I just finished this book last Friday and instead of adding it to my ever growing stack of books to be reviewed, I thought I move it up in my queue because of today’s finale of Game Of Thrones season 6. The World of Ice and Fire contains information about the novel series, however.
Martin’s co-authors, Elio M. Garcia and Linda Antonsson, are the people behind the fan-site Westeros.org; they even advise Martin on lore when he becomes stuck. He actually approached them about the project, so despite nasty reviews of discontented fans, this is not fan-fiction, but a co-operation.
The World of Ice and Fire is an in-world history book. The author is one Maester Yandel of the Citadel in Oldtown, who dedicated his work to King
Baratheon Joffrey Tommen. As a result, a lot of the information appears to be hearsay and stories, something Yandel acknowledges and tries to alleviate by presenting alternative positions of fellow Maesters. The older the information is or the further away the lands he writes about lie, the more uncertain the information presented is. This is realistic for a pseudo-medieval world, of course.
For the most part, the book presents the history of Westeros, from the age before the coming of the First Men over their wars with the giants and the Children of the Forest, the Long Night and the building of the wall, the arrival of the Andals and later the Targaryens after the Fall of Valyria up to the end of their rule by Robert Baratheons rebellion. Here, every Targaryen monarch gets his own chapter, which can be rather detailed. That part is followed by the history of each the Seven Kingdoms as wells as of the Iron Islands. The rest of the book deals with the lands beyond Westeros, which means the continent of Essos with its Free Cities to the east, the Summer Isles and YiTi, this world’s East Asian equivalent.
The work presented here is very detailed, but still manages to only scratch the surface of the known World of Ice and Fire. The authors often present contradictory information, as Maester Yandel is trying to separate fact from fiction. He succeeds as often as he fails, though, and the most aggravating thing for me was his penchant to tell the reader that one can find more information on a particularly interesting subject in a different book or another (none of which exist in the real world, obviously).
If there is one negative this to say about The World of Ice and Fire, it would be that the various entries about the Targaryen kings and the Seven Kingdoms are a bit long-winded. I did not need to know who married whom after some lord died in battle. The good outweighs the bad, though. Martin, Garcia and Antonsson present a rich (but not exhaustive) tapestry of the known world. There is a lot of interesting information to be gleaned. For example, I cannot fathom why anyone would want the Targaryens back as rulers. Half of them were incompetent, sadistic and/or insane, with only two or three good kings. They also managed to go through seventeen kings within almost 300 years, a feat not even matched by the Plantangenets. Another titbit to be found is the origin of House Baratheon. The first of their lords accompanied the Aegon Targaryen, the Conqueror, to Westeros and was rumoured to have been his bastard brother. The Baratheons intermarried with the Targaryens often, which is what led Ned Stark to refrain from taking the Iron Throne in favour of Robert, because the Baratheon had the stronger claim.
And then there is that business with the Muppets lords of the Riverlands. Then again, some things are better not spoken of.
I have to say a few words about the book’s presentation, i. e. the exquisite artwork. Almost every other paged is illustrated by stunning imagery. The only letdown is the portraits; quite a few of them appear as if processed by Photoshop and the similarities to faces of real-world celebrities are obvious too often. The biggest negative factor in terms of art is missing maps, though. There is one – that lacks detail – of the world in the beginning of the book, and every Seven Kingdom chapter (as well as the Crownlands way in the back) gets one, too. However, there are none to be found of Essos, for example, and I had a hard time placing the various cities on the map in the front of the book.
Nevertheless, if you want the “Untold History of Westeros and The Game Of Thrones” (the book’s subtitle), you really cannot go wrong with The World of Ice and Fire. If you expect a clear separation of facts from fiction, you might be disappointed.