Wow. I don’t even know where to start this NOOK Book review so I’m just going to begin at the beginning and take you through my experience with A Game of Thrones. Like most folks, I heard about A Game of Thrones because it’s a big hit on HBO and has a pretty large fan base with respect to readers of the novels. I’m the type of person who at least likes to be aware of what’s going on in pop culture and when A Game of Thrones hit the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, I thought that I should probably give the story a shot. Plus, I’ve been looking (not that hard) for a good fantasy series to read since I’ve pretty much read and re-read everything that the master of the genre – J.R.R. Tolkien – published.
So with the thought in my mind that this was a New York Times bestseller, a hit series on HBO, and a fantasy story that was gaining momentum in pop culture I got myself the NOOK Book version of A Game of Thrones. For reference, the NOOK Book version of the novel has 753 pages, some 733 of which are the actual story versus the final 20 NOOK Book pages which are an appendix listing the relationships of the different characters in the story.
I’m not sure how deep into detail I want to get with respect to the story itself, but there are a few major, overarching points that I want to make about this book.
First, A Game of Thrones does not read like a fantasy or science fiction story except in certain places. Other than the opening prologue, the reader has to wait hundreds (literally, hundreds) of pages before any event occurs that is actually supernatural in its nature. Further, the reader isn’t treated to a second supernatural, fantastical event until the very last page or two of the book. And even at that, after the reader gets through 733 pages of this “fantasy” novel the fantastical event at the end of the novel is good, but not enough in this reader’s mind.
Second, this is a long book. A really long book. As a reader, I enjoy long books because they give me a chance to get wrapped up in a story and really try to understand the perspectives of the characters, why they do what they do, what larger issues are being commented on by the story/author, etc. I didn’t get much of that from A Game of Thrones and, frankly, the lack of both character depth and progressive character development for the majority of these 733 pages is alarming. Based just upon the character depth and development alone, I’m shocked that A Game of Thrones made its way to the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Shocked.
Third, while I eventually began to accept what A Game of Thrones had to offer, I can’t really say that I enjoyed reading the book. Don’t misunderstand – I didn’t loathe reading the book. If I hated A Game of Thrones I would have just stopped reading it and went on to the next book in my unread stack. There’s something in this story… there’s something there that made me – as a fan of fantasy and science fiction writing – want to see the superiority and depth of this story and its characters. But I just couldn’t get myself into it that deeply.
The story of the Stark family ruling at Winterfell, being split up, and ultimately having the head of the family decimated in King’s Landing after King Robert dies is certainly a good story. But the reasons behind the various actions that lead to the end of the novel are not that deep. Look, the Lannisters are scumbags and they do whatever they want to do without regarding for right or wrong. They put an inbred young king on the throne who doesn’t even know that his father is actually his uncle and I guess that there is supposed to be more of a gripping story than appears to the naked eye there, but I didn’t see it. However, a more compelling story for this reader was that of Dany and her brother Viserys and their interactions with the Dothraki. And yet even in that story, Martin (seemingly randomly) chooses to kill off one of the most interesting characters in the novel, Khal Drogo, to reach the storyline progression that is achieved at the end of A Game of Thrones. It just seemed to me that in terms of storytelling, Drogo could have made it a little bit further in the story.
There are a variety of lesser stories interwoven throughout the novel that also have potential, such as the stories regarding the Mormont family, the different characters and their interactions in the Night’s Watch, the Others beyond the Wall, etc. But Martin doesn’t really get into those stories too much. One would think that with 733 pages of story, he could dive into one of those sub-stories and really give it some color. The again, if he chose not to give a depth of color to the main characters, I guess it would seem silly to do that with the minor ones instead.
I know this NOOK Book review seems more like I’m complaining than anything else, but I just can’t figure out what my exact gripe is with A Game of Thrones. My gripe is not that the story is mostly sluggish or mostly boring – I can imagine many folks enjoying this read. And my gripe also doesn’t have to do with the extremely repetitive words and phrases that Martin uses throughout the novel (if I read that a character ate something “to break his/her fast” again or that a warrior was robed in armor that looked like “a lobster,” I’m going to punch someone).
In general, I think my problem with A Game of Thrones is that it really does take hundreds of pages for Martin to reveal a plot point that any astute reader had probably already discovered and processed the moment that the plot point was hinted at… hundreds of pages earlier. In addition, while Martin’s writing style isn’t necessarily bad, his narration style leaves a lot to be desired. A Game of Thrones does not benefit by the way Martin jumps from one part of the story to the next (very similar to the way the Lord of the Rings movies follows the progression of the story). Aside from being distracting to the discerning reader, jumping from one scene to a completely different one reveals another one of my gripes with this story – it seems to have almost been written in a format that would make it easily adaptable to television.
After 733 pages of NOOK Book reading, I can’t quite put my finger on the element of the book that makes A Game of Thrones a hit show on HBO. However, there is little doubt in my mind that this story was written – at least in part – from a desire to see the characters come to life on film or television and that is what is at the core of what bothers me. When you read a book like Tarzan or a book like The Hobbit or a series like The Lord of The Rings, you aren’t reading about characters who were created to eventually be placed on the big screen. Go back and read a book like Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe and tell me if you think that the characters in those books were written with the express purpose of eventually making a video game or television series based off of the characters. The answer is clearly no (and not just because those mediums of entertainment didn’t exist when the books were published). These books were written to tell a compelling story and let’s be honest – content is king.
The reason why The Lord of the Rings has stood the test of time is because J.R.R. Tolkien created a story with characters that are so deep and with such a rich back story that a fan of fantasy novels can get lost in his legendarium and never cease to be amazed at a new discovery that informs the core story of good versus evil. It’s that content that made Tolkien a master of his craft. And in truth, it’s that lack of content – the lack of any compelling, overarching reason as to why events are happening – that brings down A Game of Thrones for this reader. I understand that there are other books in this series. However, I have to ask the question – if a deeper, compelling story isn’t revealed after 733 NOOK Book pages of reading, then what else is there? Could Martin have made the next books in this series any less substantive, any less dramatic, any more unnecessarily graphic, or any more frustrating to read than A Game of Thrones? I have access to the next book in this series, but I’m unsure if I’m going to read it yet. I might give the first chapter a try just to see what’s doing.
For those of you out there who are looking for something different to read – A Game of Thrones is definitely different. However, if you’re looking for a good science fiction series or a fantasy series with a deep, compelling story to get into, then I don’t think that A Game of Thrones is for you. The story isn’t quite science fiction nor is it quite fantasy except in very few, very brief instances in its 733 pages. And for a science fiction or fantasy fan, that’s just not enough. The book is long – that’s for sure. But length aside, A Game of Thrones is a case where quantity does not equal quality.