US first edition cover
|Author||George R. R. Martin|
|Audio read by||Roy Dotrice|
|Cover artist||Tom Hallman|
|Series||A Song of Ice and Fire|
|Genre||Political novel, epic fantasy|
|Published||August 1, 1996|
|Publisher||Bantam Spectra (US) |
Voyager Books (UK)
|Awards||Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (1997)|
|ISBN||0-553-10354-7 (US hardback)|
ISBN 0-00-224584-1 (UK hardback)
|LC Class||PS3563.A7239 G36 1996|
|Followed by||A Clash of Kings|
A Game of Thrones is the first novel in A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of fantasy novels by the American author George R. R. Martin. It was first published on August 1, 1996. The novel won the 1997 Locus Award and was nominated for both the 1997 Nebula Award and the 1997 World Fantasy Award. The novella Blood of the Dragon, comprising the Daenerys Targaryen chapters from the novel, won the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novella. In January 2011, the novel became a New York Times Bestseller and reached #1 on the list in July 2011.
In the novel, recounting events from various points of view, Martin introduces the plot-lines of the noble houses of Westeros, the Wall, and the Targaryens. The novel has inspired several spin-off works, including several games. It is also the namesake and basis for the first season of Game of Thrones, an HBO television series that premiered in April 2011. A March 2013 paperback TV tie-in re-edition was also titled Game of Thrones, excluding the indefinite article "A".
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A Game of Thrones follows three principal storylines simultaneously.
At the beginning of the story, Eddard "Ned" Stark, the Warden of the North in the Seven Kingdoms, executes a deserter from the Night's Watch, the military order that guards the Wall on the Seven Kingdoms' northern border. On the way home to his castle Winterfell, he discovers six orphaned direwolf pups, which are adopted by his six children. Upon the death of Lord Jon Arryn, the principal advisor to King Robert Baratheon, Robert recruits Ned to replace Arryn as "Hand of the King", and betroth Ned's daughter Sansa to Robert's son Joffrey. Ned accepts the position when he learns that Arryn's widow Lysa believes Queen Cersei Lannister and her family poisoned Arryn. Shortly thereafter, Ned's son Bran discovers Cersei having sex with her twin brother Jaime Lannister, who throws Bran from the tower to conceal their affair, leaving him in comatose and paralyzing his legs.
Ned and his daughters Sansa and Arya depart for the capital city, King's Landing. During the journey south, an altercation between Arya and Joffrey leads to Arya's direwolf being driven away and Sansa's direwolf being executed to appease the Lannisters. Upon arriving in King's Landing to take his post as Hand, Ned finds that Robert is an ineffective king whose only interests are hunting, drinking and womanizing, leaving his Small Council to govern the realm.
At Winterfell, an assassin attempts to kill Bran while he is unconcious, and Ned's wife Catelyn travels to King's Landing to bring word to Ned. Catelyn's childhood friend, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, implicates Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Cersei and Jaime, in the assassination attempt. En route back to Winterfell, Catelyn encounters Tyrion by chance, arrests him, and takes him to stand trial for the attempt on Bran's life. In retaliation for Tyrion's abduction, his father Lord Tywin Lannister sends soldiers to raid the Riverlands, Catelyn's home region. Tyrion regains his freedom by recruiting a mercenary named Bronn to defend him in trial by combat.
Ned investigates Jon Arryn's death and eventually discovers that Robert's legal heirs, including Joffrey, are in fact Cersei's children by Jaime, and that Jon Arryn was killed to conceal his discovery of their incest. Ned offers Cersei a chance to flee before he informs Robert, but she uses this chance to arrange Robert's death in a hunting accident and install Joffrey on the throne. Ned enlists Littlefinger's help to challenge Joffrey's claim; but Littlefinger betrays him, resulting in Ned's arrest. Arya escapes the castle, but Sansa is taken hostage by the Lannisters.
Ned's eldest son Robb marches his army south in response to his father's arrest, and in order to relieve the threat on the Riverlands. To secure a strategically necessary bridge crossing, Catelyn negotiates a marital alliance between Robb and the notoriously unreliable House Frey. Robb defeats a Lannister army in the Riverlands, capturing Jaime. Tywin sends Tyrion back to King's Landing to act as Hand of the King to Joffrey. When Ned is executed, Robb's followers declare the North's independence from the Seven Kingdoms, proclaiming Robb "King in the North".
The prologue of the novel introduces the Wall: an ancient barrier of stone, ice, and magic, hundreds of feet high and hundreds of miles long, shielding the Seven Kingdoms from the northern wilderness. The Wall is manned by the Night's Watch: an order of warriors sworn to serve there for life, defending the realm from the fabled Others, an ancient and hostile inhuman race, as well as from the human "wildlings" who live north of the Wall.
Jon Snow, Ned's bastard son, is inspired by his uncle, Benjen Stark, to join the Night's Watch, but becomes disillusioned when he discovers that its primary function is as a penal colony. Jon unites his fellow recruits against their harsh instructor and protects the cowardly but good-natured and intelligent Samwell Tarly. Jon is appointed steward to the leader of the Watch, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, making him a potential successor to Mormont. Benjen fails to return from an expedition north of the Wall. Six months later, the dead bodies of two men from his party are recovered; these re-animate as undead wights before being dispatched by Jon.
When word of his father's execution reaches Jon, he attempts to join Robb against the Lannisters, but is persuaded to remain loyal to the Watch. Mormont then declares his intention to march north to find Benjen, dead or alive, and to investigate rumors of a "King-Beyond-the-Wall" uniting the wildlings.
