Like any epic fictional world, the setting of George RR Martin’s massively successful A Song of Ice and Fire series is rife with a labyrinthine backstory and complex history that drives the story’s action and helps explain some of its characters' deeper motivations. At first blush, The World of Ice and Fire is just a lore book meant to set the record straight on historical events and eras preceding the series. However, through the voice of Maester Yandel, the work’s biased narrator and compiler, Martin, Garcia and Antonsson spawn more questions and greater uncertainty, with the Maester himself even admitting at times his ignorance as to crucial details. There are the necessary elements of rich and plentiful artwork, maps that seem torn and affixed to the page, and disconcertingly intertwined family trees that connect this history to the events of the books and television show. Then there is the attention to the small details, like the use of fancifully script-like fonts in titles, the depiction of heraldry with attribution to certain houses, and especially the dedication by Maester Yandel, “To his most esteemed and gracious lord, Tommen,” with the names of “Robert” and “Joffrey” barely distinguishable and faded underneath Tommen’s name.
As a physical object, The World of Ice and Fire also feels like an artifact plucked from the universe that it describes. To hold this book and read through its pages is to inhabit the world of ice and fire and to be presented with the same kind of piecemeal knowledge of that world with which its characters themselves struggle.
The book’s structure fittingly rambles from the series’ mythical prehistory to the more political historical present. A section on The Seven Kingdoms looks in depth at the various realms and sub-geographies of Westeros in terms of their history, culture and geography. A number of subsequent sections describe the increasingly foreign and exotic locales of Essos and Other Lands. From the obscure myths of the past, to the known present and familiar realms, and then back to more legendary lands, the subject matter’s transition into the known and then back out keeps with some of the overall themes of the series: fantasy threatening the periphery while human foibles form the core. The lineages and family trees appended to the end of the book give a succinct visualization of how the series and its myriad history intertwine.
A Song of Ice and Fire’s fandom has recently reached a critical mass. The viral popularity of the TV series has brought an influx of new readership and more voices to debate the final trajectory of the as-yet unfinished series. Martin’s co-authors, Garcia and Antonsson, gained their expertise through managing the online forums that have served as homes to Game of Thrones fans. Perhaps spurred by the endless theorizing of fans and definitely urged by wild popularity, The World of Ice and Fire is a shift back from this digital realm to a physical and printed object.
The World of Ice and Fire is many things. It is a fictional tome seemingly transported from the fictional world itself, a lavishly illustrated art book to gush over for hours, and a dubiously authoritative account of the history that motivates the series. In a world of social reading and communities of readers whose speculations often preempt the intentions of authors themselves, The World of Ice and Fire uses historical uncertainty to undermine even the savviest of theorizers. When you play the Game of Thrones with George RR Martin, you mettle with the author and the authority, and there are no sure bets. This wonderful book is that truth made manifest.
– Stephen Webb
The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson
2014, 336 pages, 9.3 x 12.1 x 1.4 inches