You Win Or You Die

So I’m a bit late to the party, but I don’t care.

I just finished reading this.

Yes, it’s a result of watching the TV series. Hold that against me if you want.
The televised series has been one of the finest to be made, thanks HBO. Personally, I’ve been waiting for television to take fantasy seriously my entire life (thanks, Peter Jackson), and – source material aside – they nailed it. This won’t be so much a book review as it will be comparing it to the series, and an argument to why picking one or the other just isn’t enough. You need both of these in your life.

I was worried that, having watched the series, the impact of the book would be dulled. That with knowledge of the entire plot I would lose interest or want to skip through pages or chapters to finish it. Not the case. It was difficult to put down.
Many might have been put off the book due to its size; it’s an intimidating 807 page paperback that could feasibly be used to defend yourself against a burglar. But Martin is such an impressive author that not a single page of it seems wasted. I’m not joking. For over 800 pages, he kept me reading a book where I already knew what was going to happen. No chapters even touched on ‘filler’ Every one advanced the plot and had something exciting to end on to keep you turning pages, that made you think ‘just one more chapter’ before you put it down.

The characters are engaging; I defy you to read and not root for (and despair for) Eddard and Jon. Naturally, the book gives them more depth than the series, no matter how faithfully the series has recreated them. I began the novel surprised that Catelyn seemed harsher than her televised incarnation at first, but as she developed in the novel my heart bled for her. I even found myself rooting for Sansa to redeem herself; I eventually felt sorry for her trapped in her dream-world delusion of a world of chivalrous knights and fairy-tale romance. Sansa in particular was fascinating to compare to the others, as Martin’s style changed considerably when the chapters centred on her. Similarly, Arya (one of the two best characters of GoT) is skillfully written as a child; full of the quick temper changes of youth in revolt against what she’s supposed to be. But the real treat character-wise is Tyrion Lannister, The Imp. He’s the best thing about it on paper or on screen.

The pacing of the book is, to me – as a writer (allegedly) – awe-inspiring. To keep a book of this length engaging from start to finish is amazing. It just keeps moving; with the series still fresh in my mind, I was amazed so much had happened only a quarter of the way through. I kept expecting whole chapters of material the TV-bods had decided to cut, and bar two battle scenes that were passed over and a slightly changed final phase for the Daenerys/Kahl Drogo storyline, this isn’t the case. It simply allows for more depth of the material seen on-screen. Easily one of the best books my eyes have had the good fortune to enjoy.

What the series lacked in depth, it made up for in other ways. The casting was inspired. Dinklage is a marvel as Tyrion. Sean Bean is – for an actor who has roles limited by his accent – pretty much the most reliable British actor around, and when his role in Lord Of The Rings came around I was so happy that he had made it to the level he deserved. Eddard Stark was perfect for him. And I don’t mean because it meets the criteria of a lot of his roles. That’s as close to a spoiler as I’ll dare go. Jason Momoa worked a treat as Kahl Drogo, and I’m still trying to work out if he ripped that guy’s tongue out through the mouth or the wound he cut in his throat. Yeah, he is Conan The BAMF. The development of Daenerys’ character was greatly helped by such a fantastic performance from Emelia Clarke – not bad considering her wiki informs us her past roles include an episode of UK soap Doctors and the shudder-inducing ‘Triassic Attack‘ (ergh). But the casting that always tickled me was seeing the porky dad from the Tesco Clubcard ads as the foul-mouthed drunkard – but still endearing – King, Robert Baratheon. They still missed out as far as swordsman Syrio Forel, who clearly should have been Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride.

Rambleblog? A little. Whatever. Get this book. If you’ve seen the series, you still need to read it. If you haven’t seen the series – GET THE BOOK! Get it? Get it.
Now I have a dilemma, though. do I do things the other way around now? Do I get the second book, A Clash Of Kings, and read it before the second series because I want to know what happens next? But will that dampen the enjoyment of the series? What the book gave me was extra depth and insight into the characters that the series won’t be able to provide. But If I wait for the series… I have to… wait…. tough call.


3 Responses to You Win Or You Die

  1. I knew King Robert from A Knight’s Tale, the Heath Ledger film, so perhaps he felt a little less out of place to me – but this role is so much more mature that they’re not really comparable!

    Isn’t Daenerys wonderful? She goes up a level in badass every episode. What was initially quite a troubling role become more engaging and impressive throughout the series.

    I could tell you my opinions on every single character, but I’ll spare you that for reasons of length, and just say that I am delighted with HBO for giving serious high fantasy a chance. I’m partway through the fourth book, and taking a break for a bit!

    • Phill says:

      Don’t spare me! If you want to write about every character, go for it :-p
      And yes, I’ve been waiting for TV to take fantasy seriously all my life and HBO nailed it. As usual.

      There’s so many characters to love in this first book. That’s dangerous, as Martin could hardly be said to be overprotective of the characters he creates!

      Book four?! Did you begin to read before the series or have you just blitzed them?
      And by book four do you mean the second part of the third? What is Martin like? So huge, the book has to be divided in two! Why the hell can’t I write like that? Argh!

  2. Clearly get the second book… (What’s that, Christmas is a-coming?… Ask for it!!!) I still haven’t even peeked at the TV series. I’m determined to read the book first (I can’t help but imagine the TV characters as the book characters otherwise, and that irritates me). It’s on my list to pack at Christmas… 10 days of uninterrupted reading time!! 🙂 No doubt I’ll be coming back to Cardiff in January spouting about how wonderful it was…

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