All the Books You Need to Read to Discover the Real Story of Game of Thrones

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Pop culture phenomenons like HBO’s Game of Thrones don’t come around all that often, and once they’ve wrapped up, it can be painful to say goodbye. The ending of this particular saga is bittersweet for a number of reasons, and not only because the fan reaction to the eighth and final season has been, shall we say, mixed at best. There’s also the fact that many of those currently in mourning over the fates of their favorite characters actually first encountered the world of Westeros in a completely different medium—A Game of Thrones, the first novel in George R.R. Martin’s voluminous fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, upon which the show is based, released in 1996. Thus, with two books still to be published, these fans feel like the story isn’t really over yet, even as the adaptation has spoiled the ending.

But I, ever the book-loving optimist, have decided to cope with the loss in a different way: rather than shedding tears over the ending, I’m going back to the beginning: by re-experiencing the whole thing—or as much of it as I can right now—on the page, reacquainting myself the the characters the TV series never found time for and anticipating an ending I’ll find more personally satisfying, even if it’s the same in its broad strokes. Whether you are a seasoned book reader or a fan of the show missing spending time with your favorite devious dwarf, these are all the books you need to read to discover the real story of Game of Thrones.

A Song of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons), by George R.R. Martin
It probably goes without saying, but if you have yet to read the books that inspired the series—George R.R. Martin’s still-unfolding epic A Song of Ice and Fire—you’ve only glimpsed a part of the story. Though the first four seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones are more or less direct adaptations of the source material, even with 10 episodes to work with they streamline subplots, change character motivations, and eliminate huge swaths of plot in the interest of telling a more palatable story for weekly episodic consumption. However, by the time the fifth season—ostensibly based on book five, A Dance with Dragons—rolled around, it was clear the show was going to end before the books, and ever since, it has been anyone’s guess as to how closely the to narratives will align. Certainly the show seems to stand atop the foundation laid by the novels already published, but it includes so many missing or differently shaped bricks, it’s hard to say if the finished structures will look much alike. Moreover, much of the deleted material is fascinating stuff—rich in worldbuilding, dense political maneuvering, one shocking (and much-missed) character resurrection—so you’re missing out if you assume the television version is the “only the good parts” version of the story. Of course, the real issue is no less relevant for you as a reader than it was for the show’s writers a few seasons back: There’s still no telling when Martin will finally finish his version of this immense epic. Here’s hoping the furor over the adaptation’s decisive final season will light a fire under the author. But even if it doesn’t, I’d argue there is immense value in experiencing even this truncated version of the story.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, by George R.R. Martin and Gary Gianni (illustrator)
So you’ve binged the entire television series and reread those five fat novels. What next? This collection of three novellas set 100 years before the start of the series, originally published across disparate anthologies, is exactly what you’re looking for. In following the adventures of knight-for-hire Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire (and unlikely future king) Aegon V “Egg” Targaryen traipsing through the Westeros countryside, Martin provides a glimpse at a (slightly) happier time in the history of the war-torn nation, while doling out key revelations that remind us, yes, winter is coming for this world. The hardcover edition collects all three stories for the first time, along with over 160 illustrations. George R.R. Martin has promised more with these characters too—at least three and as many as six additional novellas are planned—but, as ever with this saga, you’re better off savoring what’s already out there than playing wait-and-see.

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
On screen and on the page, Martin’s fictional world is darkly beautiful, intricate, and deep. In this lavish compendium, largely written by Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, the webmasters of the popular (nay, essential) fan site, the author cranks up the backstory to 11, providing the most comprehensive (and illustrated) view yet of the wider history of the Seven Kingdoms and the landsacross the Narrow Sea. This battle-filled, rivalry-stuffed, usurper-heavy hardcover looks great on your coffee table, but it is more than mere backstory for the obsessive fan: The tragedies of the past tend to repeat themselves, and the events outlined here echo throughout A Song of Ice and Fire. Moreover, this book is also said to include clues as to the stories that will play out in the spinoff(s) HBO is currently developing to continue the franchise onscreen.

Fire & Blood: A Targaryen History, by George R.R. Martin, illustrated by 
If the sort of glancing, arc-of-history backstory featured in The World of Ice & Fire sounds too surface level for you, Martin’s most recent Westeros book will be exactly your goblet of wine. It is the first of a planned duology of in-universe histories laying out the tortured story of the Targaryen dynasty that produced one Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name, Mother of Dragons, Etc. Etc. The book began life as but one section of the aforementioned world history, penned solely by Martin, but it grew a bit in the telling, as they say, to the magnitude of several hundred thousand words (the finished volume stretches to 736 pages, including ample illustrations by Doug Wheatley). Like The World of Ice & Fire, Fire & Blood purports to be a book of history pulled straight out of the world of the novels; as such, it is written in the voice of various maesters of Westeros and includes intentional ambiguity over the absolute veracity of the events depicted. If you can get over the fact that it isn’t the sixth book of the series proper, it’s great fun. Unfortunately, it has also given us another book to wait for: the second volume probably won’t arrive until sometime after the publication of the seventh book, A Dream of Spring.

The Lands of Ice & Fire, by George R.R. Martin
With a story that spans the Seven Kingdoms and multiple other continents besides, A Song of Ice and Fire truly puts the “epic” in “epic fantasy,” and there is no better way to illustrate that than with a really cool map or twenty. This collection of lavishly illustrated maps goes way beyond the famous 3-D cartography of the opening sequence of the HBO adaptation, and will help readers (and viewers) orient themselves in this wide invented world. From tundra to desert, the lands of Westeros (and beyond) are vast, and The Lands of Ice & Fire is your passport to it all.

How are you celebrating (or lamenting) the end of Game of Thrones?

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