Saturday, June 28, 2014

[Rogues] Scott Lynch: "A Year and a Day in Old Theradane"

Another evening in bed with Rogues. It's so ridiculously easy to let actual printed books lie on the nightstand and just whip up an e-book instead. Not sure if my eyes are happy with this solution, but it is quite practical. No need for light, which is a good thing when there are people trying to sleep next to you, no need to flip those pages and hold a heavy fantasy tome upright. And it reads well. I never expected that when I began reading e-books, because I always found it difficult to read PDFs on the computer: but this is a whole other thing. With adjustable font sizes, several paper color choices, and lighting options, e-books have completely changed how I read. For the better, I suppose, because I read more than I did before. It's easier, even when tired, to read a couple of pages anyway because it's so easy. Yiha and yay for e-books, then.

The next story in the anthology is by Scott Lynch, and that's a name I recognize, of course. I remember back when I was desperate for something as good as Martin, and the long waits had indeed become long, and a flurry of new authors were popping up, all of them recommended by Ice & Fire-fans. One of these authors was Lynch, and his debut novel "The Lies of Locke Lamora" was recommended basically everywhere I looked, so I picked it up. It is one of the novels I never finished. It started strong enough, with some very memorable parts in the first half of the book, but for some reason my interest in the story waned until I put the book down before finishing it. Maybe I shouldn't have, I don't know (obviously).

Reading "A Year and a Day in Old Theradane" I do see an author who excels at coming up with neat concepts. An example is the souls of criminals "imprisoned" in statues along a bridge in the city of Theradane. It's such a minor detail, really, but so creative and I immediately want to put the idea into my role-playing game Bucket o' Ideas. The story's opening, like The Lies...really, has a few of these interesting small details that make the setting otherworldly, but as this short story progresses the fantastical takes over to such a huge degree that I again found myself losing some of my initial excitement (in The Lies... it was kind of opposite, it felt like too little was going on); now, if he had stayed to those imprisoned souls I would've had a medieval fantasy with a few flourishes of fantasy, like Westeros, but instead the magic is piled upon more magic and the setting turns out to be a whole lot more D&D-like than I imagined at the start of the story, with goblin innkeepers, automatons as characters, and a mage's residence literally overflowing with magic. Still, it is well written and enjoyable, and there's some fantastic dialogue in there, the banter leaning closer to the gritty humor/ fantasy of Martin / Abercrombie / Erikson. In a way the story also took me back to the memories I have of The Lies..., especially the way Lynch uses color and lights to describe the city of Theradane. When the main character gets drunk and angry and calls a powerful sorceress a "thundercunt" I couldn't help but laugh, that's a great scene right there. The characters, then, feel as if they belong to the Malazan world, the setting is reminiscent of the D&D world Eberron, while the plot itself is something Abercrombie could've come up with.

It's a fun story, not one that will keep me awake at night pondering philosophical questions, but still a fun story and it stands out by virtue of its over-saturated setting. It almost makes me want to finish the first Locke novel in case I've missed something.

Friday, June 27, 2014

[Rogues] Carrie Vaughn: "The Roaring Twenties"

All right, the title of this story says a lot about it, when it comes to style and tone. Only the author has given it a magical twist - not that it is overdone, or anything, it is subtle enough in a way, and while the world of The Roaring Twenties seems to be inhabited by countless fantasy creatures (werewolves, vampires, sirens) they are in hiding and there's only hinting and some comments that suggest this is an otherworld (aside from the magic). In a sense, it feels like a crossover between fantasy, noir, The Sandman (for its creative aspects), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (you'll know when you read it) -- with all this in the mix, the author still manages to have the story itself be the most important part, and while short sequences feel more like dressing than plot advancement, it is still a coherent and self-contained tale, although I found the end somewhat disappointing. Still, another good tale that I couldn't put down before it was finished (short stories are really handy that way!), about the mysterious Madam M and her bodyguard, Pauline, who narrates this strange tale that combines the, indeed, roaring twenties with a fable-like world. My favorite of the anthology so far is still Joe Abercrombie's opening salvo, but of course I already lived in his world through six full novels. I might be tempted to read more about this hard-boiled fantasy setting just to see what else Vaughn can cook up. And maybe such stories already exist and I haven't been aware of it. Another author I suppose I need to check out, then.

[Re-read] Tyrion VIII: Another Wedding in the Heading, Part II

Yeah, sorry about splitting up the Purple Wedding like this, but I had a deadline for a short story and so I had to refocus! I got it done if barely (it was a rush to the finishing line; I hate that I can't just work and tweak a little on things like this every day - it's always full tilt before a deadline, same goes for actual work). Anyway. It's done, I achieved my goal, which was to deliver a short story for the SFF World May/June short story competition (incidentally, one I set up myself as I won the previous competition for March/April...but only because I was the only one who managed to submit something. This time, we're two who have submitted a short story so my guess is I'll grab that coveted second place). And with that out of the way, I could introduce to my eight year old son and heir that most classic of classic movies from my childhood, E.T.: The Extra- Terrestrial. Seeing it again after so many years was a weird experience. When I saw it as a kid I cried. Especially when E.T. went home again. Because I wanted to take care of E.T. It was also sweet to see my son love the movie and love E.T., and get teary-eyed during the more intense moments as well. Seeing the film reminded me of how many great movies Steven Spielberg did back in the day. And how original they still feel, compared to the same-over-and-over-again movies that are big these days. Maybe it's just me being old and all that - but I'd love to see a sweeping sweet movie like E.T. again, a movie that gives kids the feels but which is also entertaining for adults. Speaking of adult entertainment, let's get back to the Purple Wedding.

A purple wedding, as seen through Tyrion Lannister's eyes
So Sansa is complementing everyone, and Tyrion notices how both Lancel Lannister (brought down from his sickbed for the special occasion) and his father, Ser Kevan, beam at Sansa's compliments. Martin is telling us right here how Sansa's social interaction skills have improved. Tyrion wonders if Joffrey is capable of loving anyone. He must be the only one wondering that. The rest of us know he is quite incapable of that. Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, fiddles with Sansa's hair - and I love how Martin never falls for the tempation to have Tyrion notice the old woman's fingers touching that hairnet or whatever. Olenna talks for a while while "tugging and fiddling", giving her the time to plant the poison - but the scene is constructed in such a way that I doubt anyone reading this for the first time suspects something is afoot here. At least I didn't. In the TV show it was more obvious in a way because you see it and they didn't have Olenna talk "over" what she was doing. Olenna suggests that Sansa come with her to Highgarden; Sansa respectfully declines but you just know she would do anything to get out her misery - and going to Highgarden sounds like a nice change of environment. It's a bit like the promise of paradise.

Big surprise - it's been a while since I read this book - when Olenna begins to talk about "dwarf's pennies". Coincidence or is Martin thinking of Penny from A Dance with Dragons already? I am not sure. There doesn't seem to be a direct link between the talk of coins and Penny the dwarf, but still, Martin might have had some fun with this - although he claims to be a "gardener" rather than an "architect", these books have a surprisingly large number of foreshadowings and hints and clues that suggest he does a bit of architecture as well. The best bit though is when Tyrion begins to wonder whether Lord Luthor Tyrell had "ridden off that cliff intentionally". That makes me laugh out loud. Imagine the look on Olenna's face if Tyrion had voiced that thought. Wonder how that would have played out. Oh, and I've kind of forgotten that Olenna is a very small woman in the books. Tyrion doesn't feel like hanging out anymore with her, though, so he excuses them, she pats Sansa on the hair(net) one more time and they split. And so they enter the throne room, and I just love how Martin can't help but tell us there are musicians - pipers, drummers and fiddlers and so on and so forth - on the gallery, mirroring the Red Wedding at the Twins, and by simply stating this, you have your readers go, Oh noes, not again...I can imagine him sitting there at his hamster-wheel-operated computer writing it and chuckling to himself. Heeheeh-style. Of course, Martin would just shrug, look innocent and say, "Me do mischief? No no. All weddings have musicians on the gallery" and we would just have to accept that. But he is toying with our emotions here, I am convinceth.

Anyway. Putting on some underground metal to accompany the celebration to commence. I feel that Wagner's bridal chorus is so overused. Better to have something more aggressive and pounding, to help put King Joffrey Baratheon in his place.

SO, Tyrion "cluthed" Sansa's arm (a sign that he's nervous perhaps - or just Martin playing with our expectations again, as to who will be behind the murder to come - like that little detail; just one word changes perception, excellent); and he can feel everyone staring at his fresh scar. The Queen of Thorns follows, and Sansa wonders who looks the more absurd. Now here's a bit I'd love to have witnessed in Game of Thrones: Joffrey and Margaery riding into the throne room on 'matched white chargers' and both look even more splendorous (actually Marge looks more sexy), and she gives the audience a "shy but sweet" smile. I think that in the show they made her personality more obvious. In the books, when reading this, you still have no clue where to place her in the grand scheme of things. Does she scheme along with her grandmother of thorns? Is she a pawn being played? How shy is she really? And how virgin is she, really (getting ahead of myself there).

