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Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History)

Review

Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History)

written by George R. R. Martin, illustrations by Doug Wheatley

- Click here to read Stephen Hubbard's review.

 

Review #1 by Sarah Rachel Egelman

There are two distinct types of George R. R. Martin fans you meet these days: those who will grumble about the length of time it is taking for him to finish THE WINDS OF WINTER, the sixth installment of his extremely popular A Song of Ice and Fire series, and those who are content to patiently wait for it, re-reading the series, enjoying the television hit, or reading the companion books in the meantime. For those who fall into the second category (and to the consternation of those in the first), Martin has released FIRE & BLOOD. This tome, at just over 700 pages, starts 300 years before A GAME OF THRONES begins and tells the complex story of the reign of House Targaryen.

“The maesters of the Citadel who keep the histories of Westeros have used Aegon’s Conquest as their touchstone for the past three hundred years. Births, deaths, battles, and other events are dated either AC (After the Conquest) or BC (Before the Conquest).” So begins FIRE & BLOOD, which, we are told, is transcribed by Martin from the work of Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown. This is a clever conceit and a neat way to frame the text, which is not a novel so much as a fictional history narrative. From King Aegon I Targaryen’s conquest and unification of the Seven Kingdoms to the first days of the rule of the “Broken King,” Aegon III Targaryen, Martin recounts the labyrinthine and knotty details of hundreds of years of Targaryen reign, finishing the chronicle before Aerys II, the Mad King, takes the throne, setting the stage for a second volume.

"[R]eaders ready to deep dive into the rich and challenging world that Martin has created will find much to enjoy here. There are dragons aplenty, romance, war, political strife and more."

Aegon’s Conquest may have brought much of Westeros together and established the power of the Iron Throne and the dragon-riding House Targaryen, but true to Martin’s world of nobles and usurpers, strategy and fate, the Targaryen dominance is never to be taken for granted. Dorne, to the south, was never totally loyal, for example, and the Targaryen tradition of royal incest never sat well with all the religious clergy who worshipped the Seven. There were terrible kings like Maegor I, the Cruel, and those remembered fondly like Daeron II, the Good. And there were beloved queens and those who never had the hearts of the people. There is all the intrigue and political machinations that readers have come to expect from A Song of Ice and Fire but far less violence and mystery.

Even if the history that FIRE & BLOOD tells is fictional, Martin is true to style with a chronological progression of events and a focus on action and consequence. And like many a history book, this one can be dry, confusing and heavy-handed as it lacks the exuberance of his novels. That being said, it is fascinating to get a sense of the long and complicated backstory that lays the foundation for Robert’s Rebellion and the eventual clash between the Lannisters, the Starks and the other major houses of Westeros as winter approaches. Doug Wheatley’s black-and-white illustrations give the book a classic fantasy feel.

So for those fans anxiously waiting for the final volume in the series, FIRE & BLOOD --- which in some ways feels like a compendium of Martin’s backstory notes collected into a more cohesive form --- probably won’t be satisfactory. But readers ready to deep dive into the rich and challenging world that Martin has created will find much to enjoy here. There are dragons aplenty, romance, war, political strife and more. Some of the characters are more finely drawn than others, but many are compelling, especially ones who have a larger role to play in the Westeros mythology and legend.

It may be that sitting down to read the book straight through will prove to be frustrating for many. Instead, a slow and careful reading chapter by chapter --- with plenty of breaks in between --- will result in the kind of experience and engagement that the maesters, and Martin, seemed to have in mind.

 


 

Review #2 by Stephen Hubbard

It's been seven years since George R. R. Martin delivered A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, the fifth of a planned seven novels in his series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Fans have been rabidly waiting for volume six, screaming for him to finish it and fulfill their hunger for more of the drama of the game of thrones.

Martin has other plans, however, and he will not be badgered into providing readers with their greatest desire. Instead, he has decided to tease them by releasing FIRE & BLOOD. This new tome is set in the same universe, but the events all take place 300 years before those occurring in the main timeline of the series. The focus here: the Targaryen family and their beloved dragons.

"FIRE & BLOOD has some rather wonderful moments. And as a fan of the series, reading through this history, you'll absolutely love expanding on the backstory of one of the saga's most compelling families."

It's difficult to turn aside a book laden with dragons. They are the crown jewel of the fantasy genre. And many a reader will argue that House Targaryen is the most interesting. So, taking time to lay down the detailed history of this line, from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III, would no doubt be a winner.

Well, kind of.

There is a lot within these 700+ pages to whet your whistle, but you had better come prepared --- as in studying for an exam on ancient Roman history prepared. The delivery here is dense, and if you're not paying attention, you will get lost amidst all of the Aegons and familial intermarriages. It's not necessarily a bad thing; you just have to be aware that you're not settling in for an easy read and an epic jaunt.

It’s a slog. Make no mistake. The results, though, aren't horrible. In fact, FIRE & BLOOD has some rather wonderful moments. And as a fan of the series, reading through this history, you'll absolutely love expanding on the backstory of one of the saga's most compelling families.

It would be a mistake not to mention the tremendous artwork throughout, provided by Doug Wheatley. His illustrations are a marvelous addition to the book. In fact, the images are such perfect companions to the text that I, for one, would love to see him illustrate all of the previous installments of A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as the final volumes. Make it a beautifully cohesive series.

And if you really like it, be ready. FIRE & BLOOD is the first of a two-book line. So, more Targaryen history is coming your way. The real question is if Martin will have delivered THE WINDS OF WINTER first or if he will continue to smile and deflect.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman and Stephen Hubbard on November 21, 2018

Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History)
written by George R. R. Martin, illustrations by Doug Wheatley

  • Publication Date: November 20, 2018
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 152479628X
  • ISBN-13: 9781524796280