Your Favorite Fantasy Magic Systems, Rated

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

There was a time in the fantasy genre when magic was simply, er, magical, and didn’t require a whole lot of explanation.

But time has a habit of making everything more complex, and so it’s unsurprising that magic systems have followed suit. These days, there are basically two schools of thought when it comes to magic in books, as outlined in a widely circulated essay by author Brandon Sanderson concerning “hard” (rigorous adherence to rules) and “soft” (looser, more hand-wave-y) magic systems. It’s now possible to classify just about every fantasy book into one of those two categories, and many readers have some very strong opinions about which is preferable and why.

Of course, we’re advocates for an author choosing the type of magic system that best fits their narrative, but for purposes of classification, let’s imagine a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 indicates the least-rigorous kind of magic system (everything can be explained via the phrase “because magic”) and 10 is the most-rigorous (finishing a book or series in this category earns you an honorary doctorate in that magic system).

Here’s how we’d rank 16 fantasy books and series on our rigorous/non-rigorous scale—but before we dive in, let us note that we aren’t suggesting one type of magic system is better than another; storytellers should be allowed the latitude to cast their own spell over readers.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Magic System Rating: 1 (Because Magic)
It’s difficult to have a conversation about classifying fantasy books without at least mentioning Tolkien. The man was writing a modern myth, and myths don’t usually explain their magic in great detail, so it’s little surprise that Tolkien’s magic displays very little that’s systematic in the modern sense. In Tolkien’s universe, magic stems from wisdom and inherent power—the closer you are to Iluvatar, the creator, the more inherent power you have. As a result, the elves and Istari are always more magically capable than men, and the eldest and wisest among them are the most powerful. But Tolkien also presents all power as inherently corrupting, and magic the most corrupting of all. In the end, despite the reams of detailed backstory, history, and character biography the man created, his magic has almost no rigor at all, rather originating from the individual will and knowledge of its practitioners.

A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
Magic System Rating: 1 (Because Magic)
Martin is writing a purposeful deconstruction of epic fantasy tropes—including magic systems—and has actually put some work into making his magic frustrating and inconsistent beyond a few broad-stroke rules (there’s definitely some like-for-like business, with equivalent sacrifices needed to produce an effect). Most of the people actively using magic in his world seem befuddled by the whole process; the general sense is that it’s unreliable and often ineffective—but when it works, boy howdy does it ever work (shadow assassins, am I right?). It’s a fascinating twist on the whole concept, as its lack of rigor is intentional, and serves the larger design of the narrative—a design we must note is not yet complete, so there may be more to come on this front.

The Belgariad, by David Eddings and The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Magic System Rating: 2 (Simple, but Effective)
These two mainstays of post-Tolkien fantasy offer a slight refinement on the “obscured by the mists of time” approach J.R.R. took, offering extremely simple magic systems that apply a very, very small instructional set. In Eddings’ old-school classic, certain folks can employ the Will and the Word—want something hard enough, and speak a word, and it happens (within some extremely broad limitations set by the gods). In Earthsea, everything has a secret, true name in the ancient language of the dragons; if you learn it, you have power over that thing or person (and by the way: you can’t lie in the dragons’ language—unless you are, in fact, a dragon). These rules are so basic as to allow for just about anything to happen, magic-wise, but they do offer at least a sketch of a system on which to hang your pointed, star-and-moon-covered conical hat.

The Eternal Champion, by Michael Moorcock
Magic System Rating: 3 (Non-Rigorous, but With an Explanation)
The legendary Moorcock also follows the old-school habit of not explaining his magic too deeply, but he does at least provide an explanation of how it works, along with a dose of unreliability. Most magic in his universe is accomplished by contacting, bargaining with, or summoning and controlling demons and elemental beings—if you’re looking to smash an advancing army, you could summon an incredibly powerful, army-smashing demon. The problem being that all these immensely powerful beings have their own agendas, so it’s not uncommon for these sorts of spells to go awry—or for someone to lose control of them entirely, resulting in chaos. It’s a neat way to cover for the fact that your magic system isn’t so much a system as a loose set of guidelines.

Shades of Magic, by V.E. Schwab
Magic System Rating: 4 (Mystery Box)
V.E. Schwab’s magic system in the excellent Shades of Magic series is organized, but not terribly rule-laden. We understand the mechanics of the wizard-like Antari’s blood magic, but much of the ways and hows of magic’s function in the three magical Londons (Red, White, and Black—Grey London is our London, and thus has no magic) is left mysterious. Not that this hurts the story in any way—Schwab expertly gives readers exactly enough information to make the system workable without overloading them with detail that, frankly, isn’t necessary to appreciate her story, and might even ruin the spell of awe and wonder cast by the character-centric narrative.

The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
Magic System Rating: 5 (Faux-Rigor)
Rowling’s omnipresence makes her an automatic reference in this discussion. Though they take place at a magic school, the magic system she’s developed for the Harry Potter universe isn’t actually all that rigorous. Magical ability is genetic, so you’re just sort of born with it, and behind all the words and wands there’s precious little explanation of exactly how it all works (although, to be fair, there’s a bit more detail when it comes to potions). Despite how much Rowling has added to the universe via Pottermore reveals and controversial tweetbombs, we’re still not clear whether you can just add the word maxima to any spell in order to increase its power.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Magic System Rating: 5 (Faux-Rigor)
Clarke also does a fantastic job of hiding a pretty vague magic system beneath a lot of superficial detail, lending an appearance of a complex set of rules governing the use of magic without ever offering a rational set of rules. Clarke isn’t floundering, though—one of the great qualities of the novel is the fact that the actual magicians in it are often just as befuddled by the details of magic. It makes sense, since in-narrative, it’s presented as a lost art, only suddenly returned to the world in the early 19th century. The combination of oddly specific spells (for example, one involving a mirror, some flowers, and a specific set of patterns) and unanswered questions (which flower?) creates its own sort of magic: the illusion of a detailed system.

The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Magic System Rating: 5 (Faux-Rigor)
The magic system in The Wheel of Time is often misunderstood, for two reasons: one, it’s purposefully obscured, in that many of the supposed rules are never explained and much of it is chalked up to innate skill and talent. Two, it starts off as a relatively rigorous system that then decays into something much softer as the plot points demanded it. The magic system is extremely consistent and pattern-based—once you know how to bend and twist a strand of the One Power to produce a certain effect, you can repeat the recipe over and over again with the same result—and the characters consistently work within those rules, and are often forced to be clever in using their knowledge in order to overcome obstacles (one of Sanderson’s own rules about hard magic). But an arms race of ever more powerful characters and plot twists that undermine the rules (Androl Genhald, your ears are burning) lowered the numerical ranking by a few points.

The Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss
Magic System Rating: 6 (Both Rigorous and Non-Rigorous)
The magic systems Rothfuss invents for his beloved epic fantasy are a curious hybrid. On the one hand, Sympathy—the linking of two objects so they share the effects of a single force—is extremely detailed, as are alchemy and other magics, to the point where Rothfuss says he has equations in his notes to back up every use of magic in the books. You don’t get much more rigorous than Sympathy. On the other hand, he also has a system of “true name”-style magic that is completely unexplained and non-rigorous. Rothfuss has explained that he simply wanted the best of both worlds: to give readers the satisfaction of understanding a magic system and appreciating its cleverness, combined with the sense of awe and wonder that unexplained magic can offer.

