I guess the correct phrase now is, "Well, I'll be damned." As a belated Christmas present from all of George RR Martin to all of us, the man has allowed a new(ish) chapter from The Winds of Winter to be published on his website, right here. Somebody who doesn't get banned for being honest should tell him though that the page is called 'Wild Cards Sample' which could be misleading. There is even an accompanying piece of artwork (as can be seen to the left here) featuring Arianne Martell and what I can only assume to be Ser Arys Oakheart. Looks like the cover of a romance novel if you ask me. Well done, though. Not how I envision Arianne (she looks a bit creepy here if you ask me), but then we all have our own versions of characters in our heads, at least until they show up on the HBO series.
The most important thing, though, is of course the fact that someone whispered in Martin's ear that it could be a good thing to give his readers a little something for Christmas. Now, the chapter in question, simply called Arianne on the website, is probably quite old already. Martin stated on his blog that he had moved several chapters out of A Dance with Dragons, to be published later in The Winds of Winter. So it's a gift to his readers all right, but not one that took him effort. Not saying he should be, ah, efforting so much, because after all we'd like him to continue work on book six, but I feel the surprise is none the less a little bit diminished by this fact, and it really shouldn't, because I've never read this chapter before and so I should just be happy to get a sneak preview of The Winds of Winter. The chapter really doesn't feel like it belongs to a book with such a cold title, though; we're in Dorne, with sand and cracked flats of soil and a searing sun and a hot princess of House Martell. But is the chapter any good?
That question should indicate that there will be spoilers below.
Well. I honestly did not expect to enjoy it, what with me being a curmudgeon about A Song of Ice and Fire these days. I found many chapters in Feast and most chapters in Dance to be slow, awkward and bloated. To my surprise, Arianne is not. In fact, while it's a fairly short chapter, it moves briskly, jumping from scene to scene and though there's a fair amount of character introspection, things actually happen - her party moves through Dorne, and arrives where they are meant to arrive within the same chapter. That's good. Now, like many other fans I find that Martin probably should've kept his cast of characters down and not expand any further (in the hopes to finish the series), and the Dorne chapters were not very interesting in Feast (and Quentyn's chapters in Dance were horrifically boring in my opinion) but here we have a smooth ride of a chapter, and we follow Arianne as she learns about the arrival of Jon Connington and the young dragon heir, and she seems to suspect this Aegon to be an impostor, and we get a few flashbacks to none other than Darkstar - Darkstar! the guy of the night itself - a few seemingly unimportant new minor characters (Joss Hood, Ser Daemon Sand (well's he not new but we get to know him a little more), Garibald Shells, and Nate. As is Martin's habit, we get a few more nicknames - Ser Daemon's the Bastard of Godgrace, and Nate is called Feathers - we get some intricate details around families and alliances in Dorne, and several places in the chapter it feels like good old classic GRRM, with the added twist of this being Dorne. It's almost like an "alternate" vision of the main story - in the original we watched events unfold through the eyes of the Starks, now through the eyes of the Martells.
Still, all is not well; there is some clunky writing, and that vibe of tension, last described in my previous re-read post, is simply missing. To compare to said post: There's tension immediately as Arya is plucking carrots and hears someone approach - in Arianne, we get a much less interesting opening paragraph. Prince Doran Martell told her before going on this mission-quest-type-thing that, basically, "Help me Arianne Martell you are my only hope," which must be quite a burden but I'm not able to buy into it the same way I buy into whatever in the three first novels. When she doesn't shed a tear because Dornishmen don't waste water lightly, it sounds a bit artificial. The analogy doesn't quite work, in my opinion. The chapter doesn't have much drama, but it is colorful and rich with lots of tiny details adding to the already massive world-building Martin is undertaking. A few hints, as well, like this new pirate king, the Lord of the Waters - could it be Aurane? Also, like many chapters in the last two books, Martin seems to have grown fond of describing events through hearsay and rumor rather than throw us directly into the situation to see for our own eyes. I hope we won't get too much of this type of telling in the future (the most famous example, I guess, being the Knight of Flowers and his adventures on Dragonstone).
So, I did enjoy this, and yes it makes me hungry for more. I am confused by the chapter's ending, though.What exactly can they only hope for?
Ah, back to the waiting game.