I love a book that starts with maps. You just know you're going to be thrown into a rich, detailed world and showered with more information than you strictly need.
And "A Game of Thrones" doesn't disappoint. The story is slow-burning and rich in detail, containing a rare mix: the right amount of well-paced plot with the right amount of background, history and legend. You're in for the long haul when you start it: as none of the plot points are resolved by the end of the novel you are committed to following the army of characters through the series, waiting for the plot lines of Targaryen, King's Landing and The Wall to collide.
The plot twists and turns with various surprises along the way. This book is never predictable, and when a character dies it's not in a meaningless background-character-snuffing-it-but-publicised-beyond-all-reason (*cough* Cedric Diggory) but it's a main character. And it's more than once, and it has a profound impact on the story. Nothing is irrelevant to the story as Martin creates political intrigue, wars, grudges and revenge.
"A Game of Thrones" has a huge cast of characters, with the supporting characters being largely indistinguishable from each other. Jon Snow's black brothers are all rather generic, as are Khal Drogo's bloodriders and the array of knights at King's Landing. Trying to sort out who was who became a little frustrating as I worked through the novel: many of the characters were not memorable and this is a long book, when they came round agan I had forgotten who they were.
The older generation of main characters, Tywin Lannister; Robert Baratheon; Old Bear Mormont; Khal Drogo and Eddard Stark are well drawn and rich with their own conflicting values and ideas. They fight amongst themselves whilst a growing conflict with the younger generation materialises. Joffrey Baratheon; Daenerys Targeryan; Robb Stark and Jon Snow maneouvre themselves to front of stage, highlighting the theme of conflict between old and new, and the recurring theme of conflict between fathers and sons.
Tyrion Lannister, The Imp, is a triumphant creation. He's witty, sarcastic and vulgar by turns and his sections are lively, ironic and vivid as he grows from risible "bastard" towards the respect of his inferiors and family.
I have heard this book described as masochistic and sexist. There is no doubt that it depicts a man's world, and the women of the lower class are either hideous, or whores, or both; but the female main characters, Cersei Lannister; Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen grow in strength throughout the book and have a huge amount of influence over events in their own story threads. The struggles between the two girls, Sansa and Arya Stark reflect the difficulties of a woman trying to find her place and make her mark. Their differing choices set them on diverse paths, and differing destinies.
"A Game of Thrones" is book one in the series "A Song of Ice and Fire" and it is grand in scope, rich in detail, and filled with surprises. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to treating myself to the remainder of the series.
Reviews of "A Song of Ice and Fire"
"A Clash of Kings"