Monday, September 24, 2012

[Re-read] Davos II: Thinking about it a lot while strolling

Greetings, wanderer of the seemingly endless lands of Cyberspace. Yes, I am old-fashioned. I know these lands are more commonly called the Interwebz these days. But I am an old man, a teller of tales if you will, having traversed these boundless realms for eons. In this time and age, even books have become digital, and so one can read classics such as A Storm of Swords without the need for glued-together paper. Yes, there is something called 'e-books', a magical device if there ever was one, allowing anyone to read books from their smartphones, computers, iPads and other similar devices of magical bent. The power that resides within this digital age is great, but can also be used to squander time, to viciously and anonymously attack authors and other artists, and last but not least be made to expose yourself, so be wary of this invention! 

Where did that come from?

Davos Seaworth © Amok
All right, it's Monday, the clouds hang low over a landscape slowly turning from green to gold and brown, and a white raven dropped by earlier this morning announcing autumn (incidentally, a white raven came to Winterfell just before Bran discovered Jaime and Cersei and announced the fall, har har). I admit I have   a conflicted opinion about autumn/fall. It is at once beautiful and serene, and the growing darkness is comforting and allows for more indoors geekery, but at the same time it is a time that gets me down for extended periods of time. It is important, then, to find and enjoy things that can get me up and going, and one of those things is, of course, reading something of awesomeness, which A Storm of Swords clearly is. I've come to Davos Seaworth's first chapter in the third novel, and I am looking forward to it. Last we saw him, he was rescued from a very small and boring little island out in the Blackwater Bay by a friendly ship, so he's actually got a pretty good starting point compared to some of the other characters (I mean, Ned has been starting out as dead for two books now).

The chapter opens with a quick paragraph setting the scene. Ser Davos is aboard the Shayala's Dance and Dragonstone, you know, that fancy island of gargoyles and stone dragon castles, is straight ahead. He's coming home. Kind of. 
The second paragraph throws us straight into Davos' mind, where he is thinking about the red woman sorceress, Melisandre. I must note that Martin deems the winds out here as "perverse", I am not sure I've ever seen a wind being called perverse before. Not that kind of wind, anyway. So what is Davos thinking about Melisandre? Well, mostly her red ruby and her red clothes, it turns out. Not really remembering where this chapter is going, I can only say it seems obvious we'll have a meeting between Davos and Melisandre, with Martin planting the seeds right here.
See, here we go, Davos reflects that Melisandre will be one of those waiting for him, along with Stannis, and it is obvious that Davos doesn't feel too good about that. Interestingly, we get this thought from the Onion Knight: "She has broken him [Stannis], as a man breaks a horse. She would ride him to power if she could, and for that she gave my sons to the fire. I will cut the living heart from her breast and see how it burns."
Well, what have we here? This is not the intensely loyal Davos from A Clash of Kings. This is a Davos with murderous thoughts, with a growing hatred, and a new way of looking at Melisandre (admittedly it has been building to this conclusion throughout the previous novel). The cool thing is that we have a character who kind of has a growth spurt during the first three paragraphs of the first chapter, not many books can claim that (if you count this as a stand-alone, which it is obviously is not, so why the heck am I wasting time writing this up?). Anyway, Martin in this way also puts in a nice edge, a tension - so Davos wants to kill Melisandre. For a first-time reader it could be quite exciting indeed, wondering if Davos will go straight ahead, climb the stairs of Dragonstone and go straight for her heart with the dirk he's patting. 

This is, as always, the time when Martin pulls back to reflect on what has gone before. He's given us a hook (Kill. Melisandre. Now.) and so he can safely sit back and tell us how nice Captain Khorane Sathmantes had been during the voyage (if you remember him, you've got a pretty healthy brain). Is Martin giving us information on Khorane because he will eventually return in the story, or is this what is called 'padding'? I sure don't know. I'm not sure how much we need to know Khorane's eye color, or how he relishes snails and lampreys, if he's just a throwaway character who appears - technically speaking - only between two chapters of the saga. 

We are re-exposed to Dragonstone's shape and mood, and are also reminded that Ser Davos' state of health isn't the best, what with his shaking legs and fits of coughing and, most tasty of all, "bloody gobs of phlegm". The Shayala's Dance continues to sail toward Dragonstone, and now Davos' thoughts turn to his past, what he calls "another lifetime", allowing the author to put in some character building as well before getting to the point (which is getting off that bloody ship and set foot on Dragonstone). We are given reminders of the Battle of the Blackwater and Davos thinks of "Renly's shade" - unlike other characters, Davos has no way of knowing the shade was in fact Ser Loras Tyrell donning Renly's armor. I like this bit of added detail, as it shows so clearly how something mundane (man in armor) can turn so quickly into rumors of the supernatural (the "shade"). It's a way of reminding readers that, hey, everything you hear or read isn't, you know, necessarily true. Not sure Martin had that intention in mind, but that's how this particular detail serves both story and setting. 