Tales of the Dying Earth, by Jack Vance
Magic System Rating: 7 (Rigorous)
There aren’t many SFF writers who have a whole style of magic named after them, but if you Google “Vancian Magic,” you’ll find your way to Vance’s Dying Earth cycle. Vance has a simple system: magic spells must be memorized, but they are fantastically long, so people can only memorize a few at a time—and spells are forgotten the moment you cast them. This kind of resource-limiting magic system is straightforward but adds that spice of limitation and obstacle that Sanderson codified in his essay. Vance doesn’t make any effort to explain precisely why magic works or how the spells are structured, which dings a few points on the rigor scale, but it’s a powerful idea that’s been borrowed by plenty of writers since.

The Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Magic System Rating: 7 (Rigorous)
No conversation about fantasy storytelling these days is complete without checking on what Jemisin’s doing—she’s hugely influential, highly successful, and what literary scientists classify as damn good. Her Broken Earth series creates a distinction between magic and what she terms orogeny; the latter is the ability by some in the seismically-unstable world of the Stillness to harness that seismic energy (and other forms of energy) and channelit as they will. Orogeny has plenty of defined rules that approach a scientific depth of complexity and rigor (the author worked with geologists to develop the science behind her magic), but Jemisin is famously disinterested in codifying her magic systems, and reacts humorously to any attempt to get her to offer a dissertation on the subject.

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
Magic System Rating: 8 (It Eats Rigor for Breakfast)
As a deconstruction of Harry Potter, Grossman’s series would tend towards the rigorous side of the spectrum, wouldn’t it? Instead of a vague wand-and-word system that is more fun than sensible, Grossman explores what it might actually be like to study magic as a complex and ancient discipline. The spells are complex and follow specific patterns, require a lot of basic memorization and learning of fundamentals before you can skate off into theory, and the whole things feels like work the same way higher math feels like work. Yet the feeling that you too could cast spells if you just studied hard enough more than makes up for it.

Vita Nostra, by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko (translated by Julia Meitov Hersey)
Magic System Rating:
8 (It Eats Rigor for Breakfast)
Russian authors Marina and Sergey Dyachenko take a similar approach to Grossman’s The Magicians in sketching out the way magic works in their award-winning 2006 novel, which was finally released in the U.S. in 2018—though rather than mathematics, its rules veer closer to language theory and linguistics. When 16-year-old Sasha Samokhina enrolls at the Institute for Special Technologies, she is thrust into a magical education that couldn’t be any further removed from Hogwarts. In their first year, the students spend most of their time reading nigh-incomprehensible texts, training their brains to unlock the power inherent in language. Once they’ve mastered that (a process that literally transforms their brains), they develop more advanced abilities to manipulate the world through the definitional power of language. To say much more would steer us into spoiler territory; needless to say, you’ll finish the book feeling as if your own mind has been rewired.

Master of the Five Magics, by Lyndon Hardy
Magic System Rating: 8 (It Eats Rigor for Breakfast)
As the title suggests, there are five magical systems (at least initially) in Hardy’s 1980s classic, and they are all rigorously defined, with explicit rules and laws spelled out for you. The five magics are thaumaturgy, alchemy, magic, sorcery, and wizardry, and each discipline has its own set of rules. For example, the rules for wizardry, which is the magical discipline concerned with summoning demons, are The Law of Ubiquity (Flame permeates all) and The Law of Dichotomy (dominance or submission). In other words, you can summon demons through fire (fires built from different fuels will summon different or more powerful demons) and once a demon is summoned, the wizard must either dominate the demon’s will, or be dominated instead. Simple and elegant—and that’s most impressive is that Hardy developed these laws and rules for all five of his disciplines; he then goes on to illustrate additional meta-rules, applicable after his protagonist achieves the titular honor.

The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone
Magic System Rating: 9 (We Got Rules for Our Rules)
Gladstone true brilliance in this series is in his thinking about magic in terms of contracts and legalese, resulting in an extremely rigorous system that is also endlessly, infinitely flexible—just like real life contract law. Add in the realization that the gods of this world draw their power directly from belief—belief that can be engineered and manufactured like a commodity—and boom, you’ve got a transactional magic system that is unique, compelling, and quite rigorous. In Gladstone’s universe, the force of magic itself—the power of the gods—is actually pretty gormless and non-rigorous, but it is made rigorous by the application of Craft, and the manipulation of those rules in accepted ways. That is some deeply magical thinking.

The Cosmere novels, by Brandon Sanderson
Magic System Rating: 10 (You Got Science in My Magic)
Unsurprisingly, the man who wrote one of the most influential modern essays on the fantasy genre (and who’s also kind of successful as a writer of fantasy fiction) has produced one of the most rigorous magic systems in history. For extra points, the magic system he’s crafted, Investiture, is a stealth meta system that encompasses several other already-rigorous magic systems laid out in separate fantasy series that have slowly been revealed to be not so separate after all—to be, in fact, part of a larger, integrated universe. Sanderson’s achievement here can’t be understated: Investiture is only partially revealed at this time, but what’s clear is that the different magic systems found across Sanderson’s books—from Mistborn‘s Allomancy (the manipulation of ingested metals gives users superhuman abilities), to Warbreaker‘s BioChroma (magical power is drawn from colors present in the user’s environment), to Elantris‘ ritual-based Dor—all follow the same general guidelines, as they’re all part of the meta-system he’s crafting. It’s all quite detailed and consistent, yet tons of fun to think about.

Dungeons & Dragons
Magic System Rating: 11 (Ph.D.-Level Magic)
Okay, it’s not strictly a work of fiction, but by necessity, D&D remains the gold-standard for hard magic systems—because if it wasn’t, the game it powers wouldn’t work. Every single detail is mapped out, every aspect of magic is controlled and explained, and every outcome makes sense based on detailed rules of interaction. The real magic here is how the, um, magic of magic is maintained despite the rigor applied to it; in part this is due to the introduction of chance in the form of a roll of the die and the (typically) unknown stats of the object of your spell, but part of it also stems from the spirit of the endeavor: D&D isn’t trying to suppress your imagination or sense of awe, it’s just seeking to channel them in a coherent and replicable fashion.

What books have your favorite magic systems, and how would you rate them?

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The Game of Thrones Awards, Season 8, Episode 1: In Which Jon Snow Finally Knows Something

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Greetings, and welcome! My name is Ben, and you have stumbled upon the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week I will be breaking down each episode of season 8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.

Season 8, Episode 1: “Winterfell”

I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern with Game of Thrones’ premieres over the years, which is to say that, unfortunately, not a lot tends to happen in them.

As a fan, I can’t say it’s ever really bothered me that much, as after a long absence—it has been more than 18 months since the last episode aired—just seeing the characters again is usually enough for me. In the past, the first episodes have generally functioned as a way to remind viewers what’s going on in the 68 ongoing storylines. But as the number of storylines has shrunk dramatically by this point (or to put it another way, so many characters have been murdered) and we’re racing toward the climax, there is less justification for an episode to just hang out, sans a sense of urgency.

The writers seemed to understand this, as the first episode of season eight has a bit more going on than your average GoT premiere. That being said, it’s also filled with a lot of scenes that do little more than set the stage for the wars to come.

