Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October Ends

October is almost at an end, so if you haven't grabbed a copy of the print edition of A Flight of Sorrows: Collector's Edition yet, you only have today and tomorrow before it will no longer be available. Or you could enter the Collector's Edition Giveaway. Free stuff is good.

With October ending, November begins and once again it's time for NaNoWriMo! Last year I got to around 18,000 words before I caved in. It was a story influenced by George R.R. Martin (of course) but with a touch of Arthurian legend instead of British medieval history. There was a king returning from the dead to find his brother on the throne, and something about witches on an off-coast island involved. I can't really remember it all, I was just furiously writing without editing to keep the pace. It was hard. Nonetheless, I am going for it again this year. I'm not sure what I am going to do yet. I have a short story over at SFFWorld, The Bournemouth Shades which I could turn into a novel. In that way, the groundwork has been laid. I could do a novel based on my play-by-post role playing stories which also would provide me with a rather thorough groundwork (I've lifted all the posts into a Word document for easier reading and it's already a 284-page document - and there's still more to add), but these posts are based on just a small part of the entire campaign that we've been playing since 2005, and it's toward the end at that so it would be a story jumping right into the middle of an already on-going story; Erikson was able to do it with Gardens of the Moon, so there's that. Not saying I'm an Erikson, by the way. Just that I could have fun with it.

At the same time I'd love to just start from scratch with nothing much and just go with the flow, but that's what I did last year and it stopped me in my tracks before I was halfway to completing the goal. Ah, decisions. Also, why am I doing this when I barely have time to eat my lunch, dammit? Maybe you too should get your hands sweaty on a keyboard in November? What do you say, Riga?




Coming up this later week: A new A Storm of Swords post with none other than Ser Jaime Lannister!


Update: A few hours later and I've been thinking and I have made a decision, forged ahead and set up a novel at NaNoWriMo's website and am ready to take the plunge again in two days' time. If only I can force myself to write a minimum of 1,666 words a day, I'll get there. It's purely for the challenge, of course, of writing a lot in a short amount of time. I am looking forward to it. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

A quote

I'm still enjoying Mark Lawrence's "Prince of Thorns" and came upon this cool quote that sums up the titular character nicely:

My hair swung behind me as I scanned the cliff. I'd let the Nuban weave it into a dozen long braids, a bronze charm at the end of each. He said it would ward off evil spirits. That just left me the good ones to worry about.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hacking

Ah, Rhandulf the cleric. When he still had food in his belly.
And was alive. Slain by a troglodyte on the second level. I miss you.
After a month or so of little geek time (except reading 'Prince of Thorns', where a major reveal last night did not come as a surprise, but still had me thinking about it afterward) I have spent a couple of hours in a subterranean randomized geek world. Using DOSBox, I have revived a youth passion - I have played SSI's classic dungeon crawl DUNGEON HACK, a simple AD&D game where you take one character through a randomized dungeon. The game most closely resembles one of my favorites ever, 'Eye of the Beholder' (it features some borrowed graphics and utilizes a very similar interface) but there is no plot. Instead, the fun lies in trying to guide a character through hard mode, where if you die you are dead and your saves are deleted by digital sorcery.
So, four adventurers have lost their lives in the dungeon so far today, two of them ending on the game's Hall of Fame list. It's like a competition against yourself, or a solo module of yore. Boy do I wish someone could remake all these classic games based on AD&D or make modern sequels with the same kind of addictive and fun gameplay. As it stands, ancient DUNGEON HACK is much more fun than recent franchise games like Neverwinter, Daggerdale or D&D Online. The only game to come close is Legend of Grimrock, so I am anxious about its upcoming sequel.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Your Fantasy Black

I'm not a big fan of end time prophecies mainly because they scare the gullible, make no sense and because they are useless, unlike the narrative prophecies Martin employs in A Song of Ice and Fire. Why am I mentioning this? Because I stumbled across this article which shows how far people are willing to go in terms of lunacy. Oh well.

