THIS ISN'T IT. Those impatient for the next book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series likely have their torches and pitchforks ready, because in addition to his other activities that don't involve finishing book six—editing anthologies, LiveJournaling football, hobnobbing with HBO stars—Martin has written another book. The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros—co-written with westeros.org's professional nerds Elio M. García Jr. and Linda Antonsson—is a big, magnificent thing; bound in faux-leather and printed on faux-parchment, it seems designed, as much as anything, as an excellent Christmas gift for fans of the book series.
Note that I said fans of the book series—those who only watch HBO's CliffsNotes adaptation will find much to be befuddled by. Written from the perspective of Maester Yandel, a scholar studying the histories of Westeros and Essos, World of Ice & Fire reads more like a Dungeons & Dragons manual than a narrative, providing historical information about Martin's vast world, from the icy Frostfangs to sweltering Sunspear, from the Free Cities to Asshai-by-the-Shadow. We're told about the children of the forest's long war with the First Men, of the fading line of the Targaryens, of the explosive cataclysm of Valyria.
In theory, World of Ice & Fire should be the perfect spot to start if all of those words are gibberish to you, but those who aren't already deeply invested in Martin's world will face a hard slog. World of Ice & Fire is action-packed—dynasties rise and fall, wars destroy kingdoms, dragons burn continents—but without characters to cling to, the conflicts feel distant and cold. Even when Martin & Co. delve into the Targaryens' doomed attempt at ruling Westeros, players come and go so quickly that they never find their footing. Since its history ends where the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, begins, the parts played by characters we already know—like Tywin Lannister, or, to a lesser extent, Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark—are relatively small. Those hoping for Tyrion witticisms or Arya stabbings should look elsewhere; those looking for lines like "Maegor, the First of His Name, came to the throne after the sudden death of his brother, King Aenys, in the year 42 AC" need look no further. And yes, there really is a "King Aenys," which will never not be hilarious.
While its OCD trivia might be its biggest selling point, World of Ice & Fire's other big bonus is its art, the scope of which frequently shames HBO's budget: From gravity-defying castles to dragons crouched in cold sunlight, the art throughout is abundant and impressive, adding weight and grace to the frequently dense text.
The only things missing, really, are detailed maps—they aren't included, I assume, so as not to cannibalize sales of Martin's 2012 map collection, The Lands of Ice and Fire, or of Martin's app, A World of Ice & Fire, which is advertised in the front of this book. Indeed, Martin's empire now rivals that of the Valyrian Freehold—there's plenty more minutiae, and plenty more things to buy, while waiting for book six.