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Game of Thrones (Book) – Review

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 *Disclaimer* This review is for the BOOK version only. Not everything said will translate across mediums to the Television Adaptation. A separate review will cover the Television Show* 

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic five-book series (with two more volumes to come) by author George R.R. Martin. Set in the fictional, secondary universe of Westros, the  series follows a vast assortment of flawed characters as they navigate a dangerous, unforgiving medieval society. The story contains an array of supernatural elements, but they are kept on the fringe. Instead, political intrigue, warfare, corruption, and family drama take center stage. Lord of the Rings this is not. Instead, A Song of Ice and Fire is what you’d get if Leo Tolstoy had added dragons into War and Peace. When the king of the Seven Kingdoms of Westros is murdered, the land is thrust into civil war as the great houses vie for the Iron Throne. With dozens of relatable characters on both sides of the battle field, you won’t know who to cheer for as the betrayals come and the causalities mount with shocking brutality. In the end, only one can sit upon the coveted throne. Who will it be?

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

The first novel, A Game of Thrones, was released in 1996. The series has since grown tremendously in both length and popularity. The books have been a hit with both fans and critics alike. Author George R.R. Martin has been hailed as the “American Tolkien.” Corresponding to the release of the latest entire, A Dance With Dragons, Martin was included in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List as well as being named “Author of the Year” by USA Today. The books’ popularity spiked further with debut of HBO’s television adaption. During its current four year run the show has received 42 Emmy nominations and thrust Game of Thrones into household name status. The sixth book, Winds of Winter is arguably the world’s most anticipated book. The saga is a regular fixture in any “Trending Lists.” With two more books and 4-5 more seasons expected, A Song of Ice and Fire will remain a cultural mainstay for the foreseeable future. For better or worse, Game of Thrones has changed the landscape of fantasy stories and television.

A CRITICAL REVIEW

As a fantasy author myself, I make a habit of keeping up with the notable works within the genre. I had been aware of A Song of Ice and Fire for years but was hesitant to dive in. The repelling factor was not the density, with each tome clocking in between 700-1000 pages, and more due to the stigma’s attached to the books. Game of Thrones had developed a reputation for its gritty violence and gratuitous sex. Last year I finally decided to test the waters. I quickly discovered that while the aforementioned reputation is well earned (as I’ll discuss in next section), I had been missing out on a masterful work of Fantasy. From a technical standpoint, Martin is a superb writer. With hundreds of characters and a complicated, interweaving plot, the books are not for the feint of heart. The real strength in Martin’s writing comes from his well-developed, complex characters. Whether hero or villain, these are some of the most memorable characters you will find in literature of any genre. In our culture that demands instant gratification, A Song of Ice and Fire is a throwback, or sorts. The story is a slow-burn, with the plot unfolding in a gradual, more realistic manner. Some readers have found the deliberate pacing tedious; however, the result is that when the big moments arrive (and boy, do they ever), the payoff is great. The series hits its high-point with the thrilling A Storm of Swords (book #3), and tapers off with two much less satisfying books.

A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

If you have time, I encourage you to watch this fascinating interview with George R.R. Martin. In his answers he touches on many of the points discuss3e below and the interview  provides a helpful foundation to form your own opinion on the controversial work. If not, just skip to the discussion below.  

A) Evil/Human Nature

As Martin notes in the above interview, the battle between Good and Evil is a universal theme in storytelling. As a Christian, we can trace the theme back to scripture as an established reality of our existence. The ironic, and sad, fact is that despite our fuller picture and understanding of evil, Christians tend to be inferior in representing that truth in our Art. Christian fantasy, in its almost required allegorical nature, generally paints a black and white picture of the cosmic struggle where the two binary opposites manifest themselves into clean-cut, invincible good guys in one corner and ominous, ugly orcs and monsters in the other. While this may symbolize the battle in a general sense, the real-world struggle is not about killing demons with the sword and overthrowing Satan, its about being redeemed from our sinful/evil human nature. The battle between good and evil is internal.

