No, it's not the book George R. R. Martin's fans have been desperately waiting for, but Martin's 35,000-word novella, "The Princess and the Queen" does just enough to tide over Game of Thrones-lovers through the long sequel-less winter. (Which are taking longer to write than readers and HBO executives would like.)
Early reviews are in for "The Princess and the Queen" —officially out December 3 in the larger anthology book Dangerous Women — and seems to describe a tome that is perfectly fine for big-time fans of the epic fantasy series, but less-so for casual observers. The story covers a massive civil war about 200 years before the main events of the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, and a huge battle called The Dance of the Dragons. As that name implies, the story is bursting with dragon fights, blood, poison, betrayal and all that Martin-esque goodness. However, it's dry tone and "so what"-ness keeps it from reaching the same elevated pitch as his main series.
So what exactly does this stocking-stuffer have to offer? (General series spoilers below.)
Dragon battles galore
We've seen a splash or two of dragon battles thus far in the books and TV show, but "The Princess and the Queen" takes that to another level. In giving the book a B+ rating, Entertainment Weekly notes the best part of the story is "a lot more dragons." So, too, does Reddit early reader Indianthane95 agree. "Speaking of dragons, they made the novella for me. We get extremely-well detailed and choreographed tales of dragon warfare," (s)he writes. "The battles are, simply put, awesome." Those include dragon v. dragon airborne fights, as well as human v. dragon battles. (Warning: The humans don't do so well.) Even when they're not fighting, though, fans at Westeros.org are eating up the dragonlore, particularly the parts with wild dragons and some Avatar-like human-dragon domestication.
A slow-moving point of view
Like the other Thrones books, the story is written from the point of view of a person within that world. Here, though, that person is a dull, old Westeros historian, making the tale more like a textbook, without the zingers and wit of a character like Tyrion. Entertainment Weekly was less-than pleased about this:
Less good news: It is written as deep history, with a style closer to Tolkien's faux-biblical prose than Martin's dialogue-rich snap. Some paragraphs consist of little more than lists of confusingly identical names: Aemon and Aemond and Daemon, plus two guys named Aegon, all trying to kill each other."
Similarly, Reddit's Indianthane95 notes that it has "a huge list of characters and Houses," many of whom don't even survive till the end of the short novella. If genealogy is your thing, then have at it.
Martin-like twists and turns
As we noted when the first previews came out in July, the book has Martin-esque levels of blood and betrayal. "[T]ime and time again we’re allowed to follow individual characters just long enough to get attached before some violent calamity befalls them," Bridget McGovern of Tor.com wrote then. Reddit's Indianthane95 agrees: "You finally get to like and sympathise with one of the many fighters of the War? BAM s/he's gone, and so is his/her dragon. Repeat 100x." Not content to kill off almost all of our beloved characters in the main series, he commits here to ending the lives of people we only mildly care about. And a lot of them, too. "Be prepared for a body count that makes the end of Hamlet look like Care Bears on Ice," Mcgovern wrote.
So no, it's not what fans wanted, but as Thrones blog Tower of the Hand writes, it's a "not-too-shabby replacement." Since the next volume of A Song of Ice and Fire isn't expected for some time, the blog has had to "solemnly acknowledge that this will have to sustain us for, possibly, another 12 to 24 months before the next Ice and Fire dosage." Winter continues.