Thursday, February 7, 2013

[Re-read] Arya III: To Ride Peaceful and Shoot Straight

Sometimes I get comments on old posts; I usually don't have the time to reply, but be assured I read them. There was a comment this morning about women in the Middle Ages that I'd like to respond to at length, and I want to thank for all those links (they go straight into the 'Medieval stuff'-folder of links!), but remember I was talking about Westeros rather than medieval Europe. Still, point taken and I will definitely look into the post regarding women in medieval times if the re-read of A Storm of Swords is to be edited into a book. That's an if though, as my second book Re-reading A Clash of Kings is now almost a year late for various reasons. I do hope it will be published as its a far more in-depth, and far less "bloggy" effort than the first. He shrugs.

I used to think that managing my mp3 collection (using WinAmp, still my favorite media player after testing out basically all options) was a hassle. I'm a bit of a catalogue-freak, needing to have everything alphabetically, chronologically, with the tags correct, with proper cover art, the right credits in the right places etc. Then I began to collect Kindle e-books. Getting those thingies to present themselves in a proper manner is worse. Last night I wasted hours trying to re-insert missing cover art, retagging titles to add proper series titles, secondary titles etc., get the authors' names correct and so on and so forth. To do this I had to download a third-party piece of software, Mobi2Mobi, and it doesn't always work as I want it to. Very annoying. I want the books to display in a certain order with the proper art when I open up my Kindle program (I use it on this computer, as well as on my smartphone). Several titles just force Mobi2Mobi to crash, while others are easily edited. I am glad I don't have that many e-books yet, because this is a project worthy of the greatest of procrastinators. Which brings me to George R.R. Martin and my e-book-version of A Storm of Swords, fired up and ready to go in Kindle. Ka-ching!

All right, so we are back with Arya Stark. Last time we saw her hope welled up as Harwin of Winterfell entered the Inn of the Kneeling Man and, at least on the first read of the book, every heart rejoiced with this unexpected reunion that could lead to all kinds of good things for little fierce Arya. With this in mind, it is kind of surprising to see the chapter start kind of slow, with rains coming and going, and the streams running high, and Arya noticing the "moss was growing mostly on the wrong side of the trees". It opens up the question - is she walking somewhere with Harwin? That's an assumption a reader could make, so in this sense, we are already curious about the words to come, even as the chapter opens in a relatively mundane way of describing nature (which, by the way, subtly hints that autumn is growing ever more autumny). But look, she's talking to Gendry, and both of them are riding - no boating, then. She thinks they are lost, Gendry sounds more confident; reading between the lines one could assume that Gendry is only pretending to be sure to make Arya feel safe; there's a great exchange between the two characters that always makes me smile: When Gendry complains it rains so much they'll have moss growing out of their ears, Arya replies, "Only from our south ear," which is funny and feels so right for her character to say. It is revealed that Hot Pie is no longer with them - he stayed behind at the Inn to help with the baking of bread. A less exciting but hopefully safer way of life for Hot Pie, then. Still, a shame to "lose" him as his presence gave Arya's chapter a nice character to contrast against Arya's bravery. He begs Arya to come back to him after the war is done, which I guess we can write down in the Great List of things we'd like to see before the series ends. 

