Fire and Blood provides a dry, self-indulgent history of the Targaryen family and their dragons, but offers no suggestions as to where The Winds of Winter might be.
I’ve always considered the multimillion-selling George R. R. Martin to be a terribly self-indulgent novelist, and I’ve often wondered why more people don’t hold that view. I’ve been told time and time again by his most ardent supporters that the indulgence is half the point; that his obvious fascination with food and weird sexual hang-ups is what makes A Song of Ice and Fire such a triumphant series. It’s probably also why he still hasn’t finished the next instalment, but I digress. I’d like those people – as a matter of fact, I implore them – to read his latest work, Fire and Blood, if for no better reason than to prove I was right all along.
In some ways, he’s taking the p**s. Rather than getting around to writing the book his fans have been waiting seven years for, he has instead churned out a 706-page doorstop of procrastination, and what’s more he has written it in-universe as a tortuously dry historical accounting ostensibly penned by a maester of the Citadel. It’s an extensive, utterly exhaustive history of House Targaryen replete with Martin’s usual fondness for inbreeding, men named “Aegon”, doggedly refusing to focus on the most interesting or important bits, and the odd dragon, the latter rendered in a style that somehow succeeds in making fire-breathing mythical lizard monsters feel like homework.
And this is one of two, incredibly. I don’t know what to call them. Novels would be generous, as there’s no particular narrative arc and nothing here really informs the plot of A Song of Ice and Fire, beginning 300 years prior and ending with a century-and-a-half left undocumented. Appendices would be accurate, but would imply something that Martin’s publisher also implied with the provocative insistence that Fire and Blood possesses the “scope and grandeur of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” The obvious difference between real-life historical record and Martin’s torpid chronicle of Aryan royals marrying one or more of their sisters should be clear. One informs our real lives and the manner in which we live them; the other informs the books that Martin seems incapable of finishing.
Martin has, nonetheless, written The Silmarillion of his fantasy universe – in other words, he has put together all the boring bits that nobody cares about and sold them at retail price. Billed as a history of the Targaryen Kings, beginning with Aegon the Conqueror, Fire and Blood at least has the decency to concern itself with the most interesting and unexplored of the series’ noble families. They’re the ones with the dragons, after all. But the bone-dry style of Martin’s prose does them no justice, so bothered is it with the fussy machinations of many, many similarly-named, blustery men. A penchant for uninteresting tangents with little or no payoff and a bizarre tendency to deliberately gloss over or obfuscate all the potentially intriguing bits don’t help matters either.
On some level Fire and Blood is impressive, boasting a level of detail and a mind for minutiae that few authors could be bothered to possess. And there’s a place in the literary world for meandering worldbuilding textbooks, although I’d argue it isn’t right in the middle of a series that fans have famously and justifiably wondered whether or not will be completed before its author dies. There is undoubtedly a contingent of die-hard Martin super-fans who will dutifully lap up such a volume, and inevitably its successor, which will no doubt be completed and published before anything of note, although I will concede it’s difficult to say. But there will undoubtedly be a larger, noisier contingent of readers who are rightly wondering if winter is ever coming at all, and perhaps more importantly if it will have been worth the wait if it finally arrives.