After a cleverly revamped title sequence (owing to both the, er, revised state of the Wall and the converging storylines, we spend a lot of time touring the interiors of Winterfell and King’s Landing), we begin with a nod to the pilot episode, the last time such a huge group of characters rode into Winterfell to discuss current affairs in the Seven Kingdoms (the little boy racing to get a glimpse of the soldiers—a la young Arya—was perhaps a bit on the nose, if nicely played). Of course the death of Jon Arryn (then) can’t compete with THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (now). There have been several major signs over the last few seasons that we are arriving at the end game, perhaps none as jarring as seeing dragons soaring over Winterfell.

As you can imagine, not everyone is getting along. Sansa (and many of the North lords) are surprised at how quickly Jon has allied himself with Daenerys (it doesn’t help that Jon is soon seen soaring over the castle on the back of one of her dragons; that sound you heard was years’ worth of fan theories suddenly crystalizing into fact).

Personally, I’m torn: on one hand, it’s pretty easy to jump to the conclusion that he was thinking with his heart more than his head. On the other, I don’t know how many times I can handle watching really intelligent characters fail to grasp that you can’t defeat the army of the dead without some buddies, preferably the fire-breathing kind. We’ve been over this.

Speaking of the Dragon Queen, her presence in this season is going to be very interesting. We have spent years watching her liberate slaves and triumph over injustice, but while Jon Snow seems willing to sacrifice his title for the good of the realm, she still seems hung up on who is kneeling and who is not, and on who likes her and who doesn’t. During the opening moments of the episode she can barely contain how much she enjoys that her dragons are scaring the crap out of the common folk. I’m glad that this tension is in play; another painfully altruistic main character (sorry Jon) might make things a bit boring.

Arya and Sansa are leery of Dany, and suspect Jon is not focused on protecting their family. I can only imagine how much that paranoia will increase when they find out that Jon is not actually part of their family.

The biggest takeaway from the Winterfell plotline is that Jon Snow finally knows something. Sam’s revelation that Jon is not a bastard, but actually Aegon Targaryan, son of Rhaegar Targaryan and Lyanna Stark, and the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, is definitely going to cause a bit of tension. It’s unclear yet what he will do with this information, but we certainly haven’t heard the last of it. The fact that Sam got to drop the bombshell only moments after finding out Daenerys burned his family alive only intensified the moment.

Speaking of family tension, Tyrion is apparently the only one in Westeros who still thinks Cersei is going to keep her word and ride north with her armies. Sansa properly blasts him for it: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” It’s an unfortunate reminder of just how irrelevant Tyrion has become to the major plotlines of the last few seasons.

Speaking of Cersei, things in King’s Landing have gotten a bit weird. I wouldn’t call what her and Euron have going on a romance, exactly, but it’s… something. Faster than you’d think it would take for ships to sail across an ocean and back, the Golden Company has arrived, 20,000 strong. Well, maybe 19,998 strong—Euron had to kill a few for cheating at dice on the boat ride over.

While King’s Landing used to be such a hub of activity and intrigue, it feels very empty now. I imagine Qyburn has a lot of down time to poke and prod dead people. Exciting stuff. One of the characters still there is Bronn, who has now seemingly been hired to kill both Jaime and Tyrion. This is going to end in heartbreak, one way or another.

As the episode ends, Jaime arrives in Winterfell and locks eyes with Bran, who seems to have been lurking in the background of every shot (is Jamie the “old friend” Bran was waiting to meet?). They no doubt have a lot to discuss. Perhaps Jaime can start with explaining the things he did for love.

Quotable Quotes

“I was told the Golden Company had Elephants.” —Cersei. I WAS TOLD THE SAME THING! DAMN YOU HBO! 

“You’ve completely ruined horses for me” —Jon Snow, after taking his first dragon ride

“You should consider yourself lucky, at least your balls won’t freeze off” —Tyrion, welcoming Varys to the North

Awards!

—The “Cringeworthy Makeout Session of the Week” award goes to Jon and Dany’s heavy smooching after they finished their impromptu dragon ride. Apparently whoever wrote the dialogue for that scene learned everything they know about romance from Attack of the Clones. (The dragons didn’t seem to happy about it either.)

—The prestigious “Nightmare Fuel of the Week” award goes to the penultimate scene, in which a child nailed to a wall in the center of a bunch of human limbs arranged in a creepy spiral, comes back to life to screech terrifying and is then set on fire. Even typing that out is a bit horrific. It was nice to see Ol’ Tormund “Blue Eyes” Giantsbane again though.

—Jon Snow is a two-time winner of the coveted “Aww Shucks Reunion of the Week” award for his reunions with Arya and Bran. It’s weird to think that these characters haven’t been in the same place since very early in season 1.

And now, a haiku by Yara Greyjoy

Nice to be rescued
But this really does feel rushed
Like all my plotlines

What did you think of the premiere? 

The post The Game of Thrones Awards, Season 8, Episode 1: In Which Jon Snow Finally Knows Something appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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25 Epic Fantasies for Fans of Game of Thrones

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Game of Thrones is coming to an end. In a sense. The TV series is entering its final season, promising a resolution to its own version of George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire. Given that we’ve still got no definitive word on when the next book in the series will arrive (though we’ve got our fingers crossed that it, like winter itself, is still coming), we’ll soon be bereft of the bloody tales of the queens, kings, dragons, and bastards of Westeros.

As we ramp toward the end of the show and continue our watch for the next book, there are many more fantasy worlds to explore. Below, we’ve assembled a list of books and series that might help to fill the void. Each of these epic fantasy sagas is a unique creation—none are facsimiles of Game of Thrones, but each includes elements that will appeal to fans of GRRM’s gritty fantasy world.

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin
The bloody power struggles that defined seven seasons of Game of Thrones are overshadowed, in these final episodes, by the larger, no-longer-existential threat coming from the north: a horde of zombies, heralded by the changing of seasons. Frankly, the Stillness, the setting of N.K. Jemisin’s three-time Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy, makes Westeros look like a Sandals resort. Catastrophic quirks of ecology mean the continent experiences an extinction-level event every few centuries or so; the only way humanity has survived is through institutional knowledge; life in the Stillness is defined by preparing for the next “Fifth Season.” Unfortunately, preperation by the powerful also looks a like like exploitation of the weak. Over the course of the series that begins with The Fifth Season, the downtrodden “orogenes,” who are able to move stone with their minds and have long been feared, controlled, and murdered for it, seek justice at the end of the world—maybe the last time it will ever end.

Status: Completed trilogy

Chronicles of the Black Company, by Glen Cook
Like the venerable Golden Company in GoT, Cook’s dark fantasy series stars the Black Company; both are groups of peerless fighters whose members each represent the best of the best among mercenary bands of their respective worlds. While GRRM’s mercs mostly stay in the background, following orders on behalf of whoever holds the purse strings, this long-running series brings the hardbitten sellswords to the forefront of the action. In a story that ultimately spans centuries, Glen Cook explores the storied history of the company—and, after a pause of more than a decade, he returned with a new installment in 2018.

Status: Ongoing series

The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie
The world of Westeros is one of often shocking violence (insert dramatic character death here), as is that of Abercrombie’s Circle of the World, setting of the First Law series. This first book introduces an array of morally murky characters and places them amidst murderous conspiracies during a wide-ranging conflict in a medieval quasi-European setting that none of them is particularly well-equipped to handle. Chief protagonist Logen Ninefingers, an infamous barbarian who operates according to his own sort of moral code, would be a worthy contender for the Iron Throne.

