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Reading Westeros: Books for Non-Genre Fans

Post by Christine Wells
Posted June 13, 2013 in NoveList Plus, NoveList Select, Readers' Advisory News

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On to Day 4 of our weeklong Westeros reading list! In case you missed them, don’t miss Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 of our 5 day series of read-alikes for Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin’s epic, both the books and the television adaptation, has appealed to a very wide (and very vocal) fanbase.  You don’t have to be a sword and sorcery reader to become obsessively caught up in the world of Westeros. If you’d like to delve into some more genre fiction, you might enjoy these books with broad crossover appeal.

Fiction

You probably wouldn’t expect to find The Princess Bride by William Goldman matched up with Game of Thrones, but stay with me! As we’ve seen again and again in Westeros, our heroes aren’t always going to win.  Martin sets up our genre expectations and subverts them in shocking and spectacular twists. Golding’s classic also plays with the genre conventions of fantasy, but with lighthearted comedy and wit.  A welcome change of pace?

If “lighthearted” isn’t what you’re looking for, try Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. Mieville blends steampunk, fantasy, and science fiction with detailed worldbuilding and a gritty portrayal of urban life in the dangerous city of New Crobuzon. 

If you like Victorian fiction, try Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke.  Clark lightly parodies and warmly embraces the conventions of nineteenth century fiction in her story of two rival magicians set against the Napoleonic Wars.

Readers and reviewers have often called Lev Grossman’s The Magicians the “Harry Potter for adults.” Grossman’s story follows a college student at a school for magic as he navigates the disappointments, complications, and anticlimax of adult life. 

Hyperion by Dan Simmonsdraws on the Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the poetry of John Keats to tell the story of a group of pilgrims traveling on a mysterious planet in the middle of an apocalyptic war. 

A groundbreaking classic in science fiction, Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness imagines a genderless society on a planet called Winter. Political intrigue and betrayal will make a Game of Thrones feel at home.

Octavia Butler’s Kindredis another landmark for science fiction. A contemporary African-American woman is repeatedly transported back to 1815 where, as a slave, she must watch over her white ancestor as he grows from a child to slave master. Butler’s take on time travel is a compelling, insightful, and imaginative story of the legacy of slavery in America.

Nonfiction

George R.R. Martin may be writing epic fantasy, but many of his stories have historical precedents that are at least as grim as anything in his books. The infamous Red Wedding was drawn from two separate events in Scottish history and the ongoing War of the Five (or so) Kings was inspired by several medieval conflicts for dynastic supremacy, like the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses.

Scotland: the Story of a Nation / Magnus Magnusson: Going into much detail here would venture in to spoiler territory (and if you’re concerned about spoilers, you should probably avoid the internet and most forms of communication.) Suffice it to say here that Scotland’s rival clans’ histories of war and betrayal would fit right in to the violent world of Westeros.

The Plantagenets: the Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England/ Dan Jones: The dramatic story of the Plantagenets has been inspiration for countless writers, from Shakespeare to Martin. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and his scheming brother John, the Knights Templar, the Black Death, and the Hundred Years War all play pivotal roles in this sweeping history by Dan Jones.

The Hundred Years War: the English in France, 1337-1453/ Desmond Seward: In this concise, accessible history, Seward tells the epic story of the war between the English and the French that spanned a full century. Some of the most mythologized figures in history, like the Black Prince of Wales and Henry V, rose to prominence in these successive conflicts.

The Wars of the Roses / Alison Weir: The Houses of Lancaster and York (Lannister and Stark?) battled for supremacy in England for most of the fifteenth century. Alison Weir writes a very readable account of this complex war between ruling families.


Christine is a Cataloger at NoveList. She likes to read widely, from early modern poetry and drama to literary fiction and fantasy authors.