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The First Reviews of ‘A Game of Thrones’ Were…Not Good

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has turned into an entertainment empire with the help of HBO’s adaptation that has since superseded the books. The first book, A Game of Thrones, published in 1996, surprisingly received some less-than-stellar reviews. Here are a few of the reviews given by critics of the first of seven volumes of the series. 



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After a long silence (Portraits of his Children, stories, 1987), the author of the cult The Armageddon Rag (1983) returns with the first of a fantasy series entitled, insipidly enough, A Song of Ice and Fire. In the Seven Kingdoms, where the unpredictable seasons may last decades, three powerful families allied themselves in order to smash the ruling Targaryens and depose their Mad King, Aerys II. Robert Baratheon claimed the throne and took to wife Tywin Lannister’s daughter, Cersei; Ned Stark returned north to gloomy Winterfell with its massive, ancient Wall farther to the north that keeps wildings and unspeakable creatures from invading. Some years later, Robert, now drunk and grossly fat, asks Ned to come south and help him govern; reluctantly, since he mistrusts the treacherous Lannisters, Ned complies. Honorable Ned soon finds himself caught up in a whirl of plots, espionage, whispers, and double-dealing and learns to his horror that the royal heir, Joffrey, isn’t Robert’s son at all but, rather, the product of an incestuous union between the Queen and her brother Jaime – who murdered the Mad King and earned the infamous nickname Kingslayer. Ned attempts to bargain with Cersei and steels himself to tell Robert – but too late. Swiftly the Lannisters murder the King, consign Ned to a dungeon, and prepare to seize the throne, opposed only by the remaining Starks and Baratheons. On the mainland, meanwhile, the brutal and stupid Viserys Targaryen sells his sister Dany to a barbarian horse-warrior in return for a promise of armies to help him reconquer the Seven Kingdoms. A vast, rich saga, with splendid characters and an intricate plot flawlessly articulated against a backdrop of real depth and texture. Still, after 672 dense pages, were you expecting a satisfying resolution? You won’t get it: Be prepared for a lengthy series with an indefinitely deferred conclusion.


– Kirkus, July 1, 1996



George R. R. Martin’s new novel, A Game of Thrones, is the first in an epic series about a land in which the seasons shift between periods of seemingly endless summer and seemingly endless winter. The story begins with the kingdom of Winterfell facing both external and internal dangers. Beyond her borders, the cold is returning, a dragon prince is scheming to win back his lost kingdom, and the eggs of supposedly long extinct dragons are beginning to hatch. Within Winterfell itself, war soon erupts when the king is murdered by a family grasping for unlawful power.


Many fans of sword-and-sorcery will enjoy the epic scope of this book, something of a change of pace for Martin, who has spent the last decade working for television and who has long been honored for his award-winning stories (e.g., “Sandkings”). Still, to my mind, this opening installment suffers from one-dimensional characters and less than memorable imagery.


– John H. Riskind, The Washington Post, July 28, 1996 



A Game of Thrones badly needs a final, fearless edit. Even as far in as page 737 there is no real sense of a conclusion looming, and it seems that where once ambition seemed to lie in producing a series of fantasy novels, now that sort of project seems to display a marked lack of ambition. Still. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. But here the reader does not reach up to understand the novel; the reader reaches to believe in it. So, let other minds and hearts have Martin’s kingdom. This reviewer will gamble on other numbers.


– David Mathew, Infinity Plus, March 7, 1998 



If these reviews make you a little sad, I have the perfect remedy for you! Read some hilarious customer reviews of the book on Amazon. Gotta love those comment sections, am I right? 


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