Book Review: Fire & Blood by George R. R. Martin

 

With all the fire and fury fans have come to expect from internationally bestselling author George R. R. Martin, this is the first volume of the definitive two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros.

Centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones, House Targaryen—the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria—took up residence on Dragonstone. Fire and Blood begins their tale with the legendary Aegon the Conqueror, creator of the Iron Throne, and goes on to recount the generations of Targaryens who fought to hold that iconic seat, all the way up to the civil war that nearly tore their dynasty apart.

What really happened during the Dance of the Dragons? Why did it become so deadly to visit Valyria after the Doom? What is the origin of Daenerys’s three dragon eggs? These are but a few of the questions answered in this essential chronicle, as related by a learned maester of the Citadel and featuring more than eighty all-new black-and-white illustrations by artist Doug Wheatley. Readers have glimpsed small parts of this narrative in such volumes as The World of Ice & Fire, but now, for the first time, the full tapestry of Targaryen history is revealed.

With all the scope and grandeur of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Fire and Blood is the ultimate game of thrones, giving readers a whole new appreciation for the dynamic, often bloody, and always fascinating history of Westeros.

This massive 700+ page book is not for the faint of heart or noncommitted. By no means an easy read, Fire & Blood takes determination to get through — but now that I’ve finished it, I’d say the effort is well worth it.

You know how people often describe great non-fiction as “reads like fiction”? Well, here the opposite is true. While a work of fiction (to the best of my knowledge, Westeros and Valyeria are not real places, although after soldiering through this book, they certainly feel real to me), Fire & Blood is written as a work of history, not as a novel, and reading it definitely feels like reading a densely researched piece of non-fiction. There are no overarching plotlines, and little in the way of dialogue or character development. Instead, Fire & Blood is a history of the reign of the Targaryens, starting at a point some 300 years prior to the beginning of A Song of Ice and Fire, as the first Targaryen king, Aegon the Conqueror, flies on dragon-back from Dragonstone to Westeros to claim a kingdom.

The amount of detail in this book is staggering. Written as a history book from the pen of an Archmaester of Oldtown, Fire & Blood takes us through the bloody, violent years from the conquest through the early period of the reign of Aegon III, leaving off with still over a century to go before the events that begin A Game of Thrones.

Don’t even attempt to read this book without a strategically placed bookmark on the chart of the Targaryen Lineage at the back of the book. I must have flipped back to it at least once every 10 – 20 pages, from start to finish. The names are mind-boggling to try to keep straight. Among the Targaryens in this 130 year period are notable women such as Rhaenys, Rhaena, Rhaella, and Rhaenyra, not to mention Alysanne, Alyssa, and Alicent. Men’s names are just as hard to keep straight, like Jacaerys and Jaehaerys, or the numerous Aegons, Aemons, and Baelons. Unfortunately, this book does not include a map of Westeros or a guide to the many dragons, but luckily I had a copy of The World of Ice and Fire on hand for quick reference.

Fire & Blood is a fascinating read. While I’ve read the five novels published to date in the ASoIaF series, I haven’t delved much beyond these book in terms of additional histories and the myriad of supplemental materials out there in the fandom. As a first encounter with a Westerosi history, my reading experience was intense but ultimately enjoyable. I can’t even begin to fathom the intricate working of George R. R. Martin’s mind, to be able to come up with a world so complete that its history makes for compelling reading, with no details left unexplored.

While I sometimes felt like I’d be reading this book FOREVER, once I got into the rhythm of it, it didn’t take me nearly as long as I’d imagined. Parts go more slowly than others, and there are a lot of lords and ladies, houses, bannermen, etc to keep track of. The most compelling (and horrifying) part of the book is the section about the war of succession known as the Dance of the Dragons. Lasting a relatively brief number of years, it inflicted devastation upon the kingdom and its people, and brought about the destruction of nearly all of the Targaryen dragons. Maybe it should be obvious from the title — Fire & Blood is very heavy on war and death and horrible cruelty, and like any account of war, while the names remembered are those of the knights and the rulers who set the course of battle, it’s the common people who consistently pay the largest price.

Fire & Blood is part one of a two-part history, and while I’m afraid that we’ll end up waiting years for the next installment, I’m definitely committed to wanting to read part two. This was really an engrossing, rewarding read… and has had the added side-effect of making me even more excited for the final season of the GoT TV series. What a world George R. R. Martin has created! If you’re a fan, don’t miss Fire & Blood.