Status: Completed trilogy (with standalones and a planned followup series in the same world.)

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan
The Eye of the World begins The Wheel of Time, one of the truly great modern fantasy series, and one that certainly more than gives GRRM a run for his money in terms of epic scope (and page count). Knowing that the Dark One is hunting for one of three young men in the village of Emond’s Field, the Aes Sedai Moraine leads them away in the hope that one will be the long-foretold Dragon Reborn. Though Jordan’s series runs more toward Tolkien then the revisionary nihilism of Martin/GoT, both stories range widely in both geography and character, and there are twisted parallels between Martin’s morally ambiguous priestess Melisandre and the The Wheel of Time’s Moraine, a representative of a cult in which female power is essential.

Status: Completed 15-book series

Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind
Adopted son Richard Cypher grew up as a gentle guide through the woods of Westland, leading traveller safely through the forest and coming to know each plant and blade of grass. As Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series begins, the woodsman comes to learn that his real father is a man named Darken Rahl and that his legacy rests in D’Hara, a kingdom of wizards. When Daenerys and company visit the Qartheen warlocks at House of the Undying, they see what remains (and what may be again) of Westeros’ own kingdom of magic.

Status: Ongoing series (currently 22 books!)

Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson
There’s tremendous discontent in the great Malazan Empire: endless warfare has sapped the will of its people, exhausted the imperial legions, and lead to infighting. In spite of all that, the rule of the Empress Laseen remains absolute as the first book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series begins. That’s about the last time anything—including the reader—will be on sure footing throughout this enormously complex 10-book epic, which features so many winding plots and myriad players (both mortal and god), devotees often say you won’t really understand it until your second time through. In Laseen, Erikson creates a ruler to rival Cersei Lannister herself: fierce, born to rule, but utterly ruthless in keeping control.

Status: Completed series (with ongoing spin-offs)

The Night Angel Trilogy, by Brent Weeks
Azoth, unlike Arya Stark, was raised on the streets, scrounging to survive—but the two have much else in common. Weeks’ trilogy (now collected together in a single volume) follows the assassin anti-hero who knows an opportunity when he sees one. Under Durzo Blint, he seeks to become the perfect “wetboy”—an assassin navigating the dangerous politics of his world as well as its magic. The name he chooses: Kylar Stern means “one who kills and who is killed,” mirroring Arya’s role with the Faceless Men as a bringer of death, but also its servant.

Status: Completed trilogy

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab
Kell, one of the last of the magic-wielding Antari, can travel between worlds: specifically, between three different Londons. Red London is full of magic, White is torn between magic and mundanity, and Regency-era Grey London is almost bereft of magic. There was once a fourth London, but it has been consumed by darkness—it is Black London. But the darkness appears to be spreading. Schwab’s wide-ranging world of magic welcomes people of color and an array of queer characters.

Status: Completed trilogy

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
Game of Thrones is at its best when it’s playing off the consequences of tortured bloodlines and family relationships that aren’t quite what they seem. Genly Baratheon, the illegitimate son of King Robert, discovers, for instance, that being related to royalty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the debut novel to Lyons’ five-book A Chorus of Dragons series, a slum-dweller named Kihrin is claimed as a long-lost member of the royal family. But, instead of a fairytale, it becomes a nightmare, as he’s believed to be the son of a treasonous prince. The books are planned for release at nine-month intervals, which means there’s a very good chance you’ll get to read them all before the ending of A Song of Ice and Fire arrives in print.

Status: Ongoing series (With a sequel coming in October.)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
The fantasy debut from an award-winning literary author, Black Leopard, Red Wolf transplants some of the grittiness and earthiness of GoT to a vivid and luxuriantly depicted pre-colonial Africa of folklore, history, and legend. Tracker and his mercenary band of misfits and outcasts is tasked with hunting a missing boy–it sounds simple, but everyone has a different reason for finding the boy, or for making sure that he’s never found. In GoT, characters are frequently on the hunt for lost children (particularly if they’re Starks) to use as wedges or political pawns, and it’s no different here. There are also parallels with Essos, home to the Dothraki and a region of Martin’s world that’s more prone to contrasts of glorious cities and turbulent, unsettled wilderness.

Status: Ongoing series

The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie
There’s dark magic in Westeros, with the red priestess Melisandre representing the god somewhat deceptively referred to as the Lord of Light. Leckie’s novel introduces the kingdom of Iraden and the god known as Raven, who sits in his tower and guards Iraden in exchange for blood sacrifice. Like R’hllor, Raven offers gifts to the faithful… but at a price.

Status: Standalone

Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Kay’s fantasy novels dive deeply into real-life history—here, it’s the Mediterranean of the Renaissance that sets the scene for his story. Much like GRRM, who used the English Wars of the Roses as the inspiration for elements of his saga, Kay also reshapes real events into fantasy while also structuring the story in a way that will be familiar to ASoIaF readers: this is the story of a variety of diverse individuals (warriors, spies, artists, merchants, etc.) caught up, to varying degrees, in the larger events of their time.

Status: Standalone (though set in the world of The Lions of al-Rassan and other works)

The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu
The strain is showing as the long rule of Emperor Mapidéré is coming to a close. The first to unite the island kingdoms under one rule, he’s on his deathbed and rebellion is in the air. Two unlikely friends—drunkard Kuni Garu and noble Mata Zyndu—ultimately stand to play decisive roles in what’s to come. The dark political skullduggery is reminiscent of GoT, but Liu creates a unique world with wuxia-inspired action and settings and a decidedly Eastern narrative style.

Status: Ongoing series

A Crown for Cold Silver, by Alex Marshall
Among GRRM’s most beloved and compelling creations is Brienne of Tarth, one of the few genuinely noble characters in the story as well as an incredibly powerful female presence in a world in which physical power is presumed to be the sole domain of men. Marshall does one better here, in at least one regard: his chief protagonist, Cobalt Zosia, was a legendary general, but she’s now long-retired. Forced back into service, she’s no longer just a forceful leader but also an old woman. The wrinkles that run alongside her scars make her an impressive and welcome presence in fantasy, and her wry humor is a welcome companion on a bloody journey of vengeance.

Status: Completed trilogy

The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett
The power of the magical wards that protect humanity is waning, and the powerful corelings are on the hunt. Each night for centuries, these demons—of wood, wind, sand, flame, and rock—have risen from the ground with a powerful hatred of humanity. Once humans were their equals in power, but now their fight is entirely defensive. Just as the people of Westeros shelter behind a crumbling wall protected by a dwindling Night’s Watch as the deadly White Walkers only grew in power, those unfortunate enough to live in the world of Brett’s recently completed five-book series are abut to discover that even their meager hold on safety is coming to an end.

Status: Completed five-book series

The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon
The dragon known only as the Nameless One—and the army of dragons that attended him—was defeated long ago, during the age of legend. The West has come to believe that only the continuation of the ruling Berethnet family keeps the dragons at bay, while the people of the East worship the water-dragons that they believe keep them safe. Much of this epic story turns on the conflicting views of two women: potential dragonrider Tané, and Ead, tasked with protecting the Berethnet queen. The narrative is steered by several powerful women who, like Daenerys Targaryen, each has a powerful connection to dragons—even if Shannon’s take on fire-breathing dragons casts them in a more evil light.

