I know, I know it’s been several millennia since I last posted, but I have finally finished a book. Hurrah! I am still making my way through The Book Thief, but in the meantime I’ve finished reading George R. R. Martin’s encyclopaedic book The World of Ice and Fire. It’s a massive book with more detail than I possibly imagined it might contain, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed poring over its pages. Let me state from the outset that if you haven’t read Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of books then there’d be very little point in your reading this latest offering. The World of Ice and Fire is very much a companion book to the author’s more famous series. Indeed, The World of Ice and Fire is really something of a historical tome detailing the history of Martin’s story world – from the seven Kingdoms in Westeros to the less familiar lands of Essos across the Narrow Sea.
The book itself is giant not only in that it contains a massive volume of information and is 336 pages long, but also in the sense that physically it measures a whopping 30.9cm in height. I ended up reading it either at a table or with my trusty cushioned laptray underneath in order to support its weight. This is not a book you can hold in the air just below your nose, that us, unless you have muscles like Garth. However, that said, the book’s weight and appearance do serve to heighten the perception that you are reading some great history found in the annals of Martin’s Citadel. Indeed, the book’s introduction clearly lays out the author’s intention to frame this book as being composed by a Maester (a learned scholar in the world of Westeros) by the name of Yandel who pens a dedication page to King Tommen who is (as far as Martin’s writing has taken us so far) seated on the Iron Throne of Westeros.
Even the book’s hardback cover and internal appearance serve to create the sense that you are reading a historical account from some dusty library in the Seven Kingdoms. Each page is given a parchment-like effect with beautiful full-page maps and illustrations to accompany the text.
Martin’s choice of a (somewhat) impartial Maester lends an interesting and effective narrative position to the book. The Maester states in the book’s ‘Preface’ that he is aiming to write, “a history of deeds gallant and wicked, peoples familiar and strange, and lands near and far.” This, I think, our imaginary narrator is largely successful in doing. The World of Ice and Fire is immensely informative for readers of Martin’s work. I learnt a great deal which I didn’t know already and the book helped to contextualise a lot of the more perplexing elements of the Ice and Fire books. The book contains sections on each of the seven kingdoms, each of the noble houses of Westeros, a synopsis of the history of Westeros, chronicles of the Kings and Queens of the Seven Kingdoms and sections on many of the lands to be found across the Narrow Sea in Essos and beyond.
I guess this book might not be something that all of Martin’s readers would enjoy, it is by no means driven by any sort of plot and is rather a pseudo-non-fiction work written in the style of a history book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have dipped in and out of it over a period of several month’s reading. It’s not a book that you will be gripped by and find yourself unable to put down, but it is a very enjoyable and informative read that greatly adds to your appreciation of Martin’s writing. I’m really glad I read it and will probably find myself dipping into it again when The Winds of Winter is published and I find myself confronted with a historical name or reference that I can’t quite recall the significance of. For those readers poring The World of Ice and Fire for plot spoilers before the next Ice and Fire book emerges, you may find yourself disappointed; the book certainly does flesh-out some of the historical references and events that Martin has alluded to and it clears up once and for all what ‘the doom of Valyria’ was, but it does not provide insight into facts that are presented as unknown in Martin’s other books.
I think what I gained most from this book was knowledge and information, I now know far more about the rule of each of the Targaryen Kings, my knowledge of the geography of Westeros is massively improved and also my understanding of the different domains across the sea in Essos. I would very much recommend this book to readers of A Song of Ice and Fire, it is a beautiful book, well worth it’s price and a fountain of information. The illustrations are beautiful and it really does add to your immersion in the story world of Ice and Fire.
Having finished reading, what I am most in awe of – as always where Martin is concerned – is the sheer vastness of the world he has created. From gold that gleams unmined in the colossal lump of stone that sits below Casterly Rock in the Westerlands, to the black and white stripes of the strange creatures known as Zorses ridden by the Jogos Nhai people who live in the Eastern edges of Essos, every facet of Martin’s story world is depicted with care and purpose and never more so than in The World of Ice and Fire.
“I have lived a thousand lives and I’ve loved a thousand loves. I’ve walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.”