In a somewhat recent interview with The Guardian that is bound to infuriate some people around here, George R.R. Martin basically said it’s rather hard to write novels in his A Song of Ice and Fire series because for each book, he’s not so much writing and keeping track of the events of one novel as he is a dozen or so, each with its own plot lines and characters.
Regardless, he did put out a new book this year related to that saga, something he said was much easier to write. It’s called Fire and Blood, and it chronicles the first half or so of the 300 year reign of House Targaryen in Westeros’ Seven Kingdoms.
Beginning with the arrival of the Targaryens in Westeros with their dragons, the book takes the form of a history as set down by an unnamed maester of the Citadel who is putting together all the material the maesters have on the reign of the Targaryens in one definitive history. As such, the narrator frequently makes reference to other works that are presumably readable in Westeros, disputing what some authors have to say (particularly a dwarf fool named Mushroom), explaining how the Targaryens under Aegon I and his two sisters conquered six of the seven kingdoms with their dragons and then going on through succession issues, kings of varying degrees of ability, and finally ending as a boy king came of age to take over the kingdom for himself, and how this king was known to history as the Broken King.
There’s a lot here that would probably appeal to fans of Martin’s series who want to know more about the world the books are set in. In both the novel and TV versions of this story, there’s always been this sense of a shared history between the characters. They refer to things that happened in the past, either their own or their kingdom’s, and while they know what those things are, the audience doesn’t necessarily. I rather like since real people don’t go around explaining their personal history to people who were there at the time. As such, Fire and Blood takes the form of a medieval history book that happens to include “real” dragons. Did you wonder how House Stark or House Lannister fell to the Targaryens? Why Dorne didn’t? What the Dance of Dragons was? This book does explain those things.
And as far as the Dance goes, it did ring a bell for me personally. The overarching War of the Five Kings from Martin’s novels was based heavily on the English Wars of the Roses. Many of Martin’s characters correspond to actual figures from English history, though he did so in a manner that is less a one-on-one match-up and more of a mishmash of different historic figures taking different roles to fit the needs of his story. The Dance of Dragons was a similar situation where two branches of House Targaryen both claimed the right to the Iron Throne. The historic version of the conflict between King Stephen and Empress Maude went more or less the same as it does here in the broadest strokes. That real world conflict ended with the Plantagenets taking the English throne for something like 200 years. This one is between rival Targaryens, half-siblings instead of cousins, but again, the broad strokes are much the same.
That said, Martin’s narrator often has a habit of discussing things that he doesn’t know all the details for. Aegon the Conqueror, for example, received a letter from Dorne that he read once, tossed into a fire, and somehow prompted him to stop the war with Dorne. What did the letter say? The narrator doesn’t know and doesn’t elaborate. This was not an isolated incident, and these unfulfilled plot threads reminded me of various old roleplaying game books I used to get where metaplot stuff would happen in the background for dungeonmasters or whatever the book called them to use as a plot hook for the players to fill in. Will Martin ever personally fill in those details? Probably not. That was mildly frustrating.
Is this book worth it to anyone who isn’t already invested in Martin’s fictional world? Probably not. Many of the characters have family names that are familiar, but the events here end a good 150+ years before Robert’s Rebellion though anyone curious about how the Kingsguard, King’s Landing, or how the Targaryens managed to get the people who had the Faith of the Seven to accept the royal family’s incest tradition might be inclined to check this one out. 7.5 out of 10 men who avoid punishment by taking the Black.
Yeah, if you want the origin of the Night’s Watch here, you’ll be disappointed. Those guys predate the Targaryen rule.