In essence, this weighty volume is a comprehensive in-world history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries and daring rebellions that lead to the events of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, as told by a Maester Yandel in honour of the new king (whose name, as we see on the first page, has had to be corrected several times). Chronicled in these pages is all of the knowledge, scholarly speculation and inherited folk tales of maesters and septons and singers, recorded with no lack of detail. The World of Ice and Fire makes for a definitive companion piece to George R. R. Martin’s vividly conceived universe.
I absolutely loved this book for a number of reasons, first and foremost of which was the gorgeous illustrations. This encyclopaedic tome was packed full of stunning artwork that really blew my mind; everything from black and white sketches to lavish, colourful images that spanned entire pages. The inclusion of these pictures really served to bring everything to life in a way that I never expected, especially in cases like Martin’s vision of the Iron Throne which looks much grander (and more deadly) in the book.
Another highlight was learning about the Targaryen dynasty. Sure, everyone’s heard of Mad King Aerys and a bit about Aegon the Conquerer, but we’ve barely touched on the rest of the family. This book fills in all those empty spaces in their history with a fascinating depiction of their uniting and subsequent ruling of the Seven Kingdoms. Plus we get a really good description of the ‘Dance of the Dragons’, the Targaryen Civil War. Apart from my brain’s inability to distinguish between the seemingly endless number of Aegons in that family tree, it was quite informative.
In spite of all of this Martin hasn’t disclosed all of the mysteries of his world. Since this was written as an in-universe text, there is much that Yandel (and the reader) doesn’t know about. Just what happened in Valyria? What exists beyond the borders of the known realms? Who were the forgotten, vanished races that predate the First Men and left mysterious, complex structures behind them? I hope that we’ll one day know the answers to these questions but until then it’s nice to know that there is still more to discover. Plus it kept the framing device realistic. Little things like references to other documents, conflicting sources and citing other maesters worked well here too.
So although the book is about a fictional universe it is still written as a history book. This means that some sections are more exciting than others and at points the book can feel a bit like an information dump. You definitely need to sort through all of the data to get to the good stuff during some sections and as a result I could end up feeling slightly overwhelmed at times. Then there are all of the battles. Some kingdoms have rivalries that stretch back millennia so there’s a good deal of fighting and back-and-forth invading of lands going on. Particularly in the Stormlands and the Riverlands it’s very much a case of ‘oh look, yet another battle!’ Sometimes this feuding gets repetitive, but it does do a good job of reflecting medieval life.
Also, more maps please!
I think to fully appreciate this book you need to be familiar with the world, so – personal biases aside – I’d award it four stars. Some companion novels do nothing more than repeat things that we already know, but not this one! I’d say about ninety percent of the information we got was new and all of it left us with a much better understanding of the world of the Seven Kingdoms, but also, frustratingly, with more questions than answers. If you’re a fan of the series, this one is a must read!