Review: A Game of Thrones

Title: A Game of Thrones

Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #1

Author: George R.R. Martin

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Holly

We’re a day late on posting, but that’s because Amanda and I, plus one (grand)mother and one toddler, were running around Chicago yesterday being ladies who shop and lunch. It was amazing. And now, A Game of Thrones.

I’m struggling to articulate how I feel about A Game of Thrones. I liked the story, and the characters, and the world created – and in fact, I hardly moved from the couch for several days while finishing it. At the same time, there was one glaring thread throughout the book that made me intensely intensely dislike it.

That thread is this – the entire time I was reading the book, I just kept asking myself, does George R.R. Martin hate women, or what?

(Disclaimer #1: There may be a few slight spoilers ahead, but let’s be real – this book was published in 2005 and the TV show has been on for 3 seasons, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away here. Disclaimer #2: I really haven’t read anything about George R.R. Martin’s life or how he feels about women. He may very well be a stand-up guy, but I hated how he portrayed most all the womenfolk in this book.)

Allow me to elaborate – the very first page of the book establishes how women are treated throughout – as a sum of their various body parts, rather than as complete beings. “Never believe anything you hear at woman’s tit…” quips a minor character. 800+ pages later, the book ends with a very, er, unusual breastfeeding scene. I’m pretty sure that it’s no accident that the book starts and finishes with boobs.

In between, women are unnecessarily naked, like when a message arrives when Ned and Catelyn are, um, preoccupied. Ned “slipped on a heavy robe,” but Catelyn wraps herself up in blankets, until “the furs dropped away from her nakedness, forgotten” – in front of the messenger, because that’s not weird, right George? Women are raped all.the.time. Seriously George? There is a lot of raping in this book, notably at the wedding of Danyrs and Khal Drogo. There’s a lot of public gang-raping among the Dothraki, but also a lot of “rapers” exiled to protect the Wall. With notable exceptions, throughout the story, the women are whores or nuisances or pawns for the men.

Perhaps I’m not being fair – after all, several of the main characters are strong female characters, right? But what bugged me so much is that for those characters, their femaleness was their number one characteristic, with their strength or smarts as secondary. It’s like this – Ned, he is honorable and integritous (to a fault, it turns out). Catelyn, she is fiercely protective of her family, but she has the glaring hangup of knowing that her husband fathered a bastard (also, everyone is obsessed with bastards in this book. I laughed out loud when the term “grandbastards” was introduced). So, she just can’t *quite* be on the same level of decency as her husband, because she can’t bring herself to accept Jon Snow. (Ned can’t keep it in his pants, and she ends up with this cross to bear? That hardly seems just.)

Arya, their daughter, is a kick-ass female character, but only because she doesn’t act like a girl at all. And, she is balanced by her airheaded sister Sansa, who clearly represents what girls are actually like. Cersei Lannister is a cold and calculating woman – but she’s also got a father, brother(s), and a son to pull strings behind the scenes. She’s not calling the shots.

The men – and boys – in the story are not necessarily better or more likeable, but their flaws are part of their characters, rather than in inherent quality of their gender. It seemed like over and over in the book the women are used, abused, or manipulated while the men are the ones who truly act.

After all that, I have to admit that I finished the book, and I am intrigued enough to read the next one. For comparison though, I feel like I need to cleanse my reading palate with a fantasy novel which really does have real and whole female character. Any suggestions? (Note: Amanda read my draft and then tweeted that I was looking for a “real and whole female.” I’m pretty sure it sounded like I needed a mail-order bride. I do not.)

Parting words: This sums up how women are perceived (ostensibly among the Dothraki, but I would say throughout the book): “The heart of a stallion would make her son strong and swift and fearless, or so the Dothraki believed, but only if the mother could eat it all. If she choked on the book or retched up the flesh, the omens were less favorable: the child might be stillborn, or come forth weak, deformed, or female.”

Rating: Three Stars

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4 Comments

  1. Catelyn gets naked in front of a maester — the doc who helped her during childbirth.
    It’s supposed to signify strength of character, I think — and a focus on what’s important, not mere modesty.

    Martin loves to play with archetypes, I wouldn’t be so sure (about any of them, especially Ned. Remember, you’re in Ned’s head for so much of the time you’re around him — Ned who has “lived his lies for fourteen years”).

    Sansa and Arya are really yin and yang, but … I was more like Arya than Sansa. Surely you know some girls like that, as well. (also, 9 versus 12ish.)

      • Of course she /had/ time to get dressed. Of course, when your brain is
        running a mile a minute, you’re not going to always pause and realize that.

        But this is like the second or third time we see her.
        Her husband is all like “woman, you’re naked!”
        And she’s all “dude. bigger problems?”
        And he accepts that. (This is a *shiny point* for both characters, imho)

        You’ll see more of Martins’ writing about female characters. (and some of it is weird. I wonder if you’ll find some of the scenes… good, or bad.)

        Personally, I find MUCH more of a problem in the Stockholm syndrome-esque treatment of Dany. Inflaming a woman’s lust until she says yes is not a good way to get consent, Khal Drogo. Even if you did just marry her.

  2. I understand your concern, but I recommend you keep reading. Both Arya and Sansa are pretty spectacular characters, but for different reasons.

    There’s actually a fair amount of discussion about women’s right and privileges in a male-dominated society. I’m hoping that you’re not put off by the violence that is directed towards women, but in defense of Martin, there’s a lot of violence directed at men as well.

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