Game of Thrones Book Review

A Song of Ice and Fire is a highly popular epic fantasy series written by the American author George R. R. Martin, who is often called as the American Tolkien.

General Overview of the Books

Five of the seven planned volumes have already been published. The first of them was A Game of Thrones in 1996. It was followed by A Clash of Kings two years later, then with A Storm of Swords in 2000. The fourth and fifth novels, titled as A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons were published in 2005 and in 2011 respectively.

These two books are not chronologically in order, but they both deal with a specific group of characters and the plot is taking place mostly parallel to each other in the timeline. So far, the series is still unfinished, since the sixth novel, The Winds of Winter and the seventh final work, A Dream of Spring are still in progress.

The series has become so popular because of its originality in high fantasy.

The characteristics of this genre and how A Song of Ice and Fire fits into this is described by the editors of the Women of Ice and Fire, Gender, Game of Thrones and Multiple Media Engagements. As it is said in the Introduction of the previously mentioned book, high fantasy is “a genre traditionally set in a secondary world full of adventure, supernatural elements (such as magic, monsters, witches, and wizards), a hero’s quest, or coming-of-age story, and, perhaps most importantly, a utopian spirit shared with the fairy tale.

Get quality help now
Dr. Karlyna PhD

Proficient in: A Song of Ice and Fire

4.7 (235)

“ Amazing writer! I am really satisfied with her work. An excellent price as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

” (Schubart, Gjelsvik, 5) However, George R. R. Martin’s works contain several twists compared to the traditional conventions of the genre of high fantasy. He uses elements of both social realism and historical fiction, and his novels include torture, sexual abuse, murder and suffering. These books are considered dark fantasy due to the brutal realism, the countless facts and details, and focus on suffering and death. Elements of A Song of Ice and Fire can also be fit into many other genres and styles, such as fairy tale, adventure, Arthurian legends, medieval romance and melodrama. (Schubart, Gjelsvik, 6)

In my view, what makes the series so outstanding is its complexity. Everything in these novels is extremely detailed, including the characters, the historical background of the story, the places, the cultures, the customs and religions. These small details can be seen not just in the storytelling, but in the additional features in all of the books, such the maps and the character lists according to Houses in the Appendixes. These Appendixes are helpful for the reader to understand the relations of the characters better. In the story Martin also includes many flashbacks, legends and stories told by the characters, which all contribute to the elaboration of this world and the meticulousness of the background.

Each chapter is written in third person narrative but in the point of view of one specific character. Altogether Martin writes from the perspective of more than thirty people, from which half of them are females, who can be as ambitious and able as men. A unique thing about the characters is, that Martin does not focus only on the noble classes, but he also describes the smallfolk in detail. The effect of the war on these people is a central point throughout the story. Every one of the characters is vulnerable, exposed to the catastrophe and disasters. Besides, everyone can become victim, even the children or the innocents can be raped, abused, or killed. (Schubart, Gjelsvik, 1, 6-7)

In an article on The Guardian Damien G. Walter pointed out about the novels that “Their author’ real strength is his compendious understanding of the human stories driving the grand political narrative.” He also mentioned that the characters are well-rounded, they cannot be categorized as either pure good or pure evil, but they are a mixture of both. Martin writes about hundreds of characters and each of them has a complex developed personality. They all have their desires, ambitions, and motivation. Many characters are forced to face the decision whether to act according to love, duty or honour. These choices often cost the lives of many characters. (Walter) An excellent illustration of this kind of choice and what usually happens with the truly honourable men is when in A Game of Thrones Eddard Stark is imprisoned for treason. Varys tells him in his cell: “You are an honest and honorable man, Lord Eddard. Ofttimes, I forget that. I have met so few of them in my life. When I see what honesty and honor have won you, I understand why” (A Game of Thrones,611).

The World of A Song of Ice and Fire

George R. R. Martin created a very complex universe for his novels which is set in an imaginary medieval world. It is often referred to as the War of Roses with magic. The reason for this is for example, that one king unifies the land, but several great houses are fighting with each other to get the crown and power for themselves. As it is written in an article on the website of The Guardian about the similarities: “With no true king the land is beset with corrupt, money-grubbing lords whose only interest is their own prestige. Two loose alliances of power pit a poor but honourable North against a rich and cunning South. And the small folk must suffer through it all, regardless of which side wins.” (Walter)

A special thing in this world is that the seasons do not change systematically, they can last for decades. It is always unknown how long they might last. The first book starts in the ninth year of the summer, so a very long winter is anticipated. During the five novels we can see how the summer turns into autumn and how the characters struggle to prepare for the winter time.

