Monday, October 6, 2014

[Re-read] Daenerys VI: Meereen, it rhymes with queen (and also "Wish I had a time machine")

Today we begin wrapping up A Storm of Swords, with Daenerys Targaryen's last chapter - imagine reading it in, say, 2000, and then being told that you won't get to read more about the Stormborn's (mis)adventures until 2011. That's eleven years we waited for her story to continue, and one could argue that with such a long drought, her story-line in A Dance with Dragons perhaps became doubly disappointing to those who expected more action from the warrior queen. Throughout her tale in the first three books, there was always a hint of the somewhat exotic yet firmly swords & sorcery type of adventure, with more than one element from Conan the Barbarian - type tales present. Then, eleven years later, when readers got a confused teenage girl fantasizing about the flamboyant Daario Naharis and generally spending most of her time on her ass in Meereen, well, disappointment seems almost bound to rise. To have risen? Well, as I've said before, when I get to my planned re-read of the two last novels with chapters mixed up in what has become known as Feastdance, maybe it will all work out somehow and I'll find other aspects of her tale to enjoy. But that first time through A Dance with, was that boring. Whenever there was a new Daenerys chapter coming up (or Jon, for that matter), it was like a speed bump in the road. A bump so big it made me rather want to stop and take a break. This is kind of drastic compared to the way I devoured the first three books. However, we are still in A Storm of Swords, and although this chapter does set up what we should have been expecting perhaps, it stands stronger because it is built upon what has come before. I am very curious to see if Daenerys' character is consistent from Storm to Dance, or if Martin indeed felt forced to "lock her up" in Meereen only for the other story-lines to "reach" her, if you know what I mean. Also, I have to admit it's kind of funny seeing TV-show-only fans being impatient with Dany's invasion of Westeros. THAT BEING SAID, let's rock our way through Daenerys VI!!

I admit that this chapter doesn't really drag me in the way many other chapters do, with some quick clever dialogue or macabre description that raises the olde eyebrow and makes me want to continue the read; here, we get Dany breaking her fast under a persimmon tree in a terrace garden. She watches her dragons chase each other, which I suppose should draw me in because dragons rule, but she pays more mind to the layout of the city below her, thus also shifting the reader's focus away from a potentially fun read about just what the dragons do when they chase each other. Sitting up here on the top of the pyramid makes Daenerys feel like "a god", which launches the next paragraph where Martin presents us to the Lord of Harmony, yet another deity, this one revered by the "Peaceful People of Naath"; it is Dany's little scribe Missandei who has taught her about this god, and according to Missandei, the Lord of Harmony is the only true god, and he is of the typical monotheistic variety, an all-powerful creator. This leads Dany to think that in Westeros, they have seven gods, though Viserys has told her that some septons believe the seven are aspects of a single god, similar in idea to the Christian concept of the trinity. She also notes that the red priests believe in two gods which is kind of interesting because it is easy to think that they believe in R'hllor only, but of course there's the fiery god's arch nemesis, the Great Other - but I do believe this is the first time this being has been referred to specifically as a god, but I could be wrong.
- Which I often am, when trying to dissect a massive series like this. You may be aware of a certain app called QuizUp. I only became aware of it this weekend through a relative of mine. I downloaded it, and got instantly hooked. One of the topics (categories) you can play is A Song of Ice and Fire - and playing it, I realized I know quite a bit but there is always someone who knows more than me, and faster. It's quite fun, though, so I recommend you check it out! There's more than six hundred topics to play, and the questions are many and varied so you rarely encounter the same questions over and over again. I'll see you there.

In the next paragraph, as Daenerys sits thinking about the gods (and I'm reminded of the many divine statues in Vaes Dothrak; is Martin trying to link Dany to the gods specifically for some reason?), Missandei shows up to serve eggs and dog sausages, and a cup of tea which draws flies, but a scented candle drives them off. Since Dany has been thinking about how lonely a single god like the Lord of Harmony must be, I can't help but think that Martin purposefully adds this little detail about the flies being drawn to the honey - and when Daenerys says she must remember to do something about the flies, Martin is metaphorically telling us that the lonely goddess on top of the pyramid (i.e., Daenerys) has to do something with the people of Meereen (i.e., the flies). Maybe I'm overreading it, I don't know, but it seems to me you can make the link between thoughts of godhood and Daenerys being the honey, to which the people swarm...kind of. Anyway. So far this chapter does resemble the somewhat stagnant feeling of her Dance chapters. Let's see if we can get some drift.

