Now here’s a book I wouldn’t recommend to most people. Basically, I recommend this book to people who really love George R. R. Martin’s work enough to read a fictional history about many generations of people in Westeros. If you’re the kind of person who has read the Silmarillion because you loved the Lord of the Rings, you may enjoy this too. I am one of those people, so I enjoyed it, but I just don’t think it’s for everyone.
When I review books I usually talk about the characters and then the plot and pacing. GRRM’s writing style is a bit distant already when it comes to characterization. I love a lot of his characters, but I’ve always felt like they were a little less developed than his world building. Of course, his world building is one of the most detailed and extensive apart from Tolkien, in my opinion. So, although I loved a lot of the characters in this book, it is hard for me to judge them as I normally would in a review. Since different sections of the book focus on specific time periods during Targaryen rule, sometimes the focus was on characters I liked and other times the people in power were frustratingly difficult to read about. However, no matter what point in history, there was always someone to root for and someone to root against, though I wouldn’t say that any single character was all good or bad. The characters all had realistic flaws. Sometimes they did questionable things for reasons they thought were justified. Sometimes they had a rough start in life, only to turn things around when they got older. Sometimes characters disappeared from history altogether, which would of course would all happen if someone was chronicling the history of one family.
I will always be impressed by GRRM’s ability to create a well developed land with peoples and cultures that feel old and real. Many times I had to remind myself that it is all made up, because it truly felt like a historical account. It helps that the book is written from the perspective a maester who is writing the history down. The book is filled with wars, politics, and family drama (that leads to wars and politics of course).Some sections also explain parts of the cities or physical landscapes that were built or changed and why, which could be dull to some people, but it serves to flesh out the world even more. Because there is of course more to running a land than wars and politics… you also need streets and wells. There’s a lot of action, but most feels “hands-off” because of the third person, mostly omniscient, perspective. There aren’t (that I can recall) many instances of line-by-line fight scenes, but the narrator will tell you who slew who, how, and why. In particular, I liked that even the smallest disagreements between different peoples could, even years in the future, lead to a war, because that happens even in real history. There are definitely some Easter eggs and hints to the events in the Song of Fire and Ice series, so while you do not have to read the series, I would highly recommend doing so just to know GRRM’s style and understand what most of the events in Fire & Blood are building up to.
As you can tell, I was impressed by the scope and detail in this book. I’ve just seen too many DNFs or bad reviews for this book that I hope everyone knows what they are getting into before they take on such a large novel. I wouldn’t recommend this for people who haven’t read the rest of the Song of Ice and Fire series unless this specific type of book really appeals to you and you have perhaps watched the TV show for context. I might also suggest the audiobook. The narrator is great for one thing. I also found it easier to progress through the large, heavy book by skipping between the physical and audio copies I had. I’d give this four out of five stars.