Wondering which way to go.
Next up is more flashback exposition as we learn more about what Arya and Harwin talked about; she told him about his father's death, about Yoren and the escape from King's Landing, leaving out her killings and leaving out the whole Jaqen H'ghar story (somehow I doubt Harwin would believe that anyway). We are reminded that she still carries Jaqen's iron coin and the phrase Valar Morghulis is repeated for us. Harwin on his side gives us some exposition on Lord Beric Dondarrion and his group; back in A Game of Thrones, Beric was the one Lord Eddard Stark sent off to find and apprehend Ser Gregor Clegane. We are given a few of the names of those who went west with Lord Beric: Thoros of Myr, Ser Raymun Darry, Ser Gladden Wylde, Lothar Mallery - mostly unknowns, but their names alone evoke enough of a feeling, I think. I can see in my mind's eye this group riding out of King's Landing, mud spattering about the hooves of their horses, grim and determined faces out to find the Mountain that Rides to bring him to justice. Here we have a good suggestion for HBO and George RR Martin - make a spin-off series about the Lightning Lord and his adventures in the Riverlands. Oh. All those guys are dead already (except Thoros). I forgot that. So much for the epic riding out of the Mud Gate - scene. Lots of information to digest here as Harwin just keeps on talking. This gives Lord Beric and his men some needed depth and background, and one can expect to meet them since Martin spends so many words giving these characters their backstory.

Interesting! This is very interesting! Lord Beric was considered dead, but Thoros prayed for him all night and at dawn Beric was stronger than ever. No, this is not the interesting part. This is: "He told us that our war had not ended at the Mummer's Ford, but only begun there, and that every man of ours who'd fallen would be avenged tenfold." See the mirroring here? In the next book, we'll have another character similarly thought dead, coming back strong, and bent on vengeance. This line then, could be considered both foreshadowing, mirroring and possibly telling us something about what Thoros' resurrections do to a person's mind: They become hell-bent on revenge and little else. Okay, maybe not that interesting but I never noticed this bit before. Taking a break right now to get a proper look at the upcoming MMO Neverwinter. I am itching for this.

...And back. Well, the game does look promising in some ways, and not so promising in other ways. Loved the many, many character creation options but the world felt small (from what little we got to see obviously) and I am not sure the high octane action is really what I am looking for. I'm more into exploring secondary worlds at my own leisure. But boy is it itching! Oh well, back to A Song of Ice and Fire. How's that MMO coming along by the way? Hasn't been much news there, has it? In an ideal world it will be a fantastic experience unlike no other MMO with family affilitations, House against House play, enormous areas to explore and with people actually roleplaying out politics, intrigues etc. In an ideal world. 

Back in a more violent and cruel world, we have Arya and Gendry moving through woods (I assume they are in the woods, what with their discussion about the moss but it is never explicitly stated); Harwin is still telling Arya about how Lord Beric and crew went west, tells her about the fights they've had, who's dead, and we get another panoramic view of the events of war that have been unfolding (no wonder many people new to the series are a tad confused): "(...)but we told each other we'd join up with King Robert when he marched west to crush Lord Tywin's rebellion. Only then we heard that Robert was dead, and Lord Eddard as well, and Cersei Lannister's whelp had ascended the Iron Throne." Well that's a quick yet correct summation so far; but the point of Harwin's story is that suddenly roles were reversed and Lord Beric and his men now find themselves being considered outlaws instead of King's Men. Lord Beric did not wish to yield, and decided they would go on fighting (another hint at his changed, more vengeful character). Harwin tells her how his group has swelled; fieldhands and fiddlers and innkeeps all want to become part of his band of avengers of justice - even which Arya replies, "I wish I had a good mean dog," which both reminds us that she lost her direwolf Nymeria and gives us a different kind of foreshadowing in the fact that she will team up with...well, a certain dog. Could a direwolf kill a lion? she wonders, and we all would like to know the answer to that. So far, the only important Lannisters killed have been killed by non-Starks. I do have a feeling though, that before it's over we'll have a Stark killing a Lannister in what I can only assume will be a most satisfying way. For the readers, I mean. And maybe, since the question is posed by Arya, it will indeed be Arya who takes down an important Lannister. But who? And how? And most importantly, when dammit?!