The Kingsguard escorts them onto the dais (no mention of which Kingsguard members are doing this deed, nor how they get the horses up on the dais - since there's no mention of the royal couple dismounting or anything). Their seats of honor are beneath the Iron Throne. By the way, I wonder why the producers of Game of Thrones chose to put the wedding outside? Since the Iron Throne is the big McGuffin of the show, the one thing every faction is, directly or indirectly, fighting for/against/about, wouldn't it make more sense to set the wedding in the throne room as per the book - it would be a simple way to remind viewers of the Iron Throne both as an artifact and as the symbol of power so important to the characters and plot. The High Septon rises to lead a prayer.

Sansa and Tyrion have been seated far to the king's right, next to Ser Garlan Tyrell and his wife, Lady Leonette. Tyrion is happy to be far away from Joffrey, though he obviously also realizes his placement is an insult. "Let the cups be filled!" Joffrey proclaims after the prayer and he drinks wine from a chalice given to him by Lord Tyrell. The hall shouts Margaery's name, and the feast is on. Tyrion has barely finished the first toast before he demands a refill. What a drunkard. In the show, it's Cersei, but in the books, it is quite obviously Tyrion who is drinking more and more (at least in this book).

We get a lot of food descriptions, of course, and Martin sneaks in the fact that Sansa fiddles nervously with her hair, as if to suggest that maybe she's the one who's behind the assassination to come. Tyrion wonders if she wishes to be in Margaery's place, which goes to show how little of Sansa Stark he truly understands. Needing a distraction he looks around only to see the hall filled with "fair fine beautiful happy women" (yes the observation needs a few commas) - and it allows Martin to quickly set up some of the characters that will rise to the fore in A Feast for Crows: There's Lady Alerie, wife of Mace Tyrell, Margaery's three cousins, Taena Merryweather with her "big black sultry eyes"; Ellaria Sand, with the Dornishmen as far away from the Tyrells as possible (love that "keg of gun powder"-feeling you get from having the Tyrells and Martells in the same room, though you'd think it would rather be a simmering hate between Lannisters and Martells but oh well). There's also, as the last of his observations on the women in the hall, the "wife of one of the Fossoways", heavy with child, and apparently very in love with her husband. I wonder why we get a whole paragraph on her, I can't remember the character showing up later but maybe she does and I will be surprised when I return to book four or five. Or six. Wait, George R.R. Martin has taken to spoiling plot points from The Winds of Winter! That is not like him at all. No huge spoilers, or even slightly big, but still. Weird. I'm not taking too much away from it, only that Tyrion and Daenerys will both become the characters we knew again (I'm not buying "home" as the literal interpretation). And that there will be a lot of action at the Wall is news to me. Bleh give us the book. It is unfair to begin spoiling it when we have been waiting for three years already.

Tyrion wonders what Sansa would do if he leans over to kiss her, decides she would go along with it; which makes him realize he can sex her up anytime because she will suffer that, too, as the dutiful wife she is showing herself to be. I suppose that doesn't make him horny.

More food!

Hamish the Harpers performs a new composition for the audience, "Lord Renly's Ride". In the song, we hear of the Lord of Death which is a title we don't hear too often. I suppose it is another way of naming the Stranger. Other songs are "A Rose of Gold", "The Rains of Castamere", "Maiden, Mother and Crone", "My Lady Wife"...and we get more food. Now I'm hungry again dammit.

The feast goes on, and Martin relishes describing it - especially the food. What is it with this series and food? Another singer shows up, one Collio Quaynis (you'll be excused if you have forgotten his existence) who sings "The Dance of the Dragons" (ooh!); he sings it in High Valyrian so Martin deftly avoids giving us too much info (beyond the lyrics being about two dying lovers amidst the Doom of Valyria - though I thought this dance was about the stuff that happened in The Princess and the Queen - now I am confuseth again). Tyrion asks Sansa what's wrong when she hasn't been paying attention to the singers; he immediately realizes that he's stupid for asking. Of course she isn't paying attention, of course she is not eating. Her life is hell.

More extravagant performances are described, including, to my surprise "sword swallowers" (so Game of Thrones did not invent that word as I believed until now - they actually took even that small detail from the books, not bad). More food! So much food. Martin is clearly inspired here by some of the legendary grand courses of the middle ages, but this is getting ridiculous. Even if they are eating here all day (which they do), there's still so much food.

Another minstrel, this time Galyeon. He sings of the Blackwater, in which Joffrey is glorified and the Baratheons are vilified. Echoing many a reader's feelings, Tyrion mutters that if he ever becomes Hand again, he will hang all the singers. Lady Leonette as his side has to chuckle at that. Later, she giggles when Tyrion finishes a sentence for the bard sarcastically. Love how this gives us an impression of Ser Garlan's wife without ever telling that much about her. Ser Garlan Tyrell, much to many a reader's delight I suppose, does give Tyrion credit for his chain and his wildfire during the battle of Blackwater Bay - now that's something. Tyrion feels "absurdly grateful" and so do I, actually. Finally someone who gives credit where credit is due! When the singer sings of the valor of Queen Cersei, Sansa blurts out an objection, to which Tyrion responds, "Never believe anything you hear in a song, my lady." This is an important line, since Sansa started out a character whose emphasis lay on, well, believing in songs. It is a moment of change for Sansa Stark, though we are not in her POV as it is being said.

It becomes night, and Galyeon is still singing. Seventy-seven verses! No wonder Tyrion is drinking himself stupid. And others are getting proper drunk as well. Pycelle falls asleep; one of Lord Rowan's men stabs a Dornishman, but the incident doesn't escalate. More food! Joffrey then orders the royal jousters to come forth. Tyrion thinks Joffrey must be drunk cause you can't joust in the throne room, but then he sees that a pair of dwarfs enter the throne room, met by a wave of laughter. Their mounts are a dog and a pig. Yes, Penny has arrived! The only one beside Tyrion not amused is Sansa. But nothing amuses her, of course. Tyrion takes the dwarf joust as another insult on his person and decides to punish whoever came up with the idea. The dwarf joust is an entertaining spectacle for most people in the throne room, and Martin describes it vividly. Wearing stag and wolf helmets, the performance also doubles as an insult to Sansa and House Stark, as well as insulting the Baratheons. It is, simply put, a play set up by the winners. Joffrey laughs so hard he's snorting wine through his nose; when the dwarfs have finished their fight, he calls for Tyrion to take up the challenge and ride the pig. This is met by another wave of laughter, "crashing over him" (of course it would feel that way, so that's a nice description). Poor Tyrion. And he finds himself standing on the table; he's drunk ("the hall was a torchlit blur.."); he tells Joffrey he'll ride the pig if Joffrey rides the dog. Joffrey doesn't get it. Tyrion tells him he's the only one he can defeat.

A shocked silence follows, and Tyrion thinks it is sweet; the blind rage on Joffrey's face is nice too. It probably feels good to finally put the boy in his place, in front of a thousand people no less, but Tyrion is clearly not considering consequences much at this point. And it is all terribly exciting of course; on the one hand I am cheering him for daring to stand up against the boy king, and on the other I am worried that now, indeed, his mouth will be the end of him. He is relieved that Ser Osmund and Ser Meryn help Joffrey to his seat - the dwarf jousters are escorted out of the hall and the music begins to play. But you can't catch a breath before Ser Garlan warns Tyrion that Joffrey is approaching.

The king upends the chalice over Tyrion, soaking him in wine. Ser Garlan actually tells the king that "was ill done", but Tyrion now realizes he can't let this get any worse and says to the Tyrell knight that he deserves it. That's a pretty wise move considering how rash he was seconds before. I am still amazed Ser Garlan is so outspoken. What a man! As if he has stepped in from a better, more chivalrous world to attend the wedding. he doesn't feel very Westerosi, if you know what I mean. Even his name sounds gallant. Margaery comes to calm Joffrey down, and Tyrion is for the moment safe. But Martin has definitely ramped up the tension. Joffrey decides to make Tyrion his cupbearer, and Tyrion replies it would be an honor. Hilariously, Joffrey roars, "It's not meant to be an honor!" I love that bit. Joffrey is doing his best to shame his uncle, but Tyrion has turned in time, and Joffrey's insult do not make the impact he wants them to have. Great writing.

Tyrion is further humiliated by the boy king before Lord Tywin interrupts, telling his grandson the pie is being brought in, and Joffrey's sword is needed. Did Tywin actually interrupt to spare his dwarf son more humiliation? I like to think so, that somewhere within Tywin's cold heart there was a warm spot at this moment. Joff doesn't want to use his new sword on the pie, and so Ser Ilyn Payne is brought forth. When he pulls out his huge sword, Sansa realizes it is Ned Stark's Ice reforged. Another thing to hurt and torment her. More food! More humiliation of the Imp!