Dany has grown fond of Missandei, "the little scribe with the big golden eyes wise beyond her years" - now this description does make me a trifle suspicious. She sounds almost like a Child of the Forest. Could she be at least related to the Children? A sapling taken across the Narrow Sea to sprout in Essos? A man wonders. She also seems quite clever - though the lecture on the Lord of Harmony doesn't gel. Dany hopes to one day see this fabled Naath, where people make music instead of war (always a better option); apparently the Naathi are so peaceful they don't even slaughter animals for food. And there are butterfly spirits protecting the island for the Lord of Harmony (not all that omniscient and powerful after all then). Apparently, raiders have not conquered Naath because they are infected by some kind of disease once there - yet slavers are able to take the Naathi from their homes and bring them to the slave markets. Confusing. Speaking of suspicious, note that Missandei almost has a slip of the tongue: "This one is content to stay with you, Your Grace. Naath will be there, always. You are good to this - to me." What was Missandei about to say or call herself ("this") which she quickly changes to "me"? Oh, I've got my eyes on you, little golden-eyed Naathi, there's something quite fishy about you. Unless Martin just meant her to almost say "this slave", of course.

Daenerys takes a bath (yes, the slowness is creeping in...slowly...where are the crucifixions and the dragonfire); today she wears the three-headed dragon crown which she was given back in Qarth (well, nice reminder, I have completely forgotten about this Tourmaline Brotherhood already, so excuse me while I go brush up my knowledge on this particular faction....*elevator music* ... a merchant guild owning 800 ships, were not pleased with the destruction of the House of the Undying...okay I'm back. She wears some other stuff as well, of course (or actually...that isn't always par for the course in Essos), then she wonders if she looks like a conqueror (yay!) but realizes she still looks like a little girl (boo!). She reminisces about how she conquered Meereen with a small fleet of ships with "bawdy names" (oh how George enjoys bawdy!). What we get out of her memories of the conquest is that slaves shouted Mother! at her and that she nailed one hundred and sixty-three leaders of Meereen (that's a lot of leaders) up on posts to avenge the one hundred and sixty-three children that had pointed the way for her. Now we're talking swords'n'sorcery'sandals! Shame we get this scene as a memory/flashback - it worked really well as a present moment in the TV shows, giving both Dany and me (and other fans, I reckon) a feeling of vengeance accomplished; however, Daenerys soon enough begins to wonder if what she did in retribution was just. She tells herself it was, for the children.

Next up we're introduced to her audience chamber, and in hindsight I can understand why Martin gives us such a full picture - after all, this is where Dany will spend most of her chapters in the future. In the chamber, she is awaited by a small host of characters - her bloodriders, Grey Worm, Brown Ben Plumm, "so beloved of her dragons" (mental note), Daario Naharis glittering in gold, Irri, Jhiqui, Missandei (well I guess she followed her down)...and she wonders who will betray her next (it's funny how, of the assembled characters, she thinks of Brown Ben as "solid"). She tells herself there will be two men in the world she can trust (i.e., the two other dragon riders I suppose - could she, without knowing it at this point, be thinking of Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, or Jon and Bran Stark? Some theorists would say yes). Keeping up the metaphors, a small fly is annoying Daenerys and she says there are too many flies in the city; Ben says he had a lot of flies in his ale this morning; is Martin telling us something? Is he metaphorically using flies as the "hidden" enemies among her people, and that Ben here then is an enemy of hers too? I almost feel I have to look for some deeper meaning here, to avoid falling asleep (sorry Dany!). There's a suggestion Daario could be a long lost Valyrian, though I take it as a red herring the way it's written, and then it's time for Daenerys' first of many audiences.

The first to stand before her is a fellow named Ghael, who comes with greetings from Cleon the Great of Astapor - a city we've seen Daenerys sack earlier. Dany stiffens - after all, she did leave Astapor with a council (a healer, a scholar, and a priest - between the three of them you have to wonder how they will keep order). Turns out then that this Cleon has assumed kingship of Astapor, a former butcher now king. Dany feels ill knowing what her actions has caused to rise from the ashes. Cleon then proposes to Dany an alliance against Yunkai, but Daenerys has sworn not to harm the Yunkai'i as long as they released their slaves. Some foreshadowing seems to be given when the envoy Ghael explains that the Yunkai'i are already plotting against her, with warships being built, sellswords being hired, and have even dispatched riders to Vaes Dothrak to "bring a khalasar down upon you" - could this be the khalasar we see toward the end of Dance? I guess so. Finally Cleon proposes they marry as a sign of this proposed alliance. She tells the envoy she will think about it. Instead she spends a paragraph thinking about how everything she tries to build falls apart.

