BY JOSHUA SOULE
Senior Librarian at The New York Public Library's Spuyten Duyvil branch
Ah, spring: that time of year when Game of Thrones returns for another season of bloody mayhem, backstabbing and gruesome zombie hordes from the North. At The New York Public Library, we librarians always appreciate a dramatic tale!
George R. R. Martin's sprawling, brawling doorstop fantasies are part of the larger trend that formed in the 1990s, an alternative path for writers away from the traditional high epics in the Tolkien mold. Game of Thrones is a grittier, more realistic fantasy grounded in character flaws, which made its heroes more human and relatable. Characters, such as Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Sansa Stark have developed loyal followings from book to book and season to season.
What are fans to do when the current season, as all seasons must, ends? Try the following books selected based on your favorite character in the series:
Arya Stark - Fans of the little girl turned assassin's pupil might warm to Brent Weeks' Night Angel Trilogy about Azoth, a boy from the hardscrabble streets who catches the eye of the greatest wetboy (assassin) to ever live: Durzo Blint. David Dalglish's Shadowdance series about a young assassin groomed to take his father's place at the head of the guild should appeal to Arya fans as well.
Sansa Stark - Sansa's ups and downs have been a constant source of agita for fans, especially that cliffhanger from Season 5. She has gone from being daughter of a prominent family, to prince's fiancée, to hostage, to miserable wife in dizzying succession. Her loss of power and prestige has helped her discover a core of strength that will serve her well, perhaps all the way to the Iron Throne itself. Sansa fans will enjoy reading of other women rising to the heights of royal power through sheer strength of will. Try Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life. Sansa fans will appreciate reading about a woman who rose to the height of power during Roman times through sheer force of will and personality.
Jon Snow - He still knows nothing. Remedy your own ignorance by reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Jon could have used a bit of reinforcement in these lessons.
Bran Stark - Our favorite missing Stark will return in the new season. For fans who like stories of youths coming into great magical power like Bran seems to be doing, Ursula K. LeGuin has them covered with her Earthsea series, beginning with the tale of Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea. Other suggestions include Dune by Frank Herbert and, of course, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling as both feature young protagonists who find themselves growing into unexpected power.
Daenerys Targaryen - You have a love a girl and her dragons. If you want more stories of people and their faithful dragon partners, Naomi Novik has written the excellent Temeraire series about draconic air forces in the Napoleonic era. Let that sink in for a minute; dragons in the time of Napoleon. It does not get any better.
Petyr Baelish - Who hasn't found themselves rooting for Lord Littlefinger, even just a little? Devious, wily, cunning, diabolical are all adjectives for our favorite Westerosian bad boy. They also describe the protagonist of Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series, Locke Lamora. Locke is raised as a supreme con artist by Father Chains, set on a path to balance the scales of life against the wealthy and powerful. He is Baelish with morals and loyalty to his friends.
Brienne of Tarth - What could be a more natural fit for the female knight in a man's world than Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, by Kathryn Harrison? While Brienne's backstory does not get a lot of exposition in the series, it is easy to imagine her bulling her way through obstacles on faith alone, like the Maiden herself. Where Joan has faith in her visions and God, Brienne would believe in her own skills and strong sword arm.
Margaery Tyrell - While we are on the subject of Tyrells, Margaery followers may appreciate a classic example of the real power behind the throne in Lady Macbeth. Her manipulation of the Bard's Macbeth will give you uneasy reminders of Margaery twisting the much younger Tommen around her finger.
Ser Loras Tyrell - The Knight of Flowers has not been doing too well lately, but readers can take heart in knowing there are similar protagonists in fantasy fiction. Give Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey a read and watch as Vanyel goes from callow youth to one of the most powerful mages in the world.
The White Walkers - Come on. We have all secretly wished the White Walkers would just sweep down from the North and wipe out the entire stinking lot in a single fell blow. World War Z, presented as a series of journalistic vignettes by Max Brooks is the obvious recommendation, while the more literary-minded might find greater rewards in Colson Whitehead's Zone One about survivors eking out a life in Chinatown after the apocalypse.