Lost among Game of Thrones’ political intrigue and (quite literally) backstabbing dynastic wars is the fact that the hit HBO blockbuster drama series is deeply rooted in the fantasy genre. The HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire can sometimes go episodes before anything epically fantastically magical happens. Then the White Walkers emerge from the biting cold, kill a shit-ton of people, and remind you that the television series is, oh right, still rooted in epic fantasy conventions.
Clearly, though, Game of Thrones has such broad appeal for more than just fantastical elements since the show has definite crossover appeal for non-fantasy viewers and readers. So if you are looking for book recommendations for “Game of Thrones” fans, you’ve come to the right place.
The following list offers book recommendations for Game of Thrones fans who might not want to read a fantasy novel by deconstructing some of the series’ appeal. Whether you’re a dire-hard fantasy fan who is sick of the same old “What to read if you like Game of Thrones” book recommendations or you’re a non-fantasy fan looking to gently ease into the genre, this list contains something for everyone.
If You Like Game of Thrones’ Political Conflict and Dynastic Wars…
One of the undeniable attractions to the Game of Thrones series is the cutthroat political maneuvering among the many characters who want to sit on the Iron Throne (well, maybe not literally…that thing does look like it would be a pain in the ass…).
Bloody battles, the Red Wedding, dragon-scorched adversaries, marriages of convenience, and more. Yet the Song of Ice and Fire series takes much from historical dynastic wars and subtle acts and agreements that shape political history.
To that end, many readers will find much to like in historical fiction such as the novels of Philippa Gregory and Bernard Cromwell. Gregory’s six book-long Cousins’ War series revolve around women in power—and women who will stop at nothing to get in power—during the Tudor era in England. Court intrigue, taboo romantic affairs from warring families, and ruthless power plays make these novels sensationally entertaining. If you (like me) thought history was boring, watch it come alive with Gregory’s series, starting with The White Queen, which was recently adapted for a TV series by Starz.
Bernard Cornwell is a beloved author of historical fiction, worshiped by many, and for good reason. Cornwell truly revives history by seamlessly mixing incredibly detailed facts with vivid and engaging fiction. Since George R. R. Martin sought so much inspiration from British and European history, Cornwell’s epic sagas telling the conquests and downfalls of real-life figures. Cornwell’s Saxon series is a smart entry into the author’s works, starting with The Last Kingdom, which was adapted into a BBC TV Series and recounts England in its earliest years. Cornwell’s novels are seen by many Song of Ice and Fire fans as sharing much in common with Martin’s epic fantasy saga.
If You Like Dany’s Doomed First Love with Khal Drogo…
When Daenerys was sold to Khal Drogo, she was understandably nervous about how her husband would treat her. Given that her brother was abusive, Dany’s fears were not unfounded, since this was how men treated her. But instead, Dany fell passionately in love with Khal Drogo, who in turn was captivated by his new wife’s ability to rule his kingdom alongside him with compassion and justice.
For the most part, Game of Thrones/ASOIAF is devoid of romantic relationships with a few notable examples (“You know nothing, Jon Snow”). But Martin definitely hints that Dany and Khal Drogo had the potential to be an amazing power couples. Readers or viewers who loved that taste of love and passion will be happy to know many of these tropes, including arranged marriages that turn into love, abound in the romance genre or romantic fictionR.
Renee Ahdieh’s debut young adult romance novel The Wrath and the Dawn features a similar relationship. Fearless and fierce, Shahrzad chooses to marry the tyrannical Khalid, Caliph of Khorasan, a young ruler who supposedly killed Shahrzad’s best friend in a short-lived marriage. By all accounts the relationship should be doomed, right? But Khalid is not the man Shahrzad expected him to be, and Shahrzad is definitely not the meek and docile wife Khalid expected he would own. Shahrzad’s struggle for survival among lethal court intrigue and violently shifting alliance made this novel an addictive read with a sequel pushed to print barely a year later. Ahdieh’s novel was inspired by A Thousand and One Nights and has the making of a series. With Khalid and Shahrzad, fans of Dany and Khal Drogo can hope for a better ending…though there may not be dragons.
Rosamund Hodge’s young adult fairy tale retelling, Cruel Beauty, plays up the Beauty and the Beast story we all know and love so well. Hodge’s heroine is Nyx Triskelion, is the “beauty” character who is “doomed” to marry the “beast,” Ignifex, due to an arranged marriage from before she was born. Ignifex, known as the “Gentle Lord,” is known to command demons. Nyx trains in Hermetic arts to subvert her future husband and eventually kill him, but she doesn’t expect to fall in love with him. Nyx and Ignifex actually have insanely electric chemistry with one another, and Hodge is so, so good at writing sizzling and steamy scenes without any sex in them. Her dialogue is also amazing. The complexity of Nyx and Ignifex’s relationship is so thrilling to witness, especially with Hodge’s skilled dialogue. It’s easy to see why Hodge continued her fairy tale retellings with Crimson Bound, a young adult fantasy romance interpretation of the Little Red Riding Hood legend.
