Look. I know that you're still anxiously awaiting
the publication of You want to know whether Jon survives being stabbed in the back, or whether Tyrion makes it through the Battle of Meereen, or whether poor, dehydrated Dany is ever going to find a safe haven and a bottle of Gatorade. You want to know The Winds of Winter. how the HBO show is going to wrap up, now that the ice zombies have breached the Wall and all the secret Targaryen babies have been revealed. But, unlike Bran and his magical tree powers, you cannot travel through time. So until then, you'll just have to make do with obsessing over every single, solitary detail in George R.R. Martin's newest book, Fire and Blood. Fire and Blood is a history of House Targaryen and their various dragons, from Aegon's Conquest up through the reign of King Aegon III (if you lose track of any of the characters, just assume they're called Aegon). It's certainly not a book for everyone. If you like Game of Thrones because you enjoy watching hot, sad people making out and punching zombies, you might not want to hunker down with a 700-page textbook on the fictional history of a fictional family of wig models.
But if you (like me) love to get lost in the vast, impossibly detailed minutiae of Westerosi nonsense, then
Fire and Blood is an absolutely irresistible, dragon-filled delight. And here are just a few of the best moments:
We (maybe) find out where Dany got her eggs
Remember way, way back at the beginning of
A Game of Thrones, when Ilyrio Mopatis gave Dany three dragon eggs as a wedding present? Well, Fire and Blood has finally provided the tiniest hint as to how that happened: Princess Rhaena Targaryen had a BFF (or possibly a secret girlfriend) named Elissa Farman. Elissa wasn't all that into getting married to a man or living out a life of courtly leisure. She was a sailor at heart, and she dreamed of one day crossing the Sunset Sea, to find out what lies to the west of Westeros. In order to finance her trip, however, she swiped three lil' dragon eggs from Rhaena's dragon Dreamfyre, and headed out to Braavos (not the best break up etiquette). She sold the three eggs to furnish herself with the long distance ship Sun Chaser, and then set off on her journey into the mysterious west. When the angry Targaryens showed up in Braavos to demand their baby eggs back, the Braavosi got all vague and weird and claimed that they didn't have them... but one can guess that the three missing eggs changed hands a few times among the elite of the Free Cities, and landed smack in Ilyrio's lap, just in time for him to pass them on to a bona fide Targaryen.
It turns out the Earth is round
Readers never really find out what happened to Elissa Farman, since George R.R. Martin is determined to keep the secret of whatever lies beyond the Sunset Sea in order to personally antagonize me...
but he does give readers another glimpse of her ship. The great explorer Corlys Velaryon reportedly saw the old, beat up Sun Chaser while in the mysterious, far eastern city of Asshai. That implies that Elissa or her crew did make it across the Sunset Sea, and all the way to the other side of Planetos. Could the ship hold the secrets to what (if anything) lies to the distant West? Is there an Americos in this universe? Is Elissa secretly Melisandre and she's messing with everyone out of spite? I don't know, and George will probably never tell me, but it's a fun detail tossed in there with all those stuffy Targaryen kings.
Queen Alysanne is a feminist badass
Where is my Queen Alysanne spin-off? This lady had her own dragon, her sworn sword was a female knight called the Scarlet Shadow, and she abolished the right of the "first night" in Westeros (the law that allowed lords to basically just have sex with anyone all the time). She also gets this beautiful quote:
“A ruler needs a good head and a true heart,” she famously told the king. “A cock is not essential. If Your Grace truly believes that women lack the wit to rule, plainly you have no further need of me.”
The mystery of Princess Aerea
Aerea Targaryen was the daughter of Princess Rhaena, and her life
got a little weird. Firstly, it's implied that she switched places with her identical twin when they were young, so that Aerea wouldn't have to be a baby nun and her sister wouldn't have to ride horses or hang out with dragons. When she was a little older, she straight up stole the infamous dragon Balerion and flew off to parts unknown. She eventually returned over a year later, seriously ill, and only managed to say, "I never," before collapsing into a feverish heap. The Grand Maester tried to heal her, but she burned up from inside until strange fire wyrms burst out through her flesh, Alien-style, and then she finally died. It's implied that she might have gone to old Valyria, and somehow become infected by whatever fiery curse the Doom left behind.
