A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire Book One) was first published in 1996 to relative success, which was further boosted by HBO’s serialization of the novel onto television. Inspired by greats such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan and Robert E. Howard, Martin creates a rich world in the tradition of Middle-Earth set in a low-magic historical/medieval setting where the savagery of the Feudal system is as much a character as the people themselves.
Avoiding the cliches found in modern fantasy epics, Martin has ground the genre back to a relatable level – family dynamics. His mastery of the narrative is obvious not only in his ability to weave complicated plots and points of view together into a fast-paced political melee, but more his ability to draw his characters in a moral gray scale. With some exceptions, no character is specifically good or bad – they all fight for their honor, or their family, or their kingdom, or merely follow the customs or religious beliefs common and accepted in their homelands. Martin throws the reader into this Feudalistic maelstrom and expects the reader to make his or her own judgments on the characters. There are several characters that are clearly in the villain role, and yet Martin has managed to craft them all as multi-faceted and even sympathetic so that, right to the end, they remain ambiguous.
A Game of Thrones is Shakespearean tragedy dressed up with even more violence, dark energies, and plenty of sex: it is both equally a timeless classic and a post-modern marvel. Martin draws from multiple sub-genres so that there is something recognizable to all readers, no matter what fiction they normally read.
The only drawback is that Martin’s world is so rich in character and description that, for the first half of the book, it is often easy to get lost in the finer details, but as the book progresses and characters are killed off, the narrative becomes less muddy and becomes clearer and easier to follow.
An exciting read with many original and intriguing concepts as well as many familiar and more comfortable ideas. 8/10