Warning: while there are no real spoilers, there are basic details about the series, to help you
make a choice on whether or not it is for you.
The hit television series Game of Thrones was derived from a series of novels by George R.R. Martin, who has created a world of high fantasy and excitement that remains unrivaled in the world of both reading and television. The series of novels, entitled collectively A Song of Ice and Fire, was originally planned to extend to three volumes, yet the success of the series, and the sheer breadth of the cast of characters involved, has seen the author extend the series to a planned seven volumes, five of which have so far been published to great acclaim.
The world in which the novels are set is inspired greatly by medieval European history; indeed, Martin traveled the many ancient sites of Europe – especially those in Great Britain – and studied historical events carefully to lay the groundwork for the books. The detail is impressive, and scholars of English history will notice that the main plot lines are very much drawn from the Wars of the Roses, which took place between the feuding houses of York and Lancaster.
The novels mainly cover the ongoing feudal battles and intricacies of the great noble houses Westeros, the Wall, and the Targaryens. The many threads that link these three have their roots in genuine events from history, and the wonderfully rendered descriptions of the continent on which they live – Westeros and Essos – paint a picture of a time very different to today. Writing in an engaging and fast paced style, yet managing to keep us informed as to the minute details that make the land so real, the books add an aura of sense and understanding that is sometimes lost in the necessarily compacted world of the TV series.
|Title||Year of Publication||Number of Chapters||Number of Pages||Amazon Rank*|
|A Game of Thrones||1996||73||704||#1084|
|A Clash of Kings||1998||70||768||#927|
|A Storm of Swords||2000||82||992||#1010|
|A Feast for Crows||2005||46||753||#738|
|A Dance with Dragons||2011||73||1056||#354|
|The Winds of Winter||Forthcoming||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|A Dream of Spring||Forthcoming||N/A||N/A||N/A|
(*) As of October, 2014.
The overall sales figures vary. In April 2011, The New Yorker reported that more than 15 million of books had been sold worldwide. In May the same year, The Wall Street Journal reported that 6 million copies had been sold in North America. In July 2011, USA Today reported that 8.5 million of copies (including digital copies) had been sold. In December the same year, 12 million. In September 2013, Reuters reported than 24 million of copies (including digital and audio copies) had been sold in North America alone. The series has been translated in more than 20 languages. The 5th book of the series – A Dance with Dragons – in more than 40 languages, according to USA Today.
Table of Contents
Book #1 – A Game of Thrones
The first book in the series, A Game of Thrones introduces the reader to the main characters and branches out across three central plot lines: In the Seven Kingdoms tells the tale of the Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark, and his convoluted and troubled family. Eddard has six children – five legitimate, one not – and the plot involves incest, murder, and a clutch of Direwolf puppies, which are central to the story. As with all good yarns, the battle for the head of the house is the central point.
On the Wall makes up the entrance to the novel, and introduces us to the wonders of the magical, 300 mile long wall of ice and stone that protects the Seven Kingdoms from the wilderness beyond, and the Night Watch, who are detailed to man the defense. Eddard’s bastard son, Jon, joins the Night Watch, which allows the reader to see its many flaws.
The third thread is In the East which is set in the Free City of Pentos, and covers the initial story of the Targaryen. It also introduces us to one of the most important figures in the whole series, Daenerys, sister of ‘mad king’ Viserys, who uses her to secure an army intended to overthrow the throne of Westeros. Other themes include magical treasures, execution and, as is the norm, a battle for the crown.
It is notable that the book differs from the television series in its approach, with the plot lines delivered in a less detailed manner and the entire story contracted for television; also, elements of the first book spread beyond the first series of the TV series, while there are other elements that we have not yet read – they appear in later volumes – woven into the opening series. Overall, the books give a better depiction of the timeline.
Book #2 – A Clash of Kings
As with the first novel, the second – A Clash of Kings – takes us through the three main plot lines of the Seven Kingdoms, the Wall and the East. In the former, a civil war rages with the North and South at loggerheads; Rob Stark – son of the now dead Eddard – is declared King of the North, while three of the Baratheon family all have designs on the throne of Westeros. The war that ensues is bloody and tireless, and results in many changes in the family hierarchy.
At the Wall, the Night Watch has embarked upon a mission to investigate the mysterious peoples known as ‘the Wildings’; they discover that they have a fortress, and decide to advance. However, the Wildings are too fierce and the Night Watch face defeat. The result is a failed infiltration attempt, and it is eventually discovered that the Wall is to be attacked by tens of thousands of Wildings, along with their collection of magical beings.
In the East Daenerys has gained a gang of followers and a degree of power – as well as some baby dragons, which ensure her notoriety – and is set upon the throne of Westeros herself; however, assassination attempts, dragon battles and mysterious happenings prevail, and Daenerys is ultimately unsuccessful.
While the second series of the TV adaptation does follow the book more closely than the first, it is arguable that, again, it moves forward too quickly and leaves behind some of the more intricate detailed plots from the novel.
Book #3 – A Storm of Swords
The third book in the series, A Storm of Swords, picks up the story where we left it at the end of the previous book; the War of the Five Kings still rages in Westeros, the Wall is under threat from the advance of the Wildings and their motley army, and Daenerys, defeated so far, is returning to Pentos.
