Hey, look: I wore some clothes to work. The day before Christmas break, this counted as making an effort.
Ok, reading break time.
One of the things I managed to do over the Christmas break that did not involve eating my weight in carbs was finish The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones. Ostensibly, this is a George R.R. Martin book, but don’t be fooled by his name (writ large) on the cover: the co-authors are actually responsible for the majority of the book, and its contents are basically a re-hash of information you can get on any ASOIAF wiki.
There are no spoilers, no previously unknown tidbits. The World of Ice & Fire skims over those parts of the story that have given rise to “conspiracy theories” – basically, all the interesting stuff that GoT fans want to talk about – with less detail given than in the GoT books themselves. This is presumably a deliberate choice on the authors’ part, to avoid “spoiling” future GoT books; understandably so, Martin is saving all the revelations for himself. All of this is made possible by the format of The World of Ice & Fire, which is framed as a history text authored by a maester writing in the time of Robert Baratheon’s reign (i.e. the beginning of the GoT books timeline). The maester is, essentially, an unreliable narrator.
To take one example: he writes of the death of Elia Martell and her children as though the killer (and his puppet master) was not known, even though readers of the GoT books will know better. Now, this omission can be explained by either “in world” political exigency (Tywin Lannister is still a powerful lord in Westeros at the time the book is written) or practical considerations (the maester is not omniscient, and is not privy to knowledge that other GoT characters have or subsequently acquire). This narrative device is useful to the authors of The World of Ice & Fire in avoiding having to address the unresolved questions arising from GoT, but it can be frustrating for devoted readers of the canon. Especially given that, as I understand it, Martin gave his commitment to this book as one of the reasons why he hasn’t gotten around to writing the next book(s) in the GoT series.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: I can understand why some disgruntled fans have called this book a “cash grab”. After I finished it, I definitely felt a sense of … being cheated a little bit. With that said, I would still recommend it, and here’s why.
One, the artwork is gorgeous. The drawings of the various characters is a bit too stereotypical for my taste (all the women look like they’d belong on a romance novel cover), but the maps and depictions of the various castles are excellent. If you’re into that sort of thing, this could be a nice coffee table book.
Two, as a history nut, I enjoyed reading The World of Ice & Fire a lot. That caveat is important. My expectations when reading a work of historical non-fiction are different than when reading (quasi)historical fiction. History books tend to get bogged down, more or less frequently, in details one may or may not care about – something you get used to if you read enough of them. The World of Ice & Fire reads like a very zippy history book – lots of remind-me-why-I-care details, but they fly by pretty quickly – which is perfectly fine by me. Someone expecting book 6 in the GoT series will be disappointed, because the prose is sub-par from that perspective.
Three, and related to the above, The World of Ice & Fire provided a handy backgrounder on some of the exposition I (ahem) skipped in the GoT books. When I’m reading fiction, I tend to skip over “filler” paragraphs, especially if they’re lengthy and there is a good plot twist coming up. (Note: there is always a good plot twist coming up in GoT.) Reading the GoT books, there were many “historical” characters I never bothered to keep straight (all the Targaryens, for example) because they didn’t seem to be of immediate importance. The World of Ice & Fire covers all of these and more, fully fleshing out the background to the GoT books for
lazy selective readers like me.
So, actually, my only big complaint about The World of Ice & Fire is the restricted narrative structure. Rather than an “in world” history book, I wish this had been written as a straight up encyclopedia (or companion guide), with annotations on all of the unresolved questions arising from the GoT books. It would have better helped me to remember all the important bits, and provided a nice bridge into next season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and, hopefully, the next book. As written, The World of Ice & Fire only goes so far. Nonetheless, for a GoT fan, it’s still a fun, curl-up-on-the-couch-and-pray-the-kids-don’t-find-you kind of book.
It needs more of this though: