Kay’s Library: Book Club Pick #1, Fire and Blood By George R. R. Martin

Every month here on the blog, I’m going to select a book I have recently read and review it for my ‘book club’. The first pick, for July, is Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin. Released in 2018, it is a prequel of sorts to his bestselling series A Song of Ice and Fire. The series already had an avid following, but when it was adapted into the HBO series “Game of Thrones” of course it became a worldwide, generational sensation. My family and I have spent countless hours watching and enjoying “Game of Thrones”, gaping in awe at stunning plot twists like the Red Wedding and the shocking series finale.

Beloved characters like Jon Snow and Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen are nowhere to be found in Fire and Blood, however: it is set 300 years before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire. I think that the end of Fire and Blood and that of the first ASoIaF novel, A Game of Thrones, are meant to mirror each other, but more on that a bit later!

The Plot

Daenerys, the last of the Targaryen dynasty, who is on a transcontinental quest to regain her father’s throne, is one of the protagonists of A Song of Ice and Fire. As portrayed by Emilia Clarke on television, “The Khaleesi” became a powerful symbol of feminine power during the show’s run in the 2010s. Fire and Blood begins with her earliest ancestor to rule Westeros, Aegon the Conqueror. As his name so aptly suggests, he and his wives-who were also his sisters-Visenya and Rhaenys conquered Westeros with their dragons, and founded the Targaryen dynasty.

Aegon is an elusive figure. I never got a sense of him, really, and Rhaenys dies so early in the narrative that she is never more than a haunting presence, much like the character of Shelley in the comic and film The Crow. Visenya, on the other hand, who had a long life spent in the fray of Byzantine and cutthroat Westerosi politics, cuts a strong and impressive figure. Her Valyrian steel sword, Dark Sister, becomes a Targaryen family heirloom that makes several appearances in the generational narrative.

Aegon, Visenya, and even the quickly dispatched Rhaenys found their dynasty in fire and blood, but successive generations of Targaryens find it hard to follow in their forebears’ dragon warrior footsteps. Aegon’s son Aenys is the archetypal weak king, swayed by advisors and eager to appease the ‘smallfolk’ of Westeros but with only an abstract idea of what their lives are like. When Aenys marries his two eldest children to each other in the Valyrian tradition, all heck basically breaks loose as the militant wing of the Faith of the Seven turns against the royal family.

In the chaos, Aenys’s brother Maegor seizes the chance to steal the throne-slaying his nephew, Aenys’s son and heir, in dragon battle to beging his austere reign of terror.

After Maegor, Aenys’s younger son Jaeherys rules the realm, with his sister and queen Alysanne by his side. Their reign was a long one during which the kingdom recovered and flourished. I enjoyed the Jaeherys and Alysanne years: they were the archetypal Good King and Good Queen, but still very human. Their lives had trials and tribulations, and they had the kind of long marriage that has its fair share of romance, humor and familiarity, but challenges and grief, as well. Beginning with Jaeherys’s reign, I began to feel more like I was reading a very well done historical novel more so than a fantasy novel. Martin, has a real gift for making Westeros and its history feel lived in, and after a while the reader feels like they are consuming a historical document.

After Jaeherys’s reign, a succession crisis leads to family schisms stemming from a writ of sexist bureaucracy: a decree declares that women may not inherit the Iron Throne. This passes over the very able and deserving second Rhaenys Targaryen, the namesake of Aegon’s younger bride, earning her the sad sobriquet the Queen Who Never Was.

Decades after this decree, one woman risks it all to defy the law that denies her the throne. Rhaenyra Targaryen is the kind of character you respect more than you like. She definitely has an entitled streak, but that’s understandable given that she was doted on by her father, King Viserys, who named her his heir in spite of the law forbidding women to inherit the throne. Rhaenyra reminded me of a conflation of the lives of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, with Viserys a Falstaffian, sometimes foolish, long lived Henry VIII figure. Rhaenyra was not so beloved by her stepmother, Queen Alicent.

When Viserys dies, Alicent’s son Aegon and Rhaenyra are pitched into a deadly battle for the Iron Throne. The inspiration of the War of the Roses is pretty apparent as Westeros’s lords align with the two respective sides. Each side highly prizes their dragons, and utilizes them in fiery warfare against each other. Rhaenyra truly earned my respect in the chapters depicting the war, which Westeros’s historians call ‘The Dance of the Dragons’: she was not the world’s worst strategist, a fearless fighter in her own right, and a survivor who kept going as long as she could despite shattering losses. However, she certainly had her share of the Targaryens’ penchant for vengeance and distrust.

These traits are cemented in her son, Aegon, when he sees Rhaenyra’s grisly end: eaten by a dragon at the command of her brother, also named Aegon. When Rhaenyra’s son Aegon takes the throne, he is noted for his cold, withdrawn manner, and hatred of dragons. In fact, the last dragon dies during his reign.

So the world thinks, until the reign of Robert Baratheon over a century later, when, as A Game of Thrones tells us, “…for the first time in hundreds of years, the night came alive with the music of dragons.” When Daenerys places her dragons’ eggs upon her husband, Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, she inadvertently achieves what generations of her family could not, and hatches healthy dragons.

Just a Theory…

Here’s my take: Aegon, Visenya, and Rhaenys were dragon riding warriors who were closer to the mysterious magic of Old Valyria. As time went on, however, the Targaryens became just as decadent and caught up in court intrigue and feuds over honors, titles, and precedence as the lords they ruled. They lost sight of their magical warrior spirit, and their dragons became ornaments to show off, symbols of power, and finally weapons of mass destruction they pitted against each other. As their bond with the dragons waned and became more of a symbol that they exploited, magic began to die in Westeros.

By the time Aegon III, Rhaenyra’s son took the throne, the ‘Dance of the Dragons’ heavy toll had taxed the enchantment further still, and the king’s antipathy for the beasts that killed his mother broke the magical bond altogether. The last dragon was deformed, and her eggs did not hatch.

Fire and Blood is, in my opinion, about how magic died in Westeros for a time. A Song of Ice and Fire‘s first installment is the story of magic waking up once more, in a world that had begun to doubt its existence.

My Final Impression

Readers who’ve already found fault with Martin’s penchant for bawdy humor and ‘swords and sorcery’ violence probably won’t warm to the excesses of both here. I didn’t expect to like the book as much as I did, but quickly found myself engrossed in this chronicle of history, warfare, magic, and dragons. I most enjoyed such strong and complicated female characters as there were, like Rhaeneys the Uncrowned Queen, Alysanne, Rhaenyra, and Visenya-they are definitely worthy ancestresses of the beloved “Khalessi”.

2 responses to “Kay’s Library: Book Club Pick #1, Fire and Blood By George R. R. Martin”

  1. […] month’s book club pick is much different from last month’s pick, Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin. Copies of that particular epic fantasy are probably flying off shelves rather faster now that the […]


  2. […] was recommended this book by a friend after finishing Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin (which HBO recently adapted into the series House of the Dragon). Martin has spoken highly of […]


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