This year, HBO introduced millions of otherwise fantasy-averse viewers to George R.R. Martin’s complex, rich, densely layered and decidedly adult A Song of Fire and Ice universe with its terrific television adaptation, A Game of Thrones. The first season of the HBO series took on the first tome in Martin’s series, which is promised to conclude after seven books.
Of course, the season ended with several major cliffhangers, so many viewers simply picked up and read the books Martin has already written, rather than waiting till spring 2012 to find out what happens. So it’s nice timing for those new readers that Martin has just produced the fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons.
For longtime fans, though, the book has been a very long time coming. Martin’s publishing pace has been sporadic at best, and has only slowed as he’s gotten older. The original A Game of Thrones was published in 1996, and its two follow-ups, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, were published in 1998 and 2000, respectively. However, Book Four in the series, A Feast for Crows, didn’t find its way into readers’ hands until 2006.
Martin reportedly grappled with bouts of uncertainty and writer’s block while penning the fifth installment, and many fans were unsure whether the book would ever be published (or, for that matter, written). Martin made pronouncements and promises to his readers at numerous points between 2006 and 2011 about the fifth book–alternately saying it was imminent and that he was struggling with its completion. (Coincidentally or not, many longtime fans believe the first three books in the series represent an apex in the genre of fantasy writing, and admit feeling let down by what has thus far followed.)
Now, many wonder if the 62-year-old Martin will be able to produce the final two books in the series. Leaving aside the ethical implications of setting a death clock against a writer’s creative output, those fears are understandable: Martin has created the most exciting fantasy world since Tolkien, and its inhabitants deserve closure. So too do we.