I absolutely adore the world-building aspect of fiction. As a young Hobbit, I used to preface my readings of the Lord of the Rings with a full read of the appendices (maps, histories, from the First Age to the Fourth). Tolkien himself, after all, was THE master of world-building. His writing, combined with an interest in real-world geography and history, helped cultivate my fondness for the subjects. So screw you if you think nothing can be gained from works of fiction (evidently, I feel very strongly about this).
Today, George R.R. Martin (GRRM) is considered one of the best of the craft, and for good reason. ‘Planetos’ (not really fond of the word) is rich in history and culture, all expanded upon in the World of Ice and Fire (TWOIAF) by Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, who run Westeros.org.
I won’t write too much of a synopsis: It’s a retelling and description of kings and queens, races of men and creatures, the rise and fall of kingdoms large and small. Of course, the Seven Kingdoms and its leading houses feature prominently (with a King-by-King history of the Targaryen dynasty), but the sections I found most interesting were the the history of Valyria (Rome with dragons) and the kingdoms in the far east beyond Qarth, which were only mentioned in passing in the books. It’s far more detailed than you’d expect for far-off locations that will never feature in the main series.
Also: Gorgeous artwork. Lots and lots of gorgeous artwork.
It’s a great read for a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire (if you don’t know what that means, you’re already disqualified). I still need to read about the adventures of Dunk & Egg, and to reread the main series. But the latter can wait until an announcement for the release of The Winds of Winter is made. Is 2016 our year, George?