Status: Standalone

The Poppy War, by R. F. Kuang
R.F. Kuang sets the acclaimed first novel in her trilogy in a world that’s reminiscent of the China’s economically and militarily advanced Song Dynasty, with a conflict that’s largely based on the Second Sino-Japanese War of the late 1930s and early 1940s, as well as on the earlier Opium Wars. It’s very much in the tradition of fantasy that lifts elements from history and illuminates them in new, fantastical light—just a bit further East than most. The series also matches Martin for sheer brutality; in telling the story of a poor orphan named Rin, who earns a slot at an elite military academy, discovers a talent for shamanism just as war is in the offing, and is forced to make a terrible choice to end the conflict, Kuang pulls zero punches.

Status: Ongoing trilogy

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Though the tone is very different, Clarke’s novel of alternate Napoleonic War-era England mirrors GoT in one significant regard: the return of magic brings with it prizes for some, and chaos for others. GRRM’s warlocks of Qarth acknowledge that the rise of Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons has ushered in a return of more potent magic to Westeros, just as the fiddly, reclusive Mr. Norrell becomes a celebrity by revealing powers long thought extinguished—before being challenged by his own apprentice for control of the future of England’s magic.

Status: Standalone

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
As Westeros has been shaped by incredible and dramatic shifts in climate, so too has Sanderson’s Roshar: the rocky supercontinent is regularly subject to storms of incredible ferocity. As a result, civilization has shaped itself around these storms. In this world, wars are won and lost over control of ancient swords and suits of armor with the power to transform individuals into nearly invincible warriors. Fans of Martin’s expansive worldbuilding will find much to admire here—each volume of the planned 10-book Stormlight Archive includes the sort of sidebars and illustrated appendices that Martin fans went without until the release of The World of Ice & Fire

Status: Ongoing series

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
The death of King Robert Baratheon is the inciting event for much of the pain and upheaval that defines Game of Thrones. Though his series is titled the Kingkiller Chronicle, and thus certanly must deal with the death of a ruler, Patrick Rothfuss’s wildly popular epic is far more personal in scope. Here, told in a single incredible day, is the self-told story of Kvothe: magician, fighter, and musician who is rumored to be responsible for great feats, and terrible ones, and who has his own story of survival to tell. The books match Martin’s in another way—the wait between installments has been excruciating—but the journey is well worth starting, if only because you’ll undoubtedly want to read them more than once before the concluding volume is released.

Status: Ongoing series

Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb
After faking his own death, former assassin Fitz Farseer has lived ten peaceful years before a crisis threatens the life of his daughter, evokes the haunting disappearance of a childhood friend, and calls him to use his magical skills. Fitz inherited those powers as the bastard son of a royal house and, if there’s anything we GoT fans love, it’s bastards and assassins. Like Martin, Hobb is an expert at diving into the minds of her protagnists and forcing you to really question the moral weight of their decisions.

Status: Completed trilogy, part of a larger overall series of linked trilogies

Magician: Apprentice, by Raymond E. Feist
In Feist’s Riftwar universe, magic creates rifts that connect planets in different solar systems. The first novel introduces orphan Pug, apprenticed to master magician Kulgan just in time for an invasion of alien creatures through a rift that draws in the budding magician. It’s just the start of a long-running overarching series that blends a touch of sci-fi into its fantasy, and it on the power of a young orphan to upset the plans and schemes of the great and powerful in a very GoT fashion.

Status: Completed trilogy, part of a larger cycle of more than 20 books

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter
Among the Omehi people, you’re one of three things: one of the incredibly rare woman with the power to call down dragons; one of the men who can transform himself into a killing machine, or fodder in an endless and unwindable war. Powerless Tau plans to get injured and sit out the war, but chooses to change his fate when tragedy strikes. As in GoT—and with raged to the Targaryens who can (sometimes) command them—dragons are waiting on the sidelines to change the game entirely.

Status: Ongoing series

King’s Dragon, by Kate Elliott
King Henry ostensibly controls Wendar, but his sister Sabella has contested his reign for years and has drawn significant support to her banner in ways both fair and politically clever—reminiscent of the battles for the throne of Westeros that have shaped the entire GoT saga—and, as in GRRM’s series, an inhuman race from the north is massing and preparing to take advantage of the ensuing civil war. Elliott’s epic Crown of Stars series, which began publishing right around the same time but has been finished for more than a decade, follows young people drawn into the conflict, which only grows more complex as it builds.

Status: Completed seven-book series

A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland
One of the chief villains of A Song of Ice and Fire has rarely been known to pick up a sword; Petyr Balish prefers to sow discord with words. If you prefer his sharp-tongued political strategems, you’ll probably fall for Chant, the sly protagonist of Alexandra Rowland’s debut novel. As the book opens, Chant sits behind bars, arrested on charges of witchcraft. Doomed to be executed, he uses the only weapon that remains to him—a tongue sharpened by decades of storytelling—to sow discord among the varying factions in the kingdom’s ongoing power struggle. If his words can turn the right people against one another, he just make walk out of prison, instead of being carried out a corpse. If you always wished Game of Thrones was funnier but no less cutting, it’s the book for you. A sequel arrives this fall.

Status: Ongoing series

What books will you turn to once Game of Thrones is over?

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How 15 of Your Favorite Authors Might Finish George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

From the Spanish edition of The World of Ice and FIre

To paraphrase Douglas Adams: George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think The Lord of the Rings is big, but that’s just peanuts to ASoIaF.

It’s so big, it’s little wonder it’s been a challenge for one lone writer to finish it—even if that writer did originally plan to fit its story a tidy trilogy before discovering that his favorite thing in the world was inventing new characters and sending them down rabbit holes.

There would be no shame, then, if George R.R. Martin were to ask for a bit of help in finishing off his series—in fact, the results might be something remarkable. In a few weeks, HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation will give us one ending for the story. Here’s how we imagine 15 other writers might finish off Martin’s revolutionary series (but make no mistake: there’s no substitute for the real thing, and we’re willing—if not entirely happy—to wait for GRRM to give us the real deal).

Stephen King
The Golden Company, the Unsulllied, the Night’s Watch, the Free Folk, and the Stark vassals are all gathered for the final battle. The armies of the dead arrive and take up position. Suddenly, in the distance, strange music. A looping, eerie riff echoes as the Night’s King flies in on the back of an Ice Dragon. It’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The Night’s King lands and hops off. “Hi there,” he says, looking around. “Name’s Flagg. Randall Flagg.” Meanwhile, Bran has a strange experience, warging to find himself in control of a man named Stephen King, a resident of “New York City” in the year “1982.” Bran, as King, locates a young Brooklyn boy who never speaks and is obsessed with a handheld video game called The Doom of Valyria. They encounter a disgraced Olympic shotputter named Alison, and the trio returns together to Westeros, where the game is suddenly transformed into an ancient magical relic: the Doomglass. But the Night’s King is about to win the battle, and they are too far away. “I got this,” says Alison, who shotputs the Doomglass directly at the wintery fiend, who explodes in a mushroom-shaped cloud of fire as all his minions turn to ice and shatter.

