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

Five years.

I’ve been waiting five years for George R. R. Martin to release the next instalment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I reread the whole series thus far last year, as I’d heard rumours that book 6, The Winds of Winter, was due out in 2018. It never appeared. Instead, we got this book, which is set in Westeros, but doesn’t continue the story, giving more background and history. But, so desperate for some new material I seized upon it.

fireandblood martin

This book tells the first part of the history of the Targaryen dynasty, spanning over a hundred years of fictional history. It begins with Aegon I using his dragons to conquer and unite the Seven Kingdoms, before going on to tell the stories of his successors and their reigns on the Iron Throne. Martin brings us right up to the beginning of the reign of Aegon III, who takes the Throne as he turns 16, relieving his regents of the task.

I quite enjoyed this book and it’s hard not to admire the sheer depth and scope of the world that Martin has created. As he crafts this history he manages to create fascinating stories and subplots, interesting moments and asides which create a sense of a rich and detailed universe.

But the style used, a history crafted by a character within the world, robs the reader of some of Martin’s best traits as writer. It lacks the immediacy and gripping edge of the other novels. One of the best features of ASOIAF is that Martin brings everything down to the ground, shifting perspective between a group of characters to really engage the human aspect in a world of magic and monsters. The changing perspectives also challenge reader attitudes and ideas of good and bad, creating a world of shifting sympathies, complex characters and infinite shades of grey.

While there are some moments of ambiguity here, the story is more straightforward and as interesting as the stories are they’re told in a detached manner. It’s a pity as some of the events and characters here would have made for great novels in their own right, instead of being minor elements here. I had this impression when I read The Princess and the Queen last year, and that tale is reprinted here, but there are other parts which you wish he had delved deeper into.

That being said, there are plenty of great stories here and Martin continues to eschew romanticism, injecting brutal reality and grim cynicism into proceedings. There are even moments of black humour.

I especially like that it reads like a real history, with the narrator debating the sources he has to work with, comparing different versions of the stories and posing different theories for the actions of the players involved.

It’s a decent read, but I couldn’t help feeling that I would have preferred Martin not to have bothered and cracked on with the Winds of Winter instead, oh, well, hopefully it arrives in 2019.

Verdict: It’s a solid and fascinating work, but the style hampers Martin and it feels like a missed opportunity, like brief summaries of novels you wish he’d write. Still, it entertains and the scale is impressive. I’ll  definitely read part two. A helpful dose of Westeros for his fans as they await the next novel. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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