The Rise of the Dragon is a gorgeously illustrated but problematic book

This week marks the release of The Rise of the Dragonthe new illustrated history of House Targaryen by George RR Martin and Westeros.org founders Elio M. GarcÍa Jr. and Linda Antonsson. Just in time for the end of House of the Dragon, this deluxe coffee table book recounts the same events as Martin’s novel Fire & Blood, but in a far more condensed format. It also features over 150 new pieces of stunning artwork by a veritable army of talented artists.

For all that, The Rise of the Dragon: An Illustrated History of the Targaryen Dynasty, Volume One is a problematic book for several reasons. Now that I’ve had a chance to sit down with it, I’m going to review it to help you make the most informed decision possible about whether this book is something you want on your shelf. This will be a SPOILER-FREE article, so proceed without fear whether you’ve read it Fire & Blood already or not.

Image: Penguin Random House

The Rise of the Dragon book review

Let’s start with the good. As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one real reason to get The Rise of the Dragon, and that is without a doubt the artwork. Like Martin, GarcÍa, and Antonsson’s previous collaboration The World of Ice and Fire, this new book features some of the most gorgeous Westeros-inspired artwork created to date. Aegon’s Conquest, the terrifying reign of Maegor the Cruel, the Dance of the Dragons…all are depicted in beautiful detail by the legion of artists contracted to work on this book. Beyond the bigger full-color paintings, there are also smaller illustrations littered throughout that show finer details, such as drawings of objects like dragon egg cradles. The quality of the book itself is also impeccable, with wonderfully thick pages and a sturdy binding. It’s easy to see why The Rise of the Dragon might seem like a no-brainer for the Martin collector.

Things start to get quite a bit thornier once we get into the actual writing in the book, however. During a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, the talk show host asked George RR Martin what exactly readers get in The Rise of the Dragon that they didn’t in Fire & Blood. Martin’s answer is pretty unequivocally the artwork, from “some of the finest fantasy artists in the world.” And it’s true: the art is fantastic.

As for the actual words, there are significantly fewer than in Fire & Blood. By the author’s own count, The Rise of the Dragon contains about a quarter of the words compared to the book it is based on, making it basically an abridged version.

The quality of the writing itself, however, is the sticking point. Setting aside the calls for a boycott because of Antonsson and GarcÍa’s pattern of problematic behavior which made headlines last month (a completely valid reason to overlook this book if you’re so inclined), it is abundantly clear that The Rise of the Dragon is not truly a George RR Martin book. One quote from Antonsson that came up amidst the aforementioned controversy is that “pretty much all GRRM wrote for [The Rise of the Dragon] was his name on a contract,” implying that she and GarcÍa were the real creative force behind it.

But what does that actually look like? The answer is that, of all the books I’ve ever read with George RR Martin’s name attached to them, this is the only one that really feels like he had no hand whatsoever in the writing. I’ve been an avid reader of Martin’s works for almost two decades, so when I tell you that the difference in prose is immediately clear, I mean it. The author’s lyricism and poetic eye for beautiful turns of phrase and clever anecdotes is nowhere to be found here. Unlike The World of Ice and Firewhich Martin actually contributed most if not all of the writing for, The Rise of the Dragon reads like Antonsson and GarcÍa’s cliffs notes version of Fire & Blood.

This isn’t an attack against Martin using coauthors — he’s collaborated with others at various points throughout his long career with far more success than in this book. Hunter’s Run was cowritten by Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham (with Abraham contributing most of the actual writing), and it is a fantastic novel. But in The Rise of the Dragonthe writing is often clunky, and mashes out many of the nuances that Martin so painstakingly worked into Fire & Blood.

This especially becomes a problem when it comes to the conflicting narratives of Fire & Bloodwhich is told as a historical account being compiled from several first, second, or even third hand sources. The Rise of the Dragon often excludes that element entirely, presenting things the original book cast doubt on as plain fact. It isn’t always a dealbreaker, and there are plenty of times it refers to Mushroom or Septon Eustace’s historical accounts, but more often than not the events from Fire & Blood even crunched down in a way that robs them of their depth.

That’s not to say that no words of Martin’s appear in The Rise of the Dragon. The book does occasionally draw exact lines or paragraphs straight from Fire & Bloodand there are also times that Antonsson and GarcÍa use Martin’s wording but tweak it slightly to fit The Rise of the Dragon’s more condensed format. However, this just makes the fact that most of the writing was not done by Martin more obvious, since those passages tend to leap off the page far more than everything surrounding them.

I hesitate to call The Rise of the Dragon a cash grab, because Martin clearly has no need of funds, but of anything that has ever come out with his name attached to it, The Rise of the Dragon feels the most like a cash grab. It describes the exact same events as Fire & Blood, but in a far flatter way. I would never recommend The Rise of the Dragon to someone who hadn’t already read Fire & Bloodbecause I would worry they’d come away with a skewed understanding of the incredibly nuanced tale Martin tells there.

If you want a gorgeous art book, however, The Rise of the Dragon fits that bill quite well.

Verdict

The Rise of the Dragon is a collector’s piece for its artwork, but tells the tale of the Targaryen dynasty with none of George RR Martin’s trademark panache. Unlike Fire & Blood p The World of Ice and Fire, The Rise of the Dragon reads like a plain encyclopedia of Targaryen history.

The result is a book that’s hard to endorse, especially considering its $60 price tag. Compared to Fire & Bloodwhich is now available in mass market paperback for a mere $8, the only real reason to get it The Rise of the Dragon is if you want to ogle the art. Which of course is beautiful.

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