A Song of Ice and Fire excels in depicting this internal struggle. There are a few clearly evil characters (Joffrey is nasty little punk), but for the most part there is more gray then black or white. Christians tend to see gray characters as inappropriate, yet then proclaims from the stage how “we’re all sinners.”

B) Sex, Sex, and More Sex

Let’s get this out of the way – there is a lot of sex in A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin is authentic to the history of medieval society. That means brothels are booming businesses and men are cavalier with their night-time escapades. The narrative is told from certain characters POV (point-of-view), which means the scenes are filled with sensory information. Also, not a single of the scenes occurs within the framework of husband/wife. Instead, the sexual relations comes between man/whore, brother/sister (disturbing, but not without historical precedent), or simple between two lovers. With this established, let’s discuss the larger issue in play:

There is perhaps no more delicate issue in our culture than sex and sexuality. As a result, sex has been virtually eradicated from Christian Art, and if it is present it is “not very sexy.” The way most Christian books/films depict lust/sex/desire makes a scheduled root-canal more alluring then a forbidden love affair. As such, the dangerous sin we strive to warn people against looks nothing like seductive reality they experience in the real world. As Christians we claim to be the keepers of proper sex, yet are ironically reluctant to speak of it (other than to accuse those who fail to meet our standards). By no means does Song of Ice and Fire preach biblical marriage/sex, far from it. However, the sex is  treated realistically, not as flippant as, say, a James Bond flick. Sex is not without consciences. Women struggle with jealousy and trust-issues when their husbands fall into extramarital relations; a bastard son refuses to sleep with any woman for fear of dooming his son with his experiences, etc. Let us not overlook that sex is a major theme in the Bible as well (consensual, rape, incest, etc). The David and Bathsheba encounter is one of the most know and preached passages in scripture.

In most cases, the sex is not gratuitous. By that I don’t mean it isn’t explicit (because it is), only that the sex is not present merely for the sake of being edgy or playing of readers hormones (*Note* The same is not true of the TV adaptation). The sex usually serves an important purpose to either the plot or a character’s development.

Finally, a core dilemma with sex in Art is the accompanied of visual stimulation that can be hard to erase from the mind. One advantage of the book medium is that words are not as impressionable as visual. I strongly believe there is absolutely no place for nudity in film; but, due to its unique medium, sex can and should have a role in literature. With a book nudity can be separated from sex.

C) Religion  

One of the struggles Christian fiction authors face is how to deal with the topic of religion in their work. To insert Jesus and Christianity immediately ostracizes the non-Christian readers most in need of the message; but, to create a new, fictional religion seems somehow blasphemous. As a result, Christian authors rarely deal with the topic of religion, worship, or faith ____. Take J.R.R. Tolkien, for example, and the lack of a single religious organization in Middle-Earth. Conversely, one of the more fascinating elements in A Song of Ice and Fire is the crucial role religion plays. _____.

 

QUESTIONABLE CONTENT

Buckle up…There is no shortage of questionable content. Virtually every vice imaginable gets ink time: sex, violence, prostitution, deceit, homosexuality, abortion, murder, incest, rape and so on. These vices are not advocated. They are simply the backdrop, forming a gritty, realistically drawn medieval world. As mentioned above, G.R.R. Martin does not fail to depict that all of these actions have serious consequences. While often implying more then blatantly depicting, it is easy to simply skip to the end of the scene without being exposed to the explicit material. If you are worried about missing vital plot points, use an online wiki to fill you in. If you have the discipline to skip certain pages, the gritty narrative suddenly becomes much less questionable.

