Fiction — print. Bantam Books, 2011. Originally published 1996. 811 pgs. Borrowed from a friend.
Winter is coming. While not exactly how this novel begins, the coldness of ghostly white people attacking defenders of the wall that keeps the wilds of the far north out of the Seven Kingdoms is the set up for what lies ahead. And the family that claims these words as their motto, the Starks of Winterfell, begin to learn in this massive tone just how much the change from many years of summer to many years of winter means for them as their allies move apart and their enemies move in after the king of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert, asks — nay, demands — that Ned Stark come to the South to serve as the Hand of the King.
The majority of my friends are obsessed with Martin’s series, known as A Song of Ice and Fire in the novels and by the title of the first book in the television series, and I certainly felt the push from them to begin the series. Their advice, however, was the watch the television series before beginning the novels is (a) I can decide if I actually like the content as I’m not really one for fantasy and (b) I can keep the characters and families and stories straight. I do think their advice was the one to follow because although the television show whittles down the story to the bare bones, it makes keeping track of the overwhelming amount of detail included in this novel a little easier. Characters and subplots not included in the show standout more in the novel and are therefore easier to follow. I will say, though, that I couldn’t help but wonder how relevant this information will be for future novels.
The book alternates between the point of view of multiple characters — Bran Stark, Catelyn Stark, Ned Stark, Daenerys Targarean, Jon Snow, and Arya Snark — with their names provided at the top of each chapter to help identify which character is speaking. Point of view is probably the wrong term to use as we aren’t necessarily seeing the action from their eyes but rather watching the action from a third person point of view as though we are watching a scene on a stage. The characters’ feelings are more emphasized in some cases, though. Catelyn’s hatred towards her husband Ned’s decision to bring home his bastard, Jon, is emphasized more in the novel than in the show and considering Jon is one of my favorite characters on the show, I appreciated more insight into him as a character.
The largest difference that stood out to me is the changes in the ages of the characters in the novel versus the book. It’s easy to forget particularly when working from the images set forth by the television series so it is incredibly jarring to be reminded of their ages. The announcement of Daenerys’ pregnancy coincides with her fourteenth birthday completely threw me out of the novel. Martin seems to want to press upon the reader that only innocents are affected in war (or so one of this characters say), but the ages he assigned to several title characters — Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya — seems completely unnecessary. You can be seventeen and still be an innocent. The historical feeling of this novel could justify the ages I suppose, but I cannot help but remember that this is a fantasy novel.
I do plan on reading the next book in the series if only because I cannot wait for the show to return in March to find out more about my favorite characters and the backstory of the wildlings who live outside the pomp and circumstance of court.