Monday, 30 May 2016

The World of Ice & Fire – A must for diehard Game of Thrones fans (of the books)

It took me over a year to get around to it, but last week I finally went out and bought myself a hardcover copy of George RR Martin's 'untold history of Westeros', The World of Ice and Fire.

I'd say this book, a companion to the series, is strictly for hardcore fans of the books. I'm guessing fans of the television series may get a serious case of 'eye glaze' (with the text, not the pictures). It is a 'History' told by Yandel, a 'humble Maester of the Citadel'. From him we are privy to detailed accounts of the available knowledge about various stages in Westeros's history at the time of King Tommen.

The history is divided into sections beginning with Ancient History. I loved learning more about the Children of the Forest and their initial conflict with the First Men in the Dawn Age. About who exactly is thought to have built the Wall. About those Valyrians and their power over dragons. About the war of Ten Thousand Ships, reminiscent of our Ancient Rome. And about something mentioned often in the books – the Doom of Valyria.

A favourite picture showing the power of an army with Dragon-fire.
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The three sections that follow Ancient History – The Reign of Dragons, The Tagaryen Kings, and The Fall of Dragons – are fascinating for the descriptions of how the Targaryens, who claimed to have descended from dragons, could control the fiery beasts. And the pictures are amazing.

A little bit of history from The Targaryen Kings – I could look at those dragons for hours.
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The Glorious Reign begins the next section of the history, in which we get a close-up look at the seven kingdoms we've all become so familiar with, and other places like the Wall and Storm's End. It's fascinating to learn how the kingdoms evolved over time.

The Red Keep at Kingslanding, as shown in The World of Ice and Fire
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The final section gives the history of other lands and cities Beyond the Sunset Kingdom. I enjoyed learning about Braavos, a city built in secret by slaves from various cultures, who all spoke Valyrian and worshipped not one god, but all gods. One of my favourite chapters in this section is the last one that tells of the mysterious Asshai-by-the-Shadow – "a city steeped in sorcery."

Asshai-by-the-Shadow – a city on the very edge of the known world
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The other thing I've enjoyed about this book is the little hints it gives. Not spoilers, I'm happy to say, just clues that get you thinking. Here's one favourite example about a certain prophecy, from a chapter called 'The Long Night':
It is also written that there are annals in Asshai of such a darkness, and of a hero who fought against it with a red sword. His deeds are said to have been performed before the rise of Valyria, in the earliest age when Old Ghis was first forming its empire. This legend has spread west from Asshai, and the followers of R'hllor claim that this hero was named Azor Ahai, and prophesy his return. 
Can't wait to see what it all means.

I was initially drawn to this book to get a look at how the author originally pictured the characters and the settings, some of which are vastly different to the HBO adaptation. Here's a couple of examples:

The Iron Throne as imagined by George RR Martin
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Let me be honest, I'm a fangirl of this series. I love the epic, longwinded nature of the storytelling and all the little details that turns many readers off the books. Such storytelling allows epic fantasy fans (like me) to become fully immersed in the world. So, this 'History' is right up my alley. I'd recommend it to any other raving fans of the books who enjoy the 'little details' of the background as well as the main events. But if you're purely a fan of the TV show, well, you'll enjoy the pictures at least.

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