Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book Review: The World of Ice and Fire

I picked this book up shortly after its release. Game of Thrones fans are eager for the next book in the series, but that's not going to happen any time soon. In the meantime, I'm not sure how everyone else feels about fantasy world-building, but this book was right up my alley.

The conceit of the book is that it's a history of Westeros and the lands beyond, written during the reign of Robert Baratheon by a maester of the Citadel, to be given to Robert upon its completion, though the final recipient seems to be King Tommen Baratheon, first of his name, instead.

As a book written by a man within the Seven Kingdoms during that time, the knowledge within is limited to what information is available to the people of the Citadel at that time. So, for instance, the distant past is mostly legend and lore, with relatively few actual records to corroborate their stories--which the author notes, constantly reminding the reader to take unverified or conflicting accounts for what they are: unreliable, and possibly entirely fabricated.

With this in mind, the book proceeds to describe the various ages of the realm, from the Dawn Age and the Age of Heroes to the rise and fall of the Targaryens, citing sources at every turn to give an idea of how reliable the information might be.

Westeros is, of course, the focus of the book, telling the story of what the continent was apparently like before the First Men, how the First Men came and conquered the land, how the Andals came and conquered most of the First Men, and how the Rhoynar came and integrated into Dorne. The author is blunt and matter-of-fact about most of the account, pulling no punches about the brutality and apparent barbarism of the various peoples and how they came into power. He show no particular favor to either side or any of their religions, but rather states plainly what these people did to those people and what became of it.

The book also explores the known history of Valyria, the empire that grew from the power of silver-haired dragon-riders. The fall of Valyria, after all, is integral to understanding the arrival of the Targaryens in Westeros.

Once Aegon the Conqueror arrives, the book details the lives and accomplishments of every Targaryen king, from Aegon the Conqueror to Mad King Aerys. Of particular note is King Aegon the Unlikely, also known as "Egg" from the Dunk and Egg short stories.

The author only begins to pull punches a bit when the accounts reach the era of still-living people, such as Tywin Lannister. The author doesn't actually say it, but I suspect he specifically doesn't want to offend anybody currently in power, even though he's happy to be honest about their ancestors.

The book ends with an account of the known history of the lands beyond Westeros: the Free Cities, the Summer Isles, Qarth, the far-eastern land of Yi Ti, and as far as Asshai by the Shadow, though the accounts of each land naturally has less and less detail as they stray further and further from Westeros.

Finally, I should note that the pictures in this book are simply amazing. There are portraits of notable historical figures, scenes from important battles and other events, and pictures of the various major castles in the Seven Kingdoms. I was particularly impressed with the painting of Casterly Rock, the seat of the Lannisters--it was not at all what I imagined, as it's never actually described in the books. And, honestly, I'm not sure if a verbal description would have done it justice.

It's not a continuation of the series, but the book can provide you with a lot of information that can expand the world of Westeros and explain many of the events only hinted at in the books. As a world-builder, I found the book thoroughly enjoyable.

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