George R. R Martin provides a visual aid for his readers to understand the location of the specific places and to help to imagine the movements of the characters. In the beginnings of the books he incorporates some pages which show the map of Westeros and Essos, the two continents of this world. In every book he adds a closer look on the regions which are more significant in that particular volume.

A greater part of the story takes place in Westeros, where the Seven Kingdoms and the Wall are located. The Wall on the northern border is the enormous construction that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the land beyond the Wall where all kinds of dangers are present, including several supernatural creatures which are thought to be extinct or not real at all. The Seven Kingdoms are ruled from the capital city named King’s Landing and the earlier separate kingdoms are governed by their wardens. They are the members of the most prestigious houses, such as the House Stark, the House Lannister, the House Tully, the House Arryn, the House Martell, the House Tyrell, the House Baratheon and the House Greyjoy.

The other continent is Essos where there is not a unified kingdom, but it contains nine free-cities, the most important ones according to the plot are Braavos and Pentos, the cities in Slaver’s Bay: Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen and there is also the Dothraki Sea ruled by the barbarian warrior tribes, the Dothraki. There are several significant differences between the two continents in their laws, traditions, customs and way of life which I will specify later in the second main chapter where I introduce the societal structures which are present in the books.

Plot Overview

Due to the complexity of the whole series, there are multiple storylines throughout all of the books. The main plot revolves around the fight for the Iron Throne, to become king or queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

The plot of the first novel starts fifteen years after the rebellion where King Robert Baratheon seized the throne from the Mad King from the ancient Targaryen Dynasty. The king travels to Winterfell, where his old friend, Eddard Stark lives. As the Hand of the King, Jon Arryn died, Robert asks Eddard to take his place and go with him to the capital city, King’s Landing. He accepts it and takes his daughters with him. Meanwhile, the son and daughter of the Mad King is still alive on the other side of the Narrow Sea. The girl, Daenerys is getting married to a Dothraki warrior, Khal Drogo in order to get his army to conquer Westeros.

Eddard’s journey to the south turns out to be a tragedy, thanks to the Lannisters and the corruption taking place around the royal family and their advisors. Back in Winterfell his son, Bran gets paralyzed because he witnessed the incestuous relationship of the Lannister twins, Jamie and Queen Cersei. After the death of King Robert Eddard is beheaded as a traitor, since he found out about the incest. His older daughter gets engaged to cruel Joffrey, who becomes king, and his younger daughter gets lost.

During these events, the Targaryen heir, Viserys is executed with “a golden crown” by Khal Drogo. Daenerys, the last living Targaryen is pregnant, which poses another threat to the rulers of the Seven Kingdoms. Because of this threat the king sends spies and assassins after the young girl. As she tries to save his wounded husband’s life with the help of a witch who uses blood magic, she loses her child too. When burning the dead khal’s body she places her three dragon eggs, which she got as a wedding present, next to the pyre and walks into the fire herself too. She does not get burned since as a Targaryen she is “the blood of the dragon”, and from the eggs her children, the three dragons hatch.

After the execution of Eddard, his eldest son is crowned as King in the North and soon the war of the five kings breaks out, as neither of the deceased king’s brothers accept the young ruler who was born from incest, and also Balon Greyjoy declares himself as King of the Iron Islands. This war dominates the story throughout A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords.

While the War of the Five Kings is being fought in Westeros, Daenerys, the khaleesi of the Dothraki is determined to take back her father’s throne. However, she does not head straight there, instead, she goes further to the east to raise an army. While her dragons are considered a huge attraction wherever she goes, she is also gaining more and more power and also more and more enemies. When she reaches the Slaver’s Bay, she abolishes slavery while gaining the most disciplined army of the world. During A Dance with Dragons she is ruling as Queen of Meereen facing several difficulties concerning whether to leave the freed slaves behind and conquer the Seven Kingdoms, or make peace in Meereen, and how to deal with her ever growing dragons which pose an enormous threat to the people.

Another important location in the story is the Wall. The Wall is the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms which is guarded by the Night’s Watch. Eddard Stark’s bastard son, Jon Snow joins them in the first book. However, their duty is not only to guide the kingdom from the wildlings north from the Wall, but from the Others, too. They are dead bodies of people, animals, giants and all kind of other creatures. In A Clash of Kings their story is about a great expedition exploring the dangers ahead of us. Unfortunately, it turns out to be tragic for them with a great portion of the members dying. Jon also turns cloak and joins the wildlings to get to know their plans. He discovers, that they are not the most important threat for the kingdom, but instead they are also running away from something called “the Others”. By the end of A Storm of Swords, Jon becomes the commander of the Night’s Watch. He also leads some of the wildlings through the wall, which gains him many enemies.

