So. This book, the first in George R. R. Martin series A Song of Ice and Fire, has been on my to-read list for over a year. I saw the “first look” in Entertainment Weekly when they started filming the television show adaptation, and I immediately thought “this looks like something I would like.” But I haven’t seen the show yet, because I wanted to read the books first. And I kept putting off the books because they are so long, I had other things I wanted to read first, and I knew that once I started I would probably get sucked into a new obsession that would take over my life. And that is exactly what happened. I gave it 5 stars, and I am now completely obsessed with this fictional world and its inhabitants,eager to devour thousands more pages. Four more of the planned seven books are already published, so I’m sure have plenty of glorious plot twists ahead of me. I can’t wait!
I managed to stay fairly spoiler-free by meticulously avoiding clicking on anything remotely related to the books or show and plugging my ears and humming to myself whenever people around me would talk about it. My vigilance paid off, because I was able to fully appreciate all the unexpected twists and the roller-coaster emotions that I felt towards the characters throughout the book. I hope I can stay spoiler-free until I’ve caught up on the series, and I don’t want to ruin it for anybody else, so look away now if you haven’t yet read Game of Thrones! Because the rest of this post will contain **SPOILERS**!!!
I’d have to say my favorite character was Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, but whenever I was reading a chapter from Jon Snow or Arya Stark’s perspective, they were my favorite. And then towards the end I really fell in love with Robb Stark, too. And of course I love Bran! I guess I loved everyone while I was reading from their point of view, but I connected with Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen the least. And while I like Tyrion Lannister’s humor and sympathize with his difficult past, he’s a little slimey and morally ambiguous, nothing like the noble Lord Stark. I like Tyrion best of all the Lannisters, but that’s not saying much.
Oh, the Lannisters. I knew at the first physical description of Cersei, her brother Jamie, and her son Joffrey that they would be unlikeable, yet another example of the annoying “evil” green eyes stereotype. This is how they were introduced, promenading into the great hall of Winterfell in a chapter from Jon’s perspective:
His lord father had come first, escorting the queen. She was as beautiful as men said. A jeweled tiara gleamed amidst her long golden hair, its emeralds a perfect match for the green in her eyes.
Prince Joffrey had his sister’s hair and his mother’s deep green eyes.
Ser Jamie Lannister was twin to Queen Cersei; tall and golden, with flashing green eyes and a smile that cut like a knife.
There were other clues besides their eye color that the Lannisters weren’t going to be the heroes, but about 30 pages after reading these descriptions and predicting that these particular characters would be especially “bad” somehow, I was proved very, sickeningly correct. This was my face when I found out about the incestuous relationship between Jamie and Cersei, just before they pushed Bran out the window so he couldn’t tell anyone he had seen them together:
If I had to rank the Lannisters from most evil to most humane, I guess it would be:
- Tywin-because of how he treats his family, particularly Tyrion and his wife. That was awful.
- Jamie-because he is a kingslayer, a vow-breaker, an incestuous creep and he pushes Bran out the window.
- Joffrey-if he is allowed to rule much longer he’ll surpass Jamie in evil-ness. He hasn’t had as many chances to display his darkness.
- Cersei-she’s mean, cheats on her husband (with her brother!) she has it in for Ned, but she doesn’t want to kill him. She really seems to loves her children. Unfortunately her children suck, partly because of her.
- Tyrion-his main fault is being a loyal Lannister. And he’s completely self-serving, I think. He cares more about others than anyone else in his family, but he’ll still do whatever is best for him.
I liked the way the book continually switched between several characters’ point of view; it definitely pulled me deeper into the story because I not only got to understand multiple sides, but at the end of each chapter I immediately wanted to know what happened next for that character, and I’d have to read five or six more chapters before I got back to them. There are really no good stopping points, there’s no time that you’re not desperate for at least three storylines to be followed up. I also really appreciated the narrative choice to shield the reader from witnessing the goriest action; for example, the chapters immediately following King Robert’s death are told from the perspective of Arya and Sansa, and we know that people are being killed and things are very bloody but the only death we witness is of the boy in the barn, and when Sansa walks to the courtroom later she averts her eyes from the bodies strewn about the castle grounds. Then when Robb is in battle against Jamie Lannister, we’re sitting in the trees with Catelyn, waiting for it to be over. The violence is there but we’re mostly spared the graphic details.
Learning about the Dothraki language and culture was what I found most interesting about Dany’s chapters; I didn’t really care for the Princess herself. I mean I feel bad for her, but she’s somehow not as compelling to me. The Dothraki were fascinating, but I would be terrified to actually meet one. I wish there were more examples of their language, but I guess that’s something to look forward to when I watch the show. Linguist David Peterson is the Dothraki consultant for HBO, and as soon as I’m able I’m going to check out his Dothraki website. My impression of Peterson is that he’s way cooler and nicer than Paul Frommer, the linguist who created Na’vi and Barsoomian. Frommer comes off in interviews as condescending and uninterested in interacting much with conlang fans or revealing too much about his work, so that he’s always the one who knows the most. Peterson seems like a fellow enthusiastic language nerd, and he tweeted his agreement with my Dothraki analysis back at me when I said:
Page Lady (@DigestMovies) July 23, 2012
That was based on this passage, when Dany eats the heart of a stallion at Vaes Dothrak:
“Khalakka dothrae mr’anha!” she proclaimed in her best Dothraki. A prince rides inside me! She had practiced the phrase for days with her handmaid Jhiqui.
