The islands, which number more than fifty, separate the Sunset Sea to the west from the Summer Sea to the east. The three largest islands by far are (from north to south) Walano, Omboru, and Jhala, all of which are larger than the Stepstones. The Smiling Sea divides Walano and Omboru, and the Indigo Straits divide Omboru from Jhala.
Walano contains the settlements of Lotus Port, Last Lament, and Tall Trees Town. The cultural or religious heart of the islands seems to be Tall Trees Town, where priestesses carve histories and laws into the Talking Trees. Jhala contains the settled valleys of Red Flower Vale and Sweet Lotus Vale, the latter of which contains the port city of Ebonhead.
North of Walano are Stone Head and the Isle of Women, while Koj and the Isle of Birds are to the south. Between the Isle of Birds and Omboru is the Smiling Sea, and the Indigo Straits are between Omboru and Jhala. West of those two large islands are the Singing Stones, the Three Exiles, the Isle of Love, and Moluu. South of Jhala are Parrot Bay, Xon, Doquu, and the Bones. Near the eastern coast of Khala is Lizard Head.
The rain forests, sandy beaches, and towering mountains of the isles are inhabited by spotted panthers, packs of lean red wolves, tribes of monkeys, and crocodiles. Apes include the "old red men" on Omboru, silver pelts on Jhala, and night stalkers on Walano. The isles are also known for their beautiful birds and flowers.
The Summer Islanders are strong and tall, a handsome people eager to learn. Their skin color includes nut brown, teak, ebony, and polished jet. Their hair and eyes are black. They speak the Summer Tongue and often wear capes of brightly-colored feathers when ashore. The Common Tongue can have an amber, liquid accent when spoken by an islander. Their consists primarily of fruits and fish. Nine out of every ten islanders lives on Jhala, Omboru, or Walano, with the latter being the most populous.
The Summer Islanders worship a score of deities, with the god and goddess of love, beauty, and fertility being the most favored. The act of lovemaking is considered an important and even holy skill, with all islanders expected to serve for a time in temples of love. The most skilled and dedicated, those who would be can become respected priests and priestesses.
Prostitution is a respectable profession, practiced even by the high-born. Summer Islanders respect the elderly, and their mourning customs include celebrating the life of the deceased by drinking rum and making love, answering death with life.
Each of the islands is ruled by a princes or princess, with the three larger islands each having multiple rivals. Some Summer Islanders have become mercenary bowmen or sellsails, guardsmen in the Free Cities, or pirates. Abducted islanders have been forced to fight in the fighting pits of Slaver's Bay. Some descendants of the Rhoynar live on the Isle of Women.
The Summer Islanders traditionally utilized long thrusting spears, short stabbing spears, slings, wooden shields, and little armor. The isles produce some of the best archers in the known world, and their special bows have a longer range than most others, giving their merchant boats added defense against pirates. Aside from dragonbone, the best bows come from the goldenheart tree which are only found on the Summer Isles. The archers fire yard-long shafts.
The Summer Isles are known for their swan ships, which were first designed by Xanda Qo. Koj has been the main center of shipbuilding in the islands since the time of Malthar Xaq thousands of years ago, with three-quarters of all swan ships being built there. Each swan ship has a complement of red archers wielding goldenheart bows.
According to maesters, the Summer Islands are by and large a peaceful place. Warfare is highly ritualized, taking place on days and times chosen by their priests. Battles more closely resemble tourney melees in Westeros. Two opposing teams of warriors, both male and female, meet at a battlefield chosen and consecrated in advance by their priests. It is forbidden to use goldenheart bows, only spears and slings. Such "wars" rarely last longer than a single day. The losers who survive are not executed or mutilated but must leave the islands in exile, while the winners gain what was in dispute, such as the loser's lands. In this way, only the warriors themselves are harmed. The Summer Islanders have not attempted to conquer other nations.