Next up is a Qartheen captain, who confirms that this King Cleon is behaving rather brutally toward the citizens of Astapor (he really doesn't sound like a nice guy at all; but neither was Khal Drogo, was he?); the captain reveals he comes to trade slaves. He has ships loaded with valuables to trade for slaves, but Dany says there are no slaves in Meereen (anymore). However, she learns that a lot of people are practically begging to become slaves, because that is better than living in the hell that Meereen has become. She agrees that any adult who wishes to be sold into slavery can do so, but no child can decide to do this. Fair enough. It's a nice little shocker for Dany, of course, that people would rather serve as slaves than be free in Meereen. It does seem she has some work to do to make Meereen a good place to live.

Her thoughts turn to Ser Jorah Mormont and how she needs his counsel but doesn't really want to see him; again, Martin brings up the association with flies; but eventually she tells Strong Belwas (oh, he's here as well?) to bring her knights. When Barristan and Jorah arrive, one looks proud, the other guilty. Daenerys really shows her disappointment in the two for having lied to her; Martin deftly weaves more story from the conquest of Meereen into the narrative, and this shows us that Barristan and Jorah did indeed play very important roles in the liberation of the city, whether Dany likes it or not. Again, I'm thinking these flashback scenes would have read better in the present tense, which would have allowed for more exciting Dany chapters; of course, at the time, Martin didn't have any other POV and didn't feel it suitable for Dany to be part of an invading force (so there goes the illusion of a warrior queen, really) so he decided to present this in flashback scenes. Still, a shame. We could have gotten an exciting chapter of violence and strategy and tactics and blood and shouts instead of breaking fast beneath a persimmon tree. But hey, that's just me.

Talk to the hand cause the head ain't listening

Then it's time for Ser Barristan Selmy to explain himself. It is perhaps the most interesting section of the chapter, as we get to hear from a character whose really involved with a lot of the plot's backstory. Ser Barristan confirms to Daenerys that her father was the Mad King not just because Robert Baratheon called him that, but because he was truly mad. He admits that he wanted to keep his identity secret, not just to avoid the Lannisters, but also to gauge Daenerys' mental health. Then we get the classic line about the gods tossing a coin in the air (another reference to gods - Martin really weaves this chapter thoroughly, doesn't he); Daenerys realizes this old man actually knew her grandfather...and this is the reason why I never liked that Ser Barristan got his own POV in Dance: the man knows too much, has experienced too much, to be easy to write believably. Easier to see the world through an inexperienced character's eyes and learn with that character about the setting, than suddenly getting one of the few characters alive who have been through the whole backstory (the important bits, anyway). Barry shows dignity and humility before Dany, however, and says that he is now convinced she is the trueborn heir of Westeros, and so she hands him back his sword and he kneels to re-swear his service.

Next up, Ser Jorah! At least as useful to her as Ser Barristan, Jorah has the drawback of being madly in love with Dany and being a bit shifty. And has a very hairy chest, just sayin' in case you can only imagine the excellent Ian Glen now as Ser Jorah (I think Ian does a great job, and I love his portrayal, but the Ser Jorah of the books he ain't). Unlike Barry, however, Jorah isn't showing any humility; she wants him to beg for her forgiveness, but that's not how Jorah rolls. Ser Barristan, honorable to a fault, assists Dany in making Jorah look bad (though I think he does it out of honor, not to be mean); the dialogue back and forth here is very well written and believable, and I think Martin does a good job at looking at the complexities inherent in trust, honor, love, the whole shebang. And Jorah really can't defend himself against the accusations flung at him - he simply chose Daenerys too late. For too long did he spy on her and send his reports back to King Robert. In the end, he does beg her forgiveness, but by then it is too late. Dany also thinks he is being pretty insolent about it, though it seems to me Jorah is speaking out of passion and desperation, and she interprets it as pathetic (which it also sounds like, really). It is an interesting scene, the dismissal of Ser Jorah Mormont, and very poignant. And I remember wondering what would happen to Jorah now, and imagined a few directions his story could take...and none of them involved randomly running into Tyrion Lannister. Essos, I feel, is too big for such happenstances (likewise Arya/Sam), but hey, there you go - the story has to finish sometime, and if Martin thought Tyrion/Jorah was a good idea, well, we have to wait for The Winds of Winter to see where it all is going. Can you wait?!