I had originally planned to read a new (old) chapter inA Storm of Swords today, but unfortunately I have run out of time. I'm in the middle of an extremely busy period at work which essentially rips my geek time to all manner of shreds and I am leaving town today to meet my role playing buddies for a weekend of hardcore gaming (which I am looking forward to, of course). So I am really taking back my geek time this weekend, but at a remote cabin deep in the forested mountains, hands loaded with dice and pencils and other ultimately useless paraphernalia, where the concept of "the Internet" is but a distant dream. Hence, no post today. 


But speaking of geekery, I was at a conference for three days this week and at the airport I couldn't help but treat myself to yet another fantasy series - I bought the first two books in Mark Lawrence's debut series, Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns. I've begun the first one and I am pleasantly surprised to find an easy-to-read, fast-paced, incredibly violent story that is in fact not too far removed from what Martin and Abercrombie do in terms of grittiness (it doesn't feel very realistic, though). Aside from one glaring error early on (a location has two different names when it should be consistently one), it is very easy to dig into it and read a few chapters before the eyes close shut. Refreshing really, because I'm struggling through the much more complex and poetic prose of Wolf Hall which now, along with a dozen other books, is kind of in a "to read limbo". Gods, how many books am I reading now? I'm not sure. The Crusades, Life in a Medieval Castle, Wolf Hall, Prince of Thorns, The Way of Kings, Deadhouse Gates re-read, The Blade Itself re-read, four or five Forgotten Realms novels started but hard to stay interested in due to lack of literary quality, about eighty Forgotten Realms sourcebooks one at a time (and much more fun to read than the novels), heck, I haven't even finished The Lies of Locke Lamora and I've had it since it was published! Maybe I should just accept that I simply don't finish all books I read and be at ease with that fact. Prince of Thorns though I am convinced I'll finish because it's so fast and entertaining. Recommended to anyone who likes their fantasy black. I hope it stays consistently as vivid as the first hundred or so pages have turned out to be. In that case, I may have a new favorite. It doesn't do anything new, mind you, but it's right up my alley, 'cause I do like my fantasy (and coffee) black.

Friday, October 11, 2013

[Re-read] Jon IV: A Messiah with an Ice Pick


   The days are getting darker, the wind is picking up as it comes down from the slopes to stir the remaining leaves on the trees. Yes, winter is coming. But first, autumn. Lovely dark autumn with its invitation to huddle inside with a good fantasy be it a book, a game, or a movie. For my part, I'm still reading Wolf Hall and The Crusades at a very slow rate, there hasn't been much time for reading as of late. Well, I read tons of useless stuff on the Internet all the time so you could argue that I am wasting time I could have spent reading books. But there is so much to read on the web as well. Sigh. I haven't played a game in a good while though, but there shall be remedy, oh yes. Next weekend is role playing game weekend. I like to be well prepared for such occasions so I've been fiddling a lot with it. Our game has been going on for many years so I had to refresh myself to the story, its many characters (I think we might be rivaling Martin's appendices by now), the many plot lines resolved and unresolved, etc. I dream of one day turning it into something like a novel, after excising the too obvious 'stealing' of ideas from masters Martin, Tolkien, Erikson et al. Try to pick out the good, somewhat original stuff and write it as a novel. And whenever I daydream about this (I have written bits and pieces too; I guess I have about 30,000 words) the voice in my head (which I know is me, just to make that clear - no exorcist needed thank you) says "But it's not original enough," or "Why do it, you're not good enough" or "You will never be able to do this"... So I end up writing flash fiction and the occasional short story for SFFWorld instead. Which of course is both fun and, I suppose, useful excersises that may aid me in eventually accomplishing a larger project. If ever. Time.
    And, next month it's November again. For now though, I feel like reading a chapter of A Storm of Swords. Always an inspiring read, and I need some inspiration and a kick in the butt to finish a short story for SFFWorld, in which some poor kids find a magical door on the beach.