Gemstones of the isles include emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, as well as pearls from the coasts. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper are among the islands' spices, and rare spices are used in the creation of the strangler. Valuable hardwoods include bloodwood, ebony, mahogany, purpleheart, blue mahoe, burl, tigerwood, and pink ivory, among others. Export of goldenheart, which grows on Jhala and Omboru and is famed for making high quality bows, is forbidden, although the lance of Ser Jaime Lannister is made of the golden wood. The islands also produce exotic fruits and sweet amber wine and palm wine.
The islands are home to a myriad of beautiful tropical birds, including parrots, and their feathers are popular with foreigners. Native animls are purchased by wealthy foreign collectors for their menageries; apes, monkeys, apes, spotted panther cubs, and parrots were popular with the dragonlords of the Valyrian Freehold.
The Summer Islanders trade their resources for iron, tin, and other metals which are rare in their homeland. Their large merchant fleet travels to major ports such as Oldtown, King's Landing, Braavos, and Qarth. Ships from the Port of Ibben have traveled as far south as the Summer Isles. The chamber of the small council in the Red Keep has a carved screen from the islands.
The Summer Isles have a history dating back thousands of years. Much of this was recorded in carvings made by priestesses on the famous Talking Trees of Tall Trees Town. Even more is recorded in oral tradition, because the Summer Islanders rely heavily upon histories recorded in highly complicated formal verse and memorized by rote. In Westeros, Maester Gallard painstakingly translated and recorded many of these in his Children of Summer, which remains the chief historical text on the Summer Isles.
For much of their recorded history, the Summer Islanders lived in isolation from the rest of the known world, and they were apparently unaware that other lands and peoples existed. Maps included in the ancient histories carved into the Talking Trees depict only the Summer Islands themselves, surrounded by a world-encompassing ocean. In antiquity the islanders used oared coracles and then larger ships with woven hemp sails.
The Age of Exploration
The first recorded contact between the Summer Isles and the outside world occurred when the Old Empire of Ghis was at its height, between eight and five thousand years ago. A Ghiscari merchant ship was blown off course by a storm and landed on Walano, but the crew and ship fled when they saw the inhabitants. This introduced the islanders to the idea that there were other lands and peoples beyond their home waters, so their princes began building larger and sturdier ships capable of making long sea voyages. The greatest of these was Malthar Xaq, prince of Koj.
The Summer Islanders first encountered the peaceful inhabitants of Naath to their east, then the Basilisk Isles, the northern coasts of Sothoryos, and the southern coasts of Essos and Westeros. According to Lomas Longstrider, sages from the islands claimed that their ancestors founded ill-fated colonial cities on the coast of Sothoryos.
Less than half a century of their first contact, the isles had established a trade network with the Valyrian Freehold. Merchant ships may have reached Oldtown in the Reach generations before the coming of the Andals or even the First Men. Maester Jellicoe speculated that Oldtown may have first risen in the Dawn Age as a trading post where ships from Valyria, Old Ghis, and the Summer Isles would put in to replenish their supplies and trade with each other and even the elder races.
Although the Valyrian Freehold did not attempt to conquer the archipelago, islanders were raided by slavers from Valyria, Old Ghis, and the Basilisk Isles. Native princes also sold defeated rivals to the slavers. These Years of Shame lasted near two centuries.
Xanda Qo, Princess of Sweet Lotus Vale once a slave herself, united the islands under her rule. Because iron for swords, spears, or armor was scarce, Xanda armed her sailors with tall goldenheart bows superior to those of the slavers. Xanda also had new large and sturdy ships designed, known as "swan ships" for the long necks of their prows, to provide high platforms for archers to fire upon approaching slaver ships. Led by Xanda's daughter and eventual successor, Chatana Qo, the Slavers' Wars lasted a generation, but ultimately the Summer Islanders prevailed. Slavery has been strictly outlawed in the Summer Islands ever since. Chatana, the so-called Arrow of Jhahar, was less accomplished as a ruler, however, and the islands fell into disunity after her death.
The Summer Islands have only been briefly united under a single ruler about half a dozen times.
