The Game of Thrones HBO TV series might have ended, but this doesn’t mean fans have stopped engaging with the story. A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin’s book series, from which it all began more than twenty years ago is not yet complete. But for those who first got to know the fandom through the tv show, there are five huge books to get started with while waiting for the next installment, The Winds of Winter.
The one where it all started. Extremely well-crafted, still with a relatively small cast of point-of-view characters and a tight focus on Winterfell, King’s Landing, and the very beginning of Daenerys’s story. But beware: seeing your favorite characters being young, relatively innocent, and still together before the tragic events of later books separated them is bound to make you emotional.
Best known for the War of the Five Kings, the violent civil conflict that erupted after the death of King Robert Baratheon, A Clash of Kings is where the story really picks up. Featuring some of the most epic battles, but also well-crafted mind games, with Tyrion Lannister as the main focus, this is A Song of Ice and Fire at its best.
According to many fans, this is the strongest book in the series. A Storm of Swords features several strong new players and more viewpoints than ever before. Yet, somehow, rather than becoming confusing, it is, in many ways, the easiest book to follow: the first two have introduced us to the setting and its complex workings, leaving room for book 3 to focus on what Martin does best: characterization and violent plot twists. The characters we have come to care for have already been through a lot, with many cases of intense and impressive character development, including that of Jaime Lannister and Sansa Stark. Among other things, A Storm of Swords is best known for three weddings, a very devastating one, a very awkward one, and a very satisfying one, as well as many, many deaths. And sometimes the two are combined.
Fans seem to agree that A Storm of Swords is the peak of the series. After that, things remain epic, but get a little muddier at some point, though not all fans would agree as to which would that point be. For some, it is definitely A Feast for Crows.
George R. R. Martin wrote the content for this and for A Dance with Dragons at the same time. Eventually, it was decided to divide the chapters geographically, rather than chronologically. This means that many signature characters, including Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen are notably absent from A Feast for Crows. Brienne’s quest, which the readers know to be doomed does little to help. Still, it can’t be denied that A Feast for Crows has its moments, introducing Arianne Martell, one of the series’ most compelling female characters, and Dorne, a fan-favorite location, as well as the infamous Iron Islands, where violent family conflict happens. And let’s not forget Cersei’s chapters, which definitely don’t redeem her, but at least help us understands her motivations a bit better.
The last A Song of Ice and Fire book to be published so far, A Dance with Dragons re-introduces main characters who did not appear in the previous book. Daenerys spends most of the book in Mereen, trying to get passage to Westeros and deal with her increasingly unruly dragons. Meanwhile, Jon Snow takes additional responsibilities and the war with the dead becomes a real possibility. The book is also notable for Bran’s journey to meet the children of the forest and the three-eyed crow, as well as the reappearance of Ramsay Bolton, a sadistic villain, cruel as Joffrey, but older and far scarier. While much less eventful compared to A Storm of Swords, book 5 sets the scene for a lot of interesting subplots that we will hopefully see unfold in the last two books.
And for those who don’t want to read A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons separately, comprehensive readers can be found online, showing the exact chronological order to help you read the two simultaneously.
There have been a lot of delays regarding the publication of the next installment in the series, but if George R. R. Martin’s blog posts are any indication The Winds of Winter release date might be approaching. Fortunately, there are a few thousands of pages to (re)read until then. And for those already done with A Song of Ice and Fire books like A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, The World of Ice and Fire and Fire and Blood (parts of which will be adapted into the new HBO series House of the Dragon will keep you company while waiting.