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The US covers of the first five novels in the series

A Song of Ice and Fire is a series of epic fantasy novels written by American novelist and screenwriter George R.R. Martin. He began writing the series in 1991 and the first volume was published in 1996. Originally envisaged as a trilogy, there are now five published novels in the series with two more planned. There are also three novellas which act as prequels to the novels, with several more planned, and three other novellas consisting of excepts from the main novels.

A Song of Ice and Fire has sold over 15 million copies worldwide and is now published in more than twenty languages. The third through fifth volumes in the series reached the New York Times bestseller list, with the fourth and fifth volumes topping the list in the week of their release.

In 2011, the American cable television company HBO began airing a drama series based on the books, under the title Game of Thrones. The series won instant critical and popular acclaim. By the end of the show's second season, it had become HBO's third-most-popular TV series of all time (behind only The Sopranos and True Blood) and had won multiple Emmy Awards. A third season has aired in 2013. A fourth season is sheduled to complete production in late 2013 and air in spring 2014.

The series has been adapted as a board games, a tabletop wargame, a collectible card game and as two tabletop roleplaying games. There have been two computer games based on the series, with a third planned.

PremiseEdit

The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in a fictional world, primarily upon a continent called Westeros but also on a large landmass to the east, known as Essos. Most of the characters are human but as the series progresses other races are introduced, such as the cold and menacing Others from the far North and fire-breathing dragons from the East, both races thought to be extinct. There are three principal storylines in the series: the chronicling of a dynastic civil war for control of Westeros between several competing families; the rising threat of the Others who dwell beyond an immense wall of ice that forms Westeros' northern border; and the journey of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter of a king who was murdered in another civil war fifteen years previously and now seeks to return to Westeros and claim her rightful throne. As the series progresses, all three storylines become increasingly interwoven and dependent on each other.

The series is told in the limited third-person through the eyes of a number of POV characters. By the end of the fourth volume, there have been twenty-five such characters, although these include eight who only appear once apiece.

While the series is set in a fictional world and Martin has acknowledged his debt to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack Vance and Tad Williams, the series differs from these earlier works in its greater interest in and use of realistic elements. While Tolkien was inspired by mythology, A Song of Ice and Fire is more clearly influenced by medieval history, most notably the Wars of the Roses. Likewise, while Tolkien included romance in his tales, Martin writes frequently, albeit in a clever fashion, of sexual matters. This has led to the series being cited as a forerunner of a 'gritty' new wave of epic fantasy authors that followed, including Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson and Scott Bakker. On his website, Martin has acknowledged historical fiction authors such as Bernard Cornwell and George MacDonald Fraser to be influences on the series. Martin has cited the cover blurb by Robert Jordan for the first book to have been influential in ensuring the series' early success with fantasy readers.

BackgroundEdit

The background to A Song of Ice and Fire is revealed through the lengthy appendices which follow on from each volume, with additional information revealed through the novellas, the text of the novels themselves and the role-playing game.

The narrative is set primarily in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a large, South America-sized continent with an ancient history stretching back some twelve thousand years, and where the seasons last for years. The original inhabitants of the land were the children of the forest (whose old gods are still worshipped in the North), a dimunitive race who lived in harmony with nature and employed powerful magic. The First Men, a civilization of primitive warriors wielding bronze weapons and riding horses, crossed over from the eastern continent via a land bridge (destroyed in the resulting conflicts) and fought a series of wars against the children which ended with the Pact of the Isle of Faces being signed, with the First Men taking control of the open lands and the children remaining in the forests.

The Pact was weakened after four thousand years by the emergence of the Others, an enigmatic race from the furthermost north, who swept south into Westeros and caused great death and destruction, bringing about a night that lasted a generation and a winter that lasted decades. In the War for the Dawn, the Others were thrown back by the First Men and the children of the forest, and the vast Wall was raised to bar their passage south should they come again. In the following centuries the children gradually disappeared, and it was presumed that they died out or left Westeros altogether.

Approximately two thousand years after the War for the Dawn, the Andals crossed the narrow sea from the eastern continent. The Andals wielded iron weapons, had tamed horses to use in battle and brought with them the Faith of the Seven. They landed in the Vale of Arryn and over the course of several millennia subjugated the southern kingdoms. However, they could not take the North due to natural defences. Over time six great and powerful kingdoms were forged across Westeros: the Kingdom of the North, the Kingdom of the Iron Islands, the Kingdom of Vale and Sky, the Kingdom of the Rock, the Kingdom of the Stormlands and the Kingdom of the Reach. A seventh kingdom — that of the Riverlands — was repeatedly conquered by its neighbours and eventually was destroyed altogether, whilst the small desert kingships in the far south of Westeros were divided by constant struggle and war. One thousand years prior to the events of the novels, a great host of refugees from the region of the River Rhoyne on the eastern continent — displaced by the growing power of a distant empire called Valyria — crossed the narrow sea under the warrior-queen Nymeria and landed in the southern-most part of Westeros. The Rhoynar allied with the native Lord Mors Martell and conquered the southern peninsula of Dorne, forging another powerful kingdom.