After the beheading of her father, the younger Stark girl, Arya struggles throughout her way back to his family. She is gaining new fellow travellers and she is also constantly changing her identity in order to survive. When in A Storm of Swords she arrives to a wedding where her mother and brother, Robb is, she has to face to fact that they were betrayed and killed by the host of the wedding. After she escapes from that scene she finally decides to sail to the free-city of Braavos because she thinks that nobody from her family stayed alive and she has nowhere else to go. In Braavos Arya is looking for her friend who helped her in the captivity. She starts working in The House of Black and White to serve the gods.

On the other hand, the older Stark girl, Sansa remains in the capital city as a hostage of the Lannisters for a long time. After breaking the engagement with the cruel King Joffrey, she is wed to Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Queen Cersei. When Joffrey is murdered on his wedding with Margaery Tyrell, Sansa is rescued by the former Master of Coin, Petyr Baelish and she is taken to the Vale to her aunt and cousin. She disguises herself as a simple girl because she is accused of killing the king.

While Robb was fighting for the North, his friend, Theon Greyjoy turned cloak and conquered Winterfell in the name of the Iron Islands. Winterfell was destroyed and the two younger Stark boys are thought to be dead. But they survive with a trick and Bran, the paralyzed boy is heading north from the Wall to become the Three-eyed Raven.

Society in A Song of Ice and Fire

As previously mentioned, the basic setting of the novels is a medieval one getting many actions, symbols and customs from European culture of the Middle Ages and from the War of the Roses in England. However, we cannot describe just one single society when we are talking about the society in A Song of Ice and Fire, because there are many different cultures present throughout the novels. In every culture there are different customs, religions, roles and different hierarchical orders which are all extremely detailed and versatile.

In this chapter I will focus mainly on the society in Westeros, describing the most important factors and I will also indicate the major differences compared to the other cultures in other parts of this world. Besides, I will put emphasize on the social norms, as well as the gender roles which are dominant.

Layers of Society

In this sub-chapter, I will give a brief description of the social structure in Martin’s fantasy world. The two main topics will be the feudal system of the Seven Kingdoms, and the diverse society of Essos.

Feudal System in the Seven Kingdoms

The social structure of the Seven Kingdom is extremely similar to the feudal system of the middle ages. Likewise in the medieval Europe the society consists of the ruler, the lords, and the smallfolk, each of them owes their lord military service in exchange to the land and protection. The social classes are quite solid, and it is rare to change classes. Even those lowborn people who manage to gain prestigious titles are still considered peasants, such as Davos Seaworth or Janos Slynt. On the other hand, the noble men are still considered noble even after losing their wealth and land or becoming outcast. Perfect examples for this are Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen. The titles of the noble classes and of course the crown are inherited. the succession is based on the male preferences, with the exception of Dorne, where there is no difference between the genders according to the inheritance.

On top of the hierarchy there is the king who sits on the Iron Throne. He is helped by the Hand of the King and a board of advisors consisting of the so-called masters who are responsible for different matters in the country, such as the master of coin, master of ships, master of laws, and master of whisperers. The noble lords come next in the hierarchy. Among the lords there are also social differences, some of them are lesser lords and vessels to the greater lords. Among the noble classes there are also the knights, which is very rare in some parts of the country, such as the North and the Iron Islands, because it is connected to the Faith of the Seven which is not practiced there. The lowest rank in the social hierarchy is the smallfolk, they do not own lands, but they are protected by laws and belong to their lords.

Society in Essos

The social structure on the other continent, Essos is very different. The characteristics of that culture is mainly described in Daenerys’ storyline, we can see through her perceptions how strange, and sometimes even frightening the customs and traditions are for a Westerosi person. As I mentioned before in the first chapter, in Essos there is no united country, each city and tribe have their own hierarchy and titles. Moreover, another important difference is that in Essos slavery is enabled, which is absolutely forbidden in Westeros. There are even city states whose whole trade and wealth revolve around slavery.

Apart from the free cities, there are also the Dothraki tribes, the so called khalasars. For them horse riding is a basis for the social hierarchy, those who cannot ride a horse are not worthy to be leaders. This is shown in A Game of Thrones, when the wounded Khal Drogo fells down his horse and the other Dothraki refuse to obey Daenerys. For them also the length of their hair demonstrates their power. According to the Dothraki traditions, there is no inheritance of titles, the rank in the hierarchy one possesses should be earned individually, similarly to the wildlings north from the Wall. The Dothraki raid other cities, villages and other khalasars ruthlessly, then they make the conquered people slaves and trade them and their wealth with the big cities.

Cite this page

Game of Thrones Book Review. (2022, Jan 19). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7