I’m hesitant to add yet another Game of Thrones review to the Cannonball Read, but I don’t want to lose my 13th book. So, here goes. Rather than a traditional review, I’ll talk about why I bothered reading such a long novel when, well, the HBO series is sitting right there at the library.
I picked up the first book when the tv series started on a friend’s recommendation (before everyone and their mothers started watching). It looked like my sort of story–some fantasy, but more history than magic. Honestly I would like to read any book before I see the adaptation, but I hardly ever get around to it. This time I made the effort … about three years later. The popularity of the series made me realize that if I wanted to have a fresh experience with the book (i.e., avoid spoilers) I should probably get to reading. I mostly succeeded.
My big mistake was realizing that my husband would love the story. As a former English PhD student, he has strong opinions about literature and gets frustrated with the typical hero stories (hero strives against the odds–hero fights–hero fails–hero comes back from the pit of despair, wins the girl, and overcomes all). You get sick of always knowing that everything will be OK in the end. Well, let’s just say (if you are one of the two people who hasn’t read or watched GoT) things are never quite so simple. In that sense, the stories, while heartbreaking at times, feel true to life.
So, back to why it was a mistake to tell my husband. We watched the show and my husband became obsessed with it. Needless to say I wasn’t able to finish the book before watching all of the first season…or the second. We don’t have HBO or otherwise we would have watched the third. I almost abandoned the book altogether because I knew what was going to happen … almost. The book does a much better job elaborating on the motivations of particular characters and giving the back stories. Moreover because each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, you can see the bias that shapes how the character tells the story. This makes for a more interesting read. The third person view in the tv show doesn’t allow for that and in my opinion takes away some of the complexities of their interactions.
Also, Martin is able to elaborate on some episodes that feel entirely rushed in the series. One stand out example is Bran’s chapter when the group at Winterfell learns about the death of Eddard Stark. In the show the section feels quite disjointed and somewhat anti-climatic, while in the book Martin elaborates more on their actions and sets up the arrival of the sad news in a more appropriate way.
I’m not saying this is the best book of all time. This isn’t great literature, but I enjoyed the stories and some of the characters like Tyrion, Arya, and even Cersei have become favorites. (Not Daenerys though. Whew, forgive me but I hate that story line.) The series is considered fantasy, but the first book reads more like historical fiction (just not our history). If you are looking for high magic, you won’t get it. If you are looking for a well developed story with intriguing characters (who have believable flaws), then this is definitely worth a summer read.