Book Review: Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin

“Words are wind, but wind can fan a fire. My father and my uncle fought words with steel and flame. We shall fight words with words, and put out the fires before they start.”

Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin

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Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, High Fantasy

Goodreads Summary:

Centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones, House Targaryen—the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria—took up residence on Dragonstone. Fire and Blood begins their tale with the legendary Aegon the Conqueror, creator of the Iron Throne, and goes on to recount the generations of Targaryens who fought to hold that iconic seat, all the way up to the civil war that nearly tore their dynasty apart.


What really happened during the Dance of the Dragons? Why did it become so deadly to visit Valyria after the Doom? What is the origin of Daenerys’s three dragon eggs? These are but a few of the questions answered in this essential chronicle, as related by a learned maester of the Citadel and featuring more than eighty all-new black-and-white illustrations by artist Doug Wheatley. Readers have glimpsed small parts of this narrative in such volumes as The World of Ice & Fire, but now, for the first time, the full tapestry of Targaryen history is revealed.

REVIEW

George R. R. Martin is a literary genius that comes around once in a lifetime and I’m so glad that I live in the era of Game of Thrones. This book exceeded my expectations. Combining historical fiction and high fantasy, George R. R. Martin shares with us the history of the Targaryen’s beginning with Aegon the Conqueror, Visenya and Rhaenys and ending, in this first volume, with Aegon III, the traumatised and young Targaryen King who is left to deal with the tense aftermath of the Dance of Dragons. While Aegon I launched a dynasty, it was King Jaehaerys the Conciliator and Good Queen Alysanne (a nod to Good Queen Bess?) who developed and cemented the dynasty by establishing laws, peace and even roads. The Dance of Dragons was my least favourite part as it focused mainly on military matters – which was only natural. Nevertheless, I am eagerly awaiting the second volume, so I can finally learn more about the fascinating and equally horrifying Targaryen’s.

The Targaryen’s weren’t and still aren’t usually fit to rule. Jahaerys and Alysanne were the exception to the rule based on this volume. The existence of dragons more often breeds terror and violence than it does in delivering justice.

If we take a look at Maegor the Cruel and the Dance of Dragons, dragons symbolised military power and that power wreaked much havoc and misery on innocent smallfolk. Whilst reading the Dance of Dragons, I was shocked by the number of times the innocent smallfolk were put to the sword and raped in a way that deemed it only natural to the way of men and war. In contrast, while Jaehaerys and Alysanne utilised their dragons, Vermithor and Silverwing, by displaying them to lords, ladies and smallfolk, it wasn’t to unleash the full wrath and might of the power of their dragons, but more so as a reminder of what the dragons represented.

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Jaehaerys assembled his small Council in a manner which was reminiscent of when Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne by choosing to unite the realm through pardon and good faith. Queen Alysanne, in my personal opinion, was by the far most impressive Targaryen to date, using diplomacy and tact to achieve the Crown’s goals, build a strong rapport with nobles and smallfolk, enact convention-defying (and very much in the vein of feminism) legislature and even managed to warm (slightly) the heart of the stubborn, cold and practical-minded Lord Alaric Stark of Winterfell.

Jaehaerys and Alysanne perfectly captured how the pen is mightier than the sword. Though we can argue that the circumstances of the Targaryen brother-sister pair ascending the throne made it far easier to take the Throne because of the lack of competitors, it is undeniable that they acted with caution, good sense and alacrity. The only current Game of Thrones character with power who demonstrates the ability to be a competent administrator is Sansa Stark (yes, I’m leaving out Tyrion Lannister with good reason) who, coincidentally, very much reminds me of Good Queen Alysanne. Interestingly, both women have a female bodyguard respectively in Jonquil Darke and Brienne of Tarth!

Arya Stark oft pronounces her admiration for Visenya Targaryen who was both a warrior and dragonrider. But I couldn’t help but notice that the mother and son relationship between Visenya and Maegor the Cruel was very much like that of Cersei Lannister and her son, Joffrey Baratheon. Both mothers demonstrated a sheer lack of hesitance in protecting their son by any means possible. Tyrion remarks sarcastically that Cersei is “as gentle as King Maegor.” As we know, Visenya’s horrifying acts were in service of her son, Maegor, and brother-husband, Aegon. What I am intimating in a roundabout way is that I strongly disliked Visenya and the term ‘Cruel’ could just as easily have been attached to her too… and I’m disappointed in Arya for her choice of role model.

In the first Field of Fire, House Gardener are the Lords Paramount of the Reach and, by the end, are extinguished and replaced by House Tyrell. Before the second Field of Fire that we witnessed in Season 7 of Game of Thrones, House Tyrell is extinguished when everyone’s favourite matriarch, Lady Olenna Tyrell, is delivered poison by Jaime Lannister. Being a fan of irony, it was exciting to see things come full circle here. Who will be the next House to take the seat? House Tarly?

Rhaena Targaryen’s beloved former friend, Elissa Farman, assembles a small fleet to venture beyond west of Westeros by crossing the Sunset Sea. It is believed that she offered the three dragon eggs she had stolen to the Sealord of Braavos to finance the building of the ship. I found this particularly interesting on two counts:

  1. Westeros mirrors England and its history – A Song of Ice and Fire is based on the War of the Roses (1455 – 1485) – and later, Christopher Columbus embarks on a voyage and discovers America (1492). Though Elissa was never seen again, will there be a Christopher Columbus in the series? Could this be Arya Stark who has spoken about going west of Westeros?
  2. It seems that the three dragon eggs reportedly in possession of the Sealord of Braavos eventually are the three dragon eggs Daenerys receives as a gift and hatches, giving birth to Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion. Why didn’t those eggs hatch when it was in the possession of the Sealord of Braavos? Does it require Targaryen blood? But we’ve seen Targaryen’s fail to hatch dragons. Does the hatching of dragons require a blood sacrifice? If so, Daenerys perhaps believes that it is completely her own doing, that she is a true dragon, when, in actuality, it could largely be attributed to the sacrifice of Mirri Maz Duur, Rhaego and Khal Drogo which allowed her dragons to come into the world again.

