George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones novels are widely regarded as some of the greatest fantasy stories ever. But that’s where the consensus ends, as fans continue to argue over which installment is the best – so to help settle the debate, we’re ranking every Game of Thrones book from worst to best.
A few points to note before you continue, though. First, this list obviously only covers the Game of Thrones novels published to date; don’t expect any speculative rankings for any as-yet-unreleased entries in the canon like The Winds of Winter. Second, it only covers the core series, and not spinoff works such as Fire & Blood or Tales of Dunk and Egg (sorry, Ser Duncan and Aegon V fans!).
5. A Feast for Crows
Don’t get us wrong: A Feast for Crows is far from a bad book. But it is the victim of Martin’s storytelling grasp outweighing his reach – not to mention bookbinding’s limits. As A Feast for Crows‘ original manuscript was too long to publish, Martin was forced to yank out half of its story and repackage it as the fifth A Song of Ice and Fire volume, A Dance with Dragons.
The impact of this on A Feast for Crows is that its focus is less on core characters such as Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, and more on supporting – even minor, at times – players. Understandably, plenty of readers rankled at A Feast for Crows effectively putting several key storylines on hold, however, most agree that Martin gets good storytelling mileage out of the likes of Brienne of Tarth and Cersei Lannister.
A Feast for Crows also deserves props for further fleshing out Game of Thrones’ world. The book devotes a considerable number of its 753 pages to exploring the culture and politics of Dorne and the Iron Islands: two regions in Westeros largely overlooked by its predecessors. Admittedly, the chapters centered around the Ironborn can be a slog (they’re kinda the worst), but it’s still fun seeing new corners of Martin’s fictional realm.
4. A Dance with Dragons
As you’d expect, A Dance with Dragons suffers some of the same problems as its sister novel, A Feast for Crows. Its half-a-story structure gives a lopsided air to proceedings while having both novels’ narratives take place simultaneously early on nearly derails the wider A Song of Ice and Fire enterprise entirely. These initial chapters are like individual plates in a wider plate-spinning routine, and Martin’s efforts to keep everything balanced saps some storylines of their momentum (Daenerys Targaryen’s occupation of Meereen is a prime example of this).
Fortunately, A Dance with Dragons manages to ride out its awkward start, thanks in large part to the return of fan-favorite characters Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Tyrion Lannister. Bringing this trio back does a lot to refocus the overarching plot, and allows Martin to pay off some of the series’ long-running mysteries, as well. A Dance with Dragons also boasts one of the best endings of any Game of Thrones book, and that’s got to count for something.
3. A Game of Thrones
A Game of Thrones gets the entire A Song of Ice and Fire saga off to a cracking start. Across 694 briskly paced pages, Martin brings us up to speed on the geography and politics of an entire fictional world spanning multiple continents, all while establishing one of the greatest character rosters ever to grace the fantasy genre. And who can forget that major death late in the book, which leaves readers in no doubt that this is the beginning of a high-stakes, no-one-is-safe epic?
So why didn’t we rank A Game of Thrones higher on this list if it’s so dang perfect? Mostly because it’s held back by the same handicap as every other fantasy series’ introductory volume: it has to spend at least as much time setting up all the toys as playing with them. To Martin’s credit, A Game of Thrones handles its set-up duties in an incredibly compelling way, but this first outing is never able to truly cut loose the way that later entries in the canon do.
2. A Clash of Kings
Tyrion Lannister is Game of Thrones‘ original breakout character, and A Clash of Kings is the first book in which he truly steps into the spotlight. This is one of several ways the second A Song of Ice and Fire installment outdoes its predecessor; notably, it also ups the ante by plunging Westeros into a civil war between multiple rival monarchs.
As you’d expect, this leads to bigger and better battles, and A Clash of Kings‘ climactic assault on King’s Landing still ranks among the series’ finest dust-ups. But what ultimately makes A Clash of Kings such a satisfying read isn’t its blockbuster action. Instead, it’s the way Martin further fleshes out the dynamics between the various characters, with the intrigue-laden scenes between Tyrion and his fellow Small Council members especially memorable.
1. A Storm of Swords
Most fans consider A Storm of Swords the best Game of Thrones book – and most fans are right. The third A Song of Ice and Fire volume delivers many of the series’ most iconic moments, including the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, and the Red Viper vs. Mountain duel. It’s over 970 pages long, yet such is the magnetism of Martin’s storytelling that even the slowest reader will blitz through it in no time.
A Storm of Swords has more going for it than sheer spectacle, though. Like in A Clash of Kings, Martin peels back new layers of his characters during this third go-round, sending key figures such as Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow on intense emotional journeys. He also re-casts supposed villain Jaime Lannister in a new, more sympathetic light, sowing the seeds for one of modern fiction’s great redemptive arcs.
As such, A Storm of Swords is a book that’s equal parts action and heart – and hands down the greatest entry in the Game of Thrones series.