WARNING: This article contains very minor spoilers for both The World of Ice & Fire as well as the Song of Ice & Fire series through A Storm of Swords.
It’s been a week since The World of Ice & Fire (a.k.a. TWOIAF) was released, and if anything I’m shocked that there hasn’t been very much buzz about it. I grabbed my copy that very day, of course, and I feel like I’ve been reading ever since. What can I say – I, like most other Song of Ice & Fire fans, am a bit desperate for new material. But if you hoped or expected that TWOIAF would settle some of the mysteries of Westeros and beyond, prepare to be disappointed in that respect. After all, this ‘untold history’ was written as if it was penned by a Maester, who very clearly wanted to please “Tommen, the First of His Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm”. It’s therefore not surprising that certain of the ‘recent’ deceased, are described in almost flowery terms – including Tommen’s supposed father, Robert Baratheon, who is mostly painted as a hero and a strong ruler, and Tommen’s grandfather, Tywin Lannister, who is described as a wise (though, cold and unforgiving) Lord.
Point being, at least certain parts of this history need to be taken with a grain of salt…at the end of the day, it’s still fiction, and as with much of what George R.R. Martin writes, it’s likely to kindle discussion rather than answering many – or even any – of the burning questions we fans have.
Upon first glance, TWOIAF is nothing more or less than a beautiful book…though to be fair, at 9″ x 12″ and well over 300 pages, it’s a bit large to be carrying around (as I learned the hard way when I carted it everywhere with me for several days so that I could devour its content as quickly as possible). The cover is beautiful and the pages and printing are clearly high-quality…and there is an amazing amount of art included! The art itself is beautiful; some of it has been available on the internet for quite some time, but plenty of it is new.
My only complaint is that after a while, the people in these artworks blended together. Of course we know that certain Houses have similar features generation after generation, but I doubt I’m the only fan who thinks that a bit more diversity would have been welcome – and more interesting.
Example: The Nine Mistresses of Aegon the Unworthy (Top, left to right: Lady Melissa Blackwood, Serenei of Lys, Lady Falena Stokeworth, Bellegere Otherys;
Bottom, left to right: Lady Bethany Bracken, Lady Barbra Bracken, Megette “Merry Meg”, Lady Cassella Vaith, Lady Jeyne Lothston)
Probably the biggest problem with The World of Ice & Fire, though, is the writing – yes, George R.R. Martin contributed quite a bit, but he co-wrote this book with Westeros.org founders Elio M. Garcia Jr. and Linda Antonsson. As with A Dance with Dragons (which Elio and Linda beta’d), you can easily pick out their influence. Superfans they may be, but writers they are not – while I bow to their vast knowledge of the world of ice and fire, I do believe that TWOIAF’s prose could use some improvement.
Despite being a bit slow and rambling at times, there are definitely some interesting tidbits hidden in TWOIAF. While I wish there was more information included about certain events (the Doom of Valyria, the Tragedy at Summerhall, the tourney at Harrenhal), sadly it’s not all that surprising that these things were glossed over. Perhaps we’ll never know the details of these incidents…but hopefully Martin is simply saving that information for the final two (or three?) novels in the series.
It’s not overly surprising that the better part of the first half of TWOIAF is spent on the Targaryens – where they came from, how they conquered Westeros, and the three hundred years they sat the Iron Throne. What’s bothersome is that a lot of this information is repeated in the following sections devoted to the Seven Kingdoms. This was particularly vexing if you’ve read The Princess and the Queen…I’ve got to be honest, I’d like to not hear about the Dance of the Dragons for a while after this.
While most of the separate kingdoms’ histories run about the same length (give or take one to three pages), two areas that receive a lot of attention are The Iron Islands and Dorne. After the frustrating Riverlands history (hearing more about the Blackwoods and Brackens and their feud was great, but I wish we’d finally learned the origin of that feud – and we still don’t know the words of House Frey, either!) and the boring section on the Vale, it was more than a little refreshing to get some great backstory about my beloved Martells…and to be interested in the Ironborn for once.
There’s also plenty of information about the lands beyond Westeros, much of which is completely new. Though much of it is even more vague than the aforementioned lengthy components, I for one loved learning about those faraway places that, until now, had only merited brief, passing mentions in the Song of Ice & Fire novels.
The World of Ice & Fire isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s definitely a must-have for any fan of the series…though if you haven’t read the books, beware of spoilers – minor ones, perhaps, but spoilers nonetheless.
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.
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