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The details:

Title: Fire & Blood
Author: George R. R. Martin
Publisher: Bantam
Publication date: November 20, 2018
Length: 706 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Characters in Epic Fantasy Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Favorite Characters in “X” Genre…

… where we each write about the genre of our choice. Tough call — historical fiction? vampire stories? old-fashioned romances? diet and exercise books? (ha – kidding!). I decided to go with Epic Fantasy, or at least what I’d consider epic fantasy: Swords, dragons, kingdoms, knights, perhaps some magical beings, certainly lots of heroic quests and struggles.

That said, my absolute favorite characters — most of whom do, in fact, wield mighty swords — come from just a few books, so here’s my list, broken down by the novel or series that feature these awesome* characters:

*awesome: inspiring awe. Not awesome as in “OMG! That song it totally awesome!”

From Lord of the Rings:

1) Aragorn: My king! Aragorn is everything an Aragornepic hero should be: noble, selfless, fearless in battle, utterly committed to his righteous cause.

2) Gandalf: Gray or white, Gandalf has more power in his little finger than most other fictional wizards combined. (I say “most”, because I’m still not sure who’d win in a head-to-head between Gandalf and Dumbledore. Just because Albus comes across as a twinkly old guy doesn’t mean that he’s not fierce).

3) Samwise Gamgee: What’s a quest without a devoted sidekick? You don’t get best friends better than Sam.

http://nschmiedicker.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/furies-of-calderon.jpgFrom Codex Alera by Jim Butcher:

Codex Alera, by the way, is a fantastic series. Jim Butcher is better know for his (also wonderful) Dresden Files books, but this six-volume fantasy series is crisp, funny, inventive, and sharply plotted. Colorful and memorable characters abound, but my favorites would have to be:

4) Tavi: We meet Tavi as a boy, frustrated by his lack of magic in a world where lacking such gifts makes you a freak. Over the course of the series, we see Tavi grow into manhood, come into his heritage, unravel mysteries, and — oh, yeah — pretty much save the world. Plus, he’s funny and fearless, loyal to a fault, and crazily adventurous.

5) Kitai: Daughter of the savage tribe across the border, Kitai is strong, steely, and independent. She may be Tavi’s love interest, but that doesn’t mean she’s at all subservient to or weaker than him in any way. I love how Jim Butcher creates Kitai to be a warrior. As the love story blossoms, it’s a love between equals, which seems rather rare in these type of heroic tales.

6) Araris Valerian: Araris Valerian is a tragic, heroic figure, dedicated to Tavi’s protection, never revealing his secret past or breaking the vows he’s sworn to uphold. And boy, can that man swing a sword!

From A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin:

7) Ned Stark: Ned is honorable to the point of ruin, but I love him madly despite his blundering belief that if he lives as a man of honor, those around him will do so as well. No spoilers here, so my Ned tribute will have to be brief and to the point. A sexy, devoted husband, a wise, demanding, but fair father, a steadfast friend, and a courageous lord. Sigh.

8) Jon Snow: I get the chills every time Jon repeats the oath of the Night’s Watch: “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.” Jon has the power of his convictions, but he’s not afraid to shake things up. Again, no spoilers, but suffice it to say that Jon Snow is one of the main reasons I’m practically frothing at the mouth waiting for book #6 to show up.

9) Tyrion Lannister: It was a toss-up between Tyrion and Jamie here, but in the end I can’t put together a list of favorite characters without a big shout-out to the Imp. He may be devious and cunning, but boy, is Tyrion smart. The overlooked and scorned “grotesque” son turns into a force to be reckoned with. Tyrion is small in stature, but he can out-think any man or woman in Westeros, and it’s his brain that may save the day for his family in the end.

And finally, from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley:https://bookshelffantasies.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/bluesword.jpg?w=178

10) Harry Crewe: The Blue Sword is one of my favorite Robin McKinley books, and that’s mostly thanks to the amazing Harry Crewe. This Harry is a young woman, brought up to be a respectable miss, who joins a group of desert nomads and becomes a fierce horsewoman and wielder of the mythic blue sword Gonturan. Harry leads her people into battle and saves the day, all the while riding a horse with no reins in order to keep her hands free for fighting. (Can you tell how impressive I find this?) If you want an epic fantasy book that’s heavy on the girl power, don’t miss The Blue Sword.

I’m sure the second I hit “Publish”, I’ll come up with another ten characters who really should have been on my list. Who would you include in a list of top fantasy characters?