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The Name of the Thrones - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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June 28th, 2012


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09:53 pm - The Name of the Thrones
A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin, is the first book in a wildly popular epic fantasy series made all the more popular by an HBO TV show, and there's a reason it's wildly popular: it's really, really good. My impression of epic fantasy is based on Tolkien, but The Name of the Wind showed me that I shouldn't write off the entire genre. George R.R. Martin has been called the "American Tolkien," but, frankly, he's a much better read than Tolkien.

In the fantasy land of Westeros, summers and winters can last years. There used to be dragons. Beyond the Wall, there is talk of giants. Magic? There's a bit of magic still left. And then there are the Others, mythical beasties thought not to exist. The elements of fantasy I've described here are what allow the book to be classified as fantasy: in fact, the real story is more historical fiction modeled after medieval Europe. It is, after all, a game of thrones, and the throne is made of iron.

One of many brilliant things about the book is that Martin tells the story through POV chapters. Now, telling a story through the POVs of different characters is certainly not new; I probably first encountered the technique in Richie Tankersley Cusick's The Lifeguard. But Martin really plays with perspectives. Sometimes he will show the reader a scene from the point of a view of a child who does not recognize the characters or what they are doing, but the reader knows exactly what's going on (or they may only later put together clues to understand what was happening). Many times, characters will act on information that the reader knows to be untrue because they've learned otherwise from another character's perspective. Everything everyone says is subject to scrutiny; a character can be described positively by one character and negatively by another, and it's up to the reader to determine how they feel. Very little is straightforward in this book, and pretty much everyone is multilayered and interesting.

GRRM is infamous, however, for showing no mercy in killing off characters, and let me tell you, a lot of people die in this book. Main characters, secondary characters, tertiary characters, quaternary characters, some stableboy who just appeared a page ago, and also five dozen horses. Characters aren't killed off for shock value; they die because that is what happens to them. Usually, there is an important effect on the plot or the characters. Thankfully, GRRM writes some amazing death scenes, the kind that have you gasping and crying and shouting profanities but also have you admiring the skillful way the scene is written.

And GRRM is a good writer, even though he can get carried away with descriptions of food and armor and sigils and whatnot. Because the story is told from different perspectives (third-person limited), the writing is more personal than that of a Tolkienesque omniscient narrator. It's compulsively readable, and it's sprinkled with wry humor.

I hesitate to say anything about the plot and characters because I knew so little going in that it was so fun to meet everyone and learn everything as I went along, even if it was a bit overwhelming. Suffice it to say that the story concerns two houses, both alike in dignity—wait, no, the Starks have way more dignity than the Lannisters. Anyway, there are Starks and Lannisters and they engage in a game of sorts, perhaps involving thrones. Yes, in fact, that is all I am going to say about the plot except for this: this book is deliciously plotted, with pieces being set up without your realizing that's what's happening until it's too late, and everyone's actions have consequences, often dire. This is basically the Wire of books.

A Game of Thrones is a hell of a book, the sort of book that, once you get into it, you want to do nothing else but keep reading. And if you'll excuse me, there are four more books in this series I have to read...
Current Mood: excitedexcited
Current Music: David Gillis - The Theme to Spiderman - Acoustic Flamenco Solo Guitar Instrumental
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(16 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

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[User Picture]
From:skjaere
Date:June 29th, 2012 05:30 am (UTC)
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Wait, you don't like Tolkien? Sometimes I feel like the only one.... It's not that I hate him or anything. I mean, the movies were quite good. But he's so dry. It's like reading history, and if I wanted to do that, I would read actual history and learn something while I was doing it. I got 40 pages into The Hobbit several years ago before I gave up, and even less far into Fellowship. One of my uni English tutors once told me that if you don't read Tolkien by the time you're 25, chances are you're never going to read him. I'm OK with that.

The elements of fantasy I've described here are what allow the book to be classified as fantasy

I'd count "A Series of Unfortunate Events" in the fantasy genre, as well as the "Gormenghast" trilogy, and there's no magic in either of those. (I haven't read "Gormenghast", but I really enjoyed the BBC adaptation.)

in fact, the real story is more historical fiction modeled after medieval Europe.

Specifically the Wars of the Roses, between the houses of York and Lancaster. See what he did there?

And if you'll excuse me, there are four more books in this series I have to read...

I am unreasonably excited about this fact. These are some of my favourite books, and I just love watching someone else enjoy and appreciate them so much. You can imagine what I was like when I made my roommate read them last year. I actually let her borrow my Kindle for several weeks because there was such a long wait for the books at the library.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 29th, 2012 06:01 am (UTC)
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I really enjoyed The Hobbit when I was a kid, and I read Fellowship but stopped there because the library didn't have Two Towers. When I finally read the whole thing around the time the movies were coming out...it was kind of a slog, especially the last few hundred pages of ROTK.