There is one exception to the suggestion above: the language. The language is mature, with interspersed F-words, derogatory remarks for woman, and other crude terms. There is really no way to avoid encountering the language as it appears suddenly, unlike a built up to a sexual scene.  Your personal tolerance/allowance of vulgar speak in books will determine how you approach, or don’t approach, these books. If you choose not to read any material with strong language, then  please avoid these books. If you have a larger allowance for such speak, as I do (difference in mediums applies here as well, as I am strict with auditory cussing in music, but am not as impressionable through written word) then _____.

TALKING POINTS/THEMES

Human Nature. Desire. Honor. Sin. Morality. Ethics. Choices. Religion. Sex. 

WHO IS IT FOR?

The dense, complicated plot and intimidating length of the tomes will likely weed out younger readers anyways, but these books are clearly for mature readers only. Having read Harry Potter or Hunger Games does not mean A Song of Ice and Fire will be appropriate. Fans of high fantasy or those with a fascination of medieval times will find themselves drawn in. Marin excels at writing strong, female characters which will be refreshing to female readers. However, who the story is acceptable for will largely rest on were you fall in the above Questionable Content section.

THE BOTTOM LINE

 *Disclaimer* This review is for the BOOK version only. Not everything said will translate across mediums to the Television Adaptation. A separate review will cover the Television Show*  WHAT IS IT ABOUT? A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic five-book series (with two more volumes to come) by author George R.R. Martin. Set in the fictional, secondary universe of Westros, the  series follows a vast assortment of flawed characters as they navigate a dangerous, unforgiving medieval society. The story contains an array of supernatural elements, but they are kept on the fringe. Instead, political intrigue, warfare, corruption, and family drama take center stage. Lord of the Rings this is not. Instead, A Song of Ice and Fire is what you’d get if Leo Tolstoy had added dragons into War and Peace. When the king of the Seven Kingdoms of Westros is murdered, the land is thrust into civil war as the great houses vie for the Iron Throne. With dozens of relatable characters on both sides of the battle field, you won't know who to cheer for as the betrayals come and the causalities mount with shocking brutality. In the end, only one can sit upon the coveted throne. Who will it be? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? The first novel, A Game of Thrones, was released in 1996. The series has since grown tremendously in both length and popularity. The books have been a hit with both fans and critics alike. Author George R.R. Martin has been hailed as the “American Tolkien.” Corresponding to the release of the latest entire, A Dance With Dragons, Martin was included in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List as well as being named “Author of the Year” by USA Today. The books' popularity spiked further with debut of HBO’s television adaption. During its current four year run the show has received 42 Emmy nominations and thrust Game of Thrones into household name status. The sixth book, Winds of Winter is arguably the world's most anticipated book. The saga is a regular fixture in any “Trending Lists.” With two more books and 4-5 more seasons expected, A Song of Ice and Fire will remain a cultural mainstay for the foreseeable future. For better or worse, Game of Thrones has changed the landscape of fantasy stories and television. A CRITICAL REVIEW As a fantasy author myself, I make a habit of keeping up with the notable works within the genre. I had been aware of A Song of Ice and Fire for years but was hesitant to dive in. The repelling factor was not the density, with each tome clocking in between 700-1000 pages, and more due to the stigma's attached to the books. Game of Thrones had developed a reputation for its gritty violence and gratuitous sex. Last year I finally decided to test the waters. I quickly discovered that while the aforementioned reputation is well earned (as I'll discuss in next section), I had been missing out on a masterful work of Fantasy. From a technical standpoint, Martin is a superb writer. With hundreds of characters and a…

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Daniel Blackaby is a multi-published author, including the YA Fantasy trilogy The Lost City Chronicles and ____ When Worlds Collide: Stepping Up and Standing Out in an Anti-God Culture. During the process of penning his fiction he encountered many questions and few answers to the pivotal question of how a Christian should engage with the prevalent, contemporary pop-culture while maintaining their faith. Since then Daniel has made an effort to fill that void. Drawing on his BA in English, MDiv in Theology, and current PhD studies in the field of Christianity and the Arts, he has been speaking on the subject in schools, churches, and seminars around the country.