By the by. Anything posted, mentioned, or derided on this blog, is in fact the property of its respective owner and copyright holder, and is used for purposes of entertainment, edification, and the advancement of bad taste, not profit. If you feel anything of yours is being unfairly used and maligned, please feel free to line up right behind Mr. George R. R. Martin.
Couple more things: for those interested in truly meaningless data, the version of A Game of Thrones I will be reviewing is the Bantam Spectra mass market reissue edition, August 2005. I don’t anticipate actually calling out pages, but if I do, they will match this edition. Also, this will be a blind read-thru, by which I mean that I will not be jumping ahead or spoiling future events, except so far as my imperfect memory of the last time I tried to read the book goes, with the gaps alloyed with rampant cynicism. (By the way, ‘blind read-thru’ seems like it should be an oxymoron but isn’t, and let me apologize up front to any blind people who happen to be unfortunate enough to read this; and let me just say those skills you have with the braille screens is freaking awesome. Ahem.)
Let’s begin, then.
Our story opens upon three rangers, dressed in black and mounted on horses, pursuing a group of “wildlings” through a frozen forest. They are members of the Night Watch, eight or nine days away from the Wall.
Gared, the grizzled veteran, insists that the wildings are dead, and that they should return immediately. Will, a younger man and ex-poacher, found them motionless, to the point of death; even the one placed up a tree as a watcher. Both experienced men feel something is wrong, and want to be well away.
However, Ser Waymar Royce, 18-year old knight and lordling, insists on checking the bodies personally, and commands Will to lead him on. Neither of the other two are happy about this, but their honor compels them to follow orders. Leaving Gared behind, Will and Royce head back to the wildling camp. Will is shocked upon arrival to find the bodies gone, leaving even valuable weapons behind them.
Royce orders Will up a tree to find traces of the escaped wildlings. As Will climbs, he notices the air becoming colder, and a feeling of terror assaults him. On the ground, Royce finally notices something is wrong, and he calls out for Will. It is then that the Others appear: tall, pale figures with inhumanly blue eyes, wearing color-shifting armor and carrying ice-like swords.
Will sees the approaching Others, but does not dare call out to Royce. The young knight fights one of the beings until his sword shatters against his opponent’s, and then all the Others join together in slashing the lordling to death.
When Will dared look again, the Others had departed. Hurriedly he climbed down and moved to collect Royce’s sword, as evidence to show what had happened here. But when he stood up, Ser Waymar Royce already stood over him. His body still showed his death wounds, but his remaining eye glowed an inhuman blue. Will’s last sensation was the dead man’s fingers closing around his throat.
Well. I’ve reconfirmed that summarizing is hard, so, well done me. Seriously though, I’m obviously leaving out important beats in the narrative, like Royce’s final battle cry ‘For Robert!’ or Will’s POV mentioning other people who might know what’s going on (‘that old bear Mormont’ even has a character trait, how nice), and I especially like how the Others talk amongst themselves and Will can’t understand them; but unless I care to repost the entire chapter (which I don’t) some things have get to be left out. Que Sera, right?
Anyway, I think this prologue functions very well as a prologue, that is, providing hooks to draw you deeper into the narrative. Who are these rangers, you might ask, and what is their history? What are the wildings, and what are the Others? Are they related? There are multitudinous questions raised in just eleven pages, and the prospect of about another 800 pages to answer them.
If only, huh?
I find myself comfortable with the expositional style here, as it’s pretty minimalist: some character makes a comment or observation, which prompts memories and reactions from the POV character, Will. The characters seem fairly stock at this point (grizzled veteran, young hotshot commander, and ex-con Will stuck somewhere in between) but that helps get them established quickly enough to move on to the true meat of the chapter: the Others.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the impression I’m getting of these guys is of some sort of cold-aspect elf (there’s that Tolkien influence again): tall, aloof, mysterious, powerful, and vicious as hell. So ok, maybe not so much Tolkien, more folktale, but you get the idea. Personally, I love the design, and the implication that they can make humans into others by murdering them (so maybe we’ll see Royce again someday, yeah? Maybe even Will, who knows.) So these guys will be appearing again soon, right?
I don’t have much else to say about the actual structure of the chapter, as the beats work pretty well. A little hinky around the introduction of the Others, but nothing too glaring (and hell, given Will’s state of mind, it might be completely intentional.) So, good job, R.R.
As to my personal reaction to this chapter, I like it a lot. Honestly, its this prologue that makes me keep trying to read this series. Its like, I know that something awesome is going to happen here, but then we cut away to follow some completely different story. Even if that story is, itself, awesome (and given my past reactions, this is not a given for me) I’m already invested in this one, and not learning what happens next is extremely disappointing to me. So maybe this prologue is, in fact, too effective.
But you know, its been years since I read this prologue last, and perhaps I wasn’t fair to the rest of the book. Maybe my questions will be answered, if I can just stick it out and get this thing read. It’s possible, right?
Yeah. Not gonna hold my breath.
By the way, the chapters in this book aren’t numbered, so I did a little math. 11 pages in this chapter (with ~10 seeming typical at least in the first few) and 807 in the book (excluding the appendix, which I happily exclude). That’s something like 73-80 chapters, and at one chapter a week, that would be something like a year and a half to a year and two thirds. Ho hum.
No promises, but I’m going to be trying to shave those numbers a bit.