Dear A Song of Ice and Fire fans: this is the post you’re looking for. I recently cracked open my copy of the oversized and beautifully bound The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, and besides having the longest title ever, it is a treasure that expands the world of Westeros. The 336 page volume is a history of the Seven Kingdoms – a prequel, if you will. It’s not the definitive history, but it is a captivating one full of magic, battles, and death. However, it’s important to keep in mind that reading The World of Ice & Fire is not the same experience as reading a novel. If you open this book expecting to be welcomed by the same style of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, you’ll be disappointed. If, instead, you go in expecting to learn about the coming of the First Men or the reign of Aegon III, you’ll be just fine.
After perusing the table of contents, the first thing I did was flip through the book and look at the illustrations. It’s not like I had to worry about spoilers. Though I found the text and histories eye-opening, the art is the shining star. There are family trees that show the lineage of houses Targaryen, Stark, and Lannister, there are a few maps, and there are vignettes that capture moments in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. The art factor means this book likely works best in print, not on the Kindle or any other e-reading device (I say likely because I’m speculating).
As mentioned above, this Song of Ice and Fire companion book is written by Martin with the assistance of Garcia and Antonsson. They’re fans who founded Westeros.org and seemingly know Westeros just as well as Martin if not better (they are able to study it from a different perspective). That said, as much as they draw from Martin’s notes, they had to fill in blanks and they’re not in Martin’s head. That’s why this isn’t a definitive history. It’s apparent when Martin isn’t at the helm, and while that’s not the worst thing in the world, that might not be what people are expecting when they purchase the book.
Their collaboration does work to a certain degree. For one thing, Martin is so busy that this book never could have happened without assistance. And it does present some interesting backstories. They make the fictional history mirror our own by including in-universe folk tales and speculation. I can’t imagine the amount of research and development that goes into intensive world-building like this, and I respect it. The negative aspect of the collaboration is that the tone and style can be uneven. The narrative is at its strongest when it focuses on stories about characters rather than events.
Since The World of Ice & Fire is basically a textbook (much cooler than any of my textbooks in school), it can come across as a touch dry. It’s not the type of book I couldn’t put down, and that’s okay. I read a handful of pages at a time, digested the information, and came back for more later. I approached the book as if it were J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was much more enthusiastic about The World of Ice & Fire. But, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy read. I knew I had to break it up in bite size pieces. Going that route made all the difference. If I would have forced myself to read the book cover to cover in a few sittings, I would have walked away with a different experience.
Overall, The World of Ice & Fire is a lovingly crafted and detailed look at the past of the world we’ve come to know through A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. While I would have preferred Martin to pen the entire tome in order to get the one hundred percent accurate rundown of the past, this is an engaging and satisfying read for any serious fan of A Song of Ice and Fire.