Friday, September 6, 2013

[Re-read] Daenerys III, Part I: A World to Cross and Wars to Fight

Woo, it's Friday! Again! They just keep on coming, once a week. Since last Friday when I wrote about Jon Dungeons & Dragons Online for my never-sated need for RPG action/adventure. I've tried to get into it several times before, but it hasn't convinced me. This time I decided to go into it with some dedication, not letting myself be distracted by the ugly and clunky interface, the long reams of dry information texts, and the serviceable graphics. I needed adventure! And this time it worked a little better, once I bothered to learn the rules specific to this video game, and as such I got stuff done and, for the first time, got far enough to advance a level (in the same time I'd have leveled a World of Warcraft-character to tenth level). So I might just go back this weekend to look around a little more. I have given up on Neverwinter, and while I had a long period where I re-enjoyed Skyrim, that game too has now fallen by the wayside again, and perhaps I'll pick it up again at some point. Few games today are so enthralling that they keep me glued; I get bored with them rather quickly I suppose but then of course as a family man you can't sit for very long with a game before you have to do something else, and that's the real trick I suppose. When you have to stop frequently, the games don't keep you in their spell the way they do when you're playing hardcore and the video game world becomes more important than the real one. 
and Ygritte's explorations of the, er, unknown, I have been able to put in a little geekery here and there to sustain the quality of life, balancing it carefully with the demands of family and work (and a good night's sleep). I've tried out
In the world of literature I am currently reading two books, one made of dead trees (that would be Wolf Hall about Thomas Cromwell of medieval fame) and one using the Kindle application (that would be The Crusades, a history book written by Tomas Asbridge, but very fascinating and not dry at all - The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land) - and, for the usefulness of this blog, I have delved into the next Daenerys chapter of A Storm of Swords, which I shall be presenting right below this very long digressive paragraph of introductory doom.
More geekery? Mmm, got two new Forgotten Realms sourcebooks in the mail yesterday. One of them, The Moonsea, I already have on my shelf but missing the cover and the pages have been assaulted by mould, so I felt like I had to replace it with a fresh copy; the other is a short module, the second of a trilogy, The Secret of Spiderhaunt, so now the trilogy is complete in the shelf. I am still missing about twenty or so Realms source books, but the hunt continues, mainly on eBay. The novels may be made out of crap, the source books are genuine pleasures to read. Oh, and I couldn't help myself. I've always been a little curious about those D&D Miniatures Games miniatures, you know, pre-painted and ready to use in a game, so I bought a few boxes of these out-of-print things. Felt the immediate sense of "must have more" that you get with collectible card games (well I get that feeling) when you get a rare creature 1!!11!!!! and you want moar! /Shrug (kind of weird I never fell for Dark Sword Miniatures' Ice and Fire trap) I am such a child. Let's read about Daenerys. Now not just a geek's heroine, but the heroine of the people!

I really can't imagine Daenerys more the way I used to see her in my mind's eye - she had a sharper face and smaller eyes back then - but now when I open the book, all I see is Emilia Clarke with the wig looking all innocent and beautiful. She is softer in the show, I suppose, both her looks and her demeanor, but I think it works fine that way, too. The eye color being incorrect in the show doesn't bother me one fig, because the writers have reshaped Daenerys Stormborn into a real TV heroine. Of the people. No, not heroin for the people that would just create a very sad and isolated world where nobody would geek out on stuff anymore because they were too busy staring at the wall.

SO, Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Three! Currently in the process of acquiring the so-called Unsullied, a process so excellently put to film by HBO, but even better on the written page as this post will hopefully demonstrate. Martin was really at the top of his game in A Storm of Swords, wasn't he? There is a world of difference between the writing here and the writing in the following books - I can't fathom anyone not seeing this (yet there are people who claim there is no difference; which astounds me - but I suppose that discussion can wait until I get to A Feast for Crows). 

