Pop Culture Advisory: Game of Thrones

The third season of HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones (GoT), based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, ended last weekend, and fans will have to wait a while for the next one; it hasn’t even started filming yet. So where are fans to go for the intrigue, swordplay, magic, and sexytimes they’ve come to expect on Sunday nights? Neal Wyatt’s RA Crossroads has some suggestions; LJ‘s GoT-watching staff and friends have plenty more.

While Sharon Kay Penman‘s “Here Be Dragons” trilogy provides no actual dragons (sorry, Daenerys Targaryen), it has power plays, murder, and manipulation in abundance. You have ruthless English royals, strategic marriages, characters trying to navigate the political sphere with varied success, and an uprising against the crown à la GoT‘s Robb Stark. George R.R. Martin’s series has always read as a richly detailed alternative history, so what better way to fill the agonizing time between the next season (and book) than with Penman’s fictionalized lives of King John, Henry III, and Simon de Montfort? Game of Thrones fans will not be disappointed by the vast battles, political intrigue, and fully realized characters. It may also suit those who were never quite as interested in the fantastical elements of Game of Thrones.—Kate DiGirolomo, editorial assistant, Library Journal

Since Arya Stark is my favorite character and storyline (though Daenerys Targaryen is growing on me), I’d recommend Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” trilogy, as its heroine, Vin, is one of the most interesting female characters I’ve ever read. The story (three novels, all published, the end!) offers a similar mix of political intrigue and wonkery deftly weaved with the fantastic, including a rather innovative system of magic called Allomancy. Less sprawling, but no less epic, with an eclectic ensemble cast that rivals that on GoT‘s Westeros, I think fans of Game of Thrones would really enjoy it.—Guy L. Gonzalez, director, content strategy & audience development, Library Journal

Game of Thrones viewers who love Arya Stark will likely feel just as strongly about Lyra Belacqua, the fierce, loyal heroine of Philip Pullman‘s epic “His Dark Materials” trilogy, which begins with The Golden Compass. In Pullman’s world, each human has an animal-shaped daemon that represents his or her character in some way, much as the members of GoT‘s Houses of Westeros embody the qualities of their sigils. Skip the terrible movie adaptation, but the author-narrated audiobooks are to be treasured. And if you’re looking for more about GoT itself, I’m partial to Alyssa Rosenberg’s recaps and commentary at Think Progress.—Stephanie Klose, media editor, Library Journal

Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora (two books so far, another coming this fall): because the setting is fantastic, there’s tons of action and cussing, and Lynch doesn’t shy away from doing TERRIBLE things to his characters.
Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. Sprawling setting, interesting magic, lots of twists and turns. You either love or loathe the protagonist.
N.K. Jemisin‘s “Inheritance” trilogy. Royal and godly intrigue galore, angst, amazing characters, and a creepily compelling child-god.
Brandon Sanderson‘s “Mistborn” trilogy subverts many common tropes of the genre, including the evil overlord and quests to save the world. Also, rocks fall and everyone dies.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosiverse-set novels, beginning with Shards of Honor. They’re not fantasy, but the series is long and involved and focuses on a family, and intrigue, and politics.
Beth Bernobich’s “River of Souls” series. Politics and intrigue all over the place; magic, reincarnation, and amazing women characters with tons of agency.
Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains and The Cold Commands (another incomplete series). Gil is a veteran of a truly horrific war who is pulled out of retirement. These books are bloody, unflinching, and dark.—Natalie Luhrs, Radish Reviews

Recommended Video Games: Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II come to mind first. Epic fantasy with a greater focus on politics, history, and culture than on fantastical settings and monsters—though both of the latter are more than present. The tone is dark, the combat is brutal and bloody, and the story is rich and engaging. The developers even cited Game of Thrones as an inspiration.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (simply called Skyrim for short) is an open-ended role-playing game (RPG) in which the player assumes the role of the Dragonborn, an epic hero foretold by prophecy to save Skyrim from certain doom. Less pageantry and splendor, more down-to-Earth, lots of in-your face combat. It has more traditional fantasy elements than Game of Thrones but lets players craft their own narratives by giving them complete freedom in how they play the game: it’s possible to play for hours on end and never even touch the main story.
There are also lots of video-game adaptations of Game of Thrones, both based on the books and the TV show.

