I heard about this book when Steve Attewell appeared on Boars, Gore, and Swords – my favorite Game of Thrones podcast. On that episode he mentioned how both GoT and the books pull from a variety of historical periods, not just dark ages England. The fact that he is a real historian analyzing the books seemed too great to pass up so I got the book.
And it has been a very great read. Each chapter tackles the corresponding chapter in A Game of Thrones. After a very funny intro paragraph to what happened in the chapter, he gives a Political Analysis within the world of ASOIAF, A historical context section, and a counter-factual What-If section. He ends with a comparison to the TV show – something that I think will get harder and harder past the first book as the divergence increases.
The Political Analysis have been great in explaining why the characters do what they do and pointing out when GRRM needs them to do something for plot vs when the characters are actually constrained by the politics of the world they live in. In the historical sections what elevated the book is the fact that he doesn’t just go the easy route of comparing to the York and Lancaster War of Roses. He pulls from various parts of history – whereever the best parallels exist. Sometimes he even pulls from mythology or archetypes to discuss things about how Arya is on a Hero’s Journey and how Sansa is a deconstruction of a Disney (or Romantic) Princess.
Game of Thrones is a very fun TV show, but if you read the books in A Song of Ice and Fire you tend to either give up partway or become a fanatic. I can think of no better companion for ASOIAF fanatic than this book.