If you’re a huge fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (more universally known as just ‘A Game of Thrones’ these days thanks to the runaway success of the TV series which uses the title of the first book in the series) as I am then you will probably be resigned to the fact that Martin is probably never going to finish the series. Has he lost control of the plot and characters or is it a simple creative block of sorts? It’s a debate for a different time but what I do know is that I can’t have been the only one who saw the mammoth 700-page Fire And Blood on store shelves and thought “so he hasn’t finished The Winds of Winter but he had time to bash this out?”
Sadly, it’s easier to sum up a reaction with a meme these days so here’s one for the internet generation that more or less reflects my reaction to the release of Fire And Blood:
I haven’t read any reviews or taken a look at other people’s opinions on this book but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a general feeling of deflation amongst the Ice and Fire devout; downright fury, even (though, as a card-carrying bookish nerd, I feel obligated to point out that we are – fortunately – probably not able to turn that fury into a credible form of anger). I reckon there are even those who see Fire And Blood as an elaborate form of trolling…
Martin: “Guess what, loyal fans? New book releasing soon!”
Fans: “Ohmygod! It’s The Winds of Winter!” *throws panties at the stage etc.*
Martin: “Actually…no. It’s a partial – PARTIAL – history of Westeros. Suckers!”
Anyway, enough of the memes and silliness. This is me reviewing the book as an Ice and Fire fan and without any prior knowledge of what other people are saying. And you know what? I think it’s great.
Fire And Blood is a richly-detailed recounting of Westeros’ history beginning with the reign of Aegon the Conqueror and concluding with the regency of Aegon III. That might not sound like a lot but five other Targaryen kings sat the Iron Throne in between the first and third Aegons plus a Queen and a few short-lived pretenders. That’s a lot of history to get through.
Obviously – this being a factual (of sorts) retelling of a hundred and thirty-something year’s worth of events – it doesn’t read the same way as a typical ‘thrones book. There’s no character perspectives for example and therefore no way of knowing the innermost thoughts and motivations of the characters. Instead, the book is presented more like a history lesson and you are guided through the years of politics, intrigue, wars and betrayals in exhaustive detail. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the book must be boring in that case though because it really isn’t. As I said, it doesn’t read like one of the regular books but the same level of detail and explicit information is still correct and present. It’s unmistakably a George R.R. Martin work and returning to the land of Westeros with its familiar houses, regions and customs is like coming home after a long, shitty day at work and snuggling up on the sofa with your significant other.
It’s also nice to be ‘in the moment’ and discover the history of these ancient Kings and legendary characters that were only previously mentioned as long-deceased artifacts of the past in the main books and the ‘present’ timeline. Now we can find out about their personalities and motivations.
The best part of reading this book was that despite the shift in style, it didn’t take long to become a page-turner. It’s a historical text but given that this is the first real in-depth exploration of Westeros and it’s Targaryen years, you still don’t know exactly how everything moves from point A to point B. In other words, Fire And Blood still has the ability to shock albeit not with quite the same savagery as the main books. Characters that you have been reading about for many chapters can suddenly get killed off via treacherous murder, illness or random accidents just as in the main books. The trade-off is of course the fact that you don’t get quite as invested in the characters (especially knowing that they will ALL die at some point given that this is history) but even so, I still found myself with a few favourites that I really didn’t want to lose to villainy.
The book also features many excellent, high-quality illustrations by Doug Wheatley. I’m not sure if these have been printed elsewhere in other Ice and Fire spin-offs but in any case, it was nice to finally see a visual interpretation of these Targaryen lords and ladies. As an added bonus, there are dragons too and who doesn’t like those?
In conclusion, I genuinely believe that Fire And Blood should only be a disappointment to casual followers of the Ice and Fire saga. Major fans will understandably be disappointed that they are still waiting for The Winds of Winter but they should definitely put aside their disgruntlement at having to see yet another stop-gap book hit the shelves rather than the next ‘proper’ installment. All the rich detail that you’d expect is here and I can honestly say that I couldn’t put the book down once I’d read a few pages. The superb presentation is a welcome bonus and I would definitely welcome the second volume which should take us from Aegon III up to Aerys II.
Just…try and make Volume II one of the stop-gaps AFTER The Winds of Winter please, George?