Caveat: I have not picked up a Game of Thrones novel since #4 back in 2006, right before the notorious hiatus between that and volume five. Even before then, however, I was growing bored with the series. There wasn’t anyone I really cared about in the cast except for Arya and Jon, and they hardly ever got any “screen time.” And Martin wasn’t exploiting any of the nonmundane elements of his world, like the erratic weather or the wildlings beyond the Wall.
I also haven’t watched a single episode of the TV series, and don’t plan to.
So why – even before I’ve finished this book – am I giving The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones four stars?
Simply because I live for reference books like this and I am very much enjoying reading it.
I have reference works for Terry Brooks’ Shannara, Howard’s Hyboria, Glen Cook’s Black Company world, M.A.R. Barker’s Tekumel (2 versions, the original edition and the revamped), Jordan’s Wheel of Time world, Herbert’s Dune, Peter Hamilton’s Confederation universe, Lucas’ Star Wars universe and Burrough’s Barsoom, as well as several RPG-related worlds like The Forgotten Realms, among others. My favorite part of the Lord of the Rings is the appendices in The Return of the King; and I love the section in R. Scott Bakker’s The Thousandfold Thought that explores his world’s history, philosophies and characters.
And speaking of Tolkien, I have an entire shelf devoted to the 10-volume History of Middle-earth, edited by his son.
I bought the board game based on C.J. Cherryh’s Union/Alliance universe in order to get the back grounder on its history.
Have I mentioned all the Star Trek-related back grounders I’ve accumulated over the decades?*
Suffice it to say that this book was guaranteed at least three stars. It gets four because of the gorgeous artwork, and I’m giving Martin credit for putting a good deal of thought into Westeros. It’s obviously something he’s devoted a lot of creative energy to.
If you’re a fan of the series (both TV and print), than this might be a nice complement to your reading though not an essential buy. Unless – like me – you simply enjoy reading encyclopedias about imaginary worlds, then this is a “must have,” regardless of your opinion about the series.
Personal fun fact: Inspired by Tolkien, at the age of 14 (i.e., nearly 35 years ago) I began creating a world of my own and have been fiddling with it ever since: languages, histories, cultures, personalities, the works. It’s gone through several evolutions, and will continue to do so till the day I die, and I am rather proud of it. It’s books like The World of Ice and Fire that keep me going back to add more texture and flavor (and – yes – I’ve shamelessly stolen ideas from others, though I like to think that I’ve sufficiently altered them to forestall any copyright issues in the unlikely event that any of my ruminations see print).**
* I’ve got the the Star Fleet Medical Reference manual so if anyone catches Vegan chorio-meningitis or Rigellian fever, call me.