Number of pages: 835
I made the decision to read the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series after hearing lots of good things about the Game of Thrones TV series, and enjoying watching the first season.
My impression of the storyline was that it was sort of like a fantasy soap opera for adults, with the large number of characters and intertwined plotlines, but I found that it grew on me easily.
This first book introduces the reader to the various characters, as George R.R. Martin's world is home to a large number of families, with the kingdom ruled by Robert Baratheon, with Ned Stark as his right-hand man. The book talks about the fierce rivalry between the Stark and Lannister families, which escalates into a battle later on in the book.
Quite early on in the story, Ned's son Bran Stark is pushed out of a window while eavesdropping and there is lots of talk about a conspiracy revolving around the death of Arryn Stark. There's another storyline about Danaerys Targaeryn living with a tribe known as the Dothraki, which also involves dragons' eggs. This is also mostly at the behest of Danaerys' obnoxious brother Viserys, who has been promised a "golden crown".
The next bit contains spoilers, so I'll put it behind a cut:
[Spoiler (click to open)]
When Viserys finally receives the crown, needless to say it isn't what he'd expected, as he succumbs to a very original death, which involves molten gold being poured over his head. The later parts of the book also deal with the King's desire for Ned Stark to take over the throne as his spoiled son and heir, Prince Joffrey, is too young to be King yet. However, Joffrey is having none of this and has Ned arrested as traitor.
Now, comes the shocking part that I did not expect; after Ned Stark - told he will go free - acknowledges Joffrey as King, he is beheaded anyway. I think I was particularly shocked when I watched the TV version, having not read the book yet, as I was expecting him to somehow be rescued. However, this is a book where every character can be killed off without much warning, and that's what makes it all the more exciting to read.
I found it useful to read the book after watching the first season on TV because it made it easier to follow what was going on at times. What makes this fantasy series original is that it focusses significantly on all of the behind-the-scenes political dealings, mostly related to the various feuds taking place. This does mean that the story is very character-driven and there is a lot of talking, but the dialogue for all characters is written very well.
Overall, I enjoyed the way this book was written, as it was very descriptive about what the world was like, and went into a lot of detail about backstories. There was a good impression of atmosphere, particularly in the sequences revolving around characters in the Night Watch. While at times it felt a bit long-winded, I found myself compelled to keep reading so despite the book's length I got through it in just over a week.
A recommended book.
Next book: The World According to Bob (James Bowen)