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Outlaw Library: A Game of Thrones

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Book review by Hunter Rothwell
By Hunter Rothwell
Published: Aug. 4, 2011

Imagine a world where summers can
last for decades and winters a lifetime.
Where kings, queens, lords, barbaric
men and cunning women struggle for
the ultimate power of the Iron Throne.
A land where wolves are as big as
horses, and monstrous, fire-breathing
dragons are pets fighting alongside
their masters. And in these feudal communities,
people gossip and speculate
about long-extinct magic and monsters
from their ancestors’ time that may still
exist in remote kingdoms. It is a place
where passion is religion and brutal
death is a daily risk.
Such is the backdrop of American
author George R. R. Martin’s masterful
A Song of Fire and Ice series of epic
novels. The first book of the series, A
Game of Thrones, was released in 1996
and immediately received several science
fiction writing awards. Originally
a cult sensation, it’s now the #1 New
York Times bestseller, and its creator
is one of Time magazine’s 100 most
influential people for 2011. The books
are now hailed as classics, and Martin
has been crowned the heir apparent to
J.R.R. Tolkien. However, this series of
intense fiction is not the child friendly
Harry Potter or the detail heavy, World
War II era Lord of the Rings.
These novels are for a mature, modern
audience, as evidenced by the first
HBO season of A Game of Thrones this
past spring. These ten episodes received
13 Emmy nominations, including one
for “outstanding drama series.” Martin’s
host of well-developed characters
weaves compelling plots and subplots
that are more Sopranos than hobbits.
Lurid tales of royal incest, gruesome
conflicts, sexual liaisons, and crime and
punishment set the tone for complex
themes, moral lessons and wonderful
The storylines move along quickly and
easily, despite being introduced to a
world with thousands of years of significant
history that provides the firm
foundation for the novels’ plots. The
stories are never bogged down with
arduous background or tedious character
profiles. The author is a master at
presenting everything required of an
epic tale in an easily digestible manner.
Martin achieves this easy flow in a
clever Faulkner-esque way: Each
chapter is named for a central character
and is a third person account
of that character’s progress in the
story. The different perspectives
give the author tremendous leverage
in filling holes in the plot without
slowing down the action.
This is no small undertaking. A Game
of Thrones is a lot of reading. Martin
has just released the fifth volume of
the series (A Dance with Dragons),
which is expected to include a sixth
and seventh volume – and these
books are doorstops. The wrapping
up of one book easily dovetails with
the beginning of the next. However,
this series provides great enjoyment
and is supremely entertaining.
When a tale flows with ease and
confidence, a hundred pages float by
as if in a dream. And no, this is not
your weird cousin’s fantasy science
fiction novel. You will not start playing
Dungeons and Dragons or attending
Star-Trek conventions. This is
how you wish the Lord of the Rings
had been written: A little nudity and
bad language never hurt anyone. If
you are a fan of timeless, epic stories,
that are told honestly and without
censure, then A Game of Thrones is
where you start.

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