J.K. Rowling
Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Samwell work together in the midst of an epic, raging battle—dragon duels, swarms of White Walkers clashing with the Golden Company, Bran just warging into everything—until Jamie Lannister winds up in a duel with the Night’s King himself. Jamie puts up a great fight but slowly loses ground—until Jon, Danny, and Sam arrive to plunge a dragonglass dagger into the Night’s King’s back, destroying him and his army. At the last second, however, the Night’s King turns and injures Sam, driving them back. Suddenly a mysterious figure in a cloak emerges from the boiling battlefield, retrieving the dagger. His hood flutters back and he’s revealed to be Petyr Baelish. “I did warn you not to trust me, you know,” he says with a smirk. Screaming “For Catelyn! Always!” Littlefinger charges at the Night’s King and sacrifices himself, winning the day for the living. Turns out, the bad guy was a hero all along!

Brandon Sanderson
After reviewing George R.R. Martin’s notes, Sanderson announces it will take not two but six more books to finish the story properly. After delivering four 1,000-page tomes, Sanderson himself passes away (buried under a pile of 3,500 manuscript pages for the ninth book in the Stormlight Archive) with the story still incomplete. It is the year 2049. The final two books are completed by Christopher Paolini, working from Sanderson’s notes on Martin’s outlines, and are beamed directly into people’s brains via the NookVR brain uplink.

Cormac McCarthy
The endless lines of undead stood implacable and numb not hungry or thirsty but wanting and haunted by the vague memories of life that still burned like minor coals within them. The ice dragon soared above shadow and claw and smashed into the warm fiery life of Daenerys’ remaining beasts of fire and rage. The White Walkers knew what she did not know the secret of the true hidden universe that they had sprung from the dark maw of a devouring universe. She thought she brought death with her flying in on thick leathery wings and fueled by her own rage her own will her own fate and family and legacy and doom. She did not know death. They knew death and they knew it to be ravenous and infinite and the destination that did not come in fire and blood but in the slow steady creep of snow and ice. From the North! Always from the North. And the North would become the world and the world would become the desolate perfect shining gem of ancient things.

Neil Gaiman
The entire final novel is from Samwell’s point of view as he writes the final volume of his history. He reveals that the Night’s King was actually Bran, who went into the past and became his own worst enemy. Bran was also the Mad King, and, in fact, also everyone else. Everyone was Bran. A complex braid of timelines involved Bran going into the past over and over again; Bran was even Samwell for a time, but found it terribly boring and abandoned him. Bran amused himself by directing the events of the War of the Five Kings and the White Walker invasion, and eventually controlled everyone in Westeros. He was finally defeated when Nymeria arrived at the head of the Dog Army, the only independent creatures left in Westeros. Sam’s final paragraphs reveal that Westeros abandoned the old religions and now worships dogs, and all is right in the world.

Chuck Palahniuk
The entire final book is narrated by Hot Pie, who is captured by a cult of insane worshipers of the Red God and imbued with the ability to come back from death. He dies multiple times, using his ability as a way of getting out of dangerous or simply embarrassing situations. As the story progresses, his deaths become increasingly bizarre and disturbing, and he realizes that every time he comes back he’s a little thinner; instead of his usual stout body, by the end of the story he’s skinny and frail. He changes his name to “Hot Pocket” and begins to repeat the phrase “A little less of me, a little more life.” He discovers that when he speaks it, someone else dies, and he gains a little weight back. The cultists follow him to the Wall, where the Night’s King is fighting a desperate battle for Westeros. Hot Pocket speaks his phrase to the Night’s King, and in a flash, the frozen army is gone, and Hot Pie (again) grows to an enormous size in an instant. He then dies of multiple organ failure.

Dan Brown
Riding on the back of Drogon, Danny and Jon frantically scan the desolate ruins of Valyria. “It’s not here!” Jon shouts. “That can’t be!” Danny shouts back. “The riddle in the ancient tome your Samwell brought back must have—” She stops suddenly. “Jon! We’ve misunderstood!” Jon Snow blinks in surprise. “Of course! Samwell mistranslated the riddle!” He looked back at the Night’s King pursuing them on the back of Viserion. The Night’s King grins in triumph. “We’ve led him right to the Stone Men!” They both look down in horror as legions of the greyscale-infected men and women line up, a fresh army the Night’s King could now use to invade from the south in a pincer movement. “We’ve been such fools!” Danny shouts as Drogon banks into a turn. “The riddle—the Doom of Valyria! It’s Tyrion—our cousin! You must capture Viserion—you can control him because you came back from the dead! You’re already part wight! We must get Tyrion on Rhaegal, because the dragon has three heads!”

Jeff VanderMeer
As the armies of undead from north breach the Wall into Westeros, the true savage reality of the Night’s King’s plan is revealed: the threat is not from his zombie hordes, but from the environmental devastation they leave in their wake (it’s kind of a metaphor). With disaster creeping toward King’s Landing, Jon sends a small band of warriors—Brienne of Tarth (The Soldier), Cersei (The Queen), Arya (The Assassin), and Sansa (The Diplomat)—to investigate a rumor that he hopes will prove to be their salvation: that the Tower of Joy is actually a tunnel (and either way, it is certainly not supposed to represent a penis—some things are not a metaphor). Unfortunately, their group is undone by distrust and infighting on the road to the tower/tunnel, their number shrinking due to attrition (Brienne is seduced away from the group by a massive flying bear who whisks her away into the sky) and accident (Cersei falls into a pit chasing a strangely mute double of Jamie). Eventually, only Sansa and Arya remain, but when they descend into the Tower Tunnel of Joy, they encounter only an endless staircase and walls covered in vines that form a string of nonsense High Valerian. When they reach the bottom, something happens. We’re not exactly sure what, but it is very evocative. Anyway, Sansa is the only one who emerges, and she finds the battle over. Westeros is now a blasted landscape. In the ruins, Bran Stark befriends a talking mushroom. All along, it turns out, the real Night’s King was climate change.

James Patterson
Jamie Lannister, sick and tired of his insane sister’s bloody rampage, lives up to his name and slays her. Contrary to expectations, the Golden Company pledges their loyalty to him and he leads them against the White Walkers. As a team, they then go on to star in a spin-off series, The Golden Murder Company, solving crimes throughout Westeros. Meanwhile, Jon and Danny race to stop the Night’s King, revealed to be Bran Stark (again), who traveled thousands of years into the past and went insane from the long wait for history to catch up. The whole story has been a secret plot engineered by Bran to gather the world’s dragonglass in one spot so he can use it to set off a magical chain reaction using a mixture of magic, greyscale infection vectors, and explosives that will turn every living thing in the world into an undead wight. The heroes burst into the Night’s King’s secret lair just as he is about to plunge the world into eternal winter. Jon and the Night’s King fight while Danny, mortally wounded, crawls to the dragonglass bomb and disables it just as Jon kills the king. Outside, the armies pause in wonder as winter melts away. Jon and Danny kiss.

Robin Hobb
In a sensational twist, after delivering the brilliant A Dream of Spring, Hobb reveals that she invented the persona of George R.R. Martin in 1963 and hired an actor to portray the writer in public, like JT LeRoy. In a second, unexpected twist, Martin crashes the press conference to claim the exact opposite: he invented Robin Hobb in 1980 and hired an actress to play her in public. Then Patrick Rothfuss shows up and claims he is actually 97 years old and has been both writers for decades. Megan Lindholm watches from the shadows.