Daenerys sums up why she can forgive the one, and not the other: "He lied to me about his name. You sold my secrets to the men who killed my father and stole my brother's throne." Desperately Jorah tries to convince her that he has protected her, fought for her, killed for her...and that he has loved her (maybe the scene would be stronger if he said it in present tense, "I love you"? Maybe that would be too awkwardly blunt, but I wonder how Martin came to the decision to have him say "I have loved you") - anyway, that statement makes Dany think about the prophecy, "Three treasons will you know," and that here we have the treason for love. Once again the gods are invoked when she tells him that the gods do nothing without a purpose (tell that to the platypus) and since Jorah didn't die in battle they must have some further plans for him - it sounds somewhat uncharacteristic from Dany's mouth but then she's been thinking about gods the whole chapter and maybe Martin added those thoughts precisely to support her statement here, because, considering the fact she nails people to posts, why wouldn't she throw him in a dungeon or execute him or whatever? Instead, then, she allows him to leave. "Remove this liar from my sight," she commands, and Ser Jorah is taken away and given a warning that if he shows his face in Meereen again he'll be killed. However, we see that this is taking an emotional toll on her (she fights against her tears), so we can assume that her talking about the gods having a plan for him is just an excuse to not have to punish him harder. As Jorah stumbles out of sight, Daario tells her Jorah is very dangerous, and that he can kill him for her. She tells him to let Jorah go home.

And then it's back up the stairs and slipping into something more comfortable. She tells Irri to fetch her the book with songs and stories from the Seven Kingdoms - it is the book Ser Jorah gifted her when she married Khal Drogo. Poignant. She thinks, again, of herself as a little girl, and wonders if she should've kept Jorah near instead (keep your enemies closer than your friends). Later, she goes outside on the terrace, where Rhaegal is sleeping and Drogon is perched atop the pyramid...and then Ser Barristan stands behind her, who offers her answers to any questions she might have. This is when I wake up from the almost comatose state the chapter has lulled me into, because hey, now we're going to get some hard answers that might shine some light on Daenerys' childhood or whatever. They agree that this is not the time for such talk. GREAT. The only thing we get to know is that the Mad King wasn't all that bad. Like Vader, there was some good in him. And most of all, Ser Barristan would like to talk about Rhaegar, her legendary brother. Well, all right! I'm all ears. Oh. When she's ready for it, he will reveal all. GREAT. And now he's probably going to die horribly in The Winds of Winter and we'll have learned nothing.

Does this chapter ever end? That night she feasts, and then she goes to bed, and there's some lesbian action skipped over uncharacteristically fast, and she thinks of having Daario Naharis in her bed, and oh no, we're getting pretty close to Dance now aren't we? Her dreams are dark, she wakes three times, oh come on. She slips out onto the terrace because she can't sleep, and while standing there looking at Meereen by night, she silently says goodbye to Ser Jorah and tells herself that she cannot ever trust anyone again (I assume this will come back later, as in, she will find someone she can trust - and I guess those will be the dragon riders mentioned above somewhere). Missandei comes out, wondering what Daenerys is looking at. Daenerys says she was looking for a house with a red door, metaphorically speaking then she was longing for a home to call her own, and then she tells Missandei never to betray her. Well, okay, that one surely has to come back and bite Dany in the nipples.

Dawn comes...entire sentences are devoted to the colors of this particular dawn and so I have to assume Martin is once again playing around...let's see, the cobalt blue can represent Daenerys deciding to stay in Meereen (royal = assuming the queenship); "pale gold and oyster pink" - enemies approaching, Lannisters and Greyjoys; red and yellow and blue and green and orange - the Lannisters, the Martells, the Tyrells etc. - scarlet sands of the fighting pits - blood will be spilled there; temple of the graces blazing bright - coming into power; blablablah...not saying Martin is playing here, but the reader can.

She summons her captains and commanders to her terraced garden atop the pyramid. In essence she tells the crew that she has decided to stay in Meereen to rule and be a queen. And that's the shocking, thrilling, spectacular end of Dany's arc in A Storm of Swords. Yes, I'm being ironic. Where is the fire and blood? Well, Martin has given us enough setup to accept that Daenerys decides to stay and learn to rule; it is consistent with her character, I suppose, to wish to be better prepared for Westeros - however, I can't help but feel that this is the author stalling her plot for other characters' plots to catch up, simple as that. And when it becomes this translucent, well, the writing and the immersion both suffer. I think I'd rather have stopped here, and skipped her story in Dance altogether, and then have the other characters converge on her and then have her return into the story...but that's just me. I wouldn't mind a chapter where she thought back to some of the more important bits of what she experienced while learning to be a queen in Meereen instead of fifteen chapters of audience chamber negotiations and talks - and then she could get the hell on with fire and blood.

Oh well! I am glad the chapter's done, I think it's slow and, while well written and with some absolutely essential plot points, could have been shorter. It still beats most other books I've read, though, no worries.

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