When the King comes to Winterfell, Ned Stark soon finds himself given the post of Hand to the King by King Robert. All is not well in Winterfell, however. Stark's son is gravely injured and signs point to the King's wife's family, the Lannisters. Stark will soon find out that when you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or die...
Okay, so it's way more complicated than that but it's hard to write a teaser for an 800+ page kitten squisher like this.
I was bound and determined not to read the Song of Ice and Fire for a variety of reasons.
1. I am not a huge fan of today's fantasy novels, never-ending doorstop fantasy series in particular.
2. The series is not yet finished and I don't want to be Dark Towered into waiting years between books or having Martin pull a Robert Jordan and die without completing it.
3. Hype. Anytime someone tells me I have to read something, I almost always dig my feet in and resist. One of these days, I'll stop being stubborn when people recommend me books. Sure, most of them read probably 20% as much as I read in a year but there are reasons why certain books sell thousands and thousands of copies.
So after my girlfriend and I blazed through the first season of Game of Thrones in a weekend, I figured it was time to cave in and give it a try. My fears were unfounded. The Game of Thrones took over my life while I was reading it. Even after watching the first season of the TV series, I couldn't be bothered with things like cleaning house and eating properly. I was captivated by the tale of the Lannisters, the Starks, the Targaryens, and the rest.
I read an interview with George R.R. Martin where he mentioned liking historical fiction but hating knowing the ending before he started. Game of Thrones feels way more like historical fiction than it does fantasy. While there are magical elements, they don't dominate the story. The story is the battle for the throne of the seven kingdoms and intrigue behind the scenes by various factions. It feels way more like Pillars of the Earth than it does epic fantasy.
For me, the main strengths of the Game of Thrones are the characters and GRRM's willingness to do horrible things to them. While fantasy is usually about good vs. evil, nothing is so black and white in the Game of Thrones. King Robert is a man with a drinking and whoring problem. Ned Stark fathered a child out of wedlock. The Lannisters are a bunch of well-meaning scumbags. Jon Snow looks down upon his companions because of his noble upbringing.
As for GRRM's willingness to do horrible things to his characters? Don't get too attached to anyone. There were several shocking deaths in Game of Thrones and I'm told it gets worse from here on out. I can't wait for someone to settle Joffrey Lannister's hash!
For me, one of the marks of a good book is if it makes me want to rush out and write something similar. It happened with the Dark Tower, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Elric, Hyperion, Amber, and now this. Speaking of Amber, Martin thanks Roger Zelazny in the acknowledgments. I already knew he and Zelazny were close. Now I'm wondering if the machinations in Game of Thrones were in any way inspired by the ones of the family in Amber.
Differences between the book and the first season of the show are pretty minor. One thing that really stood out was that a lot of the characters were younger in the book. Also, there weren't so many women being taken roughly from behind in Martin's text. Other than that, it was mostly chronology and a few minor scenes that were missing.
That's about all I can say since I don't want to give too much away. This book is a monstrous tome but it didn't feel like it. There's always something going on and everyone better watch their backs. After all, Winter is Coming...