Book Review: A Game of Thrones and a question

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My husband and I recently became addicted to Game of Thrones on HBO. We didn’t know much about the show beforehand, but it looked cool enough. Having become addicted to the series we discovered that it’s actually based on four books by George R. R. Martin, the first being A Game of Thrones. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, though I know there’s a lot of good stuff out there. As the HBO series evolved, and I realized there were books out there, I decided I should probably give them a look. And so comes my very important question, which I’ll get to later.

It’s often hard to predict exactly what relationship a television show or movie will have to the book upon which it’s based. I started watching True Blood on HBO and then read some of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. I find the mysteries to be very different from the television show, and generally prefer the books. The Sookie I imagine in my head is quite different from the character Anna Paquin plays.

What’s interesting about Game of Thrones is that the HBO writers this time around followed the book almost exactly. At least for the first book, you can count on one hand the number of times the plot of the series diverges from the novel. And why would you change anything from a book like that? It’s taylor-made for television. Which isn’t to say it’s not a good read, because it is. But it’s a book that jumps from character to character and setting to setting, which makes it perfect for the pace of a television series (each chapter in the book is titled by the particular character from whose perspective the story unfolds, and the chapters rotate through the different characters). The characters are well-developed in the book, but as much through their actions as through any access we get to their internal thoughts. That makes it relatively easy to show us on television what we’re meant to know the characters are thinking.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers here, but just let me tell you that if you’re watching the series on HBO On Demand or Netflix and you’re thinking it’s dragging in places, stick with it. It gets better, especially the season finale.

Having both read the book and watched the series now, there are some things that strike me as kind of interesting. In the book, most of the main characters are much younger than is suggested in the HBO series. Daenarys is 13, Robb Stark and Jon Snow are 15, and I believe Sansa is just 12. This makes the things that are happening to them much scarier, darker and creepier, so I’m glad the actor who plays Daenarys in the series does not actually look 13. But in essence, both the book and the series are about mostly children, teenagers, women and a dwarf (and one of the teenagers is also a bastard, just to make it interesting). The only main character who does not fit into any of these categories is Eddard Stark, who is perhaps just emotionally handicapped (and no spoilers, but if you watch the show or have read the books, you can see why he might be less of an outlier in this group). In essence, the story is told by an assemblage of people who are generally seen as less powerful, less capable, less at the center of stories. I don’t know if this was intentional on Martin’s part as an author, and it’s subtle. I didn’t really notice this about the characters or the story until several days after I’d finished the book. But I think it’s part of what gives this story such an original twist. The plot itself is not particularly novel, but the perspective is.

Because of this particular method of story-telling, it is completely unclear to me at this point which side I’m supposed to be rooting for. Of course, the Stark’s make up most of the characters, so numerically, they would seem to be the best candidate. But can I possibly see either Tyrion Lannister or Daenarys Targaryen as the bad guys? Even Cersei Lannister has her moments, though Joffrey is clearly a complete snake. Is Varys, the scheming eunuch, really bad, or is he actually a shining beacon for good government? I love complexity, and both the book and the series provide plenty of meaty contradictions.

So my question is, do I read the next book in the series, A Clash of Kings, or stop and wait for the HBO series to resume in Spring of 2012 (which is so very, very far away)? My husband noted that I generally don’t seem to have a problem watching things that I’ve already read. I think this observation comes from our experience with True Blood, but in that case, reading the books doesn’t really give you the best clue as to what’s going to happen next. In the case of Game of Thrones, I have to say that it was so fun to be so surprised by the ending of this season. If I read the rest of the books, no more surprises for me. And I am the kind of person who can watch a good series (like Buffy) over and over and over again, not really caring that I know what’s going to happen. On the other hand, you can never really get back that first time of watching a show and the not knowing what’s going to happen. On the other hand, we bought all 4 of the books and they’re just sitting on the bookshelves upstairs, calling to me. What to do, what to do?

So, tell me what you think. Would you read or wait?

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Comments

  1. Because I don't have HBO and my husband has read the first two and recommends I say read.

  2. Hi Robyn,
    This morning is my first visit to your blog, and what a pleasant surprise that your most recent post is on a book I've recently started. I'm only about 125 pages in so far and have been a little overwhelmed with he sheer number of characters, and keeping who's who straight in my mind has been a little difficult. But my expectations remain high from the book and the series based upon what I've heard from others. I don't have HBO but may rent their adaptation once I'm done reading the books.
    -Jay

  3. Anonymous says:

    as a longtime bookreader, I'd say wait. Because you can't get that magical moment of “He did WHAT??” back. Alan Taylor did such a bangup job with Baelor… (they're giving him Four Episodes next season!!! squee!)

    Besides, the books give more detail. Even “spoiled” by the series, you'll still enjoy them.

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