So I’ve devoured all the books in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I’m caught up on the tv show. I bought the anthologies Dangerous Women and Rogues just to get my Westeros fix, even though I really don’t like short stories. I feel like I’ve read every character entry on the GOT wiki and seen every plausible theory on the discussion boards. What to do? The next book probably won’t drop before 2016, and there are 4 more months until the show comes back. I figured I can’t be the only one in this predicament, so I’m sharing my list of read that compare favorably to GRRM’s heady mix of high fantasy, political intrigue and family feuds.
Although it airs on the History channel, this isn’t a documentary. It’s an engaging, fast-paced take on legendary Norse ruler Ragnar Lothbrok, who was the scourge of France and England in the 800s. There’s plenty of fighting and raiding, but clan politics and family tensions keep things interesting. And since it’s the History channel, there’s plenty of glimpses into Viking culture and religion that add depth to the plot.
Yes, this airs on the CW. Just think of it as a lighter, fluffier GoT. This is a fictionalized take on the rise and reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. Court intrigue, international politics and illicit romance abound, along with a touch of the supernatural. If you can learn get over the Renaissance Fair wardrobe styling, this is a fun show with enough substance to keep it from being silly.
Recently greenlighted for a second season with FX, Tyrant tells the story of Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed. Bassam is an expat from the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin who visits home for the first time in 20 years to see his father before he dies. Bassam is faced with a choice: return to America or help guide Abbudin’s new ruler, his impulsive brother Jamal. Family ties run deep, and Bassam, along with his American wife and children, are suddenly thrust into a world where they are foreigners. Bassam must figure out who he is, and who he can trust, before the balance of power shifts out of his favor.
HOUSE OF CARDS
If you don’t know who Frank Underwood is, you ought to. This fictional Congressman is the living embodiment of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. Cold, calculating, and impeccably bred with Southern charm to spare, he and his wife Claire are on a mission to rule the political world. They work together with a loyalty and efficiency that puts the Lannisters and Starks to shame. Frank and Claire have an answer for every question, a backup plan to the backup plan, and a workaround for every obstacle. But can their luck hold forever? You’ll have to tune into Netflix and see.
The Accursed Kings (series)
A cult hit by French author Maurice Druon, this is a dramatized retelling of the Hundred Years War. It has recently come back into print due to the popularity of GoT, because George R.R. Martin cites these books as his main inspiration for the hit series. I haven’t started reading yet, but I’m looking forward to it!
The Chronicles of Amber (series)
Amber and the Courts of Chaos are the two true worlds, of which Earth and many others are mere shadows. The royal families of these worlds are the only ones allowed to travel back and forth. The first five novels comprise the adventures of Corwin, a Prince of Amber who wakes up in a New York hospital with no knowledge of how he came to be there. With the help of his sister, he recovers his memory and undertakes a journey to claim the throne. The last five novels in the series follow Corwin’s son Merlin, who has come of age in a very different Amber than came before- and his destiny, like his father’s will change Amber forever.
While this is a significant change of pace from GoT, Martin’s trademarks remain- morally ambiguous characters, the philosophical struggle with self-determination vs. predestination, and mesmerizing prose. This is not your average vampire story. Martin’s tale of a weary steamboat captain who partners with a child of the night is evocative, poetic and engrossing. Joshua York is a vampire with a humanist bent who strives to transcend his “peculiar condition” and achieve something no vampire ever has before. He enlists the help of Abner Marsh, whose life has become increasingly hardscrabble, by dangling his lifelong dream in front of him. As York and Marsh make their way down the river in the world’s fastest steamboat promises are made, secrets are revealed, and loyalties are tested.