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Though it would be satisfying to the see the Iron Throne destroyed, its destruction does not necessarily dispel the threat of the smallfolk instead rising up to claim power for themselves as we see happen during the Dance of Dragons. The absence of monarchy may do little to quell the hunger for power of mankind. As the feudal system effectively ended by the turn of the 16th century, perhaps we will see this, at the very least, come to an end by the end of the series.


What are your thoughts on the Targaryen’s? Should they rule? Would you like to see the continuance of dragons? If the Iron Throne is here to stay, who should rule and why? Let me know in the comments!

By Sophia Ismaa

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15 Comments

  1. The Targaryens are seen as almost “godly” in the eyes of the common people because of their dragons and their physical attributes.

    I do think that dragons do not have a place in the kingdom any more though. I think they were used for war by various Targaryens, and that’s what they were used for 100% except for J+A who used them as a symbol.

    Danny’s reliance on them now is for war, and Westeros is tired of war.. her dragons won’t and can’t be seen as a symbol of peace

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    1. Without their dragons, they do not achieve the respect they believe they are entitled to. In the real world, those dragons would be classified as nuclear WMD. And yet the most powerful and successful of the Targaryens is the one who rarely, if ever, unleash the wrath of the dragons. I hope the dragons are used in the war against the dead, but it was bizarre that Silverwing was strongly against going beyond the wall. Did the dragon sense what they could become? Did they know that they could be turned into an ice dragon? There’s a link between ice and fire, it seems as if they’re two sides of the same coin. Jon is both ice and fire – the healthy balance.

      I completely agree! The dragons I believe factor into the series’s prophecy about the dead, more than just blood magic, I think they were prophesied to be used for war-time and that includes Dany. But come peacetime, they do not have a place. Dany is an extension of that, if she was a peacetime ruler, she would not have burned the loot train. Now what ‘little’ the dragons are “barely eating” could have been used to feed one small village. Sansa was right. Jon is wonderful, but these small details, these details that George R. R. Martin has emphasised as to what constitutes a “wise ruler,” are something that Sansa shows has great ability to assess. I don’t know how, but I want to see Sansa on the throne – that is if the Iron Throne isn’t destroyed.

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      1. I think the biggest reason why the dragons don’t like the North is because they can sense alll the magic there. I mean the wall itself has magic built into it, and the white walkers are all magical beings as well. Dragons, being some of the oldest magical beings alive could probably sense older and deeper magic and didn’t like it.

        I have a small theory and I kinda hope it comes true, that the night king makes it to kings landing and sits the iron throne, and in doing so freezes it in a way. That way when Jon sits on it (I hope he does) it’ll be his two halves on the throne as well. The world of ice and fire

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        1. I wonder if the White Walkers will capture a dragon in the books the way the show did, if so, you’re right that they sensed deeper magic that could harm them!

          The Night King is a show-only invention, but who knows how it will play out in the books? Do you think the story of the White Walkers is truly over? I think there might be more to it for Bran. I think Jon is already ice and fire combined (Stark and Targaryen), the Son(g) of Ice and Fire. I can’t wait to read the World of Ice and Fire though!

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          1. I think in the books there will be a Night King figure that takes the lead. It makes sense that there would be a “head” of the army, but I don’t think they will be as prominent as the tv version.

            I’d like to think they have their own undead dragon somehow. In the books I imagine Jon is still a Targaryen so it could be that the three Targs have to fight an ice dragon, but I don’t know for sure.

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            1. Yes, very true, I agree, that does make a lot of sense. Either way, I need more explanations about the White Walkers. I’m glad Arya’s killed the Night King, but I still would like to know more about their history and what they would have planned to do if they had defeated the living.

              That Wall would come down eventually in the books (I expect that to be consistent), and if it’s going to come down, an undead dragon would be able to achieve that. The three Targs, do you mean Tyrion is the third head? I think Martin’s toying with us and that Tyrion is Tywin’s son through and through.

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  2. I don’t think the Targs should rule- at least not in the way they have been. I really think if Martin ever finishes he’s going with some sort of council not like full on democracy but not one all powerful ruler on an Iron Throne either.

    Great review! I loved the book but was a little bummed it was split. I’m really hopeful for a part II and the Blackfyre rebellion, Egg, etc. I have such a strange relationship with Martin because despite some of my issues with his writing I gladly would have read another 1000 pages. (Of course not so gladly as I’d read Winds but that’s another story!)

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    1. Relying on a single monarch to be an effective ruler and administrator of the seven kingdoms is terrifying, the smallfolk would not know what to expect and what wars will be waged to fight for a King/Queen who don’t even know their names. I hope the resolution is a Small Council based on the model of a democratic parliament. It’s interesting that Tyrion brought up the Night’s Watch method. I don’t know how it’s looking at the moment though. The show is cycling back to the first season based on that first episode. It could go anywhere at this point. The only Targ who should sit that throne is Jon.

      I think, in large part, that’s down to the long reign of J+A & the Dance of Dragons, and if Martin was to include the full history, it would probably be 2,000 pages long. I’m sure we’d both read it anyway, but boy, we would be exhausted! Winds is coming. Maybe Martin should make that his own catchphrase now: the Winds of Winter is coming whenever he’s asked!

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