During the voyage of the ten thousand ships of the Rhoynar, Princess Nymeria and her refugees briefly stopped on the island of Abulu, which subsequently became known as the Isle of Women. The isle's soil was poor, however, and most of the Rhoynar left with Nymeria when she continued her journey.
Jalabhar Xho, Prince of the Red Flower Vale, received refuge in King's Landing after being forced into exile. He spent many years petitioning King Robert Baratheon for military assistance in retaking his homeland. Robert was attracted by the idea of invading the Summer Islands, but his advisors convinced him it was a foolhardy venture.
A Game of Thrones
Lords from the Summer Isles are among the guests who attend the wedding of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo at Pentos. Daenerys later sees a feathered cloak in the Western Market of Vaes Dothrak.
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
Arya Stark's enjoys seeing Summer Islanders and their swan ships in Braavos. Samwell Tarly, Maester Aemon, Gilly, and a baby sail on Cinnamon Wind from Braavos to Oldtown. Kojja Mo's archers fend off pirates when the ship is attacked near the Stepstones. Aemon passes away en route, so the crew celebrate his life with a cask of spiced rum.
A Dance with Dragons
As Shy Maid and her crew journey to Volantis, stone men attack them at the Bridge of Dream in Chroyane. Tyrion Lannister saves Young Griff from one of the stone men whom he notices had once been a Summer Islander.
My people hold that there is no shame to be found in the pillow house. In the Summer Isles, those who are skilled at giving pleasure are greatly esteemed. Many highborn youths and maidens serve for a few years after their flowerings, to honor the gods.
Olenna: Margaery, you're clever, be a dear and tell your poor old half-daft grandmother the name of that queer fish from the Summer Isles that puffs up to ten times its own size when you poke it.
Margaery: They call them puff fish, Grandmother.
Olenna: Of course they do. Summer Islanders have no imagination.
Her favorites were the Summer Islanders, with their skins as smooth and dark as teak. They wore feathered cloaks of red and green and yellow, and the tall masts and white sails of their swan ships were magnificent.—thoughts of Arya Stark
—thoughts of Samwell Tarly
All you Westerosi make a shame of loving. There is no shame in loving. If your septons say there is, your seven gods must be demons. In the isles we know better. Our gods gave us legs to run with, noses to smell with, hands to touch and feel. What mad cruel god would give a man eyes and tell him he must forever keep them shut, and never look at all the beauty in the world?
- The World of Ice & Fire, Beyond the Free Cities: The Summer Isles.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 11, Daenerys II.
- A Feast for Crows, Prologue.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 13, Bran II.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 14, Brienne III.
- The Lands of Ice and Fire, The West.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 56, The Iron Suitor.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 3, Daenerys I.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 27, Daenerys II.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 35, Samwell IV.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 21, Jaime III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 60, Tyrion VIII.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 45, Samwell V.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 15, Tyrion III.
- So Spake Martin: Military Questions, June 21, 2001
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 61, The Griffin Reborn.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 30, Eddard VII.
- A Feast for Crows, Prologue.
- A Clash of Kings, Prologue.
- The World of Ice & Fire, Beyond the Free Cities: The Summer Isles.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 13, Tyrion II.
- The World of Ice & Fire, Beyond the Free Cities: Ib.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 20, Eddard IV.
- Much like West African griots.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Reach: Oldtown.
- The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: Ten Thousand Ships.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Targaryen Kings: Aegon I.
- The Winds of Winter, Mercy
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Targaryen Kings: Jaehaerys II.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei V.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 36, Cersei VIII.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 54, Daenerys VI.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 18, Catelyn IV.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 29, Sansa II.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 11, Theon I.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 8, Tyrion II.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 57, Daenerys V.
- George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, Sarella Sand.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 21, The Queenmaker.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 34, Cat Of The Canals.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 18, Tyrion V.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 52, Daenerys IX.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 70, The Queen's Hand.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 6, Sansa I.