A Game of Novellas

LilGeorgeRRMartinIn the last few years, George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire has gone from strength to strength. More commonly known as the Game of Thrones books, the first five instalments of the series have enjoyed growing degrees of chart success. A Feast for Crows, the fourth book, went straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in 2005, with 2011’s A Dance with Dragons achieving the same and winning numerous awards.

Just before the release of A Dance with Dragons, American broadcaster HBO aired the first season of Game of Thrones, a no-holds-barred adaptation of the series, and ASOIAF’s popularity exploded. As a result of the TV show’s success bringing fantasy back into the mainstream a la Lord of the Rings, the books have consistently remained in the charts ever since. With Game of Thrones’ third season drawing in around 5 million viewers (with an estimated additional 5 million pirating the show online), it’s hard to see the fascination with Martin’s series dying down.

Perhaps less known than the five (so far) entries in the main series, though, are the prequel novellas set before the events of the main books.

The Tales of Dunk & Egg are set almost a hundred years in the fictional past, and chronicle two characters only briefly referenced in the main series; Aegon, the young heir to the throne, secretly serving as squire for the lowly hedge knight ‘Dunk’. The Tales currently number three novellas, planned to be released in a single collection in 2014. Martin estimates that six to twelve Dunk & Egg novellas in total may be required to bring the story full circle and cover the lives of the two protagonists.

The Tales differ from the main entries in A Song of Ice and Fire in that the trademark point-of-view chapters are gone. Instead of a host of unreliable narrators spread across continents, the narrative is much more focused and linear, told from a third-person perspective; the sprawling accounts of global power plays and warfare replaced with the (relatively minor) escapades of two people. Martin’s thirst for blood, though, has hardly died down.

They can perhaps be seen as an easier entry point into the series for new fans as well as existing readers: no plot points are spoiled, but many elements of the backstory and characters are fleshed-out and shown in a new light.

The Princess and the Queen, a novella set even further in the past, was recently released as part of the Dangerous Women anthology. Chronologically separate from both the main narrative and the Dunk & Egg stories, the novella chronicles a brutal civil war between two rival scions of the Targaryen dynasty at the height of its power. The novella is self-styled as a ‘narrative history’ or a historical account rather than a typical piece of fiction; Martin presents himself as the book’s transcriber, rather than its author.

The style of this piece is interesting from a literary point of view as well as from that of a fan; historical accounts are often inaccurate, and Martin himself attributes the events of The Princess and the Queen to be “(mostly) true”. With the main entries in A Song of Ice and Fire being told through the eyes of unreliable, often flawed narrators, it seems ambiguity is a style Martin lends himself to.

As for the future? There are between three and nine more Dunk & Egg novellas still to be released, depending on how much more of the story Martin feels there is left to tell. A novel-length redraft of The Princess and the Queen is supposedly underway (up to 90,000 words from the novella’s 30,000). More novellas may spring from upcoming entries in the main series, as three extracts were released as novellas between 1996 and 2003: Blood of the Dragon, chronicling Daenerys Targaryen’s storyline from A Game of Thrones, along with Path of the Dragon, doing the same from A Storm of Swords, and Arms of the Kraken, following the Iron Islands storyline from A Feast For Crows.

And, of course, there are the two final entries in the main series to be written – The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring – each expected to total 1500 manuscript pages.

Martin’s fame and fortune may be envied, but his workload? Definitely not.

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