This chapter begins with dialogue from someone who refers to herself as "worthless" (Missandei). I can only imagine what calling yourself worthless all the time does to your mental health and self-esteem. The opening lays bare two things: Daenerys has decided to buy all the Unsullied (because she has a gentle heart, I suppose..), and one of her breasts, Qartheen-style. It's a rather quirky fashion if you ask me. How many idiots would use the "She was asking for it?" excuse if women walked around with one bare breast to entice the manimals? It is also actually somewhat distracting from the text that Martin chooses to kind of 'zoom in' on Dany's breast if you know what I mean. Now I am thinking of breasts instead of immersing myself in the tale. I'm not a beast who can't keep his hands off women, but I'm still a man and breasts remain a distraction. One could argue of course that dressing up like this is something the men of Qarth wish, and that it is sexist in a way. Anyway, she's off for a meeting with the Good Masters of Astapor. Imagine going to an office meeting where all the women have one breast out. Mmmm. It could lead to less wars, I don't know. The simplest answer may be, though, that Martin is something of a breast fetishist. 

Kraznys, who never won an empathy contest in his life, is surprised when Daenerys wants to buy all the soldiers he has for sale. He confers with his fellows (who were not present in the TV adaptation, and good riddance - they do not serve the plot at all, and Kraznys is such an interestingly vile character that he outshines them anyway); they all look alike to Dany, fat and with broad noses, so yeah. There's some world building tucked in here too, where Martin explains that the fringe of a man's tokar proclaims his status; small nuggets that help build the setting. And these chunks of exposition are bite-sized, and as such do not interfere with the story at hand overmuch. So we have the Grazdans (apparently they all have the same name) discussing Dany's offer until Kraznys announces their decision. As one of the slave traders puts it, "better gold in my purse than in my future"; they will sell her the Unsullied (and deplete their "stores" so to speak). However, they want her to come back in a year so she can buy an additional two thousand (are there even puppies left in this land?!) However, Daenerys wishes to be in Westeros in a year (which is such an irony-laden and bold claim thirteen years after the book was published..). Dany offers to double the price, which makes one of them drool (almost). Kraznys thinks "the little whore" is a fool, which of course Dany understands. She's really playing him, game of thrones-style. Hey, she does have some political acumen. Where did that go? The Good Masters (what a pretentious title considering how disgusting these people are) don't think she has enough wealth for more than a thousand Unsullied, so they do not believe her when she wants to double the price; and so they begin discussing; her crown could buy her another thousand, perhaps (I had completely forgotten that she has a crown!), but the crown is not for sale. Martin gradually builds up the text so that the reader (I assume) comes to the realization that Daenerys is going to sell a dragon, which is quite a twist really when you consider it; Martin had me duped there for a moment or two. I honestly can't remember if I believed she could sell a dragon the first time I read it, but I think I was fooled. Maybe because Whitebeard protests? Gives it an air of credibility. 

The Good Masters want the biggest and healthiest of the dragons, which is the black Drogon. And so an agreement is made, to the shock of many dragon-fans reading it for the first time I suppose, and she is given Missandei as a gift as well so that she has a translator (extra touch of irony there since Dany understands everything well enough); Whitebeard is outraged as they leave the eight fat icky tradesmen. Martin forgets to mention how Dany's free breast flops in the wind as they leave, though. What?

In the Plaza of Pride, she turns on Whitebeard telling him to keep his mouth shut when she's doing the talking. Tell her anything when they are alone, yes - I find this a little strange since his protesting probably helped her more than it do harm, but from a story-writing perspective this of course adds to the reader's belief that Dany will sell a dragon. However, Whitebeard than lays it all out for us - "The Astapori have cheated you, Your Grace. A dragon is worth more than any army." A line that suggests that Dany is probably having a plan, after all. Also a nice way to remind us how important the dragons are. Dany turns to Missandei next, revealing her knowledge of High Valyrian which results in a stunned "Oh", which Dany at first takes to be the slave girl's name. She frees Missandei, but ends up as Dany's newest handmaid; we get to hear valar morghulis - all men must die,  and through Missandei Daenerys is able to learn just how miserably loyal the Unsullied are (well, she knew that, but Missandei confirms it). Missandei reveals to have had three brothers among the Unsullied. Don't know if that's important for later on, if so I have forgotten. Probably not, since the text suggests these brothers are dead.

