During Spring Break, I was reading A Game of Thrones while standing in line with my family for a ride at Disneyland. A young couple stood next to me, as the line wound back and forth. They smiled at each other and then at me.
“Is this your first time?” the woman asked me. I looked up.
“First time what?”
“Reading Game of Thrones.”
“Oh. Yes,” I replied.
“You’re lucky. You’ve got an awesome story ahead of you.” The man with her nodded in agreement, and continued to smile.
When I started hearing how amazing the new HBO series based on it would be, I took down the used copy of A Game of Thrones from my shelf. I’d picked it up for a quarter last year—I’d read that it was for serious fantasy fans.
No joke. It breaks plenty of sci fi /fantasy conventions: its vision of life and human nature is pervasively bleak (compared to the almost utopian worldview of, say, Star Trek or Lord of the Rings), sex and profanity are present in realistic levels (I’m sure the presentation of such is one reason why it must be aired on HBO rather than basic cable), and major heroes die.
Summarizing it here would be almost pointless, as it is intricately complex; I’ve read that author George R.R. Martin based it on the War of the Roses—yes, it’s not mythological sword and sorcery so much as a medieval power play.
But wait! There’s more! It’s not merely a dense fantasy epic—it’s also a political thriller! The scheming elite and conspiratorial factions war against each other just as much in the castle meeting rooms as they do on the battlefield.
But wait! There’s more! It’s also a crime drama! Besides the machinations of economics and diplomacy, our feuding aristocrats also use their money and means to pit their enemies against each other like skilled puppet masters. The mechanics of these plots are frequently underhanded—violence, betrayal, and thuggish tactics galore populate these pages. If Tupac and Al Capone are doing much reading in the afterlife, this is probably poplar fare at their book club.
But wait! There’s more! It’s also a murder mystery! Yes, the power vacuum here is the result of some of the aforementioned nefarious skullduggery. Who done it? How? Why? The answers are ultimately more disturbing than the crimes themselves.
But wait! There’s more! It’s also a zombie apocalypse! But perhaps I’ve said too much.
Here’s my highest recommendation: after I finished, I ran out and bought book two in the series. The last time I did that was when I started Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time twelve years ago.
If I were designing a cover for the book, it would be all black, with maybe just the title and author imposed on it in faintly discernible text, like Metallica used on their famous fifth album. The back cover would be the main attraction, though: it would also be plain black, except for a line of white script in the center: “Winter is coming…”