By now, there is hardly anyone who has not heard of George R R Martin and his fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, (ASOIAF) was brought to the small screen as Game of Thrones (GoT). In that context, Martin is compared by some with JRR Tolkien, whose Lord of the Rings saga was made into a critically acclaimed movie trilogy, and who later wrote a prequel to Lord of..., titled The Silmarillion, which was published posthumously. Indeed, Martin himself referred to the book, tongue firmly in cheek, as GRRMarillion.
Now, Martin, who is winding down the novels, has come out with the first part of the prequel telling the saga of the forefathers of Khaleesi and Jon Snow, taking place 300 years before the events of the first book in ASOIAF series.
Clocking in at 706 pages and packed with the usual dense writing style by Martin, Fire and Blood: A History of the Targaryen Kings from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III is an exhaustive read. The book is narrated by Archmaster Gyldayn, who is some sort of unreliable narrator, as he traverses through various styles of narratives to lay forth the history of the first Targaryen, Aegon the conqueror, to his namesake, the third.
Of course, like all Targaryens, he is born out of an incestuous relationship, ostensibly to keep the bloodline ‘pure’. The second part will cover his successor up to the mad king, who was the last Targaryen to sit on the iron throne. The book covers origins of some of the events and objects in ASOIAF, such as Dany’s dragon eggs. Along the way, we also meet with ancestors of the Lannisters and the Starks. There is the usual black humour, such as Lord Orys Baratheon declaring: The King’s Hand should have a hand… I will not have men speaking of the King’s Stump.
However, with the increasing delay for the next ASOIAF novel and this season being the last GoT, Fire and Blood can work as a stop-gap before the next book comes out. But a word of caution: Unless you know all the books by heart, this book can become a chore. However, pairing it down and making it one book instead of two tomes, would have made it infinitely more enjoyable for non-GoT fans. But for the GoT-heads, it is a nice lesson in history.
As we all know, the ASOIAF books are partly based on the wars of the roses in UK, and the history aficionados will have a good time spotting which character is inspired by which personality. But that is about all you can do.
Another thing similar between many history books including Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is that as the narrative gets built up, so does the complexity. Multiple persons having the same name does not help matters either. There are at least three characters named Aegon.
The book contains some really beautiful illustrations by comic book veteran Doug Wheatley. They break the almost scholarly tone of the book. Yes, unfortunately, Martin has mostly gone for a dry, scholarly narrative, albeit punctuated by dry, black humour.