All right, Jon Snow's fourth chapter in A Storm of Swords (and his twenty-first in A Song of Ice and Fire). We are instantly reminded that Ghost is gone - Jon sent him away in the previous chapter - and that Jon hopes that Ghost finds his way back to Castle Black. A very quick and efficient reminder, done away in three sentences. Then, Martin gives us some atmosphere in the form of landscape description (as he tends to do in the chapters taking place north of the Wall more so than in other chapters - or so it feels), the most important part of it being that Jon and his company are in sight of the massive Wall.

The Magnar of Thenn is out to prove himself: This was to be the young raider's hour of glory. When Martin puts it that way, consider it a warning signal. There will probably be little glory to be had for the Magnar. He's good at giving characters hope, but no so good at fulfilling those dreams of glory and honor and justice. I have a slight suspicion that I am not surprising anyone here.

Jarl (which by the way is earl in Norwegian and, if I'm not mistaken, the origin of the English word) has found a good spot, where the Night's Watch has been neglecting keeping the forest far enough away from the Wall. This will allow the party to get all the way to the Wall without being seen. According to legend, Brandon the Builder had laid huge foundation blocks along the heights (where it is hilly) - knowing that giants do exist in the North, I wonder whether this ancient Brandon had the giants help him haul these massive blocks. Martin gives us some new exposition on the Wall; it feels slightly as something Martin made up on the spot which wasn't part of 'canon' (I almost dare not say the word) until now; I sure don't remember that it has been mentioned before that the Wall "was a sword (straight line) east of Castle Black,  but a snake to the west" but now it seems the story calls for it and so the author decides it is so. On the maps the Wall looks pretty straight to me. Upon re-reading this bit I realize I am a little bit off - it's not that the Wall swings here and there, but that its height varies depending on the height of the ground below it. So the Wall itself is straight from east to west, but its height varies based on the ground (that makes a lot more sense anyway), so we have in fact parts of the Wall as much as nine hundred (!) feet tall. It is not a big deal, of course. Just a small niggle where the immersion falls off for a short moment because Martin is building as he writes. But boy he is good at weaving his tapestry without readers noticing the craft behind it most of the time.
Did this make sense? Sometimes it so hard to think and write in a different language from your own - especially on a Friday with a hard week's work behind ye.

Jon realizes that the Thenns are frightened by the impressive sight of the Wall (something I found lacking in the TV series was a profound feeling of awe upon seeing it - well apart from the scene where Jon and Tyrion arrive from the south; but I'm thinking of the climbing episode here). Jon once more goes into reflection mode, wrangling with the issue of his loyalty to the Watch and to Ygritte. One new thing in this is that Jon begins imagining taking Ygritte with him south - trying to stay loyal to both, in other words. But, as the title of the saga hints at, ice is ice and fire is fire, and Jon is ice and Ygritte is fire in this case (not sure if I ever noticed this link for Jon and Ygritte before but she is after all kissed by fire isn't she?) and so one could perhaps realize before events unfold that Jon and Ygritte are not destined for each other (but following this line of thought, one can also argue that Jon and Daenerys are not meant to be - which of course theoretically can happen). Jarl's raiders aren't impressed by the Wall, though, because they have been here before and seen it all before. 

In the shadow of the Wall the wildlings ready themselves and Martin does a sweet job of giving us just enough of a glimpse into their preparations so that we can imagine it without going overboard with the laundry lists. The Others take them all, Jon thinks as he watches the raiders scramble up the slopes toward the Wall, which might well be a prophetic thought. We're given a bit more info on raiding activities - the wildlings have scaled the Wall many times, in fact, but usually these expeditions result in death by falling or capture. Of course, we saw a few wildlings in A Game of Thrones who had managed to slip past the mighty Wall - Osha among them. In addition to climbing the icy Wall, raiders sometimes slip across the Bay of Seals in boats which sounds way easier to me than scaling seven hundred feet of ice (even though it means travelling further across land) - maybe Martin could have slipped in a mention of how dangerous it to travel so far on the "wrong" side of the Wall especially with the Others about - you know, to make it more believable. I find it hard to buy that these people annually try to climb the Wall and most die and that they continue doing it after all those failures, even though some manage to get through once in a while. Oh, and sometimes they "descend into the black depths of the Gorge to make their way around the Shadow Tower" - nothing suggests this is harder or less hard to do than climbing the ice, but there it is. 

