In the land of Westeros, home of swords, dragons and ancient prophecies, there are seven kingdoms… but only one king.
The power struggles for this throne form the foundation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy series. Currently five books, predicted to end at seven, this epic tale has sold more than 15 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages across the globe. It’s also spawned comics, video games and a hit TV show that routinely shatters ratings records and sends jokes and catchphrases into eternal pop culture.
So what makes this series so special? Why is it worth listening to? Let’s start with the beginning: Book I, A Game of Thrones.
A Game of Thrones follows eight main characters, each with their own chapters in their own points of view. The book is roughly divided into three interconnected stories: The war of several feuding families, the emerging threat of a mysterious magical race, and the uprising of a faraway princess. Events unfold in chronological order even when the action is hundreds of miles apart.
It would be impossible to cover all major events without giving away critical plot twists, but here’s a short version for some of the most important players:
Eddard “Ned” Stark: The head of the Stark family, Ned is a loving husband and father of six children, content to watch over the wintery tundra of the north without worrying about the politics of the realm as a whole. However, he finds himself abruptly uprooted from this comfortable life when his old friend, now the king, demands that he travel south and become his right-hand man in the royal court. Ned doesn’t want to go, but when he realizes that the position is only open because his predecessor was murdered, his sense of obligation forces him to investigate… and the secrets he uncovers will change everything.
Tyrion Lannister: Part of the powerful Lannister family, quick-witted Tyrion is smart, funny, self-aware… and short. Born a dwarf, he’s dealt with the judgment of others all his life, especially from his cruel and twisted relatives who value power above all else. But just how far will the Lannisters go to keep their secrets? And what good is being clever when shocking revelations threaten the very foundations of the realm? It may be time for this little man to lead a large army.
Jon Snow: The bastard son of Ned Stark, fourteen-year-old Jon is allowed nothing from the family, not even their name. Realizing that he’ll never have a real place among them, he leaves them all to join the Night’s Watch, a ragged band of rangers who guard the gigantic wall separating the Seven Kingdoms from the wilderness beyond. But what’s that stirring beneath the snow, and why are people telling him that the real war has nothing to do with the king…?
Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen: Once a heir to the Seven Kingdoms, Dany and her brother were forced into exile after their family was executed years ago. Now she’s older and ready to reclaim her birthright, but first she’ll need a massive amount of power to conquer her old land… and someone’s just given her three dragon eggs.
The audiobook is narrated by Roy Dotrice, successful British actor and long-time friend of George R.R. Martin himself. Roy is famous for both his energy and his range of voices; he strives to give every character their own unique inflections and mannerisms, from the kids to the elderly to the infirm. The result is so remarkable that Roy was commissioned to read every other audiobook for the rest of the series. When scheduling conflicts forced him to skip book four, A Feast for Crows, fan outcry was so great that he went back and found the time to record it. He even nabbed a Guinness World Record for the most different voices in a single audiobook!
In terms of length, the audiobook will run you 33 hours, or 800 pages. It’s a nice long listen, so sit back and have snacks ready.
With knights, direwolves and a slash-and-parry plot, it’s easy to see why A Game of Thrones is popular with fantasy fiends who already love classics like Lord of the Rings and the Sword of Truth series. But how did George R.R. Martin ensnare so many other readers, too? How did he compose a story so compelling that millions would eagerly devour his thousand-page books and then come back begging for more?
Part of the appeal lies in his high-fantasy execution. A Game of Thrones is a masterpiece in world-building; there are literally hundreds of characters in dozens of families, each with their mottos, sigils and ancestral histories. It’s the kind of book you can read over again and again, always learning or noticing something new.
Martin is also a genius storyteller, particularly when it comes to his book’s mysteries. Who is Jon Snow’s mother? Where did the White Walkers come from? Who tried to kill Character X and why? Some of these questions are answered in the first book, some are answered later, and some are still waiting to be revealed.
Perhaps most infamously, A Games of Thrones is always full of surprises. The series as a whole has developed a well-deserved reputation for throwing its readers for a loop, and the first book offers several clear examples of plot twists you simply never saw coming. If you’re listening to the audiobook and you think you know how things will turn out, you’re wrong, wrong, wrong.
In conclusion, A Game of Thrones is a thrilling story and an even better beginning to a well-loved and well-read series. The audiobook is well worth the price thanks to the many talents of Roy Dotrice. It might be a long journey for some listeners, but it’s worth it, so buckle up, hold on tight and get ready for a wild ride. Winter is coming.