A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Read by Tracy August 2011(OurBookClub book pick of the month for August 2011)
Tracy recommends as an entralling series
George R.R. Martin has created a fantasy world that is becoming increasingly popular all whilst being likened to J.R.R. Tolkien. The first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series A Game of Thrones has been adapted to a HBO Series starring Sean Bean as Eddard Stark and Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister (some perfect casting if you ask me). I am the first to admit that Fantasy novels (other than Lord of the Rings) is not my preferred reading, but felt that it must be more than the usual geeky teenager fodder. There are five books in total in the series with A Dance with Dragons being recently released (after a six year gap) and it is getting some strong media attention, although for Martin the fact that a zealous Amazon employee shipped the books early has him reportedly furious. Originally the series was planned for six volumes, but I would expect an ever increasing paycheque will see Martin expand on that number. Each book is approximately 1000 pages long, so it has taken me more time to read and review than normal (that coupled with a heavy travel load following Le Tour de France). No matter how much I write it seems impossible to put down everything that is going on Ė you need to pick up the books for yourselves, or if not, at least watch the HBO Series. Check out the George R.R. Martin website for more information on this series and his other books. There is now a boxed set available of all published 7 books to date - makes a great present. If you want an alternate review, check our Vivid Scribe's fantastic book review site, run by none other than Kate Krake.
A Game of Thrones (Book 1) by George R.R. Martin
Released in 1996, the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series provides you with a background into the history of the seven kingdoms and how they were united. There are several main houses with the majority of the initial book being told by eight perspectives based on the following houses:-
Baratheon: King Robert is married to Cersei Lannister who has three children Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen. Cersei is daughter to Tywin and sister to Jaime and Tyrion. Robert has two brothers, Stannis and Renly.
Stark: Lord Eddard Stark married to Catelyn and has five children, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon. Lord Eddard also has a bastard son Jon. Starkís are the holders of Winterfell and guardians of the north and allied to the Baratheons after helping to put Robert onto the throne after the last war.
Lannister: Tywin was married to Joanna (who died giving birth to Tyrion); they have three surviving children, twins Cersei and Jaime then Tyrion (a dwarf). The House of Lannister is desperate for the throne and will do anything to win it.
The seven kingdoms (which is also split between the North and the South) was united under the crown of Robert Baratheon, but all is not as it seems and there is a constant web of corruption as dynasties and houses attempt to claim the throne. It is a complicated plot and I would suggest you have a quick look at the Appendix to get to grips with the different houses and their main characters otherwise you can easily miss some of the plots, sub-plots and sub-sub-plots. With each chapter being individually documented you are taken into the uttermost thoughts and devious schemes of the narrators finding yourself torn between the good and bad characters. There are constant surprises and you are soon absorbed into the world of warmongering. A word of warning, these books are not for the young, they involve some none-too pretty subjects such as incest, rape, murder, treason and treachery, but you need to then put it into the perspective of the time the storylines are placed when fear ruled and your every word and action documented and passed on for monetary gain or more.
Initially you are taken in the life of the Starkís, Lords of Winterfell and the northern lands, who are strong supporters of King Robert, with Lord Eddard Stark being his best friend. On the day that Eddard Stark beheads of man for desertion, his sons find six Dire wolf pups, one for each of the children (including his bastard son Jon), and this finding is fundamental to some of the future storylines. King Robert gives Eddard the office of Hand, one that Lord Eddard feels will be the downfall of his family, but urged by his wife Catelyn, Eddard moves to the capital Kings Landing and is soon involved in treachery at court and finding out how the previous Hand had died. All the main families and characters are from within the seven kingdoms, except the story of Daenerys Targaryen who was forced to flee as a young child. Daenerys is the last of her line that had previously ruled the seven kingdoms before Robert took the crown. She is basically sold by her brother to a band of warriors on the assumption they will help him obtain the crown, but luckily for us this was a misunderstanding as Prince Viserys would be an aweful king. Eventually King Robert meets an untimely end and Lord Eddard is soon at war with the Lannisters, who have to be the most devious family you can imagine and before Lord Eddard can finally solve the riddle of the parentage of Cerseiís children and the death of Lord Arryn he too meets an ill-timed death by the hand of the newly crowned King Joffrey (King Robert's son - or is he?). Another part of the story and to the detriment of the warring factions is the growth and daring of the Wildings and Others beyond the Wall who are becoming stronger and this is the real threat to the realm.
Although this is touted as a fantasy novel, there is limited witchcraft and supernatural exploits, it all revolves around political intrigue. Is it the same calibre of quality as Lord of the Rings Ė I donít think so, but it is certainly a fantastic story full of twists and turns with every page revealing snippets which is like a jigsaw puzzle and of politics, murders, conspiracies, love, hatred, battles and trials.
A Clash of Kings (Book 2) by George R.R. Martin
King Robert Baratheon and Lord Eddard Stark are both dead - losers in the Game of Thrones. The cruel and wicked Joffrey Baratheon is now on the throne at the age of 13 and is betrothed to Sansa Stark, unhappily for her as Joffrey is merciless in his treatment of her. Unfortunately Sansa still lives under the assumption and childish guile that a prince on a white horse will whisk her away. Joffrey's grandfather, Lord Tywin Lannister, sends Tyrion Lannister (Joffrey's uncle and Cersei's brother) to guide him and attempt to control Cersei in ruling the kingdom and keeping more than a tenuous grip on the throne. In the north, Robb Stark has been named king and marches against the Lannister forces. In addition both Stannis and Renly Baratheon have proclaimed themselves heirs on the rumour that Cerseiís childrenís father is in fact her twin, Jaime Lannister and are not the rightful heirs to the throne. Then there is the ward of Eddard Stark, Theon Greyjoy, who plans to bring his own house onto the throne by capturing Winterfell which sees him purportedly kill Bran and Rickon Stark, but he is eventually double thwarted and is soon out of the storyline. In contrast, Arya Stark, has managed to escape the Lannisters but her secret doesnít stay safe and she is used as a hostage to the highest bidder. Strangely, the fate of the kingdom may lie in the hands of Jon Snow, bastard son of Eddard Stark, who is in the Nights Watch and Gendry, the bastard son of Robert Baratheon, found working in a forge, allies with Arya and helps her escape. In this book Daenerys is growing stronger and she has developed into a strong minded woman as she moves slowly to gather a force in her determination to reclaim the throne with the aid of her three recently born dragons.
