Since I've made it no secret that I am a humongous nerd, I'm sure it will come as a shock to absolutely no one that I am also a huge fan of the show Game of Thrones, as well as A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series that it's based on. Like everyone else in Western Civilization, I can't wait for the final season to air in April, because, well, I've been waiting to learn how this story ends since I was in high school. In the meantime, George R.R. Martin recently released volume 1 of Fire & Blood, a history of House Targaryen. Jokingly referred to as the GRRMarillion for years by eager fans, this book takes us from Aegon I's conquest of Westeros to the regency of Aegon III. A lot of this book has appeared in bits and pieces over the years as various short stories, as well as an abridged version in The World of Ice and Fire, so if you've read any of those, at least some this material will be familiar to you.
Released late last year, Fire & Blood did not receive as much fanfare as I would have expected. Maybe that's because the show has become more well known, and arguably more popular, than the books. Or maybe it's because the most recent book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance with Dragons, came out eight years ago, and we're still waiting for the next installment, The Winds of Winter. Either way, it's here, and you can easily find a copy at your library or Amazon.
Fire & Blood is not written in the same manner as the other books. A Song of Ice and Fire is written from a limited third-person narrative, so each chapter is seen from the point of view of the character it's focusing on. In contrast, Fire & Blood is written in the style of a history book. It's presented as a real book in universe written by Archmaester Gyldayn of the citadel. Like a real historian, he pulls from different in-universe sources, which sometimes leads to different versions of events. Martin often lampshades this by having Gyldayn saying something along the lines of "we don't know exactly what happened," or "this account seems more likely." This allows Martin to make liberal use of the unreliable narrator, which means not every piece of information in this book is trustworthy. I sincerely doubt most, if any of it, will have any major repercussions in the main books. However, as a student of history, it's something I really appreciate. There are plenty of places in history where we have conflicting accounts of events, and its little touches like this that make Westeros, fantastic as it is, feel a bit more real.
Intertwined with the history of the Targaryen reign, we get snippets of lore from more obscure parts of the world, such as the southern continent of Sothoryos, and the city of dark magic called Asshai. There's even some hints that things are still alive in Valyria. We don't know what exactly, but whatever lives there, its capable of hurting a dragon. This deep lore is the kind of stuff that I love in fantasy settings. We don't get a ton of it in the main books, so it's really cool to see here.
I really enjoyed Fire & Blood, so I was surprised to see that it appears to have gotten mixed reviews. Its seems to be split between people who love it, people who hate it, and as always, those who don't want Martin to work on anything other than The Winds of Winter. I get it. I want the next main book too, but the thing about creative people is they have to switch it up every now and then or they get bored. I've been working on my own novel for three years and I'm far beyond ready to move onto something else. Martin has been writing A Song of Ice and Fire for over twenty years and yelling about it isn't going to make the next book come out sooner.
As I said, I really enjoyed this, but I think I have to recommend it with an asterisk. I read a lot of history, so the difference in style from the main books didn't bother me, I liked it; and again, I love deep lore. For example, The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books, I think it's an absolute masterpiece. My love and appreciation for it only grew once I'd read The Silmarillion, Tolkien's deep lore book. I definitely recommend this if you're a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire. If you're only a fan of the show, you probably won't get much out of this. But for me at least, it's got me even more excited to see how Game of Thrones ends. See you again next week.