Josiah Bancroft
Reeling from a permanent hangover that has plagued him steadily for months with no sign of lessening, Tyrion Lannister frantically flees a horde of wights. Suddenly a voice calls out to him. He spins to find Arya Stark beckoning. They scramble down an embankment, and Tyrion stops in shock: here is Drogon. “I thought all the dragons were killed!” Arya snorts. “No, he merely had his wings pulled off.” Tyrion looks again—Drogon is indeed wingless, and Arya has outfitted the creature with a large balloon, inflated by the dragon’s fiery breath, and a sail made from one of the Golden Company’s battle flags. They scramble aboard, and Arya flies about picking up survivors as the Night’s King overwhelms Westeros in triumph. Jamie scrambles up, his newly-mechanized hand giving him the power to steer their dragon-ship. Sansa is pulled aboard, as is Cersei, Jon, and Danny. Arya goes to the dragon’s head to plot their course. Westeros is lost, but she has heard rumor of other lands—richer, more dangerous lands. And as she takes off her face for the first time in years, she feels free to be herself again. To be the Waif.

Charlie Jane Anders
The final battle appears lost, and the Night’s King is glorying in his mad triumph. Suddenly, Arya appears before him, wielding Needle. The battles rages behind her; she is bloody and desperate. The Night’s King mocks her—what will one small girl do? Arya says she’s not alone—suddenly Danny stands next to her. Then Sansa, Melisandre, and Brienne appear. The women link hands and stare balefully at the Night’s King as Melisandre incants a spell. Their eyes begin to glow, and they lift off the ground a few inches, calling on the magic they’d all felt their whole lives, in their bones, hidden and secret, the magic that helped them find one another, pulling them together even as their broken pasts tried to push them apart. There is a flash of white light and the Night’s King is dissolved into a bone-white ash that drifts away on the wind, followed shortly by his wights. Behind the women, the warriors pause in confusion for a moment, then begin fighting each other just as desperately. Arya sighs and makes a pop culture reference, but it’s actually pretty timeless. The women turn around and link hands again.

Patrick Rothfuss

T/K

V.E. Schwab
Bran discovers that when he visits and sometimes affects the past, he is actually visiting and affecting alternate versions of Westeros—there are in fact many alternate worlds, separated by a thin veil of reality. As he moves between them, he discovers one where there is much more magic than in his version of Westeros. In Red Westeros (not red like blood, though we can see making that mistake), magic is everywhere, with a hearty dragon population and just about everyone using potions and amulets and cavorting with the Children of the Forest. There’s also a Gray Westeros with no magic at all, a grim, mechanized place where Cersei is the CEO of a corporation that produces perfumes and beauty products that kill you if you use them for too long. Bran opens up a portal to this horrible Westeros and the Night’s King and his army are forced into it. Arriving in the magic-less Westeros, they become lifeless statues. Back in Westeros Prime, the humans simply reorient their armies and get on with trying to kill each other, but for different reasons. Bran realizes he is living in Black Westeros. You don’t want to know about Black Westeros.

Sabaa Tahir
Surprisingly, the final battle between the armies of Westeros, the Golden Company, the Free Folk, the Night’s Watch, and the Night’s King is over very early in the final book. Cersei is deposed and Daenerys is acclaimed the new Queen, taking Jon Snow as her consort despite learning that they are related (it’s… actually kind of sexy?). However, as the armies disperse and move back south, they discover that a massive invasion force from Sothoryros has arrived and overrun King’s Landing and everything south of The Twins. The two forces clash, and the exhausted combined forces, now serving under Daenerys, are quickly defeated as the Sothoryrosi reveal incredibly advanced magical and technological capabilities. It’s evident they regard all of them as “northern barbarians.” A new age of peace and achievement dawns, and lasts for thousands of years.

If you were to choose an author to end A Song of Ice and Fire (beside George R.R. Martin of course), who would you nominate?

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Who Will Win the Game of Thrones? We Weigh the Odds

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” – Cersei Lannister

It was, and perhaps remains, the most iconic quote from Game of Thrones, the HBO adaptation of  George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire: simultaneously a reminder of the series’ stakes and a Mountain-sized wink at the audience. As the final season approaches (if not the final novel), fans are still seeking answers to as many questions as there are Unsullied soldiers. But likely chief king among them is… who is actually going to win the Game of Thrones?

If it’s worth discussing, it’s worth gambling over! Below, we place odds on who will sit the Iron Throne come the end of season 8.

(Assuming it hasn’t been melted to slag by dragonfire, of course.)

Daenerys Targaryen (2 to 1)

The Mother of Dragons is the favorite thanks to several factors working in her favor:

  1. If there is such thing as a “main” character on this show, it’s probably her.
  2. Her arc has been heading toward the throne since the very first episode.
  3. Dragons, yo.

It’s hard to not consider her odds the best, but there is still a sense of doom hanging over her new relationship with…

Jon Snow (7 to 1)

As Bran’s vision confirmed at the end of last season, Jon is indeed the heir to the throne. His odds would be higher, except for the fact that he isn’t interested in ruling and he tends to make catastrophic choices at nearly every turn. Remember when he tried to to take a handful of dudes beyond the wall to grab an ice zombie to take back to King’s Landing? Did everyone in the room actually hear that and go, “well I don’t have anything better to do”? He’s died for his poor choices before, and he may yet die again.

Cersei Lannister (11 to 1)

When you think about the core characters of this saga, almost no one has gotten more screen time than Cersei. She has been a pivotal character in every season. It seems impossible that she could end the story on top, given typical narrative conventions and the sheer number of major players who want her dead. But this isn’t a typical story, and the showrunners/George R.R. Martin aren’t known for typical narrative conventions.

The Night’s King (35 to 1)

While Cersei has been present in every season, the Night’s King’s plan has been prevalent since the very first scene of the pilot. Though it often unfolded at the margins, the advancement of the White Walkers toward Westeros has been a pivotal aspect of the show since the jump. From their surprise attack at Hardhome, to the tragic killing (and conversion) of Viserion, as time has gone on, their threat has only increased. It seems unlikely that the Night’s King could end up on top, but given this story’s pension for providing shocking and upsetting moments…why not?

Gendry (6 to 1)

“There is power in King’s blood” —Melisandre

Gendry sneaking back in the storyline seems innocuous, but given the significance of his lineage (and the size of his fan club) he is the definitive darkhorse candidate. He might very well “aww shucks” his way to the most powerful seat in the land.

Sansa Stark (20 to 1)

There was an interesting moment in the last season after Jon left to consult with Dany. Sansa was completely against it until he stated that he was leaving her in charge while he was away. In that moment, she looked simultaneously flabbergasted and empowered by the decision. It doesn’t feel like this is her ultimate role… but I doubt she’d mind.

Tyrion Lannister (25 to 1)

It would be delightfully ironic if Tyrion, the only thing Tywin Lannister was ever ashamed of, ended up ruling the land. However, given his attitude toward the ruling class in Westeros, that doesn’t really seem to be his end goal. However if a bunch of characters died (this is the right show for that scenario) it’s possible that he might assume the throne, if only to keep others (whose purposes might be a bit more unsavory) from taking it.

Jaime Lannister (30 to 1)

Jamie is yet another character who likely has the skill set necessary to lead, but just isn’t all that interested in it. Perhaps his role is to… slay a king or queen? Certainly that hasn’t been aggressively foreshadowed at all.