In this book, the use of hostages and captives play out in a brutal world where anything goes and alliances mean nothing. Martin certainly does not step away from brutality and his knowledge of medieval history certainly keeps enough relevance and reality to the storyline with his references to royal families and the use of sycophants and courtiers to gain power at all costs. The books are not self-contained, so you need to read them in the correct order as the plot lines flow throughout the series. I would also suggest you donít leave too long between the books at the plots can be complicated and Martin tends away from recapping previous exploits.
A Storm of Swords (Book 3) by George R.R. Martin
This is the third instalment to the A Song of Ice and Fire series and continues much in the same way as the previous books where violence and heartlessness seem to overtake loyalty and fealty. The Lannisters are still in power and with the aid of Tyrion win the battle against Stannis who is now the sole heir of the Baratheon throne after the strange death of Renly. All in all the kingdom is in turmoil with no end in sight and the savagery continues abated. However, there are greater forces now growing and Daenerys Targaryen is gathering an army whilst raising her dragons. The use of wizards and witches is growing and there are strange dark forces at play in all parts of the realm.
Sansa Stark continues to be used as a pawn and held prisoner by the Lannisters and is eventually married off to Tyrion. I still think that Tyrion at least has a heart or some honour compared to the rest of his house. Still it is not a happy marriage and Sansa becomes increasingly despairing after the deaths of her brother (Robb) and mother (Catelyn). Whereas, her sister Arya, has formed an alliance with the DogSandor Clegane in an effort to avoid being captured by all the houses now rising to take over the power vacuum left by the deaths of the Starks. However, Bran and Rickon Stark have survived and Bran is using his skills to change to a Dire wolf in his dreams to keep ahead of those hunting them. Strangely enough after Bran and Rickon separate, Rickon is no longer in the storyline. Jon Stark has also taken on the leadership of the Night Watch as all around him fall and the Wildlings and Others continue to assert their influence.
This book far outweighs A Storm of Swords as the characters are now starting to come into their own and characters such as Bran and Jon are forging a way through the myriad of treachery. In addition the underhanded planning by the Lannister house draws you in and I certainly didnít see the Hoster/Frey wedding happening in the way it did. For me Tyrion continues to steal the limelight as he outplots his siblings to cement his place in the family. Of course by now, there are only three of the original six Dire wolves left and they canít be forgotten as I think they hold the key to the resurrection of the Starkís at Winterfell and also peace to the seven kingdoms, but I have been wrong before. Daenerys is also struggling to bring her dream to fruition and constantly thwarted in her attempts to unite those around her. Stannis is also still in the edges of the story and is introducing more and more magic into the realm, if only getting rid of someone you donít like is as easy as Melisandre makes it. Arya is still getting herself caught up in exploit after exploit and alas poor Sansa is just traded from one hostile environment to another where she never seems to take a stand, she is the ideal victim. The biggest change in this book is Jaime (aka the Kingslayer) who has been humbled, or so it would appear. I wish he would see Cersei for what she is and realise that Brianne is someone who is a far better prospect.
A Feast for Crows (Book 4) by George R.R. Martin
This is the long awaited fourth instalment to the A Song of Ice and Fire series, taking approximately five years to write and eventually only being the first instalment of story so far which has grown in mammoth proportions and saw this book being split in two with the remainder of the story line being published in A Dance with Dragons.
In this book, Jaime Lannister sets Tyrion free, only to have him kill his hated Father, Tywin, who he realises will never accept him as one of his own children fully. Cersei is starting to lose the plot after the death of Joffrey (thank goodness I say) and has Tommen married to Margaery Tyrell (who happens to be Renly and Joffrey's wife before their sudden demise). In the meantime, Stannis Baratheon, who has proclaimed himself King of Westeros, has installed himself on the Wall and drawn the Black Watch into the war and Jon Snow has found himself to be voted as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and trying to ally the lords of the north against the Lannisters. Thanks to Balon and Theon Greyjoy dying, the Greyjoys are trying to decide a new leader through a Kingsmute through some strange religious zealotry and also choose who will lead them to conquer Westeros for themselves. This storyline also introduces more to the lands of Dorne and the Martell family. Prince Doran Mortell has aligned himself with the Lannisters and jails the rest of his family who disagree with him and had demanded war to revenge the death of Prince Oberyn. We are still following Brienne, the Maid of Tarth, who Jaime Lannister quested to find Sansa Stark and protect her. Of course unbeknown to most is that Sansa Stark is in the Eyrie under the protection (or not) of Littlefinger. And to cap all that off, Arya Stark, who believes her whole family has perished has said to Braavos to build a new life and destiny.
I spent most of the book wondering where Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister were, alas their storylines will be in the next book (book 5), but they aren't totally forgotten with both their presence being felt across the kingdom. This book leaves some great cliffhangers and I am keen to get hold of A Dance with Dragons as soon as possible.