As one might suspect from the title, “The Rogue Prince” from the upcoming Rogues anthology is a companion piece to Martin’s “The Princess and The Queen, Or, The Blacks and The Greens,” which capped off last year’s Dangerous Women anthology. Once again, the story is framed as a formal history set forth by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown, whose dedication to the sober and serious task of recording the dynastic struggles of the Targaryen clan can’t entirely stifle the rich strain of scandalous rumor and gossip woven throughout the official record.
“The Rogue Prince” fills in much of the backstory leading up to the extremely bloody events of “The Princess and The Queen,” in which competing branches of the ruling house waged a violent war of succession which brought the Targaryens and their dragons to the brink of extinction, almost two hundred years before the events of A Game of Thrones. Chronicling the familial tensions and personal hostilities that eventually grew into the full-scale bloodletting known as the Dance of the Dragons, this new story is “a consideration of the early life, adventures, misdeeds, and marriages of Prince Daemon Targaryen,” who wreaked all kinds of sexy, swashbuckling havoc during the reign of his mild-mannered brother, King Viserys I.
A note about spoilers: Because the events of this story directly precede those of “The Princess and The Queen,” there is some discussion of that novella, but no overt spoilers; those who want a refresher on Targaryen history should check out this incredibly helpful timeline/family tree. Because “The Rogue Prince” is set long before the era of A Song of Ice and Fire, there are no spoilers for the series in the story itself or in this review, but you may want to stop reading before the comments if you’d like to avoid any speculation on how this story might relate to the plot of the books through A Dance With Dragons.
In order to uncover the seeds of the great conflict so vividly described in “The Princess and the Queen,” the Archmaester follows the thread backward from the battlefield and the war councils through the murkier depths of deep-seated personal animosity, unrequited affection, and illicit relationships that characterized the private lives of the royal family. In other words, we are pretty firmly in the realm of soap opera, here: King’s Landing during the reign of Viserys was apparently one fur-turban-wearing-Joan Collins-cameo away from transforming into an episode of Dynasty at any given moment. The King himself is a nice guy: kind-hearted, trusting, optimistic, determined to give everyone the benefit of the doubt…and clearly not at all suited to deal with the ruthless ambition and treasonous tendencies of his power-hungry younger brother (not to mention his lovely queen and darling daughter).
Picture Bob Newhart. Now picture Bob Newhart absentmindedly juggling a slavering pack of rabid weasels. That pretty much captures the general vibe of King V’s court. Prince Daemon has almost nothing in common with his older brother—a celebrated knight and skilled warrior, Daemon is charming but hot-tempered and reckless, with a reputation for casual brutality and even sadism. The story details his various ill-fated attempts to move above his station and rival the king through conquest, alliances, and marriages—but in spite of his obvious machinations and power-grabs, the king continued to forgive the troublesome prince and welcome him back from exile time and again.
Inevitably, Daemon’s story dovetails with that of his niece (and Viserys’ recognized heir), Princess Rhaenyra, beloved by all of Westeros… except, of course, for her stepmother and archrival, Queen Alicent, and the Queen’s supporters. “The Princess and the Queen” began by describing the hostility between these two powerful women and their eventual battle for succession—in “The Rogue Prince,” we learn more about Rhaenyra’s ill-starred (and possible one-sided) romance with her champion Ser Criston Cole, as well as her marriage and children (let’s just say that the question of legitimacy is something of an ongoing issue, on Rhaenyra’s side of the family.)
And of course, flashy, handsome Uncle Daemon was a great favorite of the young princess, always bringing her exotic presents and showering her with attention—since these are Targaryens we’re dealing with, I think you can probably guess what the more salacious historical sources have to say about their relationship. At moments like these, poor stodgy Archmaester Gyldayn is often forced to refer to the rather vivid recollections of one Mushroom, the king’s fool, for information about what may have occurred behind the closed doors of the Red Keep. For better or worse, Mushroom’s memoirs make Casanova sound like Sunday School reading, so if anybody out there has ever wondered why there’s not more jester porn out there in the world…well, you’re in luck: let the spicy Mushroom fan fiction flow!
...0r not. Ahem. Mushroom and his bawdy tales of ribaldry aside, it’s clear that both Daemon and Rhaenyra both had their fair share of not-so-wholesome fun, as rich, spoiled royals are wont to do. And of course, while the two of them are off cruising about on their dragons, scheming, and/or getting freaky with their respective paramours (not you, Mushroom), good Queen Alicent stayed by the king’s side, consolidating power with the help of her father, the King’s Hand, and generally frowning in massive disapproval at any mention of her stepdaughter or brother-in-law. The toxic relationship between Alicent and Rhaenyra comes into greater focus in this account, as does the role of the frustrated, impetuous Rogue Prince, always looking for an opportunity to rise to power, by any means necessary…
With “The Princess and The Queen,” Martin introduced his readers to a brutal but captivating chapter of Westerosi history, filled with memorable characters, intrigue, and epic battles, underscoring the particular aptness of the Targaryen house motto, “Fire and Blood.”
It raised questions about the possibility of a woman taking the Iron Throne which continue to reverberate in the events unfolding in the Song of Ice and Fire, over two hundred years later. “The Rogue Prince” traces the origins of that massive, earth-shaking schism in the Targaryen line back to its familial fault lines: petty tensions, grudges, snubs, spurned advances, disappointments, all festering and swirling around the good-natured king who was unable or simply unwilling to see the bad in those closest to him. It’s a glimpse at the family drama behind the public, political battles for the throne, connecting the personalities and private motivations of the various players to the widespread historical horrors they ultimately unleashed.
As the reigning family of Westeros, the Targaryens often struggled to balance the potent blend of genius, madness, incandescent charm, and tyrannical cruelty that manifests in varying degree from one generation to the next. For every beloved ruler like Viserys I or Aegon V (beloved by fans of the Dunk and Egg novellas), Westeros had to suffer under an Aegon the Unworthy or Mad King Aerys II, or any number of other silver-haired royal maniacs whose collective antics make the Borgias look like the Brady Bunch. Which isn’t to say that the Baratheons and Lannisters have been doing such a bang-up job ruling the country, but these stories do serve as a sobering reminder of the ambiguous and deeply troubling legacy that Daenerys must struggle with as she seeks to reclaim the Iron Throne. Of all the obstacles that stand in her way, escaping the ghosts of the past may prove to be the greatest challenge to her reign: we know that fire cannot harm her, but it seems that her own blood may ultimately present a far more potent and unavoidable threat, in the end.
Bridget McGovern is the managing editor of Tor.com. Please do not send her any Mushroom fan fiction, no matter how amazing it probably is.