Any fantasy enthusiast will tell you that the list of metals made up by their favorite authors is exceptionally long. We’ve all heard of many of them, in fact. Mythril, Adamantium, Vibranium, Orichalcum, and Unobtanium are just a few famous examples, and now we can add Valyrian Steel to that list.
From the popular book and TV series Game of Thrones comes a metal forged in the ancient fallen city of Valyria that is stronger, sharper, and lighter than any other steel in their fantasy world.
The secret of its creation died with its namesake city, but legends hold that the steel was forged using magic spells and dragon fire. Remaining examples of true Valyrian Steel are rare and valuable, generally only held by the rich or by families who have passed them down through the generations.
Blades made from Valyrian Steel are often so durable and long lasting that they procure names over their vast lifetimes. They stand out amongst other weapons on the battlefield and are a force many consider unbeatable, especially when wielded by the right hands.
Valyrian Steel shares a characteristic with modern carbon steel that shows a striking resemblance between the two. The rippling pattern known to be a common identifying characteristic of the Valyrian Steel blades is reminiscent of the patterns seen on forged carbon steel weapons today.
The rippling appearance in modern steel is caused by using a combination of extremely high heat and specific additives, namely manganese, during the forging process to evoke more durable and powerful steel. Perhaps George R. R. Martin had such a keen sense of the abilities of a medieval culture that he was able to work a modern, yet feasible material into his masterwork in the form of a rare and powerful substance.
It is conceivable that an ancient culture of vast intellect could spend enough time experimenting with steel variants that they would develop a method for creating nearly perfect steel, of such high quality and precision that to the common people it appeared to only be possible with the help of magic or dragons.
Such a steel would be considered commonplace in our modern world, so the comparison is hard to justify. Perhaps the Master Forgers of Valyria truly did create actual carbon steel that was advanced beyond their scientific understanding.
They may have simply discovered a forging technique during their generations long experimentation that was supremely efficient, and that was all that was important to them.
It’s difficult to say that carbon steel and Valyrian Steel are equals, as we may never see a Valyrian Steel blade fight against any modern opponent, nor may we see a carbon steel blade attempt to slice through a White Walker during a ferocious battle.
However, as far as the White Walker is concerned, the safe bet is the Valyrian Steel blade. We all at least know the Valyrian Steel would be successful, and who wants to take that risk?