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7 Books To Read While You Wait For 'The Winds Of Winter'
Every 'Game Of Thrones' fan should read these fine novels (and there are actually many more than just seven).
If you’re anything at all like me, then two things are true: You’re a huge fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire novels and you’ve been waiting for the new book in the series to release for well over a decade now.
A Dance With Dragons released on July 12th, 2011, the day my son turned 1 year old. He is now 13 and change. I had just turned 30. Now, in my early 40s’, we’ve had the entire run of Game Of Thrones on HBO, which started out great and collapsed into utter dreck by the end. But we still have no indication of when—or even if—Winds Of Winter will ever be published.
This is a terrible shame. I strongly suspect that the HBO series would have been much better and more satisfying if all the source material had been written. But even without the show, it’s frustrating to wait so long not for the final installment in the series, but the penultimate one. Another who-knows-how-long wait will follow, if Winds ever is released to begin with.
Fortunately, there are many other great books and book series out there that scratch a similar itch. Below, you’ll find seven of my very favorites, spanning various genres but all which feel in some way like Martin’s ASOIAF series. So, without further adieu . . . . the list!
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1. Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman
Christopher Buehlman’s Between Two Fires is one of the best books I’ve read in years. It’s a cross between Medieval historical fiction, dark fantasy and horror.
The story follows a ragtag group through France during the Black Death following the The Battle of Crécy during the 100 Years War. Thomas, a disgraced knight, finds himself protector of a young girl he finds in a Norman village devastated by the plague.
But the Black Death isn’t any normal plague: It’s being orchestrated by the demons of hell as they wage war on both heaven and earth.
Terrifying monsters, rich prose, and an adventure through one of the darkest times in Europe’s history all make this a gripping read that I had trouble setting down. Beuhlman’s prose and his knowledge of the subject matter makes every page light up. Truly a brilliant work of fiction that immerses you in the history and horror of the times.
2. Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett
Ken Follett’s masterpiece is not fantasy, but it taps into all the things that make Game Of Thrones so brilliant: complex characters, court intrigue, Medieval politics, epic battles and some of the best villains ever put to paper.
The first book in a series of loosely connected stories, The Pillars Of The Earth can also read as a standalone novel, spanning decades as masons, priests and laborers help build a massive cathedral. This enormous undertaking is set against an England rife with civil unrest and war, with deep mysteries rooted in actual history.
This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and if you enjoy stories about Medieval times, with knights and bishops, lords and ladies and want to become truly immersed in 12th century England, this is a must-read.
3. The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
I’ve just finished reading this one. It’s the first in Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy that also includes The Stone Of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower. I honestly can’t believe I haven’t read this until now. Williams is a terrific writer, and the world of Osten Ard is fascinating and rich, filled with dark magic and all the politics and scheming that makes Game Of Thrones so much fun.
Williams is a brilliant writer, and these books are direct inspirations for George R.R. Martin’s own series. It’s honestly quite obvious when you read it: There’s the Hand of the King, ancient dragons mostly lost to the world, dastardly villains. It’s not as grimdark, however, and so far there’s very little sex or bad language, so this might be more appealing to a wider range of readers.
The first bit is definitely a slow burn, but by the end you’ll be on the edge of your seat. Besides, I enjoyed how much effort Williams puts into making his world feel alive and lived-in. I can’t wait to finish the series.
4. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Guy Gavriel Kay’s epic fantasy Tigana remains one of my favorite stand-alone fantasy novels of all time. It takes place in a fantastical version of Italy, where two powerful sorcerers have divided the land into two halves. Both sorcerers rule over the conquered people of the realm with iron fists and shameful cruelty, but they also keep the other at bay, creating a tense peace of sorts.
The problem for our heroes—a group of actors and musicians, mostly, who also happen to be freedom fighters—is how to rid the land of both sorcerers at once. If you kill one, the other will simply take control of the entire peninsula, which all agree would be a far worse outcome, since the two keep one another in check. But killing both—and restoring the land and its forgotten kingdom, Tigana—seems an all but impossible task.
Beautifully written, dark and haunting, this is a powerful work of fiction that’s not for the faint of heart. It’s also a bit of a slow burn, but Kay’s prose makes it well worth the effort.
5. The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
I used to be pretty obsessed with Arthurian stories and have read a fair few over the years. Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Saga, which begins with The Winter King, remains one of my favorites.
The story picks up in 5th century Britain in the Dark Ages after the Romans have left the British Isles. Britons and Saxons wage war upon one another—in wonderfully meticulous detail, thanks to Cornwell’s knowledgeable prose.
The story is told from the perspective of Derfel, a young Saxon boy raised by the cantankerous druid, Merlin. It follows Arthur and his companions, including the despicable Lancelot, the Numidian Sagramor, and Derfel’s childhood companion Nimue among many others, in a tale of intrigue, war, and the coming of Christianity to Britain.
There’s a new show out as well, but I find it resembles the books very little unfortunately.
6. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie has actually written three trilogies in his First Law setting, but they all begin with The Blade Itself.
This is one of the things that really separates Abercrombie from GRRM: You can read all nine books right now, and there have been only short waits between each one.
The story is not quite as Medieval as Martin’s books, taking place a bit later on in this fictional world’s history (the third trilogy enters the industrial age) but it’s still a grimdark fantasy series with complex, wonderfully drawn characters and so many surprising twists and turns that you won’t know what to expect. Every single book in the series is excellent, and none get carried away with too many point-of-view characters. Abercrombie has a talent for telling a quick-paced story without too much fluff or filler, and you’ll be quoting his various characters for years to come given all the great lines he gives them. I’d have to say, as far as fantasy series go, this is one of the best. The sheer fact that it’s finished makes it better than A Song Of Ice And Fire in my humble opinion.
7. The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
This is the only non-fiction book on this list, but I think it also might be the best one for Game Of Thrones fans to read. After all, it was the history of the Plantagenets, and in particular the War Of The Roses that came at the end of the 300 year dynasty, that inspired Martin’s books more than anything else.
Dan Jones is an enormously engaging writer, bringing the history of these kings and queens to life, while keeping a brisk-enough pace to move through hundreds of years of history and still tell a coherent and highly entertaining story.
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