A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I am a pretty open, inclusive reader. I’m comfortable with a wide range of books, from non-fiction books on mountaineering to historical fiction, science fiction and contemporary. I read books written for adults, children and young adults. I particularly enjoy thrillers and adventure stories. But there is one type of book that I almost never pick up: fantasy.
I have dabbled a bit. I read the first Harry Potter book, mainly because of the hype surrounding it when it first came out. (Confession: I didn’t really like it.) But I never got past the first chapter of Lord of the Rings, struggled through Gormenghast and haven’t been anywhere near His Dark Materials.
I’m not entirely sure why fantasy leaves me cold. I suppose I’m just not interested in fairies, elves, talking animals or dragons. However, as it’s been years since I chose to read a fantasy novel, I decided I would read outside my ‘comfort zone’ and give fantasy another try. The book I chose was Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, mainly because so many readers – from 14 year old students to middle-aged teachers – had told me how much they enjoyed the series.
As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.
The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.
The book is told in third person limited point of view from various characters’ perspectives. The shifting setting and the large number of characters made the first few chapters a bit of a struggle for me. But once I understood how the characters were related (and made use of the maps at the front of the book), the story came together and I couldn’t put it down. There were certain parts I loved, notably the parts that were set in Kings’ Landing, the medieval city, where the plot focussed on the King (ineffective), his wife (part of the rich, ambitious Lannister family) and their sadistic son Joffrey ; and the Starks, a powerful family from the North. The politics, intrigue and scheming were addictive. I was less interested in the goings on at the wall and those in the East. I do think that one of the dangers with books told from multiple points of view is that readers tend to prefer one part of the story to the others, and can be impatient to get past the ‘less interesting’ parts and back to the characters they enjoy the most.
My verdict: I read the whole series (five long books so far – the series is not yet finished) in a span of about 3 months and can’t wait for the next book in the series. The characters are complicated with compelling arcs, and the plot is filled with surprises (Martin is famous for not being afraid to kill off important characters – so anything can happen). It was a good choice for a reader who shies away from fantasy, as the fantasy elements are kept in the background, with the main focus of the book being the political intrigue in the medieval kingdom of Westeros.
Helen Douglas writes novels for children and young adults. Her debut novel, After Eden, was nominated for the Branford Boase first novel award. The sequel, Chasing Stars, was published in June 2014. When not writing, she spends her time reading, travelling, and perfecting her recipe for vegetarian chilli.