When you've read it all before (even if the details are forgotten), you kind of want to get on with it, get to the climax of the chapter, and here it finally comes as Joffrey begins to choke. Martin has taken good care of giving the readers many options as to what is happening - is it the pie? The wine? You have to be a detective and sort through the clues, find out what could and could not be possible. Rather well written, almost like a chapter from a murder mystery. Tyrion feels "curiously" calm as he realizes Joffrey is dying. The way it is written immediately (to my mind at least) makes me know Tyrion is innocent even though Martin has spent some time giving us reason to suspect him. He's so detached, he manages to think that Joffrey has his brother Jaime's eyes, and that his own wedding was, after all, better than this one. He sees the wine chalice on the floor, picks it up and pours the wine on the floor.  Guests are rushing out, full of fear. When Tyrion hears Cersei scream, he knows he's been a fool, and that he should leave. Instead he waddles toward her, as Cersei is pried loose from her dead son. The High Septon begins to pray for the boy king, Margaery begins to sob (a good actress?); her mother says Joffrey choked on the pie, but Cersei's sharp voice claims it was a poisoning.

"Arrest my brother," she commanded him. "He did this, the dwarf. Him and his little wife. They killed my son. Your king. Take them! Take them both!"

And that's how the Purple Wedding ends! A surprising twist indeed - how was Martin able to surprise me again? Well, up to this point (give or take), we had learned not to feel too attached to the Starks. And it seemed Joffrey was to be the main villain for a long time to come. But then, Martin shows us that no side is safer than the others, as he slowly turns his bloodlust from the Starks to the Lannisters. Lovely stuff. An impressive choice, when Joffrey is such a great love-to-hate character. Of course, it makes sense within the story and the setting. Thrilling, tense, and of course, with a cliffhanger you would not wish to wait five or six years for. What's going to happen to Tyrion now? And Sansa?

Well, the chapters continue to alternate between Tyrion and Sansa, so she's next, and we'll see what happen next soon enough.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

[Rogues] David Ball: "Provenance"

All right, got a quick story in before dozing off last night. This time it's "Provenance", by one David Ball.
It's a tale with an interesting and, for the format, somewhat unusual setup with a lot of exposition through dialogue, with flashbacks to other characters' lives way back in history (second world war to be precise) yet it all works together to give us a sort of twist toward the end (although I somewhat saw it coming).
The flashback scenes were excellent and exciting, the rest of the story framing it less so; it's basically one character telling another the story of a painting, the central McGuffin of the tale.
In that regard, this tale is somewhat less memorable than the others so far but it was well written nonetheless. Perhaps just not entirely my cup of tea. Second half of the Purple Wedding coming soon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

[Re-read] Tyion VIII: Another Wedding in the Heading, Part I

[Spoilers might just be found within]

All right, you thought I was just reading through the Rogues anthology, didn't you. Oh no, I also happen to spend waste a lot of time reading this website or that, usually related to one of my main passions, Ice & Fire, Star Wars, metal, or gaming. And every time I feel like I'm wasting my time reading this or that article, I think it would be more interesting to continue one of the books I'm reading. Today the choice fell on the next chapter in A Storm of Swords, Tyrion's eighth chapter, and we're smack dab in the middle of the sudden structural change in the novel where the author suddenly gives us two alternating POVs four chapters in a row. The effect is that for a few chapters we're really into the events of King's Landing - with the primary event being, of course, the marriage of Joffrey Baratheon and seemingly-innocent (in the book at least) young widow Margaery Tyrell. I like how the Tyrells, even though they've kind of been around all the way (through Ser Loras Tyrell's presence), seemed to just sneak into the story and suddenly, by A Feast for Crows, they had seized a lot of power, changing the political landscape in southern Westeros. Of course, some of this advancement was kept off-screen by the author, but still. I like that he dares to kind of overthrow the establishment he has created to show how easily power can slip out of one's grasp. I guess it's one of the big themes the series tackles.

That hair just took away all attention from the actual event.
So, in the TV series we had Margaery looking ridiculous with that hair-do. For a moment I thought I had strayed into the Star Wars prequels. In the books, it is the High Septon who looks ridiculous, with a new crown twice as tall as the one the mob had smashed during a riot, which is only proper considering it seems most religions demand silly headwear. Anyway, the crown is "a glory of crystal and spun gold", and so Martin is beginning to gradually introduce more heavily the subject of religion into his work. Up until this point really religion was more your standard fantasy affair, with different gods for different people, but from here on it seems - or feels - as if Martin is exploring how religion affects politics, and vice versa. He also seems to make the religion of the Seven more realistic in the sense that it draws more heavily from existing organized religions than say, R'hlorr or the almighty Black Goat of Qohor. Even in this opening paragraph, suggesting that the wealth on display - the crown, that is - comes from Tywin Lannister is a small observation on how religious figureheads (the High Septon in this case) either ingratiate themselves with the powerful, or make demands of the powerful (the text doesn't really make clear which way it worked for the High Septon, to get such fabulous headwear). Anyway, enough about headwear.

Tyrion admits to himself that his nephew and Margaery make a regal couple where they stand between the towering gilded statues of the Father and the Mother. She wears ivory silk and Myrish lace, her skirts decorated with floral patterns in typical Tyrell-style; Joffrey wears a doublet of dusky rose and a cloak of deep crimson. Tyrion wonders if Margaery is in fact a maiden, so I assume Martin wants us to wonder the same thing, too - he reminds us of a plot element. And it does become an important one as the story progresses. Which is very in line with Martin's medieval history influences. How much tragedy could have been averted if feudalism and primogeniture had been left on the drawing board? We learn quickly that Tyrion is still bitter about not getting recognition for his deeds ("I saved that bloody crown for him") and that he's drunk too much. Martin plays with the reader when he writes that Tyrion wishes to strangle his "bloody royal nephew" - building up, without the first-time reader even knowing it, the suspense connected to the assassination to come. It's quite interesting to see Tyrion think that it would be best if the gods crushed Joffrey like a dung beetle, what with the criticism Game of Thrones faced for the scene where Tyrion and Jaime talked about beetles being crushed. I still like that scene.

Martin lets Tyrion ponder the implications that Joffrey was behind the attempted murder of Bran Stark, which is a wise move - one could almost forget the whole plot line, buried so deep in all the other threads going on at the same time. If there's one thing this series not very good at, it has to be resolutions, so here we have one, if barely noticeable. He spends a good deal of time, actually, thinking through it, coming to a certain sequence in his mind that is the most likely to have occurred. He still doesn't know why, though, but assumes the boy's just cruel - and with that, Martin kind of puts the lid on the case and we can move on. And why not? Most Starks are dead, anyway. Tyrion regrets having revealed his knowledge though, and wonders if his big mouth will one day be the death of him. Foreshadowing?

Seven vows are made, seven blessings are invoked, and seven promises exchanged. Then, it is time to change cloaks, that sweet tradition that seems to ensure that all goes well in Westerosi weddings. Or not. Tyrion's still bitter about Sansa not kneeling for him at the altar. Not kneeling, people! That's how it really went down. Well, not down, since she refused to kneel, but you know what I mean. The book shot first. Unlike Tyrion and Sansa's ceremony, however, this one goes quite well. The boy king drapes his cloak across Margaery, and he declares loudly, "With this kiss I pledge my love!" which is funny because you know, as a reader, that the concept of love doesn't register with this fellow. And so the two are declared "one flesh, one heart, one soul". I guess the Seven made an exception there, since they are usually intensely preoccupied with the number seven. Can't help but love Tyrion's sardonic thought at the end of the ceremony, Good, that's done with. Now let's get back to the bloody castle so I can have a piss. Such a sobering thought midst the splendor of the royal wedding.

Martin really goes out of his way to tell us just how splendid this wedding is, contrasting it with Tyrion and Sansa's epic fail. Ser Loras and Ser Meryn in their white cloaks looking splendid as they lead the procession; Prince Tommen, scattering rose petals from a basket (how cute is that), Queen Cersei and Mace Tyrell, and so on and so forth. It's good to see Ser Garlan Tyrell again, I missed him in Game of Thrones. If only because he, at least outwardly, seems like a decent person, of which the show has few. Even fewer than the books. Following the stream of noteworthies, Tyrion takes Sansa's arm but he notices how stiff she is and she never looks down at him. Poor Tyrion! Man, I can really feel for him at this point in the books. I'm beginning to realize it's no wonder he was on such a downer in A Dance with Dragons. If only he could have been depressed somewhere else instead of on a boring boat with two-dimensional characters.

As it turns out, the crowds waiting outside the Great Sept are actually cheering, which is another contrast (to the riots where Joffrey got a turd or whatever it was thrown at him) - because they love Margaery Tyrell so much. It seems that the TV show gave us a slightly different spin on this. Martin just quickly summarizes for us why the crowds love her (mainly that she brings the wealth of Highgarden to a city in sore need of supplies) while the show gave us a Margaery who went about helping the poor and the destitute. It's kind of the same thing, but in this instance I'm thinking the show actually did a better job of this little detail. However, I like the irony that Tyrion is fully aware of - that it was Mace Tyrell who had blocked off trade to the city to begin with.

Dinklage's facial expression here is hilarious, in my opinion. 