The oldest of the crones, a bent and shriveled stick of a woman with a single black eye, raised her arms on high. “Khalakka dothrae!” she shrieked. The prince is riding!
“He is riding!” the other women answered. “Rakh! Rakh! Rakh haj!” they proclaimed. A boy, a boy, a strong boy.
Speaking of language, I wish there was a pronunciation guide for all these names! How am I supposed to know which vowel the ‘y’ happens to be representing this time? My friends that have watched the show keep correcting my pronunciations, and it’s frustrating because English already has a ridiculously inconsistent spelling system and I feel like I’m making reasonable assumptions, then I’m told I’m saying it “wrong.” I didn’t know Catelyn was “Cat-uh-lihn,” not “Kate-lihn.” I didn’t know Lysa was “Lai-zuh,” not “Lee-suh.” I didn’t know Rickon was “Rih-kun,” not “Rai-kan.”
Oh well, maybe pronunciation is to me as needlework is to Arya. I love Arya, for her spunk, her un-lady-likeness, her courage, her fierceness, for standing up against Joffrey in defense of the butcher’s boy, for. I love her “dance lessons” with Syrio. I hope she’s okay in disguise as a boy with Yoren. I’m not sure I trust Yoren, but it’s better that he found her and is helping hide her than the despicable Lord Varys or the selfish Petyr Baelish.
My feelings for “The Hound” Sandor Clegane, with a tragically burnt face like one of my all-time favorite characters, Prince Zuko, yet a sworn sword to the evil House Lannister, can best be described by this chart:
My feelings towards Sansa fluctuated throughout the book as well. At first I thought she was just annoying, and rolled my eyes at the prim and boring counterpart to my beloved, wild Arya. I know she’s just trying to be a “proper” lady and that she wanted Joffrey to like her, but I was so angry when she wouldn’t back up Arya’s version of the confrontation with the Prince. I guess Sansa paid for it by losing her direwolf, and now she’s paying very dearly for her moment of stupidity when she betrayed her father to the Queen. I can’t hate her for it though because she’s a child and didn’t know the full situation, and I’m starting to like her a lot better now that she’s realized what a prick Joffrey is and is having fantasies about pushing him off of high towers. If only she had Arya’s gumption, she might actually do it.
Then there’s Robb. I think part of the reason it took me longer to become attached to Robb was that there were no chapters told from his perspective. At the beginning I thought he and Jon were rivals, without realizing they were also close friends, and I sided with Jon so I didn’t care for him as much. But I started to admire him as he struggled to take on the responsibilities of adulthood and leadership that were thrust upon him so young when he was left in charge of Winterfell. I wonder which Frey will Robb choose to marry? Will he even keep that agreement, or will some unforseen twist get him off the hook? When the royal family visited Winterfell in the beginning, Robb escorted the Princess Mycella and was “grinning like a fool,” so I thought maybe he liked her. And when Catelyn wondered if her son had ever kissed a girl, I thought maybe he had kissed Mycella. Was that just a little crush, or will it break his heart to have to choose one of Walder Frey’s grand-daughters to spend his life with instead?
If I try to write a coherent paragraph about why I love Ned Stark it would just dissolve into blubbering. He’s so noble! He’s so pure-hearted and honorable! He’s so good, and fair, and he loves his children so much! This was my face when he was betrayed by Littlefinger, accused of treason, and imprisoned by the Lannisters:
And this was my face when it came to THAT PART. You know. The terrible, terrible, gut-wrenching, unfair, dishonorable destruction of the best character in the whole book. (I told you there would be **SPOILERS**!!)
And then, after I had recovered a bit, I vented my anger at stupid snott-nosed inbred Joffrey making such a stupid, unwise and unfair decision, and being allowed to do so by all the worthless people around him:
Jon Snow was my second-favorite character, so now with Ned gone I suppose he is my top favorite. He’s still young, so he’s not quite as noble as Ned yet, but I think he will be. I loved how he helped Samwell Tarly at The Wall, and all the conversations he’s had with the Maester’s there, even when he’s being lectured for his mistakes. I loved how Sam decided to say his vows to the old gods, with Jon, even though Sam had been raised in the faith of the Seven. It was another way to indicate a break with his past, that this was a new start, the same way people sometimes change their names when significant events happen, (although I think it was a sign of Sam’s loyalty to Jon more than anything else, and I loved that too). I loved when his fellow newly-inducted brothers go after the deserting Jon to bring him back. I love Ghost, (and all the direwolves of course), and the way Jon finds him last of all, alone and outcast like himself. I just love him!
