[Review] - Lands Of Ice And Fire
One of the great successes of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire is the depth of history he has created for his world. Not at all unusual for fantasy writers, Tolkien of course being the first to invent entire histories and cultures to back up the story being told. But Martin's, more then any other writer I've read (and admittedly, most fantasy books make me want to put a fork in my eye), has a real world texture to it. Perhaps it's the level of detail he's created that will never have an impact on his characters. Perhaps it's the sheer volume of time he has covered. Perhaps I've impressed by paracosms.
Martin has also graced the physical world of I&F (a planet which is as of yet unnamed) with the same level of detail. And, like his history, has teased us for years, providing vague descriptions in text about far off lands, while only giving us glimpses of certain sections of the world relevant to the text. Upon publication of Dance of Dragons, the first thing I did was cobble together a world map based on the newly included maps.
I no longer need this map. I have something better. The Lands of Ice and Fire, released late last year, is an impressive collection of 12 maps drawn by Jonathan Roberts, based on the direction of Martin.
Hit the jump for the review.
Each of the twelve maps is poster sized, two feet by three feet. It can make them a little unwieldy if you're sitting on the sofa, and just want to take a gander, maybe while you're reading a chapter or watching an episode. However, this can be forgiven as the size makes the maps look just beautiful. Roberts, who has done work for Dungeons and Dragons, is obviously very talented at making these sorts of styled maps, less atlas, realistic quality, and more as if they had been drawn by a monk in a tower somewhere. Perfectly fitting the source material.
The twelve maps include broad scope maps of The West, The East, Central Essos, Westeros, Beyond The Wall, The Free Citites, Slaver's Bay, The Dothraki Sea, as well as city maps of King's Landing and Braavos. The main draw of the collection are the Journeys and Known World maps, The Known World assembling everything known about the world thus far, and a few new places. The Journeys map attempts to chart the movements of the major characters over the course of the five novels.
Within these maps, there is a lot of duplication. Too much. Upon looking through the maps the first time, my immediate thought was "why was that included?" There are three maps (Central Essos, The Dothraki Sea, and Slaver's Bay) that show the same region of Essos, from Valaria up to Vas Dothrak, in roughly the same scale. This is a sparely populated region of the continent, and the slight geographic centring changes add little new details from one to the other. The same is true of the Westeros and The West maps, the only difference being the inclusion of the Summer Isles in one, and a slightly greater detail of the familiar Seven Kingdoms in the other. Personally, I would have preferred a map of just the Summer Isles rather then the duplication of Westeros. And a map focused on the wastes of Valaria would have been more interesting then three maps of empty desert.
We get this sort of focused detail in the Beyond the Wall, Free Cities and The East maps, which zoom in on these specific regions in a way that they aren't usually focused on. While the content of all of the maps is based on the five published novels, I can't help but wonder if Martin, knowing where things are going, hasn't given us a glimpse in these maps of places of future import. He has stated numerous times that the last two novels will take us further north then we've ever been, and that this Beyond the Wall map might be important to that story. It is, whatever the case, a desolate and empty area.
My favourite map is The East, as it focuses entirely on a region of the world that simply does not exist in the series, to this point. Also present in the Known World map, The East is entirely devoted to the world east of Qarth, thus far the furthest east any character has travelled. Many have interrupted Dany's warning that "to go west you must go east" to mean that Martin will be visiting this region soon, but for now he has given us some surprises. Martin himself has cast doubt on the accuracy of this map, saying, "The idea was to do something representing the lands and seas of which, say, a maester of the Citadel might be aware... past a certain point legends and myths will creep here. Here there be winged men, and such."
The mentioned but never explained regions of Yi Ti, The Shadown Lands, and the city of Asshai are present here, over the Bone mountains. Like old maps of our world that warned of monsters, in the far east, cities of Winged Men and lands of Bloodless and "Shrykes" wait where, as Martin describes, truth and myth blend. Places like Bonetown and the Cannibal Sands are enticing locations that we'll probably never visit, but the suggestion of their existence is just fun. Most surprising is the introduction to a fourth continent, Ulthos, a dark uncharted region south of Asshai, filling out the world a little more, (along with Essos and Sothoryos, named here officially for the first time in any canon material). This map also extends north to the Thousand Islands in the Shivering Sea (having grown up near the actual Thousands Islands of the occasionally shivering St. Lawrence River, I appreciated their naming).
The Known World map gives a eerie sense of scale to the reader. Martin has said that Westeros is roughly the size of South America, and considering that Essos stretches beyond the edges of the map with no sign of stopping (currently putting it at longer then Europe/Asia), and that both Sothoryos and Ulthos disappear without an indication of their full size, the world of I&F is clearly much larger then our own Earth. Much larger.
The Journeys map seems like more of a wasted opportunity. They use roughly the same scaled map as the Known World, so that all the character's movements can be charted in one, using differently coloured lines. Which is fine for Dany and Ser Barristan and the Iron fleet, which make very clear, single direction trips from Westeros to the reasonably unexplored Eastern regions. However, the movements in Westeros are so numerous that the continent is just a mess of crosspaths, the King's Road especially just a candy cane of characters. There should have been a separate one, scaled to the size of the exclusively Westeros map, with the character movements there. It would have been a much clearer way of doing what was a good intention, but a failed execution.
The city maps, of King's Landing and Braavos, are nice but are really nothing more then sketches of huts with the occasional plot-relevant point of interest drawn in clearly. Braavos is the winner of the two, is only because it gives a greater sense of the outline of the archipelago, and the construction of the city. King's Landing is nothing but a clumped mess of people, much like New York or London. Braavos at least has some visible character in it's design. That, and it makes me want to see the Titan on the series.
Ultimately, these aren't the best maps of I've seen of Martin's world. The best map I've seen is a fan-made map of Westeros by an interneter named Tear. However, as official products, a fan of the series couldn't ask for a more beautiful additional to the canon, and should be on the shelf of any fan of the series, be it TV or novels.