And still the ship is moving toward Dragonstone, and by now I feel it's enough, but Martin lets me suffer a little more boating, unaware of my natural affinity for seasickness. Thanks very much. Davos pretty much stands on deck looking around and thinking thoughts, interesting and all, but please? Ah, here we go. They pulled down the sail as they entered the harbor, to dock on oars alone. Good!

Captain Khorane (awesome name by the way) tells Davos to go meet Salladhor Saan, but Davos insists he must go to his king immediately, but Khorane insists right back at him and so Davos goes to see Salla. Poor Davos has to walk the docks for a quarter of a mile, where he finds Salla in the hold of a cog where he's counting cargo. Are we padding again, mr. author? Salla is naturally surprised to see Davos stand before him alive and somewhat well, and when Salla tells Davos that the sea has spit him out again, it reminds Davos of the story of Patchface - which might be a red herring (spit out from the sea), a coincidence, or an actual link between the two that will be explored later. It also reminds me of countless stories from the Star Wars expanded universe - how many stories have they made, in comics, in computer games, in novels, where Boba Fett has been spit out from the Sarlacc? And wouldn't it be awesome if Davos had a jet pack? And a sawed-off laser rifle?

Davos is brought to a "large and lavishly furnished" cabin aboard the cog at Salla's orders, where he is given cheese and olives and a cup of hot wine. Salla appears not long after (having finished his counting of cargo, I assume - his line, "Thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine" is probably not a favorite quote from the series among fans). It's nice to see Salla being nice to Davos, though, worrying about his cough and all that. People show little compassion in Westeros, generally speaking, so this is a nice treat in a book that will only grow darker in terms of atmosphere and mood. Turns out the trade cog they are on belongs to Illyrio Mopatis, nice way to stick him into the setting here to show the fat man's influence and how far his control / power goes. More aptly when talking about Mopatis is to say he's got his fingers in a lot of pies. Salla reveals he has been made Lord of Blackwater Bay, and that Lord Alester Florent is now the Hand of the King on Dragonstone. Interesting political developments, then.

Davos realizes he lost his pouch with the remains of his fingers - the physical manifestation of his luck, if you will - so alarm bells should be ringing that Davos will be a bit unlucky in the foreseeable future - unless Martin wants to make a point out of the fact that there's no such thing as luck. We'll have to wait and see, maybe make a tally of "unlucky happenings". There's more backstory laid out to give a full account of what survived and what didn't during the Battle of the Blackwater, and Davos listens patiently (I don't). Some great news though! One of Davos' sons was rescued and is alive and well. That's two niceties in one chapter. Not bad. Oh, he did lose the rest of his grown-up sons. That is true. And bad. 

Salladhor offers Davos a ship (and Stannis is out of ships, so Davos can't expect to get himself a new ship from that quarter) but on the condition that Davos takes up his smuggling again and works for Salladhor. Salla is showing his true colors again here, being a bit of a scoundrel after all, but Davos is still loyally sworn to Stannis and refuses the offer. Salla warns Davos he will find the king Stannis a changed man; "Since the battle, he sees no one, but broods in his Stone Drum. Queen Selyse keeps court for him with her uncle the Lord Alester (...)" Doesn't sound like he's changed that much to me, but hey. There is a shortage of coin though. The only one Stannis sees these days is Melisandre. See, Martin is tying the chapter up nicely, starting out with thoughts of the red woman and now we've circled back to her. It's all about Melisandre, really. It's all a bit mysterious, with Stannis and Melisandre not eating, but going down "together to watch the flames", of hungry fires within the mountain. She's at it with her sorceries again, that's for sure. The way Salla talks about it, it is hard not to hear the echo of classic high fantasy: 

"There are shafts, they say, and secret stairs down into the mountain's heart, into hot places where only she may walk unburned. It is enough and more to give an old man such terrors that sometimes he can scarcely find the strength to eat."

Three important observations regarding this line of dialogue: 1) The usage of the word "shafts" may be intentional, as in subtly telling us Stannis is shafting Melisandre. Okay that was a tasteless joke. Sorry. 2) Could there be a connection of sorts between Meli and Daenerys Targaryen, with regards to the usage of the word "unburned"? I have a feeling Martin is slowly but surely setting up a meeting between the two, and only one of them will come out of it unburned. You read it here first. 3) Is Martin showing something of himself here? I mean, he wishes to describe utmost terror, and does this by comparing it to eating. So scared you can't even eat! How scared must you be? Yes, that was another tasteless joke. Sorry.