Tyrion tries to make a joke, but Sansa doesn't seem to dare to say anything wrong so she's as witty as a dead pigeon in her reply. Cleverly, Martin sneaks in a mention of Littlefinger so as to remind the audience of his existence - Tyrion casually says that Littlefinger was smart to leave the city before having to endure such a long and boring ceremony.

They queue up to offer their congratulations; an excellent opportunity for Martin to give us a sizzling exchange of dialogue between Joffrey and Tyrion, but for once he doesn't take it and Tyrion and Sansa are off the hook just like that. I half expected, the first time around, that something was going to go down, but alas. They get into their litter and away they go! It's pretty hot inside the litter because it's been standing out in the sun. I do not know why Martin added that little nugget, maybe just to give us a sense (after all, he doesn't describe the litter using any of the other senses). Tyrion thinks of Sansa as just as comely as Margaery, and her grief only makes her more beautiful. Tyrion wishes to break through her "armor of courtesy", wondering at himself for trying - by talking to her, even though she is clearly expressing little to no interest in conversation with him. Again, I feel sorry for him. And we can read between the lines that he's developing feelings for her in one way or the other.  I hope I can one day write something other people will react to in the same sense. Actually caring about a fictitious character. Martin does it so well.

Tyrion hears the crowds shouting Joffrey's name, and he thinks to himself that when Joffrey becomes a man, and is no longer restrained by his mother the Queen Regent, it will be time for "every dwarf with half his wits" to be far from King's Landing, which might be considered foreshadowing - after all, Tyrion will end up far from the city, though Joffrey isn't the king at that point. In the same paragraph we learn, I believe for the first time, that Tyrion has always wanted to see Braavos; this might be a hint that we'll see him pass through that city at one point. All the while in the litter, Sansa doesn't say a word, to Tyrion's annoyance. When the litter stops, he tells Sansa they'll meet at the feast in an hour, and he waddles off. There's more thoughts suggesting Tyrion fears Joffrey will kill him when he gets the chance, which might be a way to suggest to the reader that Tyrion has a motive for poisoning the king - as in a preemptive strike.

He finds Podrick waiting outside his chambers, delivering another great line that says so much about his character: "I laid out your new doublet. Not here. On your bed. In the bedchamber." Tyrion orders (even) more wine, and goes to sit down by the window to brood. This brooding allows Martin to summarize the political climate, from how Highgarden and Casterly Rock will be united through the royal wedding, to the fighting in the riverlands, Ser Gregor Clegane's capture of Harrenhal, Seagard yielding to the Freys, and so on and so forth. In short, Tyrion concludes that the War of the Five Kings is basically over. Tyrion decides to get very drunk, while Podrick delivers another classic line, completely missing Tyrion's sarcasm. That's a fun pairing. Most pairings with Tyrion are fun (perhaps with the exception of Shae).

Going to get dressed for the wedding, he meets Shae helping Sansa with her hair. He notes that Sansa wears a silver net with dark purple gemstones; and again he thinks of how lovely she looks. Stupidly he decides to tell her just that - with Shae present, none the less. Shae tries to get a spot at the wedding because she wants to see the pigeons fly out of the cake, and Tyrion is annoyed by this; he drinks some more wine, there's some tension between the lines - between Shae and Tyrion - but in the end Tyrion and Sansa are off to the throne room, and he notices how good Sansa has become at "performing necessary courtesies" - a big fat hint from the author that Sansa Stark is growing into the game of thrones if ever there was one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

[Rogues] Michael Swanwick: "Tawny Petticoats"

Wow, this is a weird story. Or rather, the story in itself is not something you haven't seen or read before (scams and double-scams), but the setting is quite unusual, somewhat reminiscent of settings like ShadowRun (only instead of Elves and Dwarves in a cyberpunkish setting, we have "antropomorphized" characters, that is, former animals turned humanoid). In this setting, miniature mastodons, a zombie workforce (though not undead), a lead character that is half-dog, half-human, whores and con men all find a place, which is quite impressive considering the short format of the story. It has some droll humor, some surprisingly entertaining banter between characters and a somewhat confusing and/or convoluted story about a scam that, in the end, I didn't quite grasp but it didn't really matter because the entertainment in this particular little tale lies more in the discovery of this strange America (the story takes place in a future New Orleans, yet is so strange that it is more a fantasy than science fiction, although I suppose there could come a time when humans are indeed able to inject intelligence and awareness into animals, who knows). Of the stories I've read so far, I think this one is the most creative and challenging, but at the same time it didn't engage me emotionally like some of the other stories have done. It made me interested and curious to see this strange world unfold, while the plot and the characters were there to fill me in, rather than take me on an emotional journey. But that's fine. It shows some of the variety already presented in this third Martin/Dozois collaboration, and that should be appreciated. If there's one common factor running through the stories so far, it's that they all in some form or other have some explicit material, be it foul language, graphic descriptions, women in degrading situations etc. I guess that's par for the course for the editor/author who brought us fat pink masts, Myrish swamps and Ramsay Bolton's perversions.

Meanwhile, Martin's blog is back to normal, with more cinema posts and, if you thought Wild Cards wasn't bad enough already, a German so-called book trailer for that series no one visiting the blogs really wants to read about (except maybe the four commentators). In Game of Thrones news, there's the rumor that Tom Wlaschiha will return to play Jaqen H'ghar in season five. My guess is they morph his role into the Kindly Man's. But it's still only a rumor, so all bets are off. It would be a typical decision for the show though, and the actor did a great job as H'ghar, so I don't mind this - even though it's yet another drastic departure from the source material.

Not that much news, then. I still have The Rogue Prince to read, though. Looks like I'm saving it for last, just like I did with Dangerous Women.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

[Rogues] Joe R. Lansdale, "Bent Twig"

Been a couple of days where I've been busy wrapping up the school year, passing another class on to the future. Last night I found time for "Bent Twig", though I've tried starting it two times before, but the opening was kind of not grabbing me enough. But now I could concentrate and push past the somewhat uninteresting beginning of the tale, only to find myself wrapped up in an interesting crime story with some smooth writing with fun dialogue. Another winner, then, although I prefer the first three stories to this one, if only because "Bent Twig", while well written and all that, doesn't quite gel with my tastes but I'm sure many other readers will love this one. It felt a bit like watching one episode of a crime series on TV (that's just a hunch, because I don't actually watch crime series), because the main characters appear in several stories as the author's introduction taught me. Lansdale's writing is solid, he's good at expressing a lot in short sentences, giving the story a sense of urgency even if the action is mainly found toward the end. Some nice characterization through dialogue as well, and as such "Bent Twig" has a thing or two to teach about how to write well. 

In the world of ice and fire, there's been little news this week. Winter is Coming is still in the aftermath of The Children, giving curtain calls to fallen characters and presenting interviews with cast members. George RR Martin is talking about his cinema as usual. And there are several reviews of The Rogue Prince at Tower of the Hand.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

[Rogues] Matthew Hughes: "The Inn of the Seven Blessings"

Yeah, it looks like I'm actually reading this anthology. First I just wanted to check out Martin's foreword. Then I saw the first page of Abercrombie's story and it was so interesting I had to read it. And then I just had to check out that Flynn story following it. And last night instead of going to sleep at a sane time I just had to read Matthew Hughes' "The Inn of the Seven Blessings", because this story to opens with an interesting character and premise and I just had to read it as well.

This time we're back to fantasy, and if I have to compare it to other fantasy, I'd say this is a tale that easily could have taken place in Steven Erikson's Malazan world, by way of certain plot elements, such as the rather cynical, gritty world juxtaposed with powerful magic and gods, and the type of characters presented. Yes, all this in a short story, yet it works really well with a nice pace, interesting encounters that keep you hanging on until the finale. The story works all the way through, as well, and the ending is both humorous and clever, I think. That's the third story in a row in Rogues I really like. My skepticism for Martin's anthology editing is now gone (although I preferred he had spent that time doing The Winds of Winter but who knows maybe this kind of work recharges his batteries of ice and fire).

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

[Rogues] Gillian Flynn: "What Do You Do?"

It feels so good to read something of high quality, and I have to say that Martin and Dozois really outdid themselves...editorially...with Dangerous Women and if the stories in Rogues continue like this, well we'll have another winner on our hands. Instead of struggling my way through R.A. Salvatore's The Companions (I'll explain why I choose suffering when I finish it) I just had to check out the next story in Rogues, which is Gillian Flynn's "What Do You Do?"

Upon reading the title, I imagined that this would be a story about role playing gamers, I believe "What do you do?" is the most spoken sentence by game masters during games and so I instantly connected the title with that, and so I became curious and had to see. Flynn's story has nothing to do with RPGs or game masters, but it did grab me (no pun intended, if you've read the story) from the get-go and I actually just had to stop the world for a bit and finish it at once. Quite how Flynn did this, I am not sure myself. The story itself segues between several possible genres (you'll understand when you read it) and during the reading I was constantly wondering where the story would go. Only the ending, which crammed in a lot of long dialogue to kind of explain things, felt a bit weak compared to the rest of this excellent, surprising and, to some senses, probably offensive short story.