Recommended Board Games: Again, lots of Game of Thrones adaptations. I’d most heavily recommend Fantasy Flights’s living card game, but there’s also a regular card game that’s based off of the show (also by Fantasy Flight). A living card game is one where you build your own deck from cards supplied in the box. The regular card game is just that: decks that are not customizable.
For games that hit the same notes as Game of Thrones, The Settlers of Catan may not have the show’s dark themes and political intrigue, but it is a very political game that has players working together just as much as they compete. It can get quite intense. Friendships and loyalties will be tested.
Any board game that is based on battlefield tactics should be a great pick. I’m thinking Stratego, Mage Wars, and Mage Knight. There are also some great board games that incorporate RPG elements and focus on tactical combat: Descent, Talisman, and Defenders of the Realm. Wizards of the Coast has published board games that use the same mechanics as Dungeons and Dragons—speaking of which, you can’t go wrong with old-school tabletop role-playing if you want epic fantasy. Those looking for a little more intensity could try out Pathfinder, or there’s even a Game of Thrones role-playing game out there. The books for RPGs can get pricey, but you can’t beat the total narrative freedom that comes with them.—M. Brandon Robbins, Games, Gamers and Gaming columnist, Library Journal

Fans of Arya Stark and Jon Snow will love the story of Fitz in Robin Hobb’s “Farseer Trilogy”: Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest. Fitz finds a clandestine role at court as the king’s assassin in a story with elements reminiscent of Game of Thrones’s grim tone, young survivor-heroes coming of age through hardships, and supernatural threats to the kingdom.—Jason Puckett, audiobook reviewer, Library Journal

For those who love GoT‘s Tyrion Lannister or fantasy/science fiction about little people, there’s Lois McMasters Bujold’s “Vorkosigan Saga,” also mentioned above.
For a TV show where people you love die: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course.
Alternate history epic fantasy with fighting and magic: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana.
Epic fantasy with a lot of sex: Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey.
Epic fantasy with crossing of walls: Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea or Garth Nix’s Sabriel.
Fantasy & science fiction about winter: LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.
Gritty epic fantasy about knights: the multi-author “Foreworld Saga,” including The Mongoliad.
For those who love GoT‘s Brienne, kickass female fighters who are not just swordbabes: Green (and its sequels) by Jay Lake.
For those who love GoT‘s Arya on her own: Michelle West’s The Hidden City.—Meredith Schwartz, news editor, Library Journal



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Stephanie Klose About Stephanie Klose

Stephanie Klose (sklose@mediasourceinc.com, @sklose on Twitter) is Media Editor, Library Journal.


  1. anonymous says:

    An enthusiastic second for Sharon Kay Penman! I love all of her books, she is an amazing writer

  2. Rania Melhem says:

    I love Sharon Kay Penman’s books and heartily recommend anything she has ever written.
    But I would like to add Guy Gavriel Kay’s books: Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, The Lions of Al-Rassan, Sarrantine Mosaic duology etc..

  3. Joyce Saricks says:

    Really? Both Penman and Kay, whom I also love, write books with such a romantic tone, completely at odds with the gritty and very graphic violence of Game of Thrones. I wouldn’t suggest them to a Martin fan without explaining the difference, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest Martin to Penman and Kay without explaining that his books have a very different feel. Sure, I might put all three on my list of favorite historical fiction/fantasy authors, but that doesn’t mean they work for the same audience. I think Richard K. Morgan is a much better bet–interesting but ruthless characters, explicit violence, and generally edgier. Check out Neal Wyatt’s RA Crossroads for more appeal-based multimedia titles. http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/2013/06/media/video/hbos-game-of-thrones-ra-crossroads/