Fire and Blood must be judged on its own merits – that is, as a carefully conceived and exhaustive (to say nothing of exhausting) examination of a fantastical historical world.
Told from the perspective of the historical chronicler Archmaester Gyldayn, which offers Martin the opportunity to play with an unreliable narrator, the saga is a rich and dark one, full of both the title’s promised elements... there is much to enjoy here. Martin’s usual sense of richly irreverent humour is present throughout, whether it’s the maimed Lord Orys Baratheon declaring: “The King’s Hand should have a hand… I will not have men speaking of the King’s Stump”, or some especially droll death scenes
For any fantasy fans on the fence about tackling this, a helpful yardstick exists: if you enjoyed JRR Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, you’ll like this. If not, steer clear. But while the parallels between the two books are obvious, it’s worth remembering that when Tolkien presented his legendarium to his publisher, it was handed back to him, along with a helpful suggestion that he try to write a sequel to The Hobbit instead. That worked out well. It’s surprising no one had a similar conversation with Martin.
The most successful parts of it are the sometimes comically conflicting accounts of previous histories... Readers keen to find out more about the mythology – the White Walkers, the Children of the Forest, what lies beyond the Sunset Sea, the Doom of Valyria – might find themselves disappointed...
Another Game Of Thrones it certainly is not. Fire And Blood is a thumpingly arid read, in the style of a dusty reference book. Delving in, readers may experience a sinking feeling. The sensation will be similar to that which overcame a previous generation of fantasy fans who, having finished The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, rushed out to feast on Tolkien's The Silmarillion only to discover it was a turgid chronicling of kingly dynasties...Westeros is Martin's sandpit and he is entitled to play in and with it as he sees fit. But for long-suffering GoT addicts, the new novel is ultimately just another distraction. To paraphrase Tolkien, A Song Of Ice And Fire is a tale that grew in the telling. But, as of now, is also one to which there is no end in sight.
Fire & Blood was a great surprise to me. I found myself becoming deeply emotionally invested in the Targaryens, thrilling when they achieved great victories and lamenting when they succumbed to their more idiotic desires. (And they have a lot of idiotic desires.) This book feels like A Song of Ice and Fire. And you know how I know?
Because I want the next book right away.
Fire and Blood is ideal for fans of the stories who love to obsess over the most minute of details, and it's fun to see the ancestors of other popular characters – from the Starks to the Lannisters – turn up along the way. But the sheer scale and exhaustive detail in Fire and Blood makes reading it feel more like you've been assigned a mildly interesting, but often tedious, piece of homework.
Fire & Blood will divide fans. The sixth Westeros novel, The Winds of Winter, continuing the escapades of Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon Snow and the rest, is hugely, chronically late. It is so overdue that Game of Thrones (the show) has long overtaken events on the page. In that sense Fire & Blood is a piece of epic procrastination... It is a great yarn. Whether it will satisfy the casual fan who just wants to know who will win the final war between humans, dragons and white-walkers is another matter. All this notwithstanding, Fire & Blood is a brilliant book.
...this would be forgivable if the story drew you in, but it does not, because there isn’t one... Essentially, it is all one long synopsis for about 50 books that he will never get around to writing, which itself has only been written because he can’t get around to writing the other two Game of Thrones books that his fans are waiting for. Worse still, after a doorstop of a thing, we’re still a century and a half short of GoT even beginning...