Ygritte and Jon watch as the climbers emerge above the treetops with Jarl in the lead. They move from the trees onto the Wall itself, ropes tied to each other, moving higher. Martin spends time describing the climb in detail, giving us a good "look" so to speak. The Magnar complains that the raiders are moving too slowly; Jon doesn't respond but thinks to himself that he'd be pretty slow himself if he had to claw his way up that wall of ice. He does hope that the Watch will discover them and shoot them down. Which kind of suggests that Jon, subconsciously, already has made his decision with regards to his loyalty. He is still a man of the Watch; not a wildling. No defenders appear however, and the raiders continue to climb for, well, the longest time. It is well written and while I'm not biting my nails, I think it is sufficient since we don't - at this point - have a POV climbing the wall, which would require more powerful descriptions. Vertigo.

Six hours of climbing later, the ice cracks and the raiders fall. Well, that's kind of anticlimactic of course butThe Wall defends itself, Jon thinks to himself, which is kind of imposing an intelligence upon it (also called animism)  which I can only hope the Old Gods will forgive him. Jarl ends up impaled upon a branch; one of his raiders actually survived but is killed off when he pleads for mercy (as in death). Their corpses are all burnt when Grigg the Goat reaches the top of the Wall; here, Martin speeds up the narrative, avoiding another long six-hour trek description, which is good for him and good for us, and the sun is sinking in the west. During the evening, the guys on top begin to lower rungs of woven hemp so as to make it easier for those who will follow. Ygritte utters that she hates the Wall, which is a good thing, after all, walls separate people right? Walls have this tendency to reduce meaningful communication when used like this. When Jon says it's made of ice, she says it's made of blood, which is kind of silly because it has repeatedly been described as being made of ice and she is looking straight at it. Dump her, Jon, she's too dumb for ye (I realize she is being all meta, by the way). 
then you have to realize this actually heightens the tension once Jon Snow himself goes climbing. So in that regard it is time well spent, groundwork is laid for the reader to realize just how dangerous this will be for Jon once he ascends like a messiah with an ice pick.

It is of course a Wall of Blood when your people keep falling off it to die. At midnight, Jon reaches the top. And this is my one problem with this chapter. Here, Martin has the chance to give us a fantastic exciting bit of narrative from Jon's eyes as he makes his way up the wall, step by step, grip by grip, occasionally slipping, looking down and experiencing vertigo, and we get nothing. A very exciting and possibly traumatizing and profound (and heroic admit it) moment for Jon Snow is refused to one sentence. Oh well. Leaves more space in the book for the Lannisters.

The chapter ends with Ygritte crying- Jon believes she is frightened, after all they have been climbing seven hundred feet of sheer ice wall, but no - she is crying because, "...we never found the Horn of Winter. We opened half a hundred graves and let all those shades loose in the world, and never found the Horn of Joramun to bring this cold thing down!"

This chapter feels uneven, this ending statement bolted on for a bit of a climactic chapter ending, but I'm more confused than excited to read the next Jon chapter (which should be what the chapter's end strives to achieve).

Why I'm confused? Well, up until this point I haven't heard anything about graves holding shades that, once those graves are opened, escape their graves. Did the Others lie in graves? I can't understand what else those shades can be - except that they opened the graves, there were corpses there, and when the wildlings left, the Others showed up to animate them. I guess that's plausible. But the way it's written here makes it sound, you know, like shades let loose. I imagine dark-cloaked ethereal beings flying off, not wights or Others. What do you think this passage means to convey? The horn part I get well enough. Mance Rayder was looking for a legendary horn said to be able to blow down the Wall. I wonder if that horn would be the horn in Euron Crow's Eye's possession or if it is indeed another horn. What's with all the horns all of a sudden anyway? Aaaaooooooooooooooooo!