“The Shivers” kills Dany’s namesake
On the opposite end of the spectrum,
Fire and Blood also features Targaryens dying of the freezing cold. During an especially bad winter, lil' Princess Daenerys the First died of a strange disease known as the Shivers, thoroughly freaking out the Targaryens, who thought that they were basically immune to illness (nope). The death of an innocent little Targaryen is hardly the highlight of the book, but it highlights the idea that the Targs might not just be a little bit resistant to heat... they might be especially susceptible to the cold. And this could possibly be a hint at the fate of our main Daenerys, once she finally gets it together enough to fight the snow zombies.
Dragons won’t cross the Wall, apparently?
Sorry, TV fans — in the books, it looks like dragons either cannot or will not cross the Wall. Queen Alysanne tries to get her dragon, Silverwing, to fly up north, but Silverwing is just like, "NOPE," and refuses to go any further. Does this mean that Dany's dragons are going to throw a hissy fit when the time comes? Do they have to be ice dragons in order to kick it with the Others? Was Silverwing just a big chicken? You'll have to wait and see.
The Muppets of House Tully
Fire and Blood does mostly focus on the Targaryen family and their dragon-based exploits, but some of the other Westerosi houses get the occasional shout out too. For instance, we find out that Lord Kermit Tully of Riverrun was very "green" with youth, and that he had an even greener, grumpier brother named Oscar. And if you read The World of Ice and Fire, you'll recall that there are also Tully ancestors called Grover and Elmo.
When we realized just how big the Iron Throne actually is
Unlike the original
Ice and Fire novels, Fire and Blood includes illustrations of all our favorite Targaryens, swanning about on their very big lizards. One such illustration shows us the Iron Throne and it's... it's a very big chair. Very big. With many swords. It's only natural that the TV adaptation had to tone down some of the more fantastical elements of the books in order to make a film-able show, but Fire and Blood emphasizes just how intense a seating option the Iron Throne really is... and how easily a monarch might be impaled in the process of sitting down.
Every time we get Mushroom’s perspective
George R.R. Martin rarely writes from a neutral point of view. In A Song of Ice and Fire, readers get to see how the same events are understood differently from the many,
many point of view characters. Fire and Blood, on the other hand, is written by Maester Gyldayn, a rather conservative old man who is pretty staunchly pro-Targaryen. Every so often, however, we get a snippet from The Testimony of Mushroom, a historical record from the point of view of a dwarf fool of the Targaryen court, who is much more fun (and potentially more accurate) than stuffy old Gyldayn. Mushroom notes lots of illicit love affairs, scandals, and dragons setting people's pants on fire. Mushroom's version of events is usually dismissed, of course, because he is a fool and can't possibly be right about anything. Knowing GRRM's world, though, fools and outcasts tend to have a less biased opinion about the goings on of kings and queens.
Aegon III is a sassy boy king
Westeros loves a good boy king. In
Fire and Blood, readers see lil' Aegon III, who finally takes the throne after a long, bloody mess of a fight over succession, followed by years of regents ruling in his stead. He's not a demon brat like Joffrey, though, or a baby pushover like Tommen. Instead, young Aegon proves that young Targaryens can be sassy and competent (even if the last of the dragons died under his watch). His best moment is probably when he finally claims his throne from the babysitter: "Lord Manderly," King Aegon said, in the sudden stillness, "pray tell me how old I am, if you would be so good." "You are ten and six today, Your Grace," Lord Manderly replied. "A man grown. It is time for you to take the governance of the Seven Kingdoms into your own hands." "I shall," King Aegon said. "You are sitting in my chair."
When we realize that none of this history is necessarily true
Martin is no fool when it comes to writing history books. Since
Fire and Blood doesn't have a big ole mess of POV characters like A Song of Ice and Fire, you're stuck with Maester Gyldayn... who is not necessarily reliable. He insists that dragons cannot change sex (a la Jurassic Park), even though characters in ASOIAF have already made it clear that they can. He refuses to believe that Aegon II was betrayed by the head of his Kingsguard, because that sort of thing would never happen (but Jaime Lannister pulled the same shtick years later). Fire and Blood is full of bloody battles, kick ass princesses, and courtly intrigue... but perhaps the best moments lie in those subtle hints that this is simply one version of events. As with all of George R.R. Martin's tales, the truth always defies simplicity.