When it comes to fiction I love most genres: horror, science fiction, and especially crime. I even enjoy a good western. But when it comes to the fantasy genre my tastes get a little more complicated. I enjoy modern day fantasy stories like The Dresden Files or the Harry Potter books and the classic sword and sorcery style tales of writers like Robert E. Howard are a lot of fun. What I really don’t enjoy though are books that tend to fall under the heading of Epic Fantasy. To me Epic Fantasy tales can often feel like bloated, morally simplistic stories where the author is more interested in giving you exposition about the history of their world than developing their characters.
So last year when many of my friends began raving about Game of Thrones, HBO’s television adaption of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels, I just didn’t get it. I had seen the books and they looked like they were way too long. So I watched the first few episodes of the first season and suddenly I was hooked. Everybody loved it because there was something for everybody, especially a crime fiction fan like me! It wasn’t just the show either—having just finished the novel that inspired the first season of the television show I can definitely say that the series has enough crime, intrigue, and morally murky action to satisfy any crime or noir fan.
In the opening chapters readers are introduced to the continent of Westeros, a place where the summer and winter seasons can last years. We’re also introduced to several of Westeros’ ruling families, most notably the Starks. The head of the Stark family is Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark and when the book begins Jon Arryn, one of his longtime friends has been murdered. Most believe Ned’s friend died of old age, but his friend’s widow, the sister of Ned’s wife Catelyn, believes her husband was murdered by a member of another of Westeros’ powerful families, the Lannisters.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that Ned’s dead friend was the top advisor to the king of Westeros, Robert Baratheon. Robert is a boyhood friend of Ned’s and Ned helped him win his crown when the two rebelled against Westeros’ previous despotic king. It’s been several years though since Ned helped Robert become king and he would like nothing more than to stay in the Northern lands his family oversees and watch his children grow up. He’s a dutiful and honorable man though. So when Robert asks him to become his new advisor Ned agrees both to help the king and investigate Jon Arryn’s death.
Ned’s investigation begins when he enters Westeros’ royal city, King’s Landing. It’s a decadent, corrupt place of extreme wealth and poverty. So it’s the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery, and in classic noir fashion Ned quickly discovers he’s dealing with a conspiracy much more powerful and cunning than he ever imagined.
As Ned uncovers the web of intrigue he encounters a cast of colorful characters straight out of stories about the criminal underworld like Petyr Baelish, a royal councillor and secret pimp with an unhealthy attraction to his wife; and Varys, a spymaster and eunuch who knows all about the secret scandals and clandestine conspiracies of King’s Landing.
A Game of Thrones also has a lot to offer those who prefer crime stories about the illicit activities of powerful mob families. In Westeros there are seven noble families all jockeying for power, and the most cunning and treacherous has got to be the Lannisters. The beautiful twins Cersei and Jaime Lannister crave power, while their brother Tyrion, the black sheep of the family because he was born a little person, craves knowledge and a good time. All three are interesting characters, but we get to spend the most time with Tyrion, who uses his cunning and wit to get himself out of a number of dangerous situations.
Plus, while there are enough elements of crime fiction to satisfy a hardcore noir fan, there’s also a lot more to the series. The story is an expertly blended cocktail that combines elements of the fantasy, crime, and horror genres with elements of war stories and political drama. As I said at the beginning of this article there really is something for everybody, and best of all A Game of Thrones is only the first book in the seven part A Song of Ice and Fire saga.
So if you’re a crime fiction fan who hasn’t experienced George R.R. Martin’s work yet, I encourage you to give it a chance by picking up A Game of Thrones or watching HBO’s adaptation. Come to Westeros for the crime and murder and stay for all the fantastic characters and drama. You’ll be glad you did.