By five centuries later the expanding Valyrian Freehold had reached the far coast of the narrow sea and established links with Westeros, using the island of Dragonstone as a trading port. However, a mere century later the Valyrian Freehold was destroyed by a titanic disaster known as the Doom. The Valyrian family that controlled Dragonstone, the Targaryens, spent a further century in preparing their forces, and then launched a devastating invasion of Westeros under Aegon the Conqueror. Although their forces were tiny, they had with them the last three dragons in the western world and they were able to use these to subjugate the continent. Six of the Seven Kingdoms were conquered in this initial war, but Dorne resisted so fiercely that Aegon agreed to let them remain independent. The Targaryens adopted the native Faith of the Seven (although they still married brother to sister in the ancient Valyrian tradition in defiance of the Faith's teachings) and Westerosi customs, and within a few decades had crushed all resistance to their rule. The last dragons died out a century and a half into the Targaryen rule, but by this time they had become the ruling power on the continent and their rule was not challenged at this time.

Fifteen years prior to the beginning of the novels, the Targaryens were displaced from power in a civil war brought about by King Aerys II's insanity and cruelty. An alliance of houses under the leadership of Lord Robert Baratheon, Lord Jon Arryn, and Lord Eddard Stark successfully destroyed the Targaryen armies, then went on to kill Aerys's heir and wiped out most of the line, aside from Aerys' pregnant wife and his son Viserys, who fled to Dragonstone. King Aerys himself was killed by Ser Jaime Lannister, a member of his own Kingsguard, who since then has been nicknamed the Kingslayer. Aerys' wife died giving birth to their daughter Daenerys, who was taken to safety in the Free Cities beyond the narrow sea by loyal retainers. In the meantime, Robert Baratheon took the Iron Throne and married Cersei Lannister, whose father Tywin had delivered Robert the capital of King's Landing through treachery.

Plot summaryEdit

A Song of Ice and Fire follows three principal storylines, divided by geography and participants.

The first storyline, set in the Seven Kingdoms themselves, chronicles a many-sided struggle for the Iron Throne that develops after King Robert's death. The throne is claimed by his son Joffrey, supported by his mother's powerful family, House Lannister, but Lord Eddard Stark, the King's Hand, claims that Robert's children are illegitimate, and that the throne should fall to Robert's brother Stannis. Robert's youngest brother, Renly, also places a claim with the support of the extremely powerful House Tyrell. Whilst these three claimants battle for the Iron Throne, Robb Stark, Lord Eddard Stark's heir, is proclaimed King in the North as the northmen and their allies in the Riverlands seek to return to self-rule. Likewise, Balon Greyjoy also re-claims the ancient throne of his own region, the Iron Islands, with an eye towards independence. The War of the Five Kings is the principal storyline in the second and third novels, while the fourth novel concerns the realm's recovery in the face of the coming winter.

The second storyline is set on the extreme northern border of Westeros. Here, eight thousand years ago, a huge wall of ice and gravel was constructed by both magic and labor to defend Westeros from the threat of the Others, a race of ice creatures living in the uttermost north. This Wall, 300 miles (480 km) long and 700 feet (210 m) tall, is defended and maintained by the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch, whose primary duty is to guard against the Others, but by the time the novels begin it is badly under-strength and has almost forgotten its original purpose, instead being threatened by the human 'wildlings' or 'Free Folk' who live beyond the Wall. This storyline follows Jon Snow, the bastard son of Eddard Stark, as he rises through the ranks of the Watch, learns the true nature of the threat from the north, and prepares to defend the realm from it, despite the fact that the people of Westeros are too busy warring to send support. By the end of the third volume, this storyline has become somewhat entangled with the civil war to the south with the arrival of one of the claimants to the Iron Throne after the defeat of his armies in battle.

The third storyline is set on the huge eastern continent of Essos and follows the journey of Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen and another claimant to the Iron Throne. Daenerys's adventures showcase her growth as she rises from a near-penniless wanderer to a powerful and canny ruler who possesses the last living dragons in the western world. Though her story is separated from the others by many thousands of miles, her stated goal is to reclaim the Iron Throne, and it is presumed she will travel to Westeros before the end of the series. While she has no memories of Westeros and is barely known there, she may still be welcomed: the chaos of two civil wars in rapid succession has led to much yearning among the smallfolk for the days of stability under the Targaryens.

The eponymous Song of Ice and Fire has been mentioned only rarely in the series so far, most notably in a vision Daenerys sees in the House of the Undying in A Clash of Kings. This vision depicts her dead brother Rhaegar speaking of his son, saying, "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire". It is implied that there is a connection between this song, the promised prince, and Daenerys herself, who according to her granduncle Aemon will fulfill the prophecy (the Valyrian word "prince" is gender-neutral, just as their dragons are hermaphrodites). The phrase "ice and fire" is also mentioned in the Reeds' oath of loyalty to Bran in A Clash of Kings.