And you BET that Wall's going to come down. If there ever was a given in this book (aside from characters with hope getting their hopes crushed), it's that the Wall is coming down. One final note: I find myself thinking that the climb as HBO portrayed it in the TV series worked better than it does in this chapter. You may note that I early on in this post kind of look forward to Jon's attempt on the wall, so it seems I have forgotten it is skimped over, or I have mixed it up with my experience of seeing it on the screen. 

Next: Jaime's non-existent hand burns!



Monday, October 7, 2013

[Re-read] Arya V: Gibbets and Gigolos



[The first paragraph turned into yet another Martin-rant. You have been warned and can freely skip to the second paragraph. Edit: And by second paragraph, I mean third.]

So what's the deal with Martin writing so much about that tiny cinema he bought? It's not like 99.999999% of his blog readers live in his town and thus have any interest in what's going on in his moving picture house. Of course he can write about anything he wants, I just doubt it is a very useful way to spend his time when it doesn't affect his readership. Yes, it was fun watching the trailer for House on Haunted Hill, but I can do that on YouTube as well (actually you can watch the full movie there) but I can't help but feel that his cinema posts in particular should be on a separate blog perhaps dedicated to the cinema in question. His sports posts at least have interested people, and the HBO series, and his other writing. I still think it is awesomely weird that in his new updated blog rules he actually rules out discussion of A Song of Ice and Fire. Yes, he refers you to online communities specifically dedicated to discussing the series (though he forgets to mention Is Winter Coming? for some reason), but still...He could at least give an explanation as to why this must be so. Is he afraid that discussion will affect his writing? That could be a good reason I'd support - but he just comes off as his usual grumpy unsociable self. And still no sighting whatsoever of The Winds of Winter. Nothing. We aren't even fed crumbs. No wind picking up at all. Quiet. Maybe people are temporarily satisfied knowing that they soon can read The Princess and the Queen Yadayada. Other related stuff may also keep folk happy while they wait. Me, I'm done with submerging myself in the setting. I just want the story. Between A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows, yes, I was blinded into keeping myself invested in the setting through purchases: the art book, art prints for the wall (still not up on the wall though), collecting the card game, the board game, comics...But now I'm not spending anything anymore (aside from a moment of weakness about half a year ago where I bought one of those Game of Thrones mugs - what can I say, I was thirsty) and I believe if more people flat out refused to invest in all the out-of-book Ice & Fire stuff thrown at them, Martin might just work a little bit harder on the next book. Now, judging by the Not-a-Blog, it seems he is more interested in his licenses and projects than A Song of Ice and Fire (and by 'now' I mean the last decade or so). Enough ranting, let's read Arya! Oh, all right - one tiny tiny rant because the thought occurred to me while seeking out Star Wars: Episode VII spoilers earlier today - one of the reasons I didn't like the prequel trilogy was the Jedi overdose. In the originals, the Jedi aspect of the movies was just one part of the whole, there was a civil war going on that got more screen time - the balance was good. In the prequels suddenly lightsabers are flashing everywhere and it's all about Jedi and Sith and the Force and it became too much and the essence was lost; why am I writing it here? Because I have a nagging suspicion that something similar is happening with our beloved Ice and Fire saga, only replace "Jedi" with "Targaryens". There's an increased focus by Mr. Martin on the Targaryens what with the histories and genealogies and all and I am sure there are a lot of Targaryen fans lapping it up, but personally I think they should remains one smaller part of the whole, just like all the other things going on.

