Fire and Blood, George RR Martin, review: New Game of Thrones book is exhaustive but often tedious

Martin appears to have made the assumption that historical writing should be dry and clinical, but fans will likely be left frustrated with this extensive, exhaustive history of the Targaryen family and their dragons

Roisin O'Connor
Tuesday 20 November 2018 09:47
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George RR Martin may irritate fans by releasing an extensive history of a Game of Thrones family – instead of the long-awaited sequel ‘The Winds of Winter’
George RR Martin may irritate fans by releasing an extensive history of a Game of Thrones family – instead of the long-awaited sequel ‘The Winds of Winter’

Many Game of Thrones fans will be wondering why George RR Martin decided to write his latest book, Fire and Blood, at this particular time. Rather than attempt to finish his long-awaited, and oft-delayed, book The Winds of Winter – the penultimate novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series – Martin has chosen to publish an extensive history of one of its main families: House Targaryen. Even more frustrating: this is only the first volume, the synopsis reveals.

Billed as a history of the Targaryen Kings, from Aegon the Conqueror to Ageon III, Fire and Blood – which takes its title from the noble family’s house words – take place 300 years before those in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Unlike those books, Fire and Blood is written as an in-universe account (purportedly) by the Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel, in a style that Martin’s publisher describes as possessing the “scope and grandeur of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.

The Targaryens are arguably the most intriguing of Martin’s Ice and Fire families, and why wouldn’t they be? Dragons are awesome. Somehow, though, Martin manages to make these warring kings and queens and exiled princes, with their dragons and purple eyes and white-blond hair... dull. Martin appears to have made the assumption that historical writing should be dry and clinical, and that the excitement of the events themselves should be left to do the talking. Yet the prose is so dry that even descriptions of a battle in the sky between two brothers manages to fall as flat as the losing Targaryen and his dragon.

Asides from the writing style, the main problem with Fire and Blood lies not in its length (an eye-watering 706 pages) but in its complexity. The first 100 pages are OK, but as the history continues, the reader struggles to keep up. It doesn’t help that several characters have incredibly similar names (at least six are called Aegon), or that it is considered common among the Targaryens to marry their siblings, who also make a habit of having more than one wife at the same time – all of whom seem to pop out heirs at an alarming rate.

Martin also has a habit of rumbling off on tangents about knights who fail to materialise later on, apparently having little relevance to the story arc, as much as he would like his readers to believe they do. These lengthy passages are only interrupted by Doug Wheatley’s beautifully detailed illustrations.

Fire and Blood is ideal for fans of the stories who love to obsess over the most minute of details, and it’s fun to see the ancestors of other popular characters – from the Starks to the Lannisters – turn up along the way. But the sheer scale and exhaustive detail in Fire and Blood makes reading it feel more like you’ve been assigned a mildly interesting, but often tedious, piece of homework.

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