Book Club in Session: A Game of Thrones (Book 1 in A Song of Ice and Fire Series) by George R. R. Martin

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We’re back!  Lauren and I haven’t had a book club discussion in a long time, so we are starting the year off right by discussing Game of Thrones!

This book club discussion will be a little bit different from how we have done it in the past, being that A Game of Thrones is already such a well loved TV series, and loyal watchers of the show will already know what happens after book one.  Thus, there is really no use in my sister and I asking each other “What ifs” and teasing apart what likely happens next, because most of you (my sister included) already know!  I however, am still in the dark, so the rest of you keep quiet about it!  For this discussion, I will give my reactions to the book alone (well… mostly), and Lauren will follow up with more of a comparison between the show and book.

[Disclaimer: there still are a few spoilers littered throughout, so tread with caution!]

Heather:  I first heard about A Game of Thrones a couple of years ago, back when everyone was first buzzing about the new HBO show.  Not too long after, I decided to give it a shot.  Yet, by the time I had made my way through half of the first season, I still wasn’t hooked.  Really, I couldn’t figure out what all the hoopla was about.  What made the story so extraordinary?  I quit watching the show for the time being, and during this respite decided to read the first book in the series instead.

The book hooked me from the start.  Without going into too many specifics, A Game of Thrones is at its core about the battle for power.  The people inhabiting the land all live within the confines of “the wall” that the rejects and castoffs of society have sworn to defend from whatever evil lies outside of it.  While the supernatural creatures that exist outside of the wall are worrisome, the more urgent and pressing danger in this book was the war waged between those living inside the wall’s perimeters.   That is, the characters were too busy executing backstabbing power grabs against one another in their “game of thrones” if you will, for the evil lurking beyond the wall to be too particularly troublesome.  For me, however, the supernatural element was my favorite part, as were the band of misfits sworn to protect the wall.  This book just barely touched the surface of what these creatures beyond the wall really are, and I am hopeful that this will be a more central theme in the next book in the series.

Although having watched very little (and remembering even less!) of the show, the thing I found most unsettling about the book is just how young all of the characters really are (compared to how they are portrayed in the show).  For instance, Daenerys, only 13, is wed to this massive arbarian of a man and is forced to behave as a lady far beyond her years (i.e., bow-chick-a-wow-wow).  Perhaps even HBO thought it would be too creepy to have her engage in sexual relations with her much older husband on the show, when she was still a baby herself.   I mean, for goodness sake, the book ends with her breast feeding two baby dragons after her own baby dies (yes, she has already gotten herself married and knocked up all before the age of 14… meanwhile I am 27 and not even close to married or preggo).  And Robb Stark, eldest son of Lord Eddard Stark is only 14 in the book, but yet leads an army to war like a total BA.  I know people matured much faster back in those days, but at age 13 my mom was still doing my laundry!  I couldn’t even be trusted to clean out the kitty litter, much less carry a baby or lead an army.  So I suppose making the characters a little older in the show is a bit of an easier pill to swallow.  I imagine them all much older in my head while I am reading anyway.  But then something happens to make me remember their age, and I am horrified all over again.

Anyway, there were a number of aspects that made this book particularly challenging to put down.  First, there was a lot going on at all times, but not so much that it was hard to follow.  The book is pretty lengthy, but there was never a time that I felt things were dragging, or I got bored (which I can’t necessarily say the same for what I saw of the show).  I also liked that the events are told from a bunch of different characters’ perspectives, but doesn’t feel disjointed the way that some books that attempt this can (cough* A Casual Vacancy cough*).  Finally, the characters had a lot of depth to them, and there are several underdogs that I can’t help but love and root for: Arya Stark, Bran Stark, the bastard child John Snow, John Snow’s friends on the wall, and Daenerys Targaryen are my personal favorites.  I for one cannot wait to start the second book, and I think I will enjoy the show much more now having read the first book in the series.

Lauren:  Can we all just take a moment to smile at Heather saying bastard?  Just for some perspective, thanks to our mom she still shies away from saying butt.  …Moment over.

Now it’s time for my side of things, coming from the perspective of having seen the first two seasons of the show before reading the book.  For starters, I am sad to say that it did take me longer than I would have preferred to get into the pages as the world and characters are slowly being laid out on the playing board.  Especially because I just wanted to get to when the little wolf tried to fly.  But once this first major beat of the story passed, the action could really begin.

About half way through the novel I finally had to give up my hopes that there would be any glaringly obvious discrepancies between the two tellings of the story, but alas, this was not to be.  Slightly disappointed, I had to talk myself into the understanding that this lack of variation in the adaptation of the show is actually a huge sign of respect for the world and story created by George R.R. Martin.  In other words, it is just too good to mess with.

With that said, thank goodness HBO cast the roles older.  Like Heather said, it is an accurate representation of a time in which people were forced to mature faster in their world and often died younger, but an icky shiver still ran through my spine when Dany was introduced as a girl of thirteen because I knew where her plotline was heading.  I think she may have seen her fourteenth name day before giving birth (FYI Heather), but that does not make it any less culturally taboo.  Luckily for me, I had the actors’ faces still in my mind and just went with their ages instead.

Other differences of note:

  • The Eyrie – even with it’s pretty CGI work of the castle far off in the distance, the show just couldn’t quite match the description of the “impregnable” nature of this beast.  Then again, we also couldn’t spend 10 minutes watching Catelyn Stark work her way to the top.  I wish it would have been kept in though just so we could see the look on her face when she had to put her life in the hands of a bastard child considering her hatred for John Snow.
  • The Hound has a rather sad origin story for his scarred face, and I appreciated him being the one to tell Sansa what happened to him because it made him more of a sympathetic character (rather than Little Finger being the one to spill the beans).  Actually, now that I think about it, The Hound was more sympathetic in the book overall just because there were just more examples of him looking out for Sansa, even if it isn’t much.
  • Speaking of more sympathetic, the show actually managed to make me feel bad for that witch of a woman, Cercei, on more than one occasion.  Not saying I liked her or anything, but it was definitely more understandable as to why she could hate Robert as much as she did because we spent more time with them, including a scene in which she says that she loved him once and he responded that he never did.
  • Because they’re easier to write than film, the wolves are more of a constant presence on the page than on the screen, and who doesn’t like wolves?  (Sidenote – Nymeria better come back!)

With book one done, I am well on my way through book two in my goal to get ahead of the show before it comes back at the end of March with its third season.  It’s exciting to see that we’re following some new/different characters in the different chapters, and I can’t wait to see if this book deviates at all.  If it doesn’t, I will just have to remind myself that it really isn’t a bad thing.

Heather’s Final Grade: 4 out of 5 stars
Lauren’s Final Grade: 4 out of 5 stars     

Want to read along with us?  Our next book club book will be Justin Cronin’s The Passage.

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