In the Seven Kingdoms the action is split into the North and South regions, with several significant events taking place in each, not to mention a series of fierce and bloody battles. The novel introduces the ‘Brotherhood without Banners’, a revolutionary group hell bent on revenge and power, and central to the plot in the north is the ‘Red Wedding’. Opposed by many of the families involved, and further enraging the battles that are taking place, the wedding is the central theme around which the plot unravels.
At the Wall the threat of attack by the Wildings is looming, and the small army of the Night Watch can do little but wait. Murder and fighting are prevalent, but through it all Jon Snow is offered the title of Lord of Winterfell by the surviving and yet week King Stannis; thanks to a mystical appearance of the ghost of his dead direwolf, Jon refuses. He instead returns as the new commander of the Night Watch.
In the East Daenerys is becoming more unhinged and, with the gift of a dragon, secures the services of a slave army to overthrow and ransack the city of Meeren. However, she discovers traitors in her midst, yet offers them a deal. They take up her offer and, with the help of others, successfully overthrow the city. The rule of Meeros, she sees as a precursor to her rule at Westeros.
It is at this point that the author came upon a problem; his next book had originally intended to be set five years after the end of the third novel; this, he believed, would allow him to concentrate on younger characters who had no yet had time to develop. However, Martin also faced the problem that his characters – and there are great many more than the few central ones we have mentioned so far – were not flung far and wide across the continent. Hence, he decided eventually to split the next two books to cover different regions and characters, rather than the three-viewpoint approach of the first two novels. The result is that readers are able to concentrate on the engaging action in two different novels, set concurrently at the same time.
Book #4 – A Feast for Crows
A Feast for Crows, the fourth of the series, covers the happenings in the Seven Kingdoms and the East; the concurrent book, A Dance with Dragons, focuses on the goings-on at the Wall and elsewhere.
We begin in the Seven Kingdoms with the approaching end of the War of the Five Kings; however, the prologue introduces an intriguing character, Pate, who is quickly poisoned, and yet his place n the tale is as yet unresolved. Other central plot themes include the crumbling reign of Queen Cersei, who routinely ignores good advice; the increasingly powerful Tyrell family, and major battles in the closing stages of the war. An important section deals with the Iron Islands, which are central to the theme and to the Daenerys character in this section, as well as many other running themes of family feuds that have certain consequences.
In the East, Jon Snow and his Night Watch make an appearance with a story about assassinations, growing dissent and the importance of the dragons owned by Daenerys, while things are complicated again by mysterious dreams and odd creatures with magical powers.
It is notable that, at this point in the TV series, the two final books become entwined, although not to a point where they are complicated to follow.
Book #5 – A Dance with Dragons
The fifth book in the series, and so far the final one published, A Dance with Dragons begins with Jon Snow’s election as the commander of the Night’s Watch; however, other factions refuse to acknowledge this, resulting in the beheading of one of his main rivals. A reinforcement of the Wall ensues, as well as battles involving the remaining Wildings and others, and the hunt for a mysterious Three Eyed Crow is also central to the plot here.
In Pentos, the Free City, much is happening, with Daenerys still the focus of attention; she remains in Meeren, as ruler, still hoping this is the precursor to her tenure as the ruler of Westeros. Her Dragons also play a prominent part in this section of the story, and Drogon – the senior – is important to the plot, as is a marriage plan intended to bring her to the side of an opposing family. The main plot theme surrounds the ongoing downfall at Westeros where incompetence and family feuds rule, as well as the many threads involving Jon Snow and his ruling of the Wildings.
The television series is now up to date with the story, but it has to be said that, although the on-screen version features a wealth of characters, it cannot be as diverse as the books, therefore several important incidences are omitted. The best way to immerse oneself in the world of Westeros and Essos is to take time with Martin’s books.
In writing the series of books that make up A Song of Ice and Fire George R.R. Martin has created a fantasy world as real as any that preceded his; indeed, his works have been likened to Tolkien, but with a more involving and less fantastical bent. That his main characters are clearly influenced by – and based upon – real historical figures, particularly those from British medieval history, makes the whole seemingly believable, and enables the reader to become more immersed in the world of the many characters who are well drawn and engaging.
Far more than in the television series, which is necessarily abridged in order to fit some very complex and interesting plot lines into the short screen time, the novels allow for the imagination to get to grips with the plot, and for the characters to come to life. It is to the author’s credit that he has managed to carry his characters through, so far, five volumes, without once losing the reader’s attention. That he needs at least two more novels to apparently conclude the story shows just how much is going on here, and it must be said that the above plot summaries are brief and by no means comprehensive. One can only get a true feel of the majesty of Martin’s writing, and of the world he has created, by reading these wonderful stories.
Where to Get Them
|Book #1 – A Game of Thrones||Book #2 – A Clash of Kings||Book #3 – A Storm of Swords
|Book #4 – A Feast for Crows||Book #5 – A Dance with Dragons
||More to come...|
All the Game of Thrones books are also available in Kindle versions.