Not all that much to say about this one, as its appeal is strictly limited to ASOIAF fans who obsess over the little details of the world that Martin has created (I’m one myself, on occasion). This is strictly a book-only companion; HBO show-watchers should not buy this with the expectation that it serves as ‘canon’ to the TV series.
The book, which is broadly guided by GRRM but is actually written by two longtime fans, Ello Garcia and Linda Antonsson, is essentially a chronicle of the history of Westeros from the Dawn Age to the “present” day of the books. It is written from an in-universe perspective, as a tome written by Maester Yandel and presented to King Tommen I, with an inscription at the frontispiece wishing his realm “thousandfold prosperity” (heh). Apart from that, the book also explores the lands beyond Westeros; Essos, Sothoryos and even exotic locales that are never mentioned in the books themelves, with such fanciful names as “the City of Winged Men” and “the Plains of the Jhogos Nhal”, where nomadic warriors ride zorses and reave the surrounding cities.
There are a couple of great things about this book. First are its many beautiful illustrations, specially commissioned for this book. They just about make the book worth its sticker price (about SGD 40). The book itself is also quite well-done, with the cover page suggesting a leather or hide-bound texture, befitting its in-universe nature. It makes a good coffee table book, but with actually interesting information (to me, at least), within its pages.
The second great thing is how it really deepens and lends texture to the world of GRRM. The book essentially introduces a world vastly older, creepier and more mysterious than the main books suggest. It is littered with mysterious hints of long vanished civilizations that predate humanity, that left monuments littered all over the world “made of black, oily stone”. Whispered legends tell of isolated tribes who worship bloodthirsty subterranean gods and fish-people who live in underwater palaces. The book is not intended to answer questions, but to generate them, with the fanciful descriptions being symptomatic of the Maesters’ limited knowledge of what exists beyond the horizon. In addition, the book also incorporates hints that are germane to the plot going forward. It’s led to a great deal of theorizing on fan forums, revitalizing a fanbase that, while waiting on the sixth book, has long been running endless, tiresome circles over the same old fan theories over and over again. And that’s a relief.
I give this tome: 4 out of 5 Seastone Chairs
+ Great illustrations
+ Lends texture and historical depth to the world
+ Revitalizes fanbase
– I wish there were more illustrations of exotic locales
– Lack of maps. There’s a Lands of Ice and Fire collection of maps, but I thought more maps, especially of Essos, could have been included
– Some of the material can get repetitive, especially the endless chronicles of battles, betrayals and kings in the Westeros history section.