10 Nonfiction Books That Explain The Horrifying Real-Life Events That Inspired 'Game Of Thrones'

Macall B. Polay, courtesy of HBO

Whether you're a TV fan waiting for season eight, or a long-suffering book fan still holding out hope that The Winds of Winter will be published at some point before the end of linear time, chances are good that you're missing the Game of Thrones universe right now. Of course, if you miss dragons and prophecies and big, nasty snow zombies, then there are plenty of fantasy books out there that you can read while you wait. Maester George R.R. Martin himself has been pretty upfront about drawing influence from the likes of T.H. White, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Robert Jordan. But let's say that you're not in the mood for another fantasy epic (or you've already read them all, and even your D&D group is begging you to try another genre). If you miss princes and scheming queens and complicated plots to steal the throne from illegitimate pretenders, then you might actually enjoy some of these books about real world history.

After all, it's no secret that GRRM stole all his major plot points from history books. The struggle for the Iron Throne is not-so-loosely based on the English War of the Roses. Characters like Brienne of Tarth and Tyrion Lannister take their cues from historical characters like Joan of Arc and Richard III. And yes, even the Red Wedding and the Wall have their precedents in English history (medieval England got pretty wild, y'all). Here are some history books that will fill you in on all the disturbing real life stories that inspired Game of Thrones:

'The Wars of the Roses' By Alison Weir

If you enjoy reading about the Lannisters and the Starks fighting over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, you'll probably enjoy reading about the Lancasters and the Yorks fighting over the Seven Kingdoms of England. Alison Weir transforms the historical War of the Roses into a high-drama thrill ride, filled with daring plots, sudden betrayals, and a whole lot of kings and queens being petty to each other.

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'Blood Sisters: The Women Behind The War Of The Roses' by Sarah Gristwood

The War of the Roses was fought by smart, politically savvy women just as much as it was fought by knights on the battlefield. Blood Sisters tells the riveting story of the women who formed the Tudor dynasty, from the ambitious moms to the tragic, would-be queens to every lady in between.

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'Joan of Arc: A History' by Helen Castor

Brienne of Tarth is pretty clearly based on Joan of Arc, the French peasant girl who became a warrior and led her army to victory in the early 1400's. Joan of Arc: A History dives into the fascinating true story of the Maid of Orleans, and how she managed to learn the art of war, save France, and be burned at the stake as a heretic before her 20th birthday.

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'The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family' by Susan Higginbotham

Elizabeth Woodville was a gorgeous, impoverished widow when she was swept off her feet by Edward IV, dragging her entire family into the thick of the War of the Roses. The Woodvilles soon found themselves at the center of bloody intrigue, romance, witchcraft accusations, and a relentless battle for control over the Seven Kingdoms (of England).

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'Glencoe: The Infamous Massacre 1692' by John Sadler

Yes, the Red Wedding was based on an actual massacre from Scottish history (it's based on two actual massacres, really, but this is the bloodier one). Glencoe: The Infamous Massacre 1692 tells the tale of how the Campbell clan brutally murdered the MacDonalds under the pretense of hospitality, in all of its gory, politically fraught history.

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'She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth' by Helen Castor

Yes, there were powerful queens before Elizabeth! Cersei and Margaery and Arianne and Daenerys aren't just fantasy characters, they're based on some extremely fierce historical ladies. Like Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror, who came dangerously close to securing the crown for herself. Or arts patron and army leader Eleanor of Aquitaine. Or terrifying helicopter parent Margaret of Anjou, who tore the country apart to ensure that her sweet, murderous son would be king, Lannister-style.

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'The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier' by Alistair Moffat

Hadrian's Wall might not have been made of ice or infested with zombies. But there was a real life wall that marked the northern border of Roman England, and it was staffed by men who were not permitted to hold lands of their own. The Wall tells the story of this ambitious, 73 mile monument, as well as the Romans and Britons who built it, guarded it, and fought against it.

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'The Women of the Cousins' War: The Duchess, the Queen, and the King's Mother' by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin, and Michael K. Jones

If you're a fan of Martin, then you've got to get on the Philippa Gregory train. Much like her historical novels, The Women of the Cousins' War dives into the human drama behind the War of the Roses. In particular, this book focuses on the "witch" Jacquetta, the commoner Elizabeth who married a king for love, and the overlooked matriarch Margaret, who raised her son to be king.

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'The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire' by Jack Weatherford

Once in a while, Martin pulls from a history that's not British. So if you couldn't get enough of Dany as Khaleesi on the Dothraki Sea, then check out The Secret History of the Mongol Queens. The Dothraki are loosely based on the Mongol Empire, except that the actual Mongol Empire had far more women in power than Martin's fictional version. Genghis Khan's daughters and daughters-in-law took over his conquests and ruled as queens, fostering trade and education in the world's first truly international empire.

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'The Princes in the Tower' by Alison Weir

Historians have tried to untangle the mystery of the Princes in the Tower for over five centuries now, and we still don't have a consensus. Much like little Bran and Rickon Stark, the two York boys were supposedly murdered... but they might have survived. And much like Tyrion Lannister, their uncle, the "monstrous" Richard III, was blamed for their apparent deaths. What really happened? Will we ever even come close to the truth? Read The Princes in the Tower if you're looking for answers.

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