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George R.R. Martin may never finish those books. Here’s what to read while you wait

Adam Epstein
game of thrones books

In an interview with the Guardian this week, A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin admitted what his fans have long suspected: It’s going to be awhile before the wildly popular fantasy book series is complete.

Now that HBO’s Game of Thrones is over, fans of both the show and the books that inspired it are eagerly waiting to see how the writer wraps up his version of the story—and if it will differ from the TV show’s divisive ending. Martin reportedly told the show’s producers how he intends to finish his books, but the plot of the prestige drama had already passed that of Martin’s novels. He is currently in the middle of writing the series’ sixth book, The Winds of Winter, and has not yet started on its final installment, A Dream of Spring.

Martin is 70, and it’s fair to wonder if at his current pace he will actually ever finish the series that made him famous. At the earliest, it will be several years before the books are done, giving fans of Martin’s work ample time to read other stuff that might fill the Game of Thrones-sized holes in their libraries.

The Quartz newsroom came up with 7 of its favorite book series—some obvious, some less so—to read if you’re a fan of the Game of Thrones show, Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, or both:

The Lord of the Rings

Duh. The gold standard for fantasy writing, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has inspired every fantasy story that’s come since—including and especially A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin has repeatedly called Tolkien one of his favorite writers and The Lord of the Rings one of the biggest inspirations of his own mythologies. He even credited his knack for killing off popular characters to the Tolkien character Gandalf, the friendly wizard who (spoiler alert) shockingly “dies” in the first book of the trilogy. (He comes back, even more powerful, in the next installment.)

Tolkien’s writing is at times almost impossibly beautiful, and his vision unparalleled. An academic and a philologist in addition to being a writer, Tolkien created multiple languages from scratch and populated his fictional universe with thousands of years worth of stories, settings, and characters. Without The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones very likely would not exist. It’s the best and most important work of fantasy in modern history.

Dune

Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel (and the five subsequent books in the series) is more science fiction than fantasy, but it will still feel familiar to Thrones fans. That’s because the story revolves around a far-future feudalistic society in which warring families and factions struggle over the universe’s labor and resources—namely the desert planet Arrakis and its magical substance called “the spice.” It will surely remind A Song of Ice and Fire readers of its many Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms: The Lannisters, the Starks, the Baratheons, etc.

If that sounds interesting, you might want to prioritize reading Dune. A film adaptation, directed by Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, will be released in Dec. 2020.

The Vorrh

Brian Catling, a sculptor and performance artist before he became a published author, has written something that is totally unique. The Vorrh trilogy mixes elements of fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, historical fiction, surrealism, horror, and just about every other genre into one expansive story. While there’s too much going on to explain in a short summary, a very basic premise of the first book would go something like this: Somewhere in Africa lies an immense, mysterious forest, in which the properties of time and space do not appear to operate as humans understand them. A man is sent on a quest to traverse this forest, while others are tasked with stopping him.

That doesn’t remotely do Catling’s narrative justice, but if something like Heart of Darkness meets Mad Max meets Game of Thrones piques your interest, then give The Vorrh a try. It’s obviously quite different from Thrones in genre and subject matter, but it shares quite a bit with Martin’s story in tone and scope. It’s a dark, challenging, but always fascinating read.

The Kingkiller Chronicle

You’re going to be hearing this title a lot in the near future. The fantasy series by Patrick Rothfuss, which has resulted in two novels so far, is in the process of being adapted into a TV series, a feature film, and even a video game. Lin-Manuel Miranda will co-produce and write the music for the TV series for Showtime (an HBO rival clearly hoping to conjure some Thrones-level magic), while Sam Raimi is set to direct the movie for Lionsgate.

There’s a lot in Rothfuss’ work that’s reminiscent of Martin’s: a medieval-esque setting, class struggles, magic, civil war, stories within stories, characters with the title “Masters” (though Martin spells it “Maester”). In 2008, Martin called the first book, The Name of the Wind, “the best epic fantasy I read last year.” Martin added, “He’s bloody good, this Rothfuss guy.”

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Marlon James, the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, was joking when he dubbed his planned fantasy trilogy “the African Game of Thrones,” but that hasn’t stopped everyone from describing it that way, or from comparing it to the best of Martin’s work. The first book in the trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, came out earlier this year to rave reviews.

Drawing from African mythology and history, James’ story follows a Tracker searching for a missing boy across several landscapes, surrounded by a cast of characters that includes shape-shifters, mercenaries, giants, and zombie-like creatures. Swirling around Tracker’s quest are political tensions between rival tribes—again, not unlike the tensions at the heart of Martin’s Westeros narrative.

Broken Earth series

If your favorite part of Game of Thrones is its weird weather patterns (winters that last a lifetime?), then N.J. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is for you. The stories take place on a planet, where, every few centuries, a “Fifth Season” of cataclysms devastates the world, essentially bringing about the apocalypse over and over. Within this geological disarray is a caste-based society, of which the protagonist, Essun—an “orogene” who can manipulate energy—is a part. Jemisin’s sprawling narrative is a clever synthesis of Thrones-like fantasy and drama with science and our very real anxieties about climate change and social justice.

Thomas Cromwell trilogy

If your favorite part of Game of Thrones is the royal political machinations and you don’t much care for dragons or magic, then you’ll probably take a liking to Hilary Mantel’s trilogy chronicling the rise and fall of Thomas Crowell, King Henry VIII’s chief minister. It’s like a real-life version of the Lannisters.

Mantel’s first book, Wolf Hall, won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award and was adapted into a successful BBC miniseries starring Oscar-winner Mark Rylance as Cromwell. Another book soon followed: Bring Up the Bodies, while a third and final installment, The Mirror and the Light, will be released in March of next year.

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