A new book by George RR Martin that is set 300 years before the events of A Song Of Ice And Fire promises to tell the definitive history of the Targaryens in Westeros.
The book announced today (April 26), Fire And Blood, is an unexpected one for fans, who are eagerly awaiting the sixth novel, The Winds Of Winter, in the Ice And Fire fantasy series. While the seven-year wait for that book isn’t over, at least they’ll be able to look forward to Fire And Blood, which the American author stresses is not a novel but a history.
“This is not a traditional narrative and was never intended to be ... let’s call this one ‘imaginary history’, instead,” he tells fans. “The essential point being the ‘history’ part. I love reading popular histories myself, and that’s what I was aiming for here. As for me, I'm returning once again to The Winds Of Winter.”
Fire And Blood is the first of two planned volumes and is said to chronicle the Targaryen civil war. While parts of the narrative have previously appeared in The World Of Ice And Fire (a companion book to the main Ice And Fire series) and various anthologies, this is said to be the first time Martin’s full history of the Targaryens is revealed.
The book is illustrated by Doug Wheatley with more than 75 black and white portraits and scenes. It is due for international release on Nov 20.
Welcome To Westeros
For those who are late to the game, here’s a quick round up of the books (NOT the TV series!) by Star2 entertainment writer and huge fan Michael Cheang, who also explains why fans remain faithful despite all the delays. He wrote this article in 2011 when the last book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, was released (yes, it’s been that long since we’ve had a new book in the series).
The full list of books so far: A Game Of Thrones (1996), A Clash Of Kings (1999), A Storm Of Swords (2000), A Feast For Crows (2005), and A Dance With Dragons (2011).
Set in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Martin’s story revolves around the fortunes of House Stark, led by Eddard Stark, lord of Winterfell. He and his family form the spine of the plot, taking up most of Martin’s unique “point of view” chapters (each chapter is written from a specific character’s perspective). The clan comprises Stark’s wife Catelyn, daughters Sansa and Arya, sons Robb, Bran and Rickon as well as his bastard son Jon Snow.
The Stark family’s troubles begin when King Robert Baratheon comes a-calling with the notorious siblings from House Lannister in tow, including his ruthless, power-hungry queen Cersei Lannister, her handsome and callous twin brother Jaime (also one of the king’s knights), and the bitter but brilliant dwarf Tyrion.
During this visit, tragedy strikes one of the Stark sons, and the family is forced apart when Lord Stark is called to the royal capital of King’s Landing to be the king’s Hand (ie, advisor).
There are two other parallel plotlines in the series: one follows Jon Snow, who takes an oath with the Sworn Brothers of the Night’s Watch to guard The Wall, a massive structure that protects the Seven Kingdoms from the unknown mysteries of the Northern lands beyond it. The other is set across the Narrow Sea that separates Westeros from the lands in the east, where Daenerys Targaryen, the daughter of a former king of Westeros, is plotting to reclaim the Iron Throne of Westeros.
With such an intricate plot, it’s surprising how well Martin manages to keep the books so readable, especially with all the twists and turns he throws in. You never really know what will happen next, and you never know if your favourite character is going to be killed off in the next page.
The politics are also laid on thick here; one of the most fascinating things I found about the books is the power-mongering and political manoeuvring between each of the different noble houses of Westeros. This is made even more interesting thanks to the different characteristics and customs of each these houses, which include the righteous Starks, the ruthless and rich Lannisters, the honourable Tullys, and so on.
Reading the last book (way back in 2011!), A Dance With Dragons, proved to be a taxing exercise. A Feast For Crows and A Dance Of Dragons initially started out as the same novel, but halfway through writing it, Martin decided to spilt it into two books, each focusing on a specific set of characters.
As a result, A Feast For Crows focuses on events around the Southern side of Westeros and the struggle for the Iron Throne of Westeros, with POVs by Sansa and Arya Stark, Jaime and Cersei Lannister, and Brienne of Tarth.
A Dance With Dragons on the other hand, focuses on events in the North and across the Narrow Sea, with POVs by Tyrion Lannister and Jon, Bran and Daenerys Stark, among others.
Therefore, considering that fact that both books run parallel to each other, the plot for A Dance With Dragons actually picks up where A Storm Of Swords left off way back in 2000. That’s a long time to wait to know what happened to Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon, and Bran, especially since most of their stories ended in rather exciting cliffhangers.
Fortunately, all of the books in the series have a very handy appendix in the back where one can flip through to keep abreast of who’s who in Westeros, who’s alive, who’s dead, and who is still chopping off heads.
Still, there are so many characters and so many sub-plots within the story that I still needed to refer to the appendices every now and then to keep up. That said, at no point did I feel overwhelmed by the story or the number of characters the way, say, Robert Jordan’s equally long and epic Wheel Of Time series made me feel.
And that is the beauty of Martin’s series. All his characters are distinct and different enough to keep us interested, and he actually makes us care about them – even the “bad” ones. Each and every one of the characters he introduces has his or her own motivation for actions taken, and who you root for and whom you hate is only a matter of perspective.
Martin also manages to keep the story firmly grounded in reality, deftly balancing out the more fantastical and magical elements with the more plausible aspects of the story, while introducing more and more intricate details into the plot.
That is why a millions of fans around the world, me included, are still hanging around despite the long waiting period between books. Westeros is not just some made-up world to us. It is a world that we can truly believe in, with characters we wish we could meet (and in some instances, so we can hack off their heads), and with numerous stories that we really, really want to know the ending to.