This post was also published on Youth Correspondent. To see that post, click here.
With midterms in three days, a deliciously cool breeze wafting through my window, sunshine filling up my bedroom, and a brand new book in my hand, I was utterly conflicted. In my hand I held the first installment of the A Song of Ice & Fire series, by George R. R. Martin, initially published in 1996.
I knew I should study. I knew it. But when you’ve got a new novel in your hands, its edges crisp and its pages untouched, how can you not throw every thought of midterms to the wind?
Rest assured, I did study. I managed to lock the book in my closet (it felt like I was banishing a loved one), and get down to the drastically less exciting coursework.
As of 11:30 am this morning, I am pleased to announce that I am a free woman. Book in hand, I couldn’t wait to come home and embrace the adventure that awaited me. And what an adventure!
George R. R. Martin throws you straight into the world of Westeros, without an introduction to ease you into things. There’s talk of ‘winter‘ and the ‘undead‘, and it took me a while to be able to sort through all the terminology. For example, something I was finally able to figure out:
Westeros is the name given to the great continent in the far west of the known world. It stretches from theuttermost north to the Summer Sea and from the Sunset Sea to the Narrow Sea, which separates it from the continent of Essos to the east.
The terms ‘sunset lands’ and, more commonly, ‘The Seven Kingdoms’, are sometimes used to refer to Westeros, although the latter only applies to those lands south of the Wall. The Dothraki call it Rhaesh Andahli, the land of the Andals.
In the world of Westeros, we are introduced first to the Stark family, Eddard (Ned) and his wife Catelyn (maiden name: Tully) and their bundle of children. There is a bastard son, Jon Snow, and a species of super-wolf, called direwolves. There is a big wall, which I keep imagining as the Great Wall of China, and a girl named Daenerys, who seems completely unrelated as you start to worm your way through the book.
I often find fault with books based of fantasy worlds. Most writers don’t seem adequately committed to making their fantasy a reality. I imagine it looks very nice in their head, but often, it doesn’t translate on paper, and into my mind as a reader. Then there is an opposite extreme, when writers are so committed to the fantasy that they take it overboard, and you’re so lost with the werewolves and the she-monkeys and all these other random things that you lose interest in the plot line. It’s my opinion that in any fantasy novel, you need to have a “human, non-beast” aspect that your readers can relate to.
George R. R. Martin finds this balance easily. There are weirwoods, and septs and the Others, but there are also humans, and values such as honor, prestige, loyalty, kindness. He doses out a fair amount of cruelty and hardness to his characters too. In sum, he creates a world that is believable. There is a story, there is a plethora of characters to entrance you, and there is emphasis on the cardinal values of justice and honor, to entrance the hero in each man.
Things I loved about the novel:
1) The Dothraki
Fierce “savages”, the Dothraki are a nomadic warrior tribe, who honor the horse and human strength above all. They are blunt in their love-making and quick to murder, but they honor the greatest warrior with the title of Khal (ruler/king/leader) and are prepared to stake their lives for him. A reverence of mother nature is prevalent, as is a fierce pride in their strength and power. “The stallion that mounts the world has no need for iron chairs.” – Khal Drogo
In the picture (which is from the adapted TV series) shows his really long ponytail, but in the novel, repeated reference is made to the fact that the Dothraki oil and braid their hair, and a man’s hair is not cut until he loses a battle. A man with hair as long as Drogo’s is a man that has never been defeated. The bells sown into their braids indicate their many victories. The TV series does a grave injustice to Drogo’s grandeur by skipping out on these details.
2) The Iron Throne
The entire concept of the Iron Throne is so different from the usual gilded chairs of fairy tales, that I had no choice but to be entranced.
The Iron Throne was made by Aegon I Targaryen, the first king of the Seven Kingdoms, and continues to be the seat of the king when we are invited into the A Game of Thrones narrative. The Throne is made from the swords surrendered by his enemies, it is supposed to have taken a thousand blades to make, and was cooked in dragon-breath. Now how’s that for innovative?
As I said before, Martin’s writing is infused with the importance of honor and valor, that which makes a man. It is no different with the throne. The Iron Throne is a monstrosity of spikes and jagged edges and twisted metal. It is uncomfortable, and the back is fanged with steel which makes leaning back impossible. Aegon the Conqueror had it made, saying that a king should never sit easy.
3) The words of the House of Stark, “Winter is coming.” and the entire concept of “winter” in itself throughout the story.
In Westeros the seasons last for years, sometimes decades, at a time. Nobody knows why, but ‘winter’ implies hard times, and ‘summer’ implies easy times with good harvests, plentiful resources, peace throughout the Seven Kingdoms.
All in all, I’ve loved every minute of the book. I can’t wait to finish the last 100 pages (I didn’t go too much into the plot so I wouldn’t spoil any of it for you guys) and start attacking the next one, a A Clash of Kings.