George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (Spectra/Bantam, 1996)

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is the first book in his most recent series, A Song of Ice and Fire. It is a story of chivalry and deceit, of royalty and bastards. It is in my opinion the best fantasy novel released in recent years and certainly worth reading for anyone interested in that genre.

A Game of Thrones is an incredibly well-developed fanta-historical where nothing is as it seems. The world in which the novel is set is your typical fantasy setting, but comes with a most unusual twist -- the seasons are incredibly off-kilter. Summer in this world often lasts for a decade at a time, and winter can last even longer. Spring and autumn are comparatively short, rarely lasting more than a year or two.

The world already has a complex international community and economy that seem perfect for the era the book is set in. The main setting is a large area of the world called the Seven Kingdoms which runs on the feudal system. The Kingdoms were thrown into a bit of chaos when the ruling family was ousted about fifteen years before.

It is into this world that the honorable Stark family is thrown. Eddard Stark is a lord in the Seven Kingdoms and his family are the wardens of the North. He was also a close friend of the King before he won the throne, but now has not seen him in many years.

Others of the Stark family are Robb, his oldest boy who is much like his father but is cursed with a short temper; Bran, an eight-year-old who will obviously play an important part in the series; and Rickon, a four-year-old who is there for no apparent reason thus far. He also has two daughters, Arya and Sansa. Sansa begins the book as the typcial high-born daughter and ends up betrothed to the crown prince. Arya is a tom-boy who causes her mother, sister and nanny no small amount of frustration. Her closest friend is her bastard brother Jon Snow, a low-born son of Eddard Stark whose part in the arising conflicts is uncertain, but will without doubt be as important as that of his brothers.

Other important characters are King Robert (soon to be deceased) and Queen Cersei, the source of most of the evil in the land; Jaime Lannister, a knight of the Kingsguard, and Cersei's twin brother; Tyrion Lannister, their dwarven younger brother; and Cersei and Robert's son Joeffery (soon to be a king).

In addition to these characters there are many others who may have a smaller part in the novel but are still as well-developed as the major characters. This is probably the strongest part of A Game of Thrones -- you are forced to care about each character one way or another because none of them is left in the background.

All in all this is a novel with a richly historical setting, well-developed characters and a plot where nothing (not even the bloodlines of the royalty) are exactly as it seems.

The only sore point with this novel may be the lessons it teaches, for it seems that in Martins' A Game of Thrones no good deed goes unpunished. It is still a wonderful read, and possibly the best fantasy novel in recent memory.

[ by Dan Ford ]

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