For a truly genrebending experience combining the romance genre with epic fantasy, get a hold of C. L. Wilson’s Weathermages of Mystral series, starting with The Winter King. Someone in one of my library Facebook groups recommended this novel to me, and what a joy it is. It’s all there…the female fantasy heroines who you’ve always wanted to see kick ass and have passionate love on their terms. The marry-me swoon-worthy male leads who are emotional complex, decent men with honest intentions and a desire to please women. Sex scenes that aren’t degrading towards women. Oh, and fantasy elements as well…magic and the supernatural. There’s the warring among kingdoms and sibling rivalry, too. I just cannot recommend this novel enough for Game of Thrones Fans who wanted more romance with their epic fantasy.
If You Like Game of Thrones’ Multiple Point of Views…
One of the reasons Game of Thrones/ASOIAF is so appealing its many voices offering different perspectives of a massive political conflict. The series is rarely if ever boring since it switches from character to character, taking a big theme (revolutionary, religious, and dynastic upheaval) and breaking it down so it shows different aspects of the conflict.
Readers who enjoy this multiple perspective narrative construct might like Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Similar to Game of Thrones/ASOIAF, this novel focuses on a few very different characters experiencing war, specifically the Biafran war in 1960s Nigeria. The first voice comes from Ugwu, a 13 year-old boy employed by the revolutionary-minded professor Odenigbo. Ugwu provides a privileged look at the world of Nigeria’s intellectual elite through a child’s eye. Olanna, the professor’s mistress, is dazzled by the wealth and prestigious social standing of Odenigbo’s circle of friends and acquaintances and gives us the second voice. Rounding out the third point of view is Richard, a passionate young Englishman who is convinced he has the answers to the conflict. Tragically, Richard cannot see that he is the outsider. Together these characters give an all-inclusive look at events on the smaller domestic scale and larger national stage, just like A Song of Ice and Fire. And if you liked that Game of Thrones/ASOIAF focuses on the Stark children and other young people who have been made orphans and refugees, casualties of a merciless war larger than them, Half of a Yellow Sun is a good pick because it explores those themes as well. (Remember how Season 4’s finale—in my opinion the best episode to date—was titled “The Children”?)
Game of Thrones‘ multiple perspective narration is certainly innovative and is not that far away from experimental literary fiction like Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. In this novel, people who would otherwise be strangers are connected through classic themes—love, failure, family, survival, war, music, ambition, and more that unite all of humanity across time. Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of my all-time favorite novels, definitely up there in the top 15. It’s a story that’s stayed with me and makes me excited to live with ambition and love and a guiding passion for music. Anyway, it’s about a group of people who are caught at a crossroads between failure and success, all of them connected in some way by the music industry or other forms of celebrity. It’s so good. It’s so, so good, and is clever and brilliant without seeming too over the top. Egan plays around with different types of narrative (for example, one chapter is in the form of a PowerPoint) and covers decades forward and backward from the early 2000s. If you love A Song of Ice and Fire but maybe feel that it’s, well, maybe not quite the most intellectually challenging or lyrical writing (it’s okay, I kind of feel that way, too), Egan’s Goon Squad is a good choice. Other novels along this vein are David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or The Bone Clocks and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. Just think of these novels as the Song of Ice and Fire series’ distant lyrical and literary cousins.
If You Like the Men of the Night’s Watch…
The Night’s Watch—with its male camaraderie, the sacred vows of brotherhood, and ragtag group of outcasts who operate outside society’s values and laws—has much in common with the historical Knight’s Templar. Combining frat house antics with serious vows, mercenary protection, a repulsion for royalty, and many sacred quests, the Knight’s Templar is a stone’s throw away from Martin’s Night Watch. The Jordan Mechner authored 2013 graphic novel Templar, illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, has quotes from the creators of Game of Thrones on the cover proclaiming its greatness. And Templarcomes with a swaggering attitude, vibrant illustrations, and infectious humor that you might expect from the Knight’s Templar, perhaps the original “crows before hoes” men.
If You Like Game of Thrones’ Quest Narratives and Unlikely Character Pairings…
A recent example of the questing friends is humorist Christopher Buckley’s 2015 novel, The Relic Master. In 1517, a pair of friends go on a quest to see a religious relic, in fact the Shroud of Chambéry. Many hilarious hijinks, razor sharp dialogue and back-and-forth banter, and Buckley’s signature mix of political and religious satire make this rollicking novel a quick read with intelligent jabs at society’s blasphemy and hypocrisy that seems, well, timeless. This novel would be a good pick for someone who loves that Game of Thrones satirizes political conflict and how people who want to sit on the throne are often coldblooded killers. Buckley shows that that view is true in Westeros as well as 16th century England, with obvious nods to the 2015 political landscape in Western society.
Quest narratives find one of their most well-known origins in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, one of the earliest novels in the history of literature, and one that is still popular 400 years later. Protagonist Quixano, has his heads in the cloud dreaming of fame and fortune and decides to become a knight so he can win the heart of his beloved Dulcinea. The wannabe knight renames himself “Don Quixote” and drafts his neighbor Sancho Panza to be his squire. Sancho and Quixote’s meandering quests are hilarious as they encounter a host of adventures. Many of the questing partners in A Song of Ice and Fire—Podrick and Tyrion,Brienne and Jaime, Arya and the Hound, for instance—have a conversational chemistry that is rooted in Cervantes’ novel.
If you’ve read this far, chances are you’ve found a book or two you might not have realized you like. The Game of Thrones series clearly has crossover appeal for many reasons beyond the spectacle of it all.