The thing that made this one stand out (man, is every story in here going to stand out? There sure were a lot of good stories in Dangerous Women as well; I'm pleasantly surprised again) is a combination of a character with a strong voice and a somewhat unusual life style that I suppose just must make you curious and interested (or fascinated, whatever), keeping you on the edge with regards to what the story is truly about, and just plain good pacing.

Now I have to check out who this Gillian Flynn author is, because I have no idea. So already at the second story in the volume, Rogues is doing its job just fine.

And now I want to just quickly peak at the next short story, to see what that one's going to be all about. I'm discovering a whole new world here, folks. I never read short stories before these anthologies with George R.R. Martin stuff in it. Now I know that short stories can be great - they pack a punch in a different way and knowing they will end sooner than later makes it easier to read and perhaps force me to read on because I need to know how it ends and stuff and stuff.

[Rogues] Joe Abercrombie does it again!

Yeah, so I went to bed with the intention of reading King of Thorns but I was just too curious about Joe Abercrombie's short story in this anthology. Abercrombie has, in my opinion improved a lot since his first The First Law novel - he's found his own distinct voice, and he shines when he portrays roguish characters; so he's a perfect choice for this anthology. Like the previous Martin/Dozois anthology Dangerous Women, Joe opens the ball (he wasn't present in the first anthology in this series, Warriors).
Abercrombie, in my opinion, has written a little masterpiece here with his story Tough Times All Over (that title is so Joe, it tells you a lot about his setting and style and characters, actually).

The funny thing is, that I have been talking about a scene from Joe's The Heroes in my last re-read posts, in which I profess my love for a certain narrative technique Joe used in that scene - moving the story through a small host of characters' points of view. And he decided to use this same trick in Tough Things All Over, so that makes me quite a happy man! This time, the story follows a McGuffin, a mysterious package, as it changes a lot of hands, swiftly. You might think that, when you begin reading the story, that it is a story about Carcolf, a messenger running through the misty streets of Sipani with the package, but then she meets a fellow who takes it from her, and the POV shifts to him. I think Joe writes this absolutely brilliantly. It gives the story a flow and a thudding pace that just hooked me right from the get-go and I couldn't go to sleep until I had devoured the whole thing. Which is troublesome now, the morning after at work. Nah, totally worth it.

One criticism Joe will likely face using this technique is that you don't get properly into a character, and that the story as a result may feel shallow. I disagree. Abercrombie paints his characters, as short a screen time as they have, masterfully. Take for example the second character, the male thief (sorry can't remember the name and I don't have the book here). He is painted in a few broad strokes that makes him absolutely stand out from the other characters present in this tale. Same goes for most of the other characters we inhabit during this fast-paced story of rogues and more rogues. Joe definitely delivered on the anthology's premise and some. I suppose you either love this shit or you don't care. I think it's a strong effort, and shows off Joe's characterization skills adequately. The glue holding it all together is the city of Sipani, which is quite similar in style and tone to Braavos (A Song of Ice and Fire) - both these fantasy cities have taken their inspiration from medieval Venice, Italy (correct me if I'm wrong). Abercrombie's city is a bit more raucous, though.

This is a tough act to follow for the remaining stories in the anthology, and I feel like re-reading it again today. It's entertaining and fun, pure and simple. And with some great banter, to boot. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Rogue Prince: Quite the Early Review

While I've just barely skimmed George R.R. Martin's foreword in this newborn (not a day old yet!) anthology, Stefan Sasse has already devoured it and reviewed it. Now, if The Rogue Prince was indeed an actual short story set in Westeros, you know, like the Hedge Knight tales, I'd probably be all over it the moment it zapped down in my Amazon account, but as it is another Targaryen history lecture, I can wait. Not a big deal. Imagine Martin pushing out a short story seen through the eyes of a common soldier during the assault on Pyke during Greyjoy's Rebellion, or a story set in Casterly Rock which we still haven't experienced up close. A story set during Robert's Rebellion, as seen from the point of view of a character mentioned in the main books but long gone. Now that would be something. And reading Stefan's assessment, I can't help but become less curious about the tale (I'm excited about a new Abercrombie short story, though - you better read that one, Stefan 'cause the man's breathing down Martin's neck!). The same Mr. Sasse has his own blog, by the way, The Nerdstream Era (I like that title), which I've put up in my small collection of links to the left. Will I read Joe Abercrombie's story tonight? Maybe. I just read another chapter in King of Thorns and the book is practically shouting at me to read some more. Seriously, it's good stuff. Has its own style and tone, it's witty and dark and full of interesting ideas and concepts and great banter. I have sacrificed to the Black Goat of Qohor that Bronn will take on Ser Ilyn Payne's role in Game of Thrones season five so that the show may continue to produce similar banter. I like banter in my stories as much as George likes rogues in his, I believe.

Speaking of George, let's take a quick check in case there's an update on The Winds of Winter.

Fundraiser...$ 390. 000 those wolves will be fed caviar from silver plates..he's donating two of his infamous (?) suspenders (Did I actually read that??!) You'd think people were a fan of him, not A Song of Ice and Fire....let's see...Bizzaro something something...who cares about a small cinema somewhere on the planet..yadayada....Father's day finale...nice picture of Maisie Williams as Arya...that's actually related to the books we love...absolutely stunning pic of Daenerys....hands above the table, Mr. Martin...a car.....don't talk about Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones on the creator's blog, no of course not, that would be crazy....

Ah, nothing new today. Not even a post on the release of Rogues which I find surprising. Actually, come to think of it, his "sales" posts have been conspicuously absent for a long while...that is interesting. It's an improvement. Now for an update. Please? In less than a month, it's been three years already since A Dance with Dragons was published. Three long years, with less updates than ever.

[Re-read] Sansa IV: A Stranger to Trust

[Spoilers unbound]

June 16th, 2014 - Diary of a Madman
What to do, what to do. Game of Thrones is over, and Rogues isn't coming out until tomorrow, and I don't believe we'll see The Winds of Winter this week. Yet I need a fix of ice and fire. I kind of want to binge-watch the TV series again or have a few friends magically pop up to play the A Game of Thrones board game with me, but I think I will have to settle with another chapter of A Storm of Swords, the sixtieth to be precise. Which leaves twenty-two more chapters before I'm through with one of my favorite trilogies of all time. The TV series has outrun me (to think that my re-read of A Game of Thrones was published when the first season began) but I do want to catch up and finish this third novel soonishly, before tackling that illustrious duo that continue the story. You may remember I had a debate with Stefan Sasse over at Tower of the Hand, and this debate made me decide to go for the Feastdance concept: re-reading both books four and five at the same time in a certain order, hoping that this will improve the reading experience. It has been a good while since I read these two books, and I certainly haven't read them with the same focus as I did the first three, so I am curious to see if I can get more out of them this way. I was not very pleased with A Feast for Crows and the first time I read A Dance with Dragons I found many of the chapters outright painful to read. But that's still twenty-two chapters away, of course.

So, in the previous chapter we saw the unhappy marriage through Tyrion's eyes, and now we flow into Sansa's point of view in the same time frame. As I mentioned, I really like it when the story sort of flows from one character to the other without huge leaps in geography or time. Perhaps because it doesn't happen too often in this series. Joe Abercrombie did an epic sequence in his novel The Heroes where the "camera" (POV, that is) switched from character to character to character in a most entertaining way. I loved that bit. It's not exactly what's going on here, but it reminds me of it. Lovely little technique. Could get old fast, though. Unlike most characters inhabiting Westeros. Except Sansa. I have a feeling she'll be standing when all is said and done, though I can't explain why I have that gut feeling. She'll be much changed, though, I suspect. Did Game of Thrones kind of spoil us on her continued story arc when she showed up in that part weird part evil lady costume in the Eyrie (in episode eight)? Will she essentially take over Littlefinger's role? Nah, I don't think there's time for such a huge transformation and the consequences attached to it in the limited number of books Martin thinks he has left to write - but if I had to place one bet on what Sansa will be up to, I bet she will be the fall of Petyr Baelish. ANYWAY, right now she's still married to Tyrion Lannister (perhaps the most delicious of ironies in the books), waking up from a sweet dream where everything was quite all right: A dream in which her father and brothers were alive and well. I do wonder if Martin intentionally left Arya out of that dream, or if it just slipped his mind. Curious. It is one of those little details that make me curious. Does the author wish to imply that Sansa does not care about Arya? Is it just another way of telling us that Arya is no one, truly? Now if Martin ever does a proper AMA and gifts his devoted readers with some answers, remind me to ask him about this one.
In the next paragraph, when she's fully awake and dismisses the happy dream, she does think of Arya when she tells herself that they are all dead: Robb, Bran, Rickon, Arya, her father, her mother, even Septa Mordane. It makes her feel alone in the world. That's another little irony when we as readers know that Bran, Rickon, and Arya are all alive.