The above paragraph was written several weeks ago, before I "lost" my computer to an accident involving lots of water and a little bit of electricity. Today, the same laptop has been fixed (complete with a new keyboard, which feels good to my fingers oh yes it does), but my points above definitely stand - for what has happened over at Not a Blog? More posts about his private cinema, a building only those living in his vicinity can actually visit, thus ruling out most readers. Does he really believe people are that interested? Or does he simply like to write about it (perhaps as a means of blowing off some steam after an intense The Winds of Winter chapter...one can hope)? I don't know. I still think he should make a section of his website dedicated to his cinema so that his readers. And now, Arya V. For the really real reals, with the computer up and running things will be a little easier again with regards to posting and, well, everything else.

So while I'm re-installing some of my favorite programs and games, I'm whipping up my Kindle version of A Storm of Swords, which is always quite handy (though I still think the feeling of pulling the massive tome off the shelf and read on actual dead tree remains the better option) and diving right back into the story, which picks up in Stoney Sept, the biggest town Arya has seen since King's Landing. The opening sentence also teaches Arya (and us) that Lord Eddard Stark, her father, won a famous battle in this town, a battle that links to A Dance with Dragons in which we'll meet another character present at the battle. In this regard, it becomes doubly interesting to re-read the rather obvious info dump we are presented with right at the start of the chapter.

Harwin tells Arya the tale, speaking of the Mad King's men hunting Robert (Baratheon) and how Lord Connington the Hand took the town and started searching for Robert house to house; however, Lord Eddard came to town and stormed its walls, resulting in fierce fighting (even on the rooftops!); the septons rang the bells, Robert came out of hiding, slaying six men, among them Rhaegar's squire Myles Mooton. Lord Jon Connington wounded Arya's grandfather, Hoster Tully but fled when the battle turned against him. I like Martin providing us with these back stories, especially when they are short and concise, only giving us glimpses - what isn't told often helps give these stories that air of mystery and legend. I admit that when I finally could read A Dance with Dragons, the name Jon Connington didn't mean much to me, but now that I am here in Stoney Sept again, it is kind of relieving to see that he was already part of the mosaic, tying together books three and five in a minor way (and thus, hopefully, giving me more enjoyment upon reading book five when I get there again).

Whoever made this, you rule. Love it.

Arya notices that the town looks as if there's been fighting recently as well, which is great way to tie the background information to the present story being told. At the gate, we're given more information. The captain there explains that the town has some food at present, as the Huntsman brought sheep, and there has been some trading. We are also told again how everyone and their grandmother is looking for Ser Jaime Lannister, and that Lord Hoster Tully is dead or dying. We get some info on this Huntsman character and boy has he had bad luck lately (raped wife, raped sister, crops to the torch, half his sheep eaten, other half killed for spite, six dogs dead) - I suppose this is enough to tell us that the Huntsman is one bitter guy, without explicitly telling us so. Ah, the old show don't tell. I love you.

The outlaws, Arya among them, ride into town and from the (very) short descriptions I can't help but think of bombed-out French villages during the second World War, even though that's silly. Stoney Sept is ruined, and silent - but the people are there, only hiding - until they begin to pop out to greet the outlaws. I love how Martin keeps reminding us of the horrible effects of war, keeping his story grounded in its reality and never romanticizing warfare as so often happens in fantasy literature. As a literature teacher it is interesting to see that trends in fantasy follow the general trends in literature across time; as an example, we had the romantic period in literature which was followed by the realistic period - a reaction to the romanticizing; I see the same with Martin - A Game of Thrones can be seen as a reaction to the overly romantic fantasies where the heroes have no flaws and violence is portrayed in heroic, dare I say noble, ways whereas Martin gave us a fantasy which was more real, with more realistic dialogue and definitely more realistic consequences. And he was, of course, followed by a slew of authors who now also wanted to show more real settings with more true characters. So, out of experience, I'm telling you that the next big thing in fantasy literature will be a novel that takes us back to heroic romantic fantasy. Maybe. The pendulum swings. No idea what I'm trying to express here? Check out romanticism and realism here and compare it to the developments in fantasy literature over the last two decades. It's like a miniature history repeat, for fantasy. Kind of!

