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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The Monday Check-In ~ 12/24/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren: I finished this the previous week, but just posted a review a few days ago.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory: More contemporary romance! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

I finished a re-read of Beneath the Sugar Sky via audio, and now I’m all set for the next book in the series, coming in January. Can’t wait!

Book group books:

Our group re-read of The Scottish Prisoner wrapped up this week. We’ve been reading and discussing two chapters per week since July — so much fun. For any Outlander fans out there who haven’t year explored the Lord John works, I strongly urge you to do so! The Scottish Prisoner is particularly fun, since John and Jamie share the spotlight. As always, reading with my book group made the experience extra sweet for me.

We also read The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol for our December book of the month — nice and short, and perfect holiday reading!

And my biggest accomplishment — I finished Middlemarch! My book group started Middlemarch back in March, and have been group-reading two chapters per week ever since. I actually cheated a bit — we had three chapters left, to be read in January, and I just couldn’t stand waiting! I need to digest it all a bit… and I think I’m going to watch one of the movie/mini-series versions too. I’m so glad to have read it, and once again need to say how grateful I am to be in a book group where we can tackle big, challenging books like this together.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Check out the most recent:

Episode 408, “Wilmington” (aired 12/23/2018) – my reaction post for last night’s episode is here.

Pop culture goodness:

I don’t know what I was up to in the early 2000s (oh yeah, that’s right, having a baby!), but clearly I was way too busy to start watching Gilmore Girls. In the category of “never too late”, I finally sat down to start at the beginning, and I’m finding season 1 awfully cute. It does kind of crack me up to see how dated it is (pagers! flip phones! landlines! a Bangles concert! and oh, the clothing…), but the characters and mother/daughter dynamic are truly charming.

Fresh Catch:

More and more books! A few of my used book orders arrived in the mail this week, including these two non-fiction books that sound really interesting:

I also treated myself to a brand-new book by a favorite author:

Signed and everything!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Fire & Blood by George R. R. Martin: I started this MASSIVE book thinking I’d read straight through, but I’m finding that I can’t handle more than a one or two chapters a day before my eyes start to cross and I lose all ability to keep my Targaryens and their respective dragons straight. This book is absolutely going to take me a while, although I’m still hoping to finish before the end of the year.

And meanwhile, I’m giving myself little breaks from Westerosi history by reading My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, which is really interesting so far, and helps me make sense of Middlemarch and why it’s considered such an important book in English literature.

Now playing via audiobook:

Back to Tortall! I’ve started my next Tamora Pierce trilogy, the Beka Cooper books. Book #1 is Terrier, and I’m liking it so far, even though I don’t think I’d make it without a print copy handy so I can check the glossary to figure out all the terminology and slang.

Ongoing reads:

None at the moment! All of my book group reads are wrapped up at this point. A new classic read and a new Lord John read will both be starting in January!

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 12/17/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

It’s the little things in life that warm a book-lovers heart. On Saturday, I took a whole bunch of books to the library donation center, then headed over to my very favorite bookstore in the city (Borderlands!), where I treated myself to one new book and drooled over half a zillion others, then stopped off at the library on my way home to pick up the books on my hold shelf. So many books to gaze at and admire and adopt!

What did I read during the last week?

The Library Book by Susan Orlean: Fascinating non-fiction. My review is here.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne: Contemporary romance, borrowed on a whim. My review is here.

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren: I just discovered this author duo’s books a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve just finished my 3rd book by her (them). So much for me not being a romance reader — clearly, I seem to have a sudden weakness for contemporary romance. I’ll share a review post later this week.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Episode 405, “Savages” (aired 12/2/2018) – my reaction post for the 5th episode is here.
Episode 406, “Blood of My Blood” (aired 12/9/2018) – my reaction post for last week’s episode is here.


NEW: Episode 407, “Down the Rabbit Hole” (aired 12/16/2018) – my reaction post for last night’s episode is here.

Fresh Catch:

I did a major bookshelf purge, and took all these books to the library donation center:

But then counter-balanced my sense of virtue by buying a few more new and used books:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Fire & Blood by George R. R. Martin: With two weeks left in December and my 2018 Goodreads challenge already complete, this seems like a good time to take a deep breath and dive into this massive tome. Wish me luck!

Now playing via audiobook:

A tough choice! I’m in-between audiobooks right now, but next up will either be:

  • An audiobook re-read of Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire, since the next Wayward Children book comes out in January; or…
  • Zero G by Dan Wells, an Audible Original that was a free selection for December

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads — two approaching the end, and one just for Christmas!

  • Classic read: Middlemarch by George Eliot — we’ll be done in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon — Last chapters this coming week!
  • The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol — our group read for December

So many books, so little time…

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