I'd count "A Series of Unfortunate Events" in the fantasy genre
I would say it's more fantastical than fantasy, but since there is no fantastical genre, I guess that works.

Specifically the Wars of the Roses, between the houses of York and Lancaster. See what he did there?
WHAT. GRRM YOU FIEND.
[User Picture]
From:skjaere
Date:June 29th, 2012 06:06 am (UTC)
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Bits and pieces of a lot of his characters are borrowed from all over the history of Europe. I'd argue that the Lannisters actually owe quite a lot to the Borgias. Tyrion resembles Robert Graves' version of the Emperor Claudius, and old Walder Frey might be somewhat based on an 18th century Scottish chieftain called The Auld Fox.
[User Picture]
From:etherealclarity
Date:July 2nd, 2012 01:21 pm (UTC)
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I felt similarly about Tolkien. And about George R. R. Martin being a more enjoyable writer to read. Glad I'm not the only one.
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From:anoel
Date:June 29th, 2012 06:00 am (UTC)
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It's nice finding someone else who likes the Game of Throne books more than Tokien who I do like but I find it hard to connect to any of the characters.

I agree though, I LOVE the POVs and how they can do so many cool things with unreliable narration and giving different perspectives on things, creating sympathy/empathy when you thought you'd never feel that way. And oh man, is it ADDICTING. Have fun reading because I consumed them in a couple weeks and it wasn't close to fast enough.
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From:beeker121
Date:June 29th, 2012 02:58 pm (UTC)
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This is one of those books that I am waiting for the series to finish, the final book to at least have a solid publication date, before I start. I have several friends who read Robert Jordan and I don't want to risk that.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 29th, 2012 03:55 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, that's how I was too, but the TV show made fandom explode, so I wanted to be one of the cool kids.
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From:ebongreen
Date:June 29th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
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Welcome aboard the George train!

I've been saying for some years that GRRM will set the standard for the next 50 years of fantasy the way Tolkien did for the first 50. And yes, George is a much better writer than JRRT ever was.

As you finish each book, I recommend visiting TVTropes and looking at All The Tropes, some of which I believe are named for this series. It will be fun. You will lose many more days of your precious time to the Devourer of Lives and Eater of Weeks known as The George. :)
[User Picture]
From:catalyst2
Date:June 30th, 2012 04:25 pm (UTC)
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I like GRRM's writing for many of the reasons you mention but - and don't laugh at this - I particularly like it because he talks about people needing to emptying their bladders and bowels. Seriously, did Sam and Frodo go all the way to Mordor and not have to piss even once?

Just me though .....
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From:girltype
Date:June 30th, 2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
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Great review! I've read the books off and on for months but haven't finished one yet, so I really want to buckle down and read one from start to finish! Here's to getting it done!
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From:finniscs
Date:July 1st, 2012 03:58 pm (UTC)

AGOT

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Okay, you won me over for sure. I definitely have to read this now! :-)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 1st, 2012 04:08 pm (UTC)

Re: AGOT

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Oh, awesome!! I love when I convince people to read or watch things, especially when I don't say a goddamn thing about what they're actually about. Please report back.
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From:eldritch_flame
Date:July 2nd, 2012 03:16 am (UTC)
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I really wish I could handle reading the ASoIaF books. I made it through the first one and a bit of the second, but they were just so stressful! I'm absolutely loving the show, though. I don't know if it's because all the torture and sexual violence are a lot easier to take when they're on screen and not just in my mind, or if it's because I know most of the bad stuff that's gonna happen in advance. But having gotten into the show, I now really want to catch up on the books, but I'm too much of a wuss.

Oh, and you've seen this, right?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 2nd, 2012 05:05 am (UTC)
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That I have!
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From:soundingsea
Date:July 3rd, 2012 05:01 am (UTC)
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You're making me want to watch The Wire, that's for sure.

ASOIAF is pretty much awesome, and I'm so happy you're reading it. :) So, now a spoilery post? :):)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 3rd, 2012 06:20 am (UTC)
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You must watch The Wire! It has the huge sprawling cast, moral greyness, and emotional character deaths of ASOIAF with, um, none of the fantasy stuff.

As for a spoilery post...oh, if only you were on Facebook! I've been posting spoilery thoughts as I go along, but even those are only a subset. If you are so inclined, you can read all these threads over here.

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