Anyway, back to Arya. They come to the market square where Arya sees a dozen iron cages, which she knows are called crow cages. I think the word they used in the real world is gibbets. And they are full of folk. Lem wonders why they just didn't hang the lot (and with that thought, Martin so deftly shows us what kind of man Lem is/has become). Turns out these prisoners, which include three dead men with their eyes eaten out by crows, are Stark loyalists. Because sure, Arya needed more trauma. Once more Martin gleefully and graphically gives us the details on just how badly these prisoners have been treated. Plenty of readers would argue that maybe he goes too far toward the gritty side of things, but really, if you check out some medieval history, Martin is quite right about most of the terrors visited upon people in Westeros and so I find it both terrifying to realize that people actually endured such horrors as Martin describes, and somehow also fascinating. Arya is curious and asks who they belong to. A townsman explained that they were looking for the Kingslayer (confirming that they are Stark men) but they did some murder and rape and so here they are in their crow cages. See, another bit of realism - even the "good guys" do bad things. Stark men, raping and killing. There is ambiguity, and we must always consider, back and forth, character motivations, consequences of war etc. It boggles the mind, how Martin manages to keep it all straight and yet muddle it all at the same time. Arya, being a likable character, can't believe these men - which includes a rapist with "maggots where his manhood ought to be" - belonged to her brother Robb. 

Somewhat surprising, then, Arya fills a cup of water and climbs up to a cage to pour water over them, which the prisoners lick greedily. A townsman warns her that the Mad Huntsman (which is an awesome nickname by the way) won't like her doing this, to which Anguy replies coolly, "He'll like this even less, then," shooting the prisoners dead in their cages. Valar morghulis, Arya thinks. The way I read it - and this bit is a little bit ambiguous - is that Arya thinks the prisoners have suffered enough for their crimes, and gives them one last mercy in the form of the water, knowing that Anguy will shoot them out of their misery afterward. Only, how can Arya know this is what will happen? The text doesn't indicate anything, it just happens like this. Did Arya really just want to be nice to them? There is no reaction from her after Anguy kills them, but she does think "Valar morghulis", and this is why I read it as a combined action from Arya and Anguy, although it seems a little odd. ANYHOWS.

They end up at an inn with half a roof burnt off, where a buxom red-haired innkeep greets the company with howls of delight and some sarcastic comments. She's quite in the mood, considering there are people rotting in cages just outside, and war and all, but hey, after the first few paragraphs of death and gloom, who doesn't enjoy a buxom wench calling the outlaws for "randy old goats" and "old". "Old" is always fun. Except when I'm called old. Apparently Tom o'Sevens has a son riding with the Mad Huntsman, but he denies that he is the father. Love these small character building off-hand remarks, that Tom sure has seen his share of "conquests". And who knows, maybe Martin will give us a scene down the road where Tom must face a bastard son or two? He is kind of like Robert Baratheon in a way, isn't he? In a way, Tom serves as a vehicle for letting us imagine how Robert went about the kingdoms back in his younger days. Clever, or coincidental?

And of course the woman's name is Tansy, adding to the mystery of Lord Hoster Tully's delirious talking about "tansy", but I'm not falling for this red herring, Mr. Martin. Only after meeting Tansy does Martin give us the inn's name (the Peach) and a few more names of serving wenches (Cass, Lanna, Jyzene - those two first names Cass and Lanna seem a little lazy to me; or are we supposed to infer that we are seeing a Cassel and a Lannister girl here?) Anyway, Tansy orders the outlaws washed and fed, which I suppose is a good thing, but Arya of course in that totally adorable way of hers thinks it was enough with the two baths she got back at Acorn Hall.

