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Recommended Reading for Grief-Stricken Game of Thrones Fans

Posted on 20th May 2019 by Mark Skinner

The night is dark and full of terrors with no more Game of Thrones to watch and, like a pack of starving dire-wolves, bereft fans are hunting around for similar morsels to devour. But don't be downhearted for, even if you have gorged on all of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, there are still plenty of worthy volumes out there which contain more than a hint of the Westeros wow-factor. In honour of the seven kingdoms we recommend seven titles as compelling as a Tyrion Lannister battle plan.

George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire has brought fantasy writing into the mainstream of popular literature like no other title since The Lord of the Rings. HBO’s grandstanding television adaptation - entitled A Game of Thrones after the first book in the series - has fundamentally changed the rules and standards for onscreen continuing dramas. Taken together, these twin achievements have definitively altered the way that we consume popular culture. 

The five (thus far) installments of George RR Martin’s medieval/ fantasy mash-up saga are an even more complex brew than the HBO series, with myriad subplots and sidebars that even eight seasons of Game of Thrones had no time to tackle. Characters are allowed even more room to breathe thanks to Martin’s technique of allotting an individual protagonist a tight, third person point of view per chapter, whilst character arcs and development can be stretched even further, providing more psychological depth.

But let’s assume you’ve read the books. What now? 

The sixth volume, The Winds of Winter, is perennially delayed, whilst not even Bran Stark could give you an accurate date for the final installment, provisionally titled A Dream of Spring. Whilst it may be true that there is nothing else quite like A Song of Ice and Fire in the literary landscape, there are at least some other volumes that share some of the same landmarks.

Robert Jordan’s monumental Wheel of Time series is as good a place to start as any. Volume One, The Eye of the World, predates the book A Game of Thrones by a few years and, indeed, sales of the latter were considerably enhanced by a favourable comment from Jordan on the cover of the first edition. Whilst the characterisation might not be as nuanced as that in A Song of Ice and Fire, the sheer scale and meticulous attention to world-building detail are certainly comparable.

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Robert Jordan’s vast Wheel of Time sequence is one of the most astounding achievements in fantasy literature. Spanning 14 volumes, this is world-building on an unprecedented scale as well as a kaleidoscopic fusion of myth, religion, folklore and Eastern philosophy. The epic journey begins here, with the mesmeric The Eye of The World.
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Another Martin-approved fantasy author is Robin Hobb (the pseudonym of Margaret Lindholm Ogden), creator of The Farseer Trilogy, which comingles tropes from the Middle Ages and sword-and-sorcery fiction. Much like George RR, Hobb manipulates her readers in the best possible way, marshalling a huge cast of characters in a vast array of locales and forcing you to care about each and every one. Oh, and there is also a zombie-esque subplot in the trilogy that has definite overtones of Martin’s White Walkers.

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A pioneering work of fantasy fiction, the opening book of Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy synthesises medieval history and high fantasy to compelling and credible effect. A serpentine tale of royal bastards and competing kingdoms, Assassin’s Apprentice is an engrossing introduction to the Realms of the Elderlings.
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Of course, A Song of Ice and Fire is not just a straight fantasy franchise. Martin is a self-proclaimed history nut and his obsession with European (particularly British) medieval history bleeds into every sword and sigil in Westeros. Fans of this element of the novels could do a lot worse than embarking upon Sharon Penman’s classic revisionist account of the life of Richard III, The Sunne in Splendour. Boasting the kind of multi-layered characterisation and developmental arcs that A Song of Ice and Fire has become renowned for, Penman’s masterpiece is a thoroughly convincing treatise on power and hubris, drenched in precisely the Wars of the Roses-chic that Martin cannibalised for his Seven Kingdoms.  

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Penman’s monolithic retelling of the life of Richard of York is a landmark work of historical fiction, not to mention a dazzling piece of medieval revisionism. The Ultimate Wars of the Roses novel, The Sunne in Splendour brings a level of psychological acuity to the genre that few other authors can match.
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Yet despite the abiding fascination with Plantagenet Britain, Martin has stated that one of the key inspirations for his magnum opus was The Accursed Kings series of books written in the late 1950s by Maurice Druon. Blood and thunder re-imaginings of the dynastic squabbles of the Capet and Valois Houses in 14th century France, the intrigues and machinations of these royal households and courts feels very Kings Landing indeed.  

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A fictionalised retelling of the turbulent reign of Philip IV of France, Druon’s high-medieval epic is saturated in intrigue, betrayal and gallons of blood. Drawing in such totemic figures as the Knights Templar and their charismatic leader Jacques Molay, The Iron King is the first in the cult French cycle The Accursed Kings; a series that inspired George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
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Another key strength of A Song of Ice and Fire lies in its rounded and credible characterisations of female protagonists, something not traditionally associated with the male dominated world of fantasy authorship. Martin’s women are every bit as powerful, ambitious, vulnerable and paranoid as his male characters and the emotional and psychological journeys that they undergo just as convincingly realised. In this sense Martin is the heir to Marion Zimmer Bradley, whose trailblazing The Mists of Avalon, repositioned the Arthurian legend of Camelot as a feminist narrative and imbued the likes of Guinevere and Morgan le Fay with inner lives and distinct, complex personalities. 

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Breathing new life into the well-worn legend of Camelot, Bradley focuses on the women at the heart of the Arthurian Romance. Characters such as the sorceress Morgaine and Vivane, Avalon’s high priestess, are transformed from one dimensional ciphers into rounded, believable protagonists in a world where there is nothing as straightforward as absolute good or evil.
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But, ultimately and despite the epic narrative, historical atmosphere and depth of characterisation, there is another very important reason that millions of people around the globe adore A Song of Ice and Fire (and by extension A Games of Thrones), and that is dragons. From Tolkien’s Smaug to Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, fantasy fiction does love a dragon. Anne McCaffrey made the genre her own from the late 1960s onwards with the colossal Dragonriders of Pern series and there are certain parallels between Daenerys Targaryen’s bond with her fiery friends and that of Lessa’s intense relationship to the telepathic dragons in McCaffrey’s Dragonflight

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The two novellas collected together in Dragonflight made Anne McCaffrey the first female winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, becoming touchstone fantasy texts in the process. Magical yet still profoundly human, they pioneered a new way of looking at the relationship between humanity and dragon that endures to this day.
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Dragons are also an integral part of Marie Brennan’s Isabella Trent sequence, a playful, action-packed collection of novels with a postmodern twist. Set in an alternate Georgian Britain, Trent’s ‘memoirs’ detail her adventures as a pre-eminent dragon expert with wit and vigour, managing to combine three of George RR Martin’s literary preoccupations – a fantastical twist on British history, strong female characters and, obviously, dragons – in one rollicking adventure series.

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Brennan’s playful faux-memoir of pre-eminent dragonologist Isabella Trent is a delightful pastiche of Georgian Britain with certain somewhat fantastical dimensions. Trent is an enchanting companion and her life story a rollicking feminist take on period literature as well as a spectacular fantasy adventure.
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Comments

Peter Billington

I'd suggest Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy. Written with great verve and wit. Violent, pacy and very funny with a great cast of unforgettable characters that even includes a King of the North. View more

Peter Billington
17th June 2019
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Emma Gustafsson

I love Robin Hobb so great to see her mentioned. I also like Elizabeth Moon’s fantasy series “the deed of Paksenarrion”. Moon’s sci-fi books are also great. View more

Emma Gustafsson
12th June 2019
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Ger

While latter volumes in the Midkemian stories tend to mash together a little, the first volume of Raymond Feist's stories - Magician - can be read as a standalone and is bound to have readers longing for the following novels Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon.
Magician is as world encompassing as LOTR or ASOIAF and also has multiperson linked storylines in the same mould as these other literary greats. View more

Ger
4th June 2019
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Joseph Elliott-Coleman

Kentaro Miura's ultra-dark fantasy epic series "Berserk" deserves to be on this list.
His manga series is equal to Martin's in terms of depth, character development, world building and sheer brutal visceralness. View more

Joseph Elliott-Coleman
29th May 2019
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Kitch

I love the breadth of these recommendations. Should keep me going until George RR gets that sixth one typed up. I’m also hoping for a travelogue of Arya’s travels to be released: Discovering Westerwesteros. View more

Kitch
22nd May 2019
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Rosie in Cambridge

Some of my favourites here, but also titles I'd not considered. Yippee, I feel a Robin Hobb fest coming on. View more

Rosie in Cambridge
21st May 2019
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Sorcha O'Dowd

Brilliant recommendations! I also second Robin Hobb - she is a queen of epic fantasy! View more

Sorcha O'Dowd
21st May 2019
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