A long (longer than usual?) and dark night follows, in which Dany feeds her dragons. She cries awhile, which is Martin trying to lull us into believing Drogon is going to be sold; it is not really resolved why she's crying, it seems to me that its just a release from pressure (of which she has some). She eventually ends up talking to Ser Jorah Mormont, remembering the girl Eroeh but really talking about destiny, and also suggesting that Daenerys feels the need to protect people from, well, other people. Finally she falls asleep, dreams she is Rhaegar mounted on a dragon, fighting against beings "armored all in ice" (in the dream she thinks they are King Robert's men, but we readers know what this is all about); quite a prophetic dream! The ice-armored soldiers melt in dragonfire, so one can say that here we have Martin telling us that the dragons will indeed roast the Others toward the end of the tale (kind of anti-climactic, so maybe he's just throwing us a red herring here). Still, there are more hints that the dragons will destroy the Others throughout the books, like dragonglass daggers. Can't really see another way out of the story; there will be a confrontation between the Others and the dragons, between ice and fire. This leads me to thinking, what if Jon Snow ends up fighting with the Others for some f**ked up reason? You know, to avoid the anticlimax of Dany arriving with three dragons, dragons roast Others, story over. 

She wakes up. Her handmaidens are sleeping. There is a voice, a woman's voice. It is Quaithe of the Shadow, suddenly appearing in the cabin (which is more than strange enough); did she influence Dany's dream as well? Anyway, we get one of the "classic" prophecies or jibbergigglebigs if you want: "Remember. To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow."
Yeah, thanks for not being cryptic at all, Quaithe. Very enlightening. Quaithe disappears before Dany can get some straight answers out of the woman, though, as all good characters of this kind do in fantasy novels. Frustrating. Still, we can guess at some of this with some certainty; "To reach the west, you must go east" suggests itself; Dany is already moving further and further east, and will eventually - if this theory holds up - end up on the western side of Westeros (the Iron Islands perhaps?) The light/shadow thing I suppose is that Dany has something to experience in Asshai. The rest? Not so sure. If I look back, I am lost. Maybe "to go forward, you must go back" means learn from the past in some sense? To get on with your invasion of Westeros, learn from how they did it the first time? Could be. With the three dragons and all. Get two more riders and then take Westeros like your ancestor did.

Who is Quaithe anyway dammit?!

Next post - hopefully before the weekend ends - Daenerys rides to town!

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Slynt,

    Thanks very much for your re-reads. I'm really impressed (fwiw, sinc I'm no expert) by your extremely insightful commentary, esp re: prophesies and other fun stuff. I had never thought of the idea that Jon might somehow end up leading the Others, but I suppose the end of ADwD could very well bear that idea out. Isn't is something about Jon feeling nothing but the cold?

    I'm only on my second reading of the series (whence I stumbled upon your brilliant blog), but if there's one thing I'm finding about Martin, it's that he really enjoys "themes" and "repetition," one example of which is the constant "if it please my lord/lady" "IT CERTAINLY DOES NOT!" meme sprinkled throughout ASoS. And while the previous is a more or less trivial joke, one Big Important Thing Martin has been quite clear about through the series is that the cold and the Others are correlated, even if the causation bit is a little muddled.

    At any rate, I'm totally with you in hoping that GRRM has something interesting planned for ye olde "big-ass ending," since I somehow feel that Dany, Jon, and a third (Tyrion?) riding the dragons and making the Others go *poof* with fire might be satisfying on a visceral level, but not really interesting intellectually. But Jon leading the Others (either into conflict or maybe redemption?)... that could be worth something.

    Just my two proverbial cents. Thanks again for all the hard work you put into this blog. -Michael