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George R.R. Martin finished his book (no, not that one)

George R.R. Martin and Parris McBride arrive at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 18, 2011, in Los Angeles. (Matt Sayles/AP)

“Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin released a new book this week, but it wasn’t the one fans have been pining for. “The Winds of Winter,” the sixth installment in his “Song of Ice and Fire” series, remains elusive. In its place: “Fire and Blood,” a mammoth history of the Targaryen dynasty with all the dragon fire, platinum tresses and shameless inbreeding that readers (and HBO subscribers) would expect.

Before you start griping that Martin has been avoiding the coming winter, know that no one is more frustrated with the “Winds” hold-up than the author.

“I know there are a lot of people out there who are very angry with me that ‘Winds of Winter’ isn’t finished,” he told Entertainment Weekly recently. “And I’m mad about that myself. I wished I finished it four years ago. I wished it was finished now. But it’s not. And I’ve had dark nights of the soul where I’ve pounded my head against the keyboard and said, ‘God, will I ever finish this? The show is going further and further forward and I’m falling further and further behind. What the hell is happening here?’ ”

“The Winds of Winter” release has been forthcoming for some time. Martin’s earliest estimates, back when novel five, “A Dance With Dragons,” was published in 2011, was that “Winds” would take three years or so to make its way to an impatient public.

Since then, Martin has clearly worked on the novel — he has published or read aloud a number of chapters from the book, which has kept excitement alive and plot theorists busy. He has also periodically offered optimistic guesstimates as to when we might get our hands on book six. He believed he could hit an end-of-year deadline back in 2015; then he hoped he would be done before HBO aired the sixth season of the series in 2016; then, in January 2017, he thought the novel would surely come out that year. “But hey, I thought the same thing last year,” he admitted.

He does have a busy schedule. In the past, he’s chalked up the book delay to the fact that publicity for the series — both written and televised — is all-consuming.

“It’s distraction,” he said in 2014 during the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. “Because the books and the show are so popular, I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life nobody did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day. I have assistants and minions whose main job is to make sure people don’t bother me so I can actually get writing done.”

When Martin revealed he would have a hand in working on HBO’s planned prequel series, that seemed like yet another indication that readers would have an even longer wait before getting to read more of Martin’s writing.

And yet, here we have “Fire and Blood.” Martin has been careful to explain that the book is not what fans might be hoping for. (In fact, he’s even playfully explained that he didn’t write it — it’s all the work of Archmaester Gyldayn, of course.)

“I do want to stress … indeed, I want to shout … that FIRE & BLOOD is not a novel,” he wrote on his website. “This is not a traditional narrative and was never intended to be.”

Before anyone starts complaining about how quickly he turned this book around, he also wants to add that writing it was much easier than working on “Winds.”

“Although it covers 150 years or so, it’s very straightforward,” he said. “In ‘Winds,’ I have like 10 different novels and I’m juggling the timeline — here’s what’s happening to Tyrion, here’s what’s happening to Dany, and how they intersect. That’s far more complicated.”

So let’s give some credit where it’s due. For a guy who admits to having “problems with deadlines,” he has published another major book.

“It’s been a long while since I had a new Westeros book, and nobody knows that as well as I do,” he said. “So to finish a book that I’m proud of and excited by was emotionally a big lift for me.”

Maybe it’s just the energy boost he needs to finally get “Winds of Winter” finished, and he does seem to have some renewed urgency. According to the Wall Street Journal, he’s escaped to a remote cabin where he’s forcing himself to finish.

Stephanie Merry is editor of Book World.

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