Later, Arya thinks of Syrio Forel (we miss you too!) and his lessons; this leads her to conclude that the Peach isn't so much an inn as a brothel, which seems obvious in retrospect especially since Tom seems to know the women here quite well. Arya and Gendry get into an argument over this, are overheard by one of the girls who claims to be a bastard of Robert Baratheon (his ghost really hovers over this chapter) and calls herself Bella - sounds like she was conceived shortly before, during or after the Battle of the Bells, then. Ironic how Arya thinks of Gendry having black hair too, but that doesn't mean he's the king's bastard. I see what you did there, George. Bella offers herself to Gendry but he stalks off angrily for some reason we cannot be entirely sure of; Arya's explanation might suffice - "He's just stupid." Still, being the son of Robert, it is kind of weird that he seems to have no sexual antennas. Unless he really struggles with his identity, or is smitten with Arya? Or maybe he prefers boys. Or donkeys. Who knows? I'm thinking he's got a soft spot for Arya. It kind of echoes Daenerys/Khal Drogo and Sansa/Tyrion in a way.

An old dirty man comes up to Arya calling her a "sweet peach" but fortunately before it can devolve into an unseemly scene, Gendry returns claiming to be her brother, in effect rescuing her (reinforcing the idea that he's protective of her which could indicate feelings). She overhears talk about her mother having released Jaime which she refuses to believe; she gets into another argument with Gendry after this and it seems he really doesn't like that she's a Lady of House Stark and he a lowborn commoner. Is Martin playing with the age-old "star-crossed lovers" theme here? Maybe. In a way. Seems like their chemistry is being blown apart after the revelation of Arya's identity, though. It also vaguely reminds me of the Princess Leia - Han Solo relationship (Arya's feisty too). I don't know. I really don't know what to make of the Arya - Gendry relationship, to be honest. But I am quite certain they will meet again in book six or seven. They just have to, don't they?

That night she goes to bed, once again listing the people she wants dead: Queen Cersei, King Joffrey, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn. Dunsen, Raff, and Polliver. The Tickler, the Hound, and Ser Gregor the Mountain. Sleep comes, and the next day she wakes up to the barking of dogs. Opening the windows to check out the commotion, the day is revealed to be grey and overcast. Riders have brought in a Lannister prisoner, it seems, and I know the first time I read this chapter that I wondered whether they had gotten hold of Ser Jaime somehow. Especially the way Martin repeats "Lannister" made me think in that direction. When they also mention that they will "send what's left o' you to your bloody brother", I supposed they were talking about Tyrion. I like how Martin toys with us and even ends the chapter without giving away who the prisoner is - well, he does reveal it kind of:

"Lannister," said Arya. "I heard him say Lannister."
"Have they caught the Kingslayer?" Gendry wanted to know.
(...)
Not the Kingslayer, Arya thought, when she saw his face. The gods had heard her prayers after all.

Now, she is sitting in a window overlooking the market square so when she sees his face it must be a distinct face for her to know instantly who it is - which would lead most astute readers to conclude, correctly, that the prisoner is in fact Sandor Clegane, the Hound, with his scarred face. I do wonder at the chapter's closing line, though: The gods had heard her prayers after all. I didn't notice she's been praying for the Hound to be captured? Or does Martin mean her long list of names and now one of those names is standing there, bound by rope, a prisoner of the Mad Huntsman? In that case, shouldn't it read the gods had heard one of her prayers after ? I wonder as I ponder, and I ponder as I wonder.

A fine if somewhat macabre chapter then. I do enjoy the outlaws with their banter and the whole trek through the riverlands. It reminds me at times of a (much) grimmer Robin Hood-type of tale. It is quite different from the other story lines in A Storm of Swords in that regard. More of an adventure. I wish the TV show followed this story more closely; I miss Lem Lemoncloak and the Ghost of High Heart and Tansy and the gibbets. Sigh. But what the king dreams, the Hand can't always build eh.

And that's Arya V, with Jon Snow returning next to ponder the mysteries of fire-kissed (pubic) hair!

Mm. The Arya/Gendry relationship keeps tugging at me, as if there's something I'm forgetting, or not seeing clearly. What is it Martin is building between them, and why? How does their chemistry affect the plot, and if it doesn't, why is it so pronounced? Why build them up and then splitting them later? Should I stop now and go to bed? [Inner voice: YES!!]