A Game of Thrones  - George R.R. Martin
A Game of Thrones is basically review-proof; the series already has a large fanbase that continues to grow due to the HBO series. This is a more “realistic” fantasy, set in a world not unlike medieval Europe; magical creatures are largely considered myths or extinct. With the more grounded world-building also comes the more unpleasant aspects of the society; there are depictions of brutal battles, torture, executions, incest, and rape.

The story follows the Stark family, feudal lords of the northernmost part of the realm. Patriarch Eddard Stark is tapped by the current king to serve as the “hand,” in essence taking care of the day to day aspects of governing the realm. While at court, Eddard soon discovers a conspiracy that may have been orchestrated by the power-hungry Lannister family. Meanwhile, Daenerys, the last princess of the recently deposed Targaryen dynasty, finds herself in an arranged marriage overseas to a powerful nomadic leader as her brother schemes to take back the throne for himself.

In many ways this a subversion of most fantasy stories; a heroic major character fails in his task partly due to his or her own trusting nature. A young girl’s dreams of being a princess are shattered by a harsh reality where she is faced instead with a cruel, brutal prince. The story ends with multiple factions preparing for war amongst themselves, unaware of a possibly worse supernatural threat.

Although the story may seem bleak at times, there’s a lot of intriguing stuff that make me want to keep reading. A massive wall of ice exists to keep unknown threats out of the realm, which includes a supernatural force of animated corpses. There are some pretty memorable characters, such as snarky dwarf (a human, not the fairy0tale kind) Tyrion, and Eddard’s rebellious daughter, Arya. Martin’s world-building is also top-notch, and definitely succeeds at creating a believable universe for these characters. I will definitely be reading the next book.