Sansa thinks about Tyrion next, how he is a bad sleeper and likes to rise before dawn. It is nice to see her perspective right after we have had Tyrion getting out of bed and thinking entirely different things. There is contrast and a certain sadness to it all, because they cannot understand each other's motivations at all. Opening up the shutters she watches the clouds and they remind her of "two huge castle afloat in the morning sky". It is quite the poetic and interesting paragraph if you choose to try and read something in it. What is Martin trying to tell us, or foreshadow, or hint at here? The Twins - Is Sansa subconsciously still grieving her mother and brother? The Eyrie with its castles high up in the mountains rising from surrounding clouds? The wind mushes the clouds together, leaving only one - what could this mean? Could the two cloud castles represent Sansa and Tyrion, and when the clouds mush together, that Sansa will be alone - without Tyrion again? You could also choose to read it as Sansa and Tyrion, both under the influence of the "one", Petyr Baelish. Again, one can conjure up a hundred different metaphors here, and be none the wiser. As long as Martin doesn't talk about his writing, we can't know. It could be just a description and done.

Maids enter the room with hot water for her bath, and she reflects on something Tyrion said, that they are all Cersei's spies. She asks them to come to the window and watch the castle in the sky. There's something dream-like not just about the fact that Sansa was dreaming (which is very dream-like) but the whole sequence here with the castle in the sky (which really sounds a lot like "The Eyrie" to me - my hunch is that this bit simply foreshadows her going there). When one of the maids (an insolent one, to Sansa's mind) comments it looks like gold, and the other maid says it looks like a ruin, well, one could easily see this as a metaphor for the ruin of House Lannister. If you so wish. Martin, are you playing with us here? Do tell. Leave a comment, thankyouverymuch. Or how about answering questions about your text as a nice gesture to your loyal readers. I am sorry to be harping on this but man there are so ridiculously many small things I am sure he could talk about and we'd be all fricking ears. Like Elves on methylphenidate!

June 17th, 2014 - Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Yeah I began posting yesterday, but then there was a World Cup match I wanted to keep half an eye on, as well as a couple of children that needed their old father's attention. I was about to explore the concept of Elves on methylphenidate but now I've forgotten what that was all about. Anyway, when I woke in the morning today Rogues had downloaded itself and so I am ready to delve into yet another anthology. Once again, the table of contents shows us that the real treat has been buried in the back of the book - Martin's story once again is the final piece in the anthology, like The Princess and the Queen was in Dangerous Women. There was a pleasant surprise, too - Abercrombie is present with a story, I hadn't noticed that before. I beheld the content, and it was good. I've been reading my paper version of King of Thorns this week, and it is really good. On the Kindle I've been reading R.A. Salvatore's The Companions. It is so bad I am considering dropping it, but I paid for it, so I have this weird desire to finish it anyway. I guess they will go on the backburner the both of them with Rogues now ready for devouring. But first, Sansa IV. A character who has changed quite a lot since her introduction in A Game of Thrones, and is still changing. She has a relatively consistent character arc so far, though I fear with only a few books left that the remainder of her arc might feel rushed (just like her "sudden" dark clothes in the TV series felt a bit abrupt).

The maids put Sansa in the tub to scrub her clean; Sansa is so nervous she is tempted to ask for a cup of wine to calm her nerves. And no wonder - the wedding is at midday and the feast after will have a thousand guests. Still, it must be a kind of relief as well to see Joffrey wed to Margaery - surely she must feel a little off the hook? 

Tyrion arrives, wants a cup of wine. Sansa tells him there will be enough wine later, but Tyrion doesn't want to face Cersei sober. An interesting juxtaposition of characters - Sansa thinks of drinking wine, but doesn't do it; Tyrion goes straight for a cup of red, while reminding us it is a new century, three hundred years after Aegon's Conquest. She sends him off to dress for the wedding and when he returns both Tyrion and Pod look more proper (she does not that a pimple on Pod's face ruins the impression, and that he is such a timid poy, especially for being a Payne, which is what you'd expect a girl like Sansa to think, nice characterization). I love how timid Pod is (Sansa's spot on with that observation), looking away when she talks to him, shuffling his feet, blushing. Tyrion notices it too, telling Sansa that Pod might just tell her toes the story behind his family's coat-of-arms. I chuckle. Sansa would rather stay in her chambers, but tells herself she must be brave like her brother Robb, and so she takes Tyrion stiffly by the arm and they go to the first event of the day, the breakfast in the Queen's Ballroom.

Once inside, we are treated to another list of food, Martin-style; for me personally it only makes me hungry. More interesting is what we can see rather than taste in my opinion; Ser Dontos galloping about on a broomstick horse and Moon Boy making farting sounds. Well, this isn't extremely interesting, but I like how Martin keeps Ser Dontos in our perception by adding him to the detail Sansa notices as she enters the ballroom. Sansa does think a lot about food, though. She notices how Tyrion eats little, and she herself tries some spiced Dornish eggs, and "nibbles" at fruit and fish and honeycakes. I like how everytime Joffrey looks at her, she feels like she's swallowed a bat. Kind of spoils the breakfast for her, without Martin having to state "Sansa felt miserable because..." Ozzy Osbourne approves. 

After the breaking of fast, Cersei presents Margaery with the wife's cloak, which she wore when she married Robert, and her mother wore when she married Tywin. Sansa, who still has that mind-set of evaluating things based on their outward appearance, thinks of the cloak as threadbare, not considering its affective value. Following this, it is gift time. Jalabhar Xho shines in his performance as he hands Joffrey a great bow of golden wood. Lady Tanda offers the king a pair of supple riding boots; Ser Kevan gives his nephew a leather jousting saddle, Prince Oberyn Martell presents a red gold brooch in the shape of a scorpion (how's that for veiled threat), silver spurs from Ser Addam Marbrand, a silk tourney pavilion from Lord Mathis Rowan (who's that again...grumble...must check wiki....Lord of Goldengrove...sent Daeron to the Wall for having sex with his daughter...bannerman of Mace Tyrell...currently advisor of the small council....all right); there's a model of a boat given by Paxter Redwyne, as well. Except for that last gift, most of the gifts Joffrey receives seem interconnected as if they planned to give him all he needs to visit and partake in tournaments across Westeros (basically, a knight's equipment). The model, however, is a representation of the actual thing being built on the Arbor, and will be called King Joffrey's Valor. Could a ship have a more ironic name? Still, it is a mighty mighty gift and you could wonder just how rich is this Paxter Redwyne anyway. What we also see of course is Tyrell bannermen ingratiating themselves, helping their liege lord's alliance with House Lannister.

Sansa notes how Joffrey plays the gracious king, indicating that by now she does truly understand the boy's true nature. However, that true nature is about to come forth when Tyrion Lannister presents him Lives of Four Kings, a gorgeously illuminated book. In the words of Tyrion, the book is "Grand Maester Kaeth's history of the reigns of Daeron the Young Dragon, Baelor the Blessed, Aegon the Unworthy, and Daeron the Good" and the title alone tells me that from now on, Martin's growing fascination for his own creation - House Targaryen and its kings and queens - is beginning to seep properly into the story. Joffrey shoves the tome across the table, telling Tyrion that he, like his father (he's talking about Robert) doesn't have time for books, and if Tyrion didn't read so much maybe he would have found time to put a baby in Sansa's belly. Joffrey laughs, and the court laughs with him; Sansa reddens (though the text does not say whether she's angry or ashamed). She's glad to see that Tyrion keeps his mouth shut instead of letting this turn into a nasty situation similar to what she experienced at her own wedding. What's most infuriating is how Joffrey is allowed to tell Sansa that he'll visit her and show Tyrion "how it's done" after he's put a child in Margaery's belly. So, while his wife-to-be is there, and his mother and his grandfather, and his uncle, and Sansa, he actually says this! That is so incredibly antisocial I can only laugh at it. What a douche. We don't get to read what kind of reaction the audience gives to this extremely bad behavior - I assume they just look down into their cups, awkwardly. 

Lord Mace Tyrell himself gifts Joffrey a golden chalice glittering with seven gemstones, each representing one of the great Houses. Joffrey comments that they will have to chip off the direwolf, and replace it with a squid. True, that. But not nice to say in Sansa's hearing. Did I mention Joffrey lacks each and every social antennae? Finally, it is time for Lord Tywin to present a gift. It turns out to be a longsword, so splendid the ballroom falls silent. It is of Valyrian steel, and Joffrey names it Widow's Wail. In this case, I think the TV show did a splendid reinterpretation by showing us Tywin melting down Ned Stark's Ice and reforging it into the two blades. I also appreciate how they kept parts of this breakfast scene intact, only the breakfast should have been much more crowded. And the Queen's ballroom looked distinctly like it was going on in the outside, which is weird. Joffrey slices Tyrion's gift apart. "I am no stranger to Valyrian steel," Joffrey claims, a hint from the author that Tyrion picks up on, too. Poor Tyrion. He gives the king the one gift he might just actually need, and it gets sliced in half. Such ungratefulness, infuriating. Ser Garlan Tyrell tells the king that there were only four copies of this tome, suggesting that it is in fact an invaluable item, but Joffrey just says, "Now there are three." Which is kind of funny. Is it a wonder people cheer when Joffrey finally is taken from the world? And then he manages to tell his uncle that he demands a new gift since the book is ruined. Love how Martin makes me hate this kid so much I want to reach through the book and strangle him myself. Tyrion stares at his nephew, suggests a dragonbone hilt dagger. Joffrey, oblivious to the implication (or not caring), says that sounds good. What we can gather from this, then, is that a mystery from A Game of Thrones has finally been solved - it was Joffrey who sent the assassin to Bran Stark's chambers and ended up tangling with Catelyn Stark. Love how it is dropped on us so casually, not even through the POV of the character realizing the truth. 

