Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin’s fake history book about the Targaryen dynasty, is on store shelves now. A 700-page tome “written” by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel, the book is comprised mostly of asides Martin wrote and didn’t use for the Song of Ice and Fire companion book The World of Ice of Fire, plus some new material. It’s not written as a novel, as Martin has taken pains to point out, but rather a history, with all the detail and fleet-footed narration that implies. This book covers over 100 years in the history of Westeros, rather than a few months in the lives of our favorite characters. Fans expecting something along the lines of A Dance with Dragons are in for a surprise.
“Martin appears to have made the assumption that historical writing should be dry and clinical, and that the excitement of the events themselves should be left to do the talking,” writes Independent critic Roisin O’Connor. “Yet the prose is so dry that even descriptions of a battle in the sky between two brothers manages to fall as flat as the losing Targaryen and his dragon.”
Fire and Blood is ideal for fans of the stories who love to obsess over the most minute of details, and it’s fun to see the ancestors of other popular characters – from the Starks to the Lannisters – turn up along the way. But the sheer scale and exhaustive detail in Fire and Blood makes reading it feel more like you’ve been assigned a mildly interesting, but often tedious, piece of homework.
Publishers Weekly is a little more generous, but only just:
Brief sections are dramatic (“the golden dragon devoured the queen in six bites”) or salacious (“it aroused the princess to watch the men disporting with one another”), and there are entertaining snatches of dialogue and detailed depictions of battles, but they only last a few pages before a return to brisk summary.
Angriest of all if GQ’s David Levesley, who does everything but say he’s reviewing this book under protest. “Martin is really, really committed to a dry, dusty historical screed for his style of writing,” Levesley says. “The dust jacket compares it to the ‘scope and grandeur of Gibbon’s The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire‘, and… well, yes, they are both long. But at least the Roman Empire actually happened, and actually required that level of detail, and has repercussions for you and I who live in its shadow. In this case, Martin has decided on his own accord to pack his text as full as he has and he doesn’t always curate the most focus onto the most important bits.”
Then there’s the elephant in the room: beyond not liking the style, several reviewers are openly contemptuous that Fire & Blood isn’t The Winds of Winter, the long-awaited sixth book in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Levesley calls Martin’s “refusal” to finish that series “the scam of the century,” and Hugo Rifkind of The Times writes that Fire & Blood is “one long synopsis for about 50 books that he will never get around to writing, which itself has only been written because he can’t get around to writing the other two Game of Thrones books that his fans are waiting for.” I think these readings are, to put it mildly, uncharitable, but I can’t say they come as a great surprise. People have been waiting for Winds for a long while, and it’s showing.
But not everyone is down on the book. Dan Jones of The Sunday Times calls it “a masterpiece of popular historical fiction…Martin is an avid consumer and regurgitator of history: his Westeros writing pulses with influences from Plantagenet-era Britain and beyond.” Most effusive of all was Chris Lough of Tor.com, who calls Fire & Blood “the best Song of Ice and Fire book in 18 years.” Far from seeing the historical styling as a handicap, Jones sees it as a throwback:
Fire & Blood…benefits enormously from adhering to a strictly chronological telling of the Targaryen dynasty, which evokes the same propulsive storytelling we’re accustomed to from the main novels of A Song of Ice and Fire. (And which we lost a bit of, thanks to the mixed narratives of A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons; hence my enjoyment of Fire & Blood over those two volumes.) Each chapter transfers clearly to the next, king to king, era to era, and this clarity in itself creates an interesting dramatic tension, because we’re not at all accustomed to events in Westeros being that clear-cut.
Jones is also very much into the world-building the book does, and ends his review with a bold declaration: “This book feels like A Song of Ice and Fire,” he writes. “And you know how I know? Because I want the next book right away.”
I think it’s important to note that Tor is a website dedicated to science fiction and fantasy specifically, because it may help outline who’s going to enjoy Fire & Blood and who isn’t. If you’re a hardcore fan of A Song of Ice and Fire or fantasy in general, you’ll probably find something to like in the book’s voluminous detail and carefully paved detours. If you only care about getting on with the plot of the story you’ve already been reading and watching, this likely isn’t for you.
We’re reading Fire & Blood now and will be along with our thoughts in due time. For everyone out there reading the book now: what do you think of it?
h/t Mental Floss