Euron Greyjoy (50 to 1)

Euron gets better odds to sit atop the throne than most simply because… well, he really, really wants it. I can see a scenario wherein the Golden Company, the White Walkers, Dany’s dragons (remind me to start a band by that name), and a dozen other factions all wipe one another out, leaving Euron very well equipped to remind everyone that no matter how many politicians are overruled or seriously injured, there will always going to be more of them waiting in the wings—so why not settle for one of them picked at random and call it a day? What a comforting thought. (Also, he made it to adulthood with a name pronounced not dissimilarly from “urine,” so he’s got to have quite a hardy constitution.)

Arya Stark (250 to 1)

Arya began showing her disdain for the “proper lords and ladies” since very early in season one, and she has never relented. Ruling the seven kingdoms can’t be her end goal, but she might murder a few important people along the way!

Bran Stark (500 to 1)

The odds of Brandon ruling Westeros are very slim, but the odds of him saying a bunch of cryptic things and making everyone uncomfortable are very high.

Hot Pie (345,000 to 1)

You know, I just don’t see it happening.

Joffrey Baratheon (Slim, as he’s dead)

LOL. Remember when he died? Ah, those were the days.

Who will sit the Iron Throne? Place your bets in the comments!

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George R.R. Martin Says There May Be ‘Discrepancies’ Between the Game of Thrones Finale and His Books

io9

Yes, George R.R. Martin is still working on The Winds of Winter. Yes, that means A Dream of Spring will come eventually. But before that happens, we’re getting the eighth and final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. What will this spoil for fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series? Hopefully: not everything.

Read more…

https://io9.gizmodo.com/george-r-r-martin-says-there-may-be-discrepancies-betw-1833100705

Find Hidden Skrulls, Take a Trip Through T.I.M.E., and More in the Latest Tabletop Gaming News

io9

Welcome back to Gaming Shelf, io9's column all about everything board games and tabletop RPGs. We’re getting pumped for New York’s Toy Fair, which should introduce a lot of new and exciting games for 2019 (be on the lookout for our coverage!). However, there are still plenty of things to be psyched about right now,…

Read more…

https://io9.gizmodo.com/find-hidden-skrulls-take-a-trip-through-t-i-m-e-and-1832307867

George R. R. Martin Might Never Finish A Song of Ice and Fire, and That’s OK

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

We put a tremendous amount of stock in endings. The concluding paragraph or a novel, or the final novel in a sequence of a dozen books, can secure an experience in our minds, or taint the hundreds or thousands of pages that came before. The logic is perverse: the longer the series—the more words preceding the last one—the more weight we give to that wrap-up. When Robert Jordan passed just prior to the completion of his then 11-book saga The Wheel of Time, the discussion was overwhelmingly about what would happen next: who would end his story, and how? Terry Brooks is nearing on the chronological conclusion of his decades-long Shannara series, a last volume that will have to support the 30 or so that preceded it.

It takes great courage to bring a series to an end… which brings us to A Song of Ice and Fire.

Out this week is Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones, the first of two volumes in George R. R. Martin’s faux-history of the dragonlords of House Targaryen, ancestors to its last survivor, young Queen Daenerys. It begins with Aegon the Conqueror and the forging of the Iron Throne, and carries through subsequent generations, and the family’s battles to keep it. It’s backstory that’s only been glimpsed before, and some of the most intriguing Westeros has to offer, set in the days when dragons ruled the skies.

It’s also a reminder that Martin’s world is a whole lot larger than the events of the book series proper, and that we may be putting too much weight on our desire to see it brought to conclusion. Yes, we’ve all been waiting seven years for book six, let alone the concluding seventh volume.Certainly, we want to know what happens. But does the ending define this particular saga? Does it matter at all who sits the Iron Throne, or whether a Stark rules in Winterfell?

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings ended with a definitive, world-changing battle, one that drew a clear line between what came before and what would come after for the world, but it’s impossible to imagine a similarly conclusive ending for Westeros and Essos. Martin’s world, not unlike our own, just doesn’t seem to work that way: there’s no grand villain to defeat in order that virtue may reign—the so-called heroes of the series may have better hearts, but each has been tainted by violence and compromise. It’s a world that seems to defy conclusions (certainly the Targaryens thought that their reign was an end to history), but admits only of cycles of war interspersed with intervals of peace. Like seasons.

It’s impossible to know what Martin has in mind for the end of his series, though it’s fun to guess (even if you’ve seen some of it already played out on television). The books take some of their inspiration from the real-life Wars of the Roses, so that conflict might offer clues. The winners there (spoilers for English history), the Tudors, lasted for just over a century before handing power over to the Scottish House of Stuart. A hundred years (and change) isn’t a bad run by any means, and those years were consequential for England, Ireland, and much of the rest of the world, but it’s a mere breathe in the grand scope of human history. The point being: Martin may ultimately craft a brilliant, revelatory ending, but the history of Westeros isn’t much less complex than our own, and we’re seeing more of it all the time—and it’s not hard to imagine more beyond that.

With Fire & Blood, we’re finally getting a full accounting of the deeds of the Targaryen dynasty, all of which has only been alluded to before. And it’s every bit as cool as what we’re reading about in the present-day of the series proper. Martin’s earlier prequel better makes the point, though: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms collects Martin’s three novellas of Dunk and Egg, Dunk being future Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Ser Duncan the Tall, and Egg being future king Aegon V of House Targaryen. The characters have a tangential impact on the events of A Song of Ice and Fire, but their stories make for good reads even without the connection. Martin’s world-class worldbuilding means that there are stories even in the nooks and crannies of Westeros. Who needs an ending when there are so many other tales to be told?

This is all complicated by the existence of the Game of Thrones TV series. Though a relatively straight adaption of the novels initially, the show has increasingly become something of a parallel universe following the bassline of Martin’s novels, but increasingly charting its own course. We’ll be getting an ending there, though only Marin knows how it will track with whatever climactic conclusion he has in mind. And even then, the ending isn’t the end: come summer 2019, HBO will immediately pivot to a still-mysterious prequel series, another grand tale of Westeros.

Martin has also brought epic fantasy to the forefront of pop culture like never before. Much of fantasy over the past decades has been chasing Tolkien, but the popularity of Martin’s series has created a market for new types of fantasy, rife with ambiguity. It has helped pave the way or boost the popularity of fantasy authors present and future, who all seem to be in conversation with Martin in one way or another: the squabbling gods of N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy, the bird’s eye epic of Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty, the dense politics of Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky, the myth-making of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle (similarly plagued by demands for a conclusion); these are just a few examples of the variety of fantasy worlds that have flourished in recent years. Those books don’t owe their existences to A Game of Thrones, of course, but just as the Lord of the Rings films reminded the mainstream that Elves and Orcs are cool, drawing them back to bookstores for more, so too has the popularity of Martin (on the page and onscreen) encouraged readers to look around for more worlds to explore.

We hunger for endings, but maybe it’s time to rethink our reliance on conclusions. Though we have confidence The Winds of Winter will eventually arrive, in the case of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin may still ultimately leave us without a choice in that regard. That would be a little heartbreaking, I’ll admit, but will the lands of Westeros and Essos be any less rich if we don’t find out who wins this particular round of jockeying for the throne? That world is getting bigger all the time, and maybe it’s for us to stop demanding to see the ends of it, and see what we can see.

Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones is available now.

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