After this, Tyrion and Sansa leave, only to encounter Prince Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand as they cross the yard. And, not to my surprise, I mentally conjure up the images of Pedro Pascal and Indira Varma here. Actually, I'm also seeing Peter Dinklage and Sophie Turner now. Dammit. Sansa spends a moment eyeballing Ellaria, wondering about this woman who went from whore to a prince's paramour. Oberyn comments on the book Tyrion gifted Joffrey, through which Martin gives us some fragments of backstory but also manages to weave a sort of foreshadowing into it: Oberyn gave a shrug. "A year of a fortnight, what does it matter? He poisoned his own nephew to gain the throne and then did nothing once he had it." What I'm seeing here is Martin planting little seeds of doubt in the reader's mind (for later) - did Tyrion poison his own nephew? Lovely little detail. 
The conversation continues, and Sansa joins in, and I have a feeling that what the characters are saying, isn't really what we should be reading, if you catch my drift. Tyrion is basically saying that someone better get rid of Joffrey before it's too late; Oberyn is saying that he's going to kill someone ("I'd sooner save my fangs for someone juicer...") - there's implied threat and some nice coloration here, and it helps build toward the surprise later (when Oberyn becomes Tyrion's champion) - why else put this seemingly random encounter here? The scene also allows Sansa to consider women who are quite different from herself. 

Tyrion and Sansa find their litter, close the curtains for fear of thrown dung, and are off. Sansa "makes herself say" that she's sorry about that book, implying that she really doesn't care - still, she seems to have found some sympathy for her husband at this point. Tyrion asks about Bran, to confirm his new suspicion, but Sansa doesn't have anything useful to say. Tyrion becomes silent and she wonders why he looks at her, still loving how she isn't able to read him. When he asks her if she loved her brothers, she fears a trap instead of seeing that the Imp might just actually be talking about the love between siblings. He tells her that he never harmed Bran and that he has no intention of harming her. Still she isn't able to sense his sincerity. She thinks that he wants something from her, but she doesn't know or understand what. Love how she compares it to a starving child wanting food - she can sense a certain desperation in him, then, but doesn't understand that he simply wants her trust. It is both frustrating as a reader who loves Tyrion and wants the best for him, and rewarding because this awkward pairing of characters rings true because Martin sticks to the characters' psychology and isn't tempted to break free and give us a happy moment where Sansa gives Tyrion a hug and tells him she believes he wants the best for her, or what have you. It is one of the elements of this series that makes it so good.

The chapter ends with Tyrion wondering why Sansa hasn't asked how Robb and Catelyn died. She tells him she doesn't want to know, and he says that he won't (another sign that he wants to earn her trust); she tells him that is kind of him, still in a way that implies she doesn't trust him anymore for this, and Tyrion responds, "Oh yes. I am the very soul of kindness. And I know about dreams." And by stating it like that, we can practically feel Tyrion's bitterness, not only at the world for seeing him not for who he is but what he is, but also for not getting through Sansa's defenses. Wonderful characterization throughout this chapter, and such a contrast to the high fantasy adventures in the North (again).

We'll stay in the flow of this particular storyline as the next chapter switches back to Tyrion again (and we'll have Sansa after that again) - I really like it. It does break up the structure of the story so far, but then there never was a particular structure to the way chapters are ordered anyway. I think it's good that Martin didn't settle for a solid framework as it allows him to play around with the story structure a lot more, tightening the story where it is needed (like here), and broadening the scope elsewhere. Coming up, then, is the Purple Wedding, just nine weeks after it was shown on HBO. Will be fun to re-read, and spot similarities and differences between the two versions of the chapter. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.10: The Children

[Spoilers for everything Ice & Fire]
Three minutes ago, I finished watching the episode. The last episode of the season. How time flies when Game of Thrones is a weekly event, and how time flies during the initial viewing of an episode! Even this one, the longest episode to date (if I'm not mistaken), felt like a twenty-minute episode. This, obviously, should be counted as a good thing. It is never boring. And, for all the radical changes made to the narrative and structure, it still has all the main characters right where they should be in the end, and mostly in a situation or location which is quite close to what the books told us. Quite an accomplishment, yet those radical departures from the book keep tugging at a reader's sensibilities, and once again (I have said this so many times before, but the point stands) the scenes that are the closest to the source material are the best. Martin really wrote a cinematic epic with A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, and in my opinion certain changes to the narrative where completely unnecessary as Martin's solution was already excellent. That being said, there are changes for the better, too. All right, let's take a closer look at what episode ten delivered. A bit sad that it's over (again), but hey, the next season is under a year away and that's really short compared to the waits between books.

Dazed and confused, I have to say that overall, I both liked and didn't like the episode. There was good stuff that had me hailing the screen with the signature heavy metal hand sign (also known as "devil's horns" but fingers have very little to do with mythological dark lords), and there were scenes that had me go Huh?! and even a bit which I found almost embarrassing to watch. While a lot of the plot was wrapped up neatly and the characters were positioned for next season, that which rang the loudest was the absence of some pivotal material from A Storm of Swords. Material that could easily have been put into the series, what with all the short episodes that could have used some extra meat. The whole Craster's Keep mutiny detour is an example of material the show didn't really need and the time could have been used to, you know, actually put more from the actual book into the show. First and foremost, I had really expected to see Lady Stoneheart. I must have misread something yesterday, because I thought I read that she was in the show and so I looked forward to seeing this scene as it would have been a perfect ending for the episode instead of the rather cliched 'lone hero staring out across the sea on to new adventures' thing we got. Lady Stoneheart would have been disturbing, it would have made people reel, it would have people excited for the next ten months or so, and it would've brought the Brotherhood characters (some of them at any rate) back for a final scene, as their presence just kind of faded away. Anyway, they did give us a shocker in episode two this season, so maybe they are planning for Lady Stoneheart to make her ghastly presence known early in season five (though in this case I'd still argue that ending this season with her would have more impact). I do not miss the Tysha backstory, however; in the books, it comes up between Jaime and Tyrion during the rescue, and drives a wedge between them. I'd love to have the two brothers reunite in happiness, and keeping Tysha out of it might just foreshadow this. Also, it allows for Tyrion scenes free of the endlessly repeated mantra from A Dance with Dragons. I really don't care where whores go. So, having seen all episodes, I'd argue that the writers could have done a better job adapting the source material, fleshing out the episodes with more relevant stuff here and there, but at the same time they do an admirable job giving us these episodes and I respect their decisions even if I disagree at times. And the really good stuff is really good. So let's see what actually was in the episode as opposed to what could have been in the episode. But Lady Stoneheart and Coldhands, man they should have been in there. And Jhalabhar Xho, of course.

Scene 1: Jon and Mance meet again
Jon Snow trudging through the woods, passing wildling corpses, crows feasting. Great shots, good camerawork. I like it. Kit Harrington has improved a lot during this season and I have come to like him as Jon Snow, which I didn't before. Love how the camera follows Jon over his shoulder toward Mance's tent. Mance Rayder is fantastic, and the dialogue and the tension between the two characters is top-notch. One of the best scenes of the episode, if not the best. The threat is palpable, and the surprise when the horns blow feels real and now that Stannis comes charging at last, I don't mind it hasn't already happened, though I must say that I feel the scene would have been stronger if it ended episode 9 instead of opening episode 10. Still, fantastic shots, especially those lingering on Mance and Jon, there's a little shakiness to it that helps sell the tension, very well directed. The acting chops on display by CĂ­rian Hinds (sorry if I'm misspelling him) makes me forget he doesn't look like Rayder at all (to my mind, anyway). It's quite a long scene too, but it feels filled to the brim with necessary stuff, giving it enough room to breathe before the surprising horns are heard. I'll give these first eight minutes or so a score of 9.

Scene 2: Stannis the Mannis Has Arrived
Fantastic shots of Stannis' army riding into the woods, the Wall in the background. The overhead shots, the flying banners, it all looks pretty good, and a good choice to cut between Mance and Jon awaiting whatever's coming toward them so non-readers can wonder along with them. It is impossible not to think of The Lord of the Rings when seeing this, but it stands on it own due to being more brutal, and of course, colder. The closer the army gets to the center of Mance's camp, the closer the camera shows Mance's face, I like that. And then Stannis and Davos come riding through the haze. I think Stannis should wear his crown, but that's a minor nitpick. Them walking forward all cool while being attacked and narrowly saved by a horse trampling down an attacker: Silly and unnecessary! Priceless looks on people's faces all around. Mance is looking so much more regal than Stannis! Hinds is such a great actor, look at his reaction when Jon Snow kind of saves him (tells Stannis to imprison him rather than execute him). I love how the Others' theme is used to point out Jon's warning to burn the dead. Another good scene then, quite impressive when you consider this is a production for TV. Another scene deserving a 9.

