Monday, 27 August 2012

You win or you die

George R. R. Martin's epic series 'A Song of Ice and Fire' begins with his 1996 bestseller A Game of Thrones, popularised by the recent HBO series of the same name. While I have seen the first two seasons of the show, reading the first novel was an exciting adventure and my expectations of the novel were exceeded as soon as I began Martin's incredible book.

Winter is coming. Summer has lasted many years and the cold winds signal a shift that will bring years of chill to the Seven Kingdoms that make up Westeros, the setting for A Game of Thrones. A fantasy of epic proportions, this story features violence, sex, power, intrigue, tyranny, loyalty, betrayal and drama, with a good dose of humour thrown in.

The writing is rich and literary, and Martin is able to successfully inhabit the voice of each of the characters. From a seven-year old boy, to a teenage girl, to an elderly man - Martin has authentically created their world and enabled the story to be told in third person from the perspective of various characters: Eddard 'Ned' Stark; Bran Stark; Catelyn Stark; Sansa Stark; Arya Stark; Jon Snow; Tyrion Lannister; and Daenerys Targaryen. There are other brilliant characters to love or hate: Cersei and Jaime Lannister;  King Robert Baratheon; Joffrey Baratheon; Viserys Targaryen; Lysa Tully; Ser Jorah Mormont; Theon Greyjoy; Hodor; Ser Petyr Balish; Benjen Stark; Khal Drago, and many more.  Tyrion Lannister is clearly a favourite of mine and he stands out among the crowd despite his diminutive stature.

The saga is complex, alternating between different locations across diverse landscapes. Starting at Winterfell, the Stark kingdom in the North, moving to the frigid Wall, the richness of Kings Landing and across the Narrow Sea to the free cities of Essos. The action moves along at a cracking pace and the novel is definitely a page-turner for all of its over 800 pages.

I enjoy watching fantasy but have never been a big fan of reading this genre. But Martin changed this for me, as he has created an intelligent, gripping saga which draws the reader in. At times the shift in point of view was bothersome as just as I was engrossed in someone's story I was transported to someone else's tale and had to wait until the character I wanted to follow to reappear. But I got used to this style and I still admire Martin's ability to carry the story along using these very different characters to describe the action.

The 'Song of Fire and Ice' series was clearly ripe for filming and I am so glad it has been made into a series by HBO. The first season (2011) covers the action in A Game of Thrones and is an extraordinary adaptation of the book. Clearly all involved in the project have great admiration for the source material. The production is classy with no expense spared to create sets of the scale and gradure needed to depict the settings of the novel. The casts is uniformly excellent with brilliant performances all around.

I have since watched the second season (2012) and look forward to reading the next two books in the series - A Clash of Kings (1999) and A Storm of Swords (2000) before the third season airs in early 2013.