Davos tells Salla he is planning to kill Melisandre, but Salla tells him he shouldn't be saying such things, which goes to show how things have changed - Melisandre has more power, more influence, now than in A Clash of Kings. It's really an effective way to bring forth this fact, by having even a scrupulous pirate like Salladhor be afraid of "treasonous talk", if you mean what I know. Yes, yes, Maester Cressen tried to murder her and failed. I know. Get on with it. Yes, Davos is kind of lingering between believing in the supernatural and not, aided by Melisandre, yes. At last Davos gets up and ready to go to the castle. Salla warns him, tells him Melisandre is there. Oh rlly now.

One line that strikes me as...wrong: "You are an onion smuggler, what do you know of skulkings and stabbings?" Uhm. Smuggler? 
These two never seem to stop talking. Get on with it. The dungeons are mentioned (alarm bells!), blablabla Salladhor has clearly gained new respect for the red woman. Davos decides that he was saved (spit out by the sea) to destroy Melisandre, and we may well see that come to pass once upon a time in a parallel universe but I do really think the red woman will be destroyed at Dany's hands, not Davos'. Knowing that words are wind, this passage is semi-interesting: "An ill wind is all. A wind drove her too far to the south." "And who sent the wind? Salla, the Mother spoke to me." This line both shows us that Davos still clings to the Seven gods of Westeros, opposing Melisandre's Rh'lorr, but also that there might just be a little more to Martin's overuse of the words are wind phrase - this article  at 'Overthinking It' goes into more detail - could the winds be the voices of the gods, for example? Hey, the chapter started out with winds too, the winds in the sails of the ship on its way toward Dragonstone. Wind everywhere. 

More reminders (the shadow baby at Storm's End, Ser Cortnay's death), and then Salla's prophetic dialogue that someone will kill Melisandre, but not Davos. Suits my Daenerys theory just fine. Salla is making this much harder, Davos muses, and I am thinking, Martin is making this much longer than necessary. Still, there's fine character building, exposition and yadayada. Maybe I've grown to accustomed to my new hero Erikson's way of writing with almost no exposition at all? Another possible prophetic piece of dialogue from the self-same Salladhor, about him being the one to carry Davos' bones to his wife. We'll have to keep an eye out for that one, then. And finally Davos leaves the pirate, and they do not part on particularly good terms.

Another long walk then, with a bit more description and a little more thought-wanking, and finally we get to the castle gates, and again Davos is hindered, the guards believing him to be dead, Davos waiting and waiting for someone to get him inside the castle, and finally he is allowed to go round to the "sally port and they'll admit you". Now a sally port is an actual thing they used to have on castles, so +1 for adding this little mediæval detæil, woo! Kind of suspicious though, sending him around to the sally port. 

And the chapter just goes on and on stalling, drawing it out. Maybe Martin wants to build the atmosphere, the impending sense of doom. Maybe I am just too impatient today. He meets, in the garden, with Edric Storm. This, of course, is the point of this particular piece of the chapter - to introduce properly Edric Storm, a bastard of Robert Baratheon, but finally we get to the point and that is of course Axell Florent showing up to take Davos to the dungeon. Why? "He means to use it [the dirk] on our lady." Either someone's told Melisandre about Davos' plans (Salladhor) - which is likely (the time Davos had to wait could account for the time Salla would need to send a message off to Melisandre); or Melisandre has seen it in her flames (I call bullshit on Melisandre and her flames, at least for now - I'm pretty sure some of her tricks seen later in the series can be explained somehow). 

At least that's chapter's over and done with. Yes, I found it somewhat ponderous and boring. But it's an essential builder for Davos' upcoming story, obviously. And it sets up Edric Storm, the fallout between Davos and Salladhor, and gives us insight into how Davos is changing, and how he's mentally torn between loyalty and hate, and between pragmatism and the supernatural.

And that's it for now, time to get a-workin'.


  1. Nice review as always. I'd just like to point out that this chapter is not Davos I but Davos II. The chapter in which he was rescued from that island was in ASoS only.
    Secondly, "Davos has no way of knowing the shade was in fact Ser Loras Tyrell donning Renly's armor." It was actually Garlan Tyrell in Renly's armour. I guess the Season 2 has started playing tricks on your mind. :P
    Also, can we have a little less (nay, fewer) references to Star Wars please? It takes away something from these reviews IMHO.
    I was also wondering where can I read (free of cost) your similar chapter analyses from AGoT.
    Lastly I'd like to know how many times have you read ADwD?
    I'd like to end this comment with a book recommendation: "THE MAHABHARATA (2 Vols):A Modern Rendering by Ramesh Menon". Methinks you will love it (since you like ASOIAF so much, that is).

  2. Thank you for the comment, and YES, it seems the TV series is playing (ahem) mind tricks on me. Sorry couldn't resist :)

    Thank you also for correcting me on the Davos I / II brainburp, that was just me not paying attention.