Scene 3: Frankenstein & the Monster
I admit I am surprised they kept this scene in, and gave it so much time. Of course, Cersei and Qyburn's relationship is important for the next book/season so there's that. But what this scene really tells me is that Ser Gregor still has a role to play, all but confirming the identity of Ser Robert Strong (not that I ever doubted his identity). Creepy Qyburn is creepy. Cersei dismisses Grand Maester Pycelle, showing us that she rather trusts Qyburn's less savory methods of maestering. Still, I feel as if the scene is missing something; some tension, perhaps; maybe it doesn't work because of the preceding scenes. Some of the maester's instruments (especially that giant syringe) looked a little bit weird. Maybe they should've made the scene even creepier to bring it home properly. A 7.

Scene 4: Daughter & Father
Lena Heady has been consistently excellent as Cersei Lannister, in my opinion, even though it took me a while to warm up to her playing one of my favorite pre-A Feast for Crows characters in the series. When she shows up to have a talk with Lord Tywin her father, Lena really is Cersei Lannister. Emmy!! Tywin must be pretty frustrated that all his children are going against him in different ways. Some exposition here to help the non-viewers, and finally we hear something more about the betrothal to Ser Loras Tyrell. Love how Cersei interrupts her father (for the first time?). Charles Dance is consistently excellent as well. As for changes for the better, here's one - I think it was a great choice by the writers to have Cersei tell her father that the rumors are true. She is her brother's lover. Look at Charles' face when she tells him, refusing to believe, until she states it outright and even then he seems to refuse to believe it but Cersei knows now that he does know. Poor Tywin. All he did for the family, and now his family falls apart - because of him, partially. A solid 8.

Scene 5: Brother & Sister
For the third scene in a row we have Cersei Lannister played by Lena Heady and it's another good scene. I like Jaime and Cersei's interaction, and the much debated scene from earlier in the episode was, in my mind at least, not that big a deal after all. When Cersei tells her brother she chooses him, I believe her. It should be a disturbing relationship. Great acting from Lena again. To think it's already four years since we first saw them standing together, watching Jon Arryn with coins on his eyes. Another solid 8.

Scene 6: Daenerys Titles Titles 
It happened in A Dance with Dragons, and it seems to happen in the TV show: Daenerys' story is becoming less than interesting. Static is the word, I believe. First she has one former slave asking to become a slave again. I like the performances here, the lighting and the camerawork; and the point is driven home that Daenerys has a deal to learn when it comes to ruling Meereen. And, thankfully, the TV show can condense her story so we don't need all the boredom from the novel. At the same time this condensing of her story leads to a less complex Daenerys. She seems to be thinking only in black and white but maybe that's the point. Next up is the fellow with the child o' bones. I love the guy they found to play this fellow, he is so different; his voice, his face, great voice acting. BUT (and this goes for the book as well if I remember correctly) why would he be cradling a charred skeleton? I half expected a pristine body. Know what I mean? Of course he'd bring the bones to show Daenerys, but the way he holds those bones...awkward. Nitpick, though. Maybe it's realistic.
I love the gorgeous shots of Daenerys and the dragons entering the catacombs, fantastic location. Great CGI for the dragons (again) - and lovely music in the background (now I am sure this season has the best soundtrack). BUT those chains that handily await and the way Daenerys so simply fits them around the dragons' necks looks ridiculous. Also, why close the door. Give them a little light at least. I didn't like this solution in the books and I don't like it in the show. It just seems so overly stupid to chain them up in a dark dungeon like this, it should really go against Daenerys' instincts. Yes, she sheds a tear but there should be a better solution. Also it was fricking Drogon who killed that child, not Viserion or Rhaegal dammit. The warrior queen is gone now. Sad. So both good and bad in this one. Fantastic visuals, sorry plot development. A 6.

Scene 7: Their Watch is Ended
Maester Aemon presides over the fallen and Jon and (remaining) friends light the pyres. Again, the music adds that extra dimension of tragedy, but the real kicker here is Melisandre looking at Jon over the pyres, setting up season five. Short but sweet scene. 8.

Scene 8: Jon and Tormund (and Ygritte, kind of)
I like how they sell Jon's love for Ygritte in the aftermath of the battle, it works. Good scene. Jon is a little bit his old self with his grumpy voice in the scene with Tormund. Tormund tells him to go burn Ygritte out beyond the Wall because she belongs to the North and Jon complies. Lingering, sad scene with Jon burning Ygritte, tearing up. It brings his love story to a close, satisfactorily. 8.

Scene 9: Bran & the Skeletal Crew
Whoah, what the fuckety! I did not expect Jojen to die, so that was a surprise. They have finally reached the mystical tree (complete with high fantasy-esque tunnel below the roots, love it): Again we get a certain Lord of the Rings-ish feeling both in music and stunning visuals when they come up to the tree, their faces bathed in gold. I suppose the Jojen Paste theory will come true in the books then - they just ended him differently in the show. Not sure what to think of the skeletons. Loved the first surprise when the hands shoots up from the ice to grab Jojen; but I'm not sold by the CGI here. Once more the contrast between the "realistic" King's Landing scenes and the out-and-out high fantasy here is jarring. Like how Bran once more wargs Hodor to settle business; and I am absolutely relieved to see they went for a design with the Children that I can live with. I half-expected miniature Elves. This was good. The Children throwing fireballs was not very interesting though; not a very creative solution to the situation in the scene if you ask me. And then we're already in the tunnel and ready to face the Three-Eyed Raven. And I was dissapointed. It's just an old man sitting in a tree, looks like. I feel the character should have resembled the book description a lot more. He should have just one eye. He should be more visibly part of the tree, roots growing in and out of his flesh; he should look and feel much more...horror-like. Now he looks like an old doddering maester who couldn't find the Castle Black privy and ended up here to take a dump instead. I wonder what non-readers make of this scene. Music is excellent again. Hard to rate this sequence, both good and bad again. 6, then.

Scene 10: Brienne, Pod, Arya, Hound
Another surprise for me (I was relatively unspoiled) - Brienne and Sandor face-off! And behold, it was good. Mostly. Rory McCann did a great Hound this episode (well, he's been good all season to be honest); Gwendoline Christie does a great job as Brienne, too, notice the surprise on her face when she realizes who Arya is, listen to her voice cracking as she tries to convince Arya to come with her: Excellent! Lots of nice visuals, like Arya standing ready with Needle, Brienne standing there resting her hand on the hilt of Oathkeeper, Sandor twisting it all around so Brienne almost becomes like a Lannister lackey, and, once again, Maisie Williams is Arya by now. I love how the Hound and Arya still end up the way they did in the books, though. Makes me wonder what they will do with Brienne and Pod next season; of course, they haven't really done anything they actually did in A Feast for Crows so maybe I'm not really wondering at all. By the Seven, the Hound is fantastic in this episode. "Go on, Brienne of fucking Tarth..." ... "Safety? Where the fuck's that?" Perhaps my favorite sequence of the episode, tied with the first scenes with Mance and Jon and Stannis. Arya taking his silver and walking off...excellent. And I love how they are not making the Hound too likable when he begins talking about Mycah's murder and how he should have raped Sansa, but you can read it as him just trying to make Arya angry enough to kill him - ambiguity is good. 9.

Scene 11: Jaime, Tyrion Rescue
Short and lacking some tension (the characters seem a little carefree I suppose), but I like it; especially the hug. Made me tear up just a little bittle. 7.

Scene 12: Tyrion reunites with Shae a little
Intense, emotional scene. Good acting. While I like the way it was shot it does feel weird that they don't have a conversation. A "Whyyyy?" would go a long way. It was almost as if the episode suddenly lost its audio. The lack of dialogue took away something here rather than added, in my opinion. 7

Scene 13: Privy Council
The lord Hand sure had a long distance to cover just to take a dump. Also, those long corridors don't help sell the illusion they are in a tower. The interaction between father and son is fantastic, well acted, good choice of dialogue bits, can't complain too much about this scene. The story itself of course takes a nosedive after losing such a fascinating, strong character as Tywin is, but right now, this is a very well executed scene with niggles so minor I don't care mentioning them. 8.5

Scene 14: Valar Morghulis
I don't feels suitably cinematic. It looks good. But it doesn't punch you in the face telling you to pay attention 'cause next season will rock your bones to pulverized bits filtered out through your pores. But mostly this epic, yet tender, conclusion to the season serves to remind me that we should've had Lady Stoneheart here just about now. 6

Phew, and that's that! Overall a nice episode but my favorite this season's has to be #8. The Red Viper didn't leave my mind for a week. He made a lasting impression (and I don't mean his brains spattered all over the tiles).