Eager for all things Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, I asked for this book for a Yuletide gift. My kids got it for me for Mother’s Day. They’re good kids (adult kids, now; older than I’d like to admit) and this was a worthy gift that I will treasure.
First of all, because it’s freakin’ good.
Second, because it’s beautifully made. The cover is beautiful and the illustrations are fantastic! A worthy keepsake that I would recommend for any Game of Thrones fan in your life.
This is Part 1 of Martin’s Silmarilion. It’s a history of the Targaryens from Aegon the Conqueror to the Dance of Dragons (which means we know there’s going to be a Part 2, because A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms aside, we haven’t even touched on the Blackfyre Rebellion yet!)
But wait! Don’t go! I know the Silmarilion is as dry as toast. It’s written that way because J.R.R. Tolkien was a Professor of Literature, and that’s what the histories he read sounded like (seriously; have you ever tried to read an early 20th century history textbook? I have. Snoresville.)
Martin is a modern writer, and reading this is like reading a popular history; something like The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire (which I highly recommend) or maybe Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Which means it’s interesting. While much of the action is described, not experienced, the players are clearly characters, and they are given characterization, their motives are speculated upon, and when it’s important, the things that they are “purported” to have said are quoted.
Ostensibly written by Grand Maester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown, this lovely book even invents contradictory sources for the Maester to draw upon, each coloured with its own bias. And even as the Grand Maester sneers at their biases, his own are clearly apparent. For instance, he automatically discounts the more lurid stories from “The Testimony of Mushroom,” who was a dwarf that served as Court Fool for many of the events in the Dance of Dragons (the event, not the book,) because they are clearly intended to show the seedier side of things — and that might be wise, since many such tales might have been exaggerated.)
But he also snorts contemptuously at the religious bent of the writings of the High Septon of the period, who wrote his account as a confessional from a prison cell, and any story of a woman fighting or using a sword except in the case of Targaryen queens (because he has absorbed the Doctrine of Exceptionalism – namely, that the Targaryens are just “different” and the usual rules “don’t apply to them”) — which clearly is not wise.
Martin makes extensive use of his masterful “unreliable narrator” skills, and you are left, as most students of history are, to examine the evidence and make your own decisions about what really transpired. It’s a point that often eludes people who don’t read history; what we think we know about historical events is based on a small percentage of what may actually have been written in the period, and is, at best, an educated guess. Which is why theories about history – especially in regards to cultures who left little writing – are constantly changing.
And that’s another thing: it feels real. I can smell the blood and the flames and the leather and the stone castle walls or earthen palisades or the snow or the bog or the desert.
Also, Martin continues to provide us with a veritable feast of complex, interesting, and loathsome or inspiring characters (often both at once,) while he continues to surprise us with “realistic” deaths changing everything that seemed predestined at the flip of a coin.
This is a breathtaking feat of worldbuilding, and as a writer, I can simply stand in mute admiration. As a reader and a fan, I ate it up wholesale. Really, don’t skip this one! I realize you’re waiting for the rest of the series — so am I. But this will definitely keep you busy in the meantime, and is well worth the read. HIGHLY recommended, and I’m sure I’ll read it again and again.