Across the sea to the east of Westeros, the exiled prince Viserys Targaryen, son of the late "mad king" and rightful heir to House Targaryen, the royal house of Westeros before it was overthrown by Robert Baratheon, betroths his 13-year-old sister Daenerys to Khal Drogo, a warlord of the nomadic Dothraki, in exchange for the use of Drogo's army to reclaim the throne of Westeros. Illyrio, a wealthy merchant who has been supporting the penniless Targaryens, gives Daenerys three petrified dragon eggs as a wedding gift. Jorah Mormont, a knight exiled from Westeros, joins Viserys as an adviser. Initially terrified of her new husband and his people, Daenerys eventually embraces her role as Drogo's queen. Drogo, however, shows little interest in conquering Westeros before the birth of his child with Daenerys, and an impatient Viserys tries to browbeat his sister into coercing Drogo. When Viserys publicly threatens Daenerys, Drogo executes him by pouring molten gold on his head.
An assassin seeking King Robert's favor attempts to poison Daenerys and her unborn child, finally convincing Drogo to conquer Westeros. While sacking villages to fund the invasion of Westeros, Drogo is badly wounded, and Daenerys commands the captive folk healer Mirri Maz Duur to save him. The healer, angered by the Dothraki raids against her people, sacrifices Daenerys' unborn child to power the spell to save Drogo's life, which restores Drogo's physical health but leaves him in a persistent vegetative state.
With Drogo completely incapacitated and unable to lead, much of the Dothraki army departs to split into many smaller groups following new Khals. Daenerys smothers Drogo with a pillow, and the healer responsible for his condition is tied to Drogo's funeral pyre on her orders. She places her three dragon eggs on the pyre and enters it herself. She remains alive inside the pyre and is still unhurt when it has burnt out around her, with three newly hatched dragons hatchlings clinging to her. Awe-struck, Jorah and the remaining Dothraki swear allegiance to her.
Throughout the novel, characters are often faced with decisions that match one redeemable trait against another. The Guardian outlines characters who are frequently "forced to choose between their love for those close to them and the greater interests of honour, duty and the realm." In Westeros, Ned ultimately decides to venture south with Robert, leaving much of his family in Winterfell. At the Wall, Jon wrestles with the predicament of joining his half-brother Robb in rebellion or staying with his sworn brothers in the Night's Watch. Daenerys has issue with the Dothraki treatment of those they conquered in Essos. These conflicts characters encounter oftentimes reflect inconsistent decision making. Catelyn initially is overwhelmed by grief and does not leave Bran's bedside while he is comatose, ignoring her political responsibilities, choosing family over duty. But soon after, Catelyn leaves Bran and her family for Kings Landing to inform Ned of potential Lannister treason, effectively displaying a more duty fulfilling role. Family, duty, and honor play major roles in conflicts that arise in the story arc, and qualities traditionally categorized as noble oppose each other in resolution. Character decision conflicts and consequence analysis are particular to how Martin wants to portray fantasy.
Martin characteristically deviates from the traditional fantasy model and clear-cut lines of good versus evil. Martin reflects: "I think the battle between good and evil is fought largely within the individual human heart, by the decisions that we make. It's not like evil dresses up in black clothing and you know, they're really ugly". This viewpoint characterizes the book and is evident in the actions of several different families which frequently have conflicts with each other. The Starks' and Lannisters' conflict is a central component of the novel, and the reader receives points of view from both sides. Likewise, Daenerys' storyline develops around the Targaryen's upheaval in Westeros, in which the Starks played a significant role. Martin argues:
Having multiple viewpoints is crucial to the grayness of the characters. You have to be able to see the struggle from both sides, because real human beings in a war have all these processes of self-justification, telling ourselves why what we're doing is the right thing.
Each chapter concentrates on the third person limited point of view of a single character; the book presents the perspective of eight main characters. Additionally, a minor character provides the prologue. Chapter headings indicate the perspective.
In the later books, certain viewpoint characters are added while others are removed.
Martin acknowledges several authors who lent their time and expertise during the writing of the novel: Sage Walker, Martin Wright, Melinda Snodgrass, Carl Keim, Bruce Baugh, Tim O'Brien, Roger Zelazny, Jane Lindskold, and Laura Mixon.
According to author George R.R. Martin, the Bantam 1996 edition was the true first. The HarperCollins/ Voyager 1996 edition was the British first edition. Its official publication date was earlier than that of the US Bantam edition, but Bantam went to print several months earlier to hand out copies at the American Booksellers Association (ABA). The novel has been translated into many languages and published in multiple editions in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio book form. In different languages, the number of books may not be the same. In June 2000, Meisha Merlin published a limited edition of the book, fully illustrated by Jeffrey Jones.
A Game of Thrones and the subsequent novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series have been adapted in a HBO television series, a comics series, several card, board and video games, and other media.
A Game of Thrones has received critical acclaim. Lauren K. Nathan of the Associated Press wrote that the book "grip[s] the reader from Page One" and is set in a "magnificent" fantasy world that is "mystical, but still believable." Steve Perry told readers of The Oregonian that the plot is "complex and fascinating" and the book is "rich and colorful" with "all the elements of a great fantasy novel". Writing in The Washington Post, John H. Riskind commented that "many fans of sword-and-sorcery will enjoy the epic scope of this book" but felt that the book "suffers from one-dimensional characters and less than memorable imagery." Phyllis Eisenstein of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that, although the book uses many generic fantasy tropes, Martin's approach is "so refreshingly human and intimate that it transcends them." She described it as "an absorbing combination of the mythic, the sweepingly historical, and the intensely personal." John Prior, writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, called Martin's writing "strong and imaginative, with plenty of Byzantine intrigue and dynastic struggle", and compared it to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books, "though much darker, with no comedy or romance to relieve the nastiness."
The reveal kickstarts the BBC's year-long celebration of literature.