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Reading Westeros: Read-alikes for Armchair Travelers

Post by Lauren Kage
Posted June 12, 2013 in NoveList Select, Readers' Advisory News

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This day 3 of our 5-day series of read-alikes to alleviate your Game of Thrones post-season 3 depression. Yesterday Lisa let the Lannisters know what she really thinks of them -- today we remember that, like the Greyjoys, their dysfunction is the product of their environment. Well, some of it is. 

A continental flyover introduces each episode of GoT, and for eleven weeks we have watched with mingled excitement (Astapor is burning!) and trepidation (The Twins -- run awaaaay!) as George R. R. Martin's onscreen geography has both expanded and returned to old locations with new purpose, enriching the story we are loathe to leave with its nuanced backdrop of landscapes and cultural artifacts. 

On Monday, Cathleen suggested further and forthcoming reading for devotees seeking continued immersion in the lavish lands and societies of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Today's recommendations cover resources in which setting is paramount, so we can distract ourselves until next season with lands as finely imagined, and intercultural exchanges as fraught as the Wildlings crossing the Wall. 

Books with Maps

i.e. a selction of every epic fantasy since The Lord of the Rings. Each of these series relies heavily on the author's skill in crafting a believable world history underpinning their story's present. Though far from exhaustive, this list of 5 represents at least that many successes in world-building -- enough to keep us occupied for one more year, or until the release of The World of Ice and Fire

  • Acacia: The War with the Mein / David Anthony Durham, 2007. 
    The historical novelist plies his skill to invent the politics of a culturally heterogeneous empire in this first of the "Acacia Trilogy." 
     
  • Assassin's Apprentice / Robin Hobb, 1995
    The first in the "Farseer Trilogy," initial of four trilogies (and one ongoing series) to develop Hobb's world. In this book, defense of a kingdom from brutal sea raids is stymied by internecine court politics and families are dysfunctional -- Lisa would approve. 
     
  • The Black Company by Glen Cook, 1984
    First in a briskly-paced military fantasy series about the travails of a mercenary company tring to hold together to their best advantage in the employ of superpowers no nobler than the enemies they are paid to fight. 
     
  • The Eye of the World / Robert Jordan, 1990
    The first in the 14 book "Wheel of Time" series, completed posthumously by Brandon Sanderson in 2013, this is a slow-burning messianic tale of prophecy and apocalypse set on an unrecognizable Earth of the remote future. 
     
  • Gardens of the Moon / Steven Erikson, 1999
    The entry point to the author's main series, "The Malazan Book of the Fallen," and subsequent (chronologically interleaved!) splinter series by Ian Cameron Esslemont. The texture and complexity of Erikson's world might make even a Game of Thrones fan's eyes cross.

Beyond the Pale, or, Hadrian's Wall

Season 3 gave us Job Snow disempowered and divided in loyalties by the temptations of a new way of life and, for contrast, Daenerys Targaryen reevaluating her limits of cultural toleration in the absence of her sun-and-stars and the presence of an institution she abhors. These resources present interpretations of what happens when the denizens of one society clash with another. 

  • Bel Canto / Ann Patchett, 2001
    This poignant novelization of the 1996 Lima Hostage Crisis casts Jon and Ygritte's romance in a new light.
     
  • The Doomsday Book / Connie Willis, 1992
    This winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards heartbreakingly recounts the experiences of a time traveling researcher stranded in 14th century Oxford, just as the plague hits. 
     
  • Island in the Sea of Time / S.M. Stirling, 1998
    An unexplained phenomenon sends the island of Nantucket and environs back to the Bronze Age. Nantucket residents must forge alliances with and defend against contemporary societies. 
     
  • The Martian Chronicles / Ray Bradbury, 1950
    Metaphor for the destruction wrought by colonization, classic work of science fiction, or both, this novel of vignettes offers glimpses into the two-way influence of competing cultures on each other. 
     
  • Vikings / The History Channel, 2013
    This television series currently rests for a season break (we know how that feels, amirite?) at nine episodes and counting. Based upon historical events surrounding the sack of Lindisfarne Monastery in 793 A.D., watch the beginning of the Viking Age from the perspective of the Vikings themselves and one captive English monk. 
     
  • The Years of Rice and Salt / Kim Stanley Robinson, 2003
    This alternate history of the past 700 years examines the intersection of cultures and the establishment of 20th century geopolitics in a world without Christian or European domination, as 90% of Christian Europe was extinguished by the Black Plague. An incisive chronicle of human behavior. 

Runner up: 

  • Dune / Frank Herbert, 1965
    Would satisfy either theme in this post (possessed of both a rich setting and much cultural clashing), and most readers, as a winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Some find it a bit dry.

Come back tomorrow for Christine's nonfiction suggestions drawn from the influence of real history on Martin's world and characters. 


Lauren Kage is a Cataloger for NoveList. Lauren is currently obsessed with the Settlers of Catan and plays it as often as she is able to lure unsuspecting victims peers into a board game.