Origins of the seriesEdit

George R. R. Martin had a long love of model knights and medieval history, but his early novels and short stories mostly fit into the science fiction genre; however, eventually several fantasy stories did appear, such as The Ice Dragon.[1] In the mid-1980s, Martin worked mainly in Hollywood, principally as a writer or producer on The New Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast, where he attracted some criticism for killing off a major character. After Beauty and the Beast ended in 1989 Martin returned to writing prose and started work on a long-planned science fiction novel called Avalon. In 1991, whilst struggling with this story, Martin conceived of an unrelated scene where several youngsters find a dead direwolf with a stag's antler in its throat. The direwolf has several pups, which are taken by the youngsters to raise as their own. Martin's imagination was fired by this idea and he developed it into an epic fantasy story, which he envisaged as a trilogy consisting of the books A Game of Thrones, A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter. Martin had previously apparently not been inspired by the genre, but reading Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series had convinced him it could be approached in a more adult and mature way than previous authors.

After a hiatus spent producing a television pilot for a series called Doorways, Martin resumed work on A Game of Thrones, but the book grew much larger than he had planned. As a result of this, Martin then expanded his plan for the series to four books, and then to six. Publication of A Game of Thrones followed in early 1996. Pre-release publicity included publication of a 'sample novella' called Blood of the Dragon, which went on to win the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novella. In order to fit A Game of Thrones into one volume, Martin had pulled out the last quarter or so of the book and made it the opening section of the second book, which he then named A Clash of Kings.

Growth of the seriesEdit

After expanding the series to four volumes, Martin remarked, "What can I say? It's a BIG story, and a cast of thousands."[2]

After A Storm of Swords was completed in 2000, Martin began writing A Dance with Dragons, the intended fourth volume which would pick up the story five years after the previous volume. Martin found it difficult to make this work without an over-reliance on flashbacks. At the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia on 1 September 2001, Martin announced that he was scrapping more than a year's work and writing a different fourth book that would fill in the gap, named A Feast for Crows. He found it extremely difficult to go back and start again, especially as this novel was not planned for in his scheme for the series, and work on the book progressed slowly.

By May 2005 A Feast for Crows had become longer than A Storm of Swords and his publishers said they could not publish the book in one volume. They suggested splitting the book in two and releasing the volumes as A Feast for Crows, Volume I and A Feast for Crows, Volume II, but Martin was unhappy with this idea. After discussing the matter with his publishers and his friend and fellow writer Daniel Abraham, Martin decided to split the book by character and location instead. A Feast for Crows thus contains all of the characters in the South of the Seven Kingdoms, whilst A Dance with Dragons contains the characters in the North, the Free Cities and in Slaver's Bay.

In a May 2005 statement, the author also said that this move now meant that the series would require seven volumes. Martin recognized that this decision could cause frustration among some of his fans. He wrote: "I know some of you may be disappointed, especially when you buy A Feast for Crows and discover that your favorite character does not appear, but given the realities I think this was the best solution... and the more I look at it, the more convinced I am that these two parallel novels, when taken together, will actually tell the story better than one big book."[3]

These problems aside, A Feast for Crows was released in October 2005 and immediately won largely positive reviews. Time dubbed Martin, "The American Tolkien"[4], and the novel went straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Despite initial hopes of A Dance with Dragons being published quickly after A Feast for Crows, the writing and revision process for this fifth novel proved more difficult than anticipated, with significant unforseen rewrites and structural changes to the book being required. The book was eventually published in July 2011 to strong critical praise, but a more mixed fan reception. Martin began work on The Winds of Winter soon after, initially using chapters delayed from the previous book, and hopes to complete the book in 2014.

WorksEdit

The novelsEdit

  1. A Game of Thrones (1996)
  2. A Clash of Kings (1998)
  3. A Storm of Swords (2000)
  4. A Feast for Crows (2005)
  5. A Dance with Dragons (2011)
  6. The Winds of Winter (forthcoming)
  7. A Dream of Spring (forthcoming)

The novellasEdit

  1. The Hedge Knight (1998)
  2. The Sworn Sword (2002)
  3. The Mystery Knight (2010)
  4. The She-Wolves (forthcoming)

Excerpt novellasEdit

Related worksEdit

Companion booksEdit

Computer gamesEdit

Roleplaying gamesEdit

Board gamesEdit

  • A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (2003)
    • A Clash of Kings expansion set (2004)
    • A Storm of Swords expansion set (2006)
    • A Game of Thrones: The Board Game 2nd Edition (2012)
    • A Dance with Dragons expansion set (2012)

Tabletop wargamesEdit

  • Battles of Westeros (2010)
    • Wardens of the West expansion set (2010)
    • Wardens of the North expansion set (2011)
    • Lords of the River expansion set (2011)
    • Premium Banner expansion set (2011)
    • Tribes of the Vale expansion set (2011)
    • Brotherhood Without Banners expansion set (2012)
    • House Baratheon Army expansion set (2012)

ReferencesEdit

  1. Biographical author summaries in Dreamsongs
  2. Martin in post to Legends, 6 October 1998. So Spake Martin – Posts to Legends (SSL)
  3. Message on Martin's website, 29 May 2005 It's Done!!!
  4. The American Tolkien - TIME
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