House Dondarrion's sigil according to HBO.
Gendry and Arya aren't traveling alone; they are with the band including Jack-be-Lucky, a new character, Lem Lemoncloak and others. There's more rain (more autumn), they shelter in a burned, abandoned village; though it turns out it isn't that abandoned after all, people are just hiding and supporting the the merry men, reminding me (and probably most readers) of how commoners supported Robin Hood and his band. There are more resemblances to Robin Hood too, like Beric and Thoros being kind of like Robin and Friar Tuck (though he's also a little bit of Little John). At the village, they learn that Ser Jaime Lannister has escaped the dungeon of Riverrun. Now, I wonder, since this bit of news comes so close on the heels of Arya wondering about the direwolf killing a lion  - are we being set up for a confrontation between Arya and the Kingslayer? It's happened before in this series, you know - someone is mentioned and then a little while later that someone becomes central to some event. Jack-be-Lucky is one-eyed and has apparently spent some time in Riverrun's dungeon himself; I do not know whether this will ever become important, but it's a quick reminder that these guys aren't just do-gooders. As they talk about Jaime, Anguy reveals that Lord Beric always gives his enemies a trial before hanging them - another similarity to another character in A Feast for Crows. Well, not similarity actually but a contrast, come to think of it: that other character skips the trial. Tom Sevenstrings begins to sing, and now we're really feeling the Sherwoody mood as they sing about themselves as "that fearsome outlaw band". The band appeals to me, much more than, say, the Night's Watch, for some reason. Perhaps I like characters who take destiny in their own hands, I don't know. I've always liked the stories about Robin Hood, could be that. Arya drifts off to sleep, and dreams of Winterfell. It's not a good dream (has there been a good dream in these books?). It is unclear whether she was, for a moment, inside a wolf's body at Winterfell, or if it was just a dream to remind us that Winterfell is kind of broken.

Next morning comes up precisely when it means to, and they are off again, with more descriptions suggesting the change of season: "The wind was gusting, sending dry brown leaves swirling (...)" Now Arya becomes convinced they are traveling the wrong way - she wants to go north, to Riverrun, but they are moving south, led by the band of outlaws. Not sure why they wait so long to tell her, but as Arya reins in her horse, Lem tells her that she is right - they are not going to Riverrun. Such a downer for Arya! And for the reader, too, to have her suspicions come true. They are taking her, no not to Isengard, but to meet the Lightning Lord, Beric Dondarrion. She is after all valuable, being the daughter of the lord of the North and all. Oh, that feeling of not getting anywhere. Frustrating but it makes for a ripping good yarn eh.

Beautiful art showing autumn in the Riverlands. Not the season to be jolly.
Naturally, Arya chooses the only option available to her. She tries to flee, urging her horse to a gallop. The outlaws pick up the chase right away. I can almost guarantee that this scene will make it into HBO's third season, it's dramatic and full of tension even though its short. "Arya dashed across brown weedy fields, through waist-high grass and piles of dry leaves that flurried and flew when her horse galloped past(...)" Hells to the yeah. Her escape is described vividly and in detail, Martin really shines here as he takes us with Arya on horseback. Eventually, it is Harwin who catches up with her for maximum dramatic potential (had it been Greenbeard, it wouldn't be as interesting, no?). "Lord Eddard's dead, milady. I belong to the lightning lord now, and to my brothers." They no longer fight for House Stark; a bond has been forged between these outlaws (I believe 'male bonding' is the correct term) and it sounds as if Harwin believes Lord Beric can field an army on his own and thus become yet another king in the making. And so Arya, once again, has become a captive. I love this part of the story so much, how Arya goes from victory to defeat to victory to defeat, how through her journeys we get to see the Riverlands and learn more about the political developments, yet also the story encompasses a more traditional type of storytelling with the journey and the outlaw band, it's pretty much perfect. We get it all, kind of - drama, betrayal, geography, politics, interesting secondary characters, tension, action - but the chapter ends rather quietly with Arya sullenly agreeing to "ride peaceful." 

Wondrous isn't it! And if I remember correctly, the next chapter up isn't exactly a dud either. 

1 comment:

  1. Didn't the book say she was galloping among the trees and they grew thinner and ended, soon after which she was cought?