And, I have a theory about the true parentage of Ned Stark’s supposed bastard. All throughout the book, Ned refused to talk about who Jon’s mother is, and whenever he mentioned or thought of his dead sister Lyanna, there was some mystery involved. Her death had something to do with the war that led to Robert’s accession to the throne, but we still haven’t really been told the whole story of what all happened between them. But Ned had flashbacks and dreams of Lyanna with blue rose petals, or blood, or both, whispering, “Promise me, Ned.” When Ned is imprisoned by the Lannisters, he recalls a jousting tournament when he was 18:
Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.
But the clue that really stuck out to me came from Bran, when he goes into the Winterfell crypt with Maester Luwin and Osha and is telling the slave about the Starks who are buried there. When they come to Lyanna’s tomb, he says:
“Robert was betrothed to marry her, but Prince Rhaegar carried her off and raped her,” Bran explained. “Robert fought a war to win her back. He killed Rhaegar on the Trident with his hammer, but Lyanna died and he never got her back at all.”
I don’t think Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna. I think they were in love and ran off together. I think he got her pregnant and she died in childbirth, that Ned was there and the promise he made to his dying sister that still haunts his dreams was to claim her son as his own bastard, to never tell anyone the truth in order to protect the life of her son. So Jon Snow is really Jon Targaryen, and he resembles Ned because he is half-stark, but Ned is his uncle and not his father! My friend @maldem, who has read all the books, pointed out to me that the series is called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and Jon Snow being half Stark and half Targaryen fits it perfectly. The Starks live in the North, they were the kings of winter. The Targaryens are the blood of the dragons, and can withstand fire, which Daenarys proves at the end of this book. Jon burned his hand when he killed the wight that was attacking Mormont, but it healed pretty quickly. Because he is half Targaryen!
This was my face when I read that final clue from Bran that I needed in that puzzle:
Speaking of theories, here’s another one I put together that is much more trivial: the one cat that Arya had so much trouble catching once belonged to the former Targaryen Princess.
One by one Arya had chased them down and snatched them up and brought them proudly to Syrio Forel…all but this one, this one-eared black devil of a tomcat. “That’s the real king of this castle right there,” one of the gold cloaks had told her. “Older than sin and twice as mean. One time, the king was feasting the queen’s father, and that black bastard hopped up on the table and snatched a roast quail right out of Lord Tywin’s fingers. Robert laughed so hard he like to burst. You stay away from that one, child.”
Later, when Varys visits the imprisoned Ned and tells him that if he does not “confess” to treason, the Lannisters will murder Sansa, the eunuch says,
“Rhaenys was a child too. Prince Rhaegar’s daughter. A precious little thing, younger than your girls. She had a small black kitten she called Balerion, did you know? I always wondered what happened to him. Rhaenys liked to pretend he was the true Balerion, the Black Dread of old, but I imagine the Lannisters taught her the difference between a kitten and a dragon quick enough, the day they broke down her door.”
This story is so rich, even the cats have backstories! I love it.
I still don’t really know much about those creepy zombie-like creatures in the prologue. It was so scary reading the chapter when Jon was out with the rangers looking at those dead bodies that were starring up with “blue, blue eyes,” and right away I recognized that they were more of the sinister beings. It was bad timing, because it was late at night, I was home alone and had only a small lamp on at the time. Fortunately my direkitty was nearby to protect me.(That’s another thing I don’t quite understand–what exactly is the connection between the Stark children and their direwolves? I mean how does that work? And how did Bran and Rickon have the same prophetic dream about their father? And how do magic and prophecies work in this world? Like, was the prophecy about Dany’s son wrong, since he died, or was it true and that means the baby isn’t really dead, but smuggled away somewhere? Or was it just stillborn and the maegi woman made up that horrific tale about it having scales and wings and disintegrating?
This book is so dense, I could almost be content to read it again instead of reading the next one, just to pick up on all the little things I’m sure I missed. But I’m also dying to know what’s going to happen to my beloved Stark family next, and I’m eager to get caught up so I can go join the rest of the fandom online without worrying about avoiding spoilers. Besides, the last two (of the planned 7) books aren’t published yet, so I can always re-read while we wait for them.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the illustrations for this post. I had to make my own, because I dare not type “game of thrones” or any characters’ names into a google image search, for fear of seeing something that will spoil that books I haven’t read yet. I’m sure they would still be worth reading, but part of what I love about the first time through a book is making guesses and theories about what’s going to happen, and then finding out if I’m right or not. For example, I’d like to think I would have predicted that Dany’s dragon eggs would hatch at some point, but since I had happened to see a picture of that scene from the television show, (where three dragons flit around the shoulders of a silver-haired girl,) I’ll never know if I really would have, or what would have been my definitive clue.
In other words, the Others take you if you leave me a book-two-or-beyond spoiler in the comments! And here’s a blank template if you want to create your own reaction faces; you just add eyebrows and a mouth. It’s super fun.