Friday