Your Ultimate Reading Guide to the Works of George R.R. Martin
It's Westeros but on paper!
Both Game of Thrones, with its rollercoaster ride of an eight-season run, and the currently airing prequel House of the Dragon are born from the mind and pen of George R.R. Martin— the creator of the entire world of Ice and Fire and “the American Tolkien” according to Time magazine.
Martin first put the stories of the Houses fighting each other for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms on paper in the Nineties, and his characters and worldbuilding have by now ascended to the role of cultural staples, with the television adaptations obviously playing a major role in this. The books themselves have also left their definite mark on their genre, not just in terms of goriness and a general “nobody is safe” vibe but especially when it comes to deconstructing of tropes and story beats that have so far been taken as absolute truths in any fantasy story.
Even though the earliest Game of Thrones marketing strategies wanted people to believe that Martin’s works are un-fantasy-like and not your usual “nerd stuff,” I don’t really believe there’s anything particularly alien to the fantasy genre throughout the A Song of Ice and Fire saga and all its accompanying works and novellas. Sure, they don’t go in the same direction as The Lord of the Rings—but lots of modern fantasy doesn’t. See that attitude of disassembling typical fantasy tropes and storylines mentioned above. All this to say that as you start your journey into the works of George R.R. Martin, you should still expect the highest of high fantasy stories—complete with dragons, prophecies, monsters and magic in a much higher degree than the television shows were willing to include.
Now, onto the reading guide. The entirety of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga includes five major books, with an accompanying array of novellas and companion works. It all starts with A Game of Thrones, published in 1996. Then A Clash of Kings in 1998, A Storm of Swords in 2000, A Feast for Crows in 2005 and A Dance with Dragons in 2011.
There are two more books planned in the original series, the oh-so-desired The Winds of Winter and the finale, A Dream of Spring— both of which have been pushed back time and time again and have grown to a fandom inside joke of epic proportions.
These five — hopefully soon to be seven — books cover the story we have seen on Game of Thrones, starting from Robert Baratheon’s visit to Winterfell to ask Eddard Stark to take up the pin of the Hand of the King. They stop roughly around the fifth season of the show, and Martin has stated multiple times that he plans on taking the ending of his books in a different direction than the one we saw in Season 8— and thank the Seven for that.
Now, besides the core books of A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin has expanded on his worldbuilding, especially when it comes to the history of Westeros before Robert’s Rebellion and the start of the Baratheon reign. Several works explore what happened when the Targaryen kings were on the Iron Throne.
This includes the collection of novellas The Tales of Dunk and Egg— The Hedge Knight from 1998, The Sworn Sword in 2003 and The Mystery Knight in 2010. All three novellas were published in various anthologies and have been collected in a single volume as well as turned into graphic novels (with the exception of The Mystery Knight).
They are set roughly a century before the start of A Game of Thrones, following the knight Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire “Egg”— who is actually Prince Aegon Targaryen, who will eventually wear the crown as King Aegon V. For those of you playing the Targaryen family tree game, that’s Daenerys’s great-grandfather and Maester Aemon’s younger brother.
Then there’s one novella about the sons of Aegon the Conqueror, the Kings Aenys I and Maegor I, titled The Sons of the Dragon and published in 2017. The Princess and the Queen, or the Blacks and the Greens and The Rogue Prince, or, the King’s Brother, published respectively in 2013 and 2014 both bring us into House of the Dragon territory—focusing on Rhaenyra Targaryen, Alicent Hightower and Daemon Targaryen before the start of the Dance of the Dragons. These characters are now very familiar to viewers of HBO’s House of the Dragon.
These last three works were all later included as chapters in Fire & Blood, published in 2018— a detailed chronicle of the history of House Targaryen from the Conquest to Robert’s Rebellion. The project includes two volumes, even though it’s still unclear when the second one should come out. As it stands, Fire & Blood cuts off shortly after the end of the Dance of the Dragons.
I would also include The World of Ice and Fire in this list— a companion book filled with descriptions about the various parts of Westeros and the noble families living in them, as well as a look at the cities and peoples of Essos that we sometimes hear mentioned. It doesn’t particularly contribute to the plot but it’s useful to keep on hand, especially if you’re just starting out and need to keep track of all the names and locations you encounter.
So, in what order should you read all these novels, novellas, guides and whatnot? Of course, you can start from what most intrigues you, but what I think is the best order is putting the five A Song of Ice and Fire books first—since they serve as an introduction to the world and the characters and the history that has brought the Seven Kingdoms until that point.
Once you’re done with that, you can step back in time and move on to Fire & Blood and the Targaryens— which includes the three Dunk & Egg novellas. You can place The World of Ice and Fire wherever you want in this order, but I would suggest waiting once you’re a couple of books into ASOIAF so you’re already somewhat familiar with the world.
So, just to recap, here is the entirety of George R.R. Martin’s ASOIAF corpus in recommended reading order:
- 1. A Game of Thrones
- 2. A Clash of Kings
- 3. A Storm of Swords
- 4. A Feast for Crows
- 5. A Dance with Dragons
- 6. The World of Ice and Fire
- 7. Fire & Blood (which includes the novellas The Princess and the Queen, The Rogue Prince and The Sons of the Dragon)
- 8. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Hedge Knight
- 9. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Sworn Sword
- 10. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Mystery Knight
While here are the same books in their publishing order:
- 1. A Game of Thrones (1996)
- 2. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Hedge Knight (1998)
- 3. A Clash of Kings (1999)
- 4. A Storm of Swords (2000)
- 5. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Sworn Sword (2003)
- 6. A Feast for Crows (2005)
- 7. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Mystery Knight (2010)
- 8. A Dance with Dragons (2011)
- 9. The World of Ice and Fire (2014)
- 10. Fire & Blood (2018)
And here they are once more, this time following their in-universe chronological order, with The World of Ice and Fire last since it’s a companion book rather than a piece of the plot:
- 1. Fire & Blood
- 2. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Hedge Knight
- 3. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Sworn Sword
- 4. The Tales of Dunk & Egg: The Mystery Knight
- 5. A Game of Thrones
- 6. A Clash of Kings
- 7. A Storm of Swords
- 8. A Feast for Crowns
- 9. A Dance with Dragons
- 10. The World of Ice and Fire
(source: AWOIAF; image: HBO)
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