaw drop in shock and awe so many times, mostly from the horrific violence and the messed-up psyches of the characters. At the same time, though, there were many genuinely touching and heartbreaking moments. There are at least two deaths that I didn’t expect at all, of important characters I felt sure would live to fight another day. Martin is definitely unafraid of killing beloved characters. Much of the drama of the novel is the chess game between multiple players, the drama of forcing opponents into a corner
I’ve heard that the Song of Ice and Fire series is inspired by the War of the Roses in British history–a crisis of succession between two warring factions of the same family. This suggests to me that the series will end with the marriage of a Stark and a Lannister, or a Stark-Lannister with a Targaryen. That feels like it would be a fitting ending, but it will surely take at least another generation to get there. The strongest connection I feel between the York-Lancaster feud and the drama of the Seven Kingdoms is Daenerys Targaryen, who I feel must be analogous to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Of course, there have been so many surprises that I feel kind of foolish making predictions.
We’ve also recently begun watching the HBO series, which is a pretty faithful adaptation for at least the first half of the first season. So far I just love the series and would heartily recommend it to any fans of the fantasy genre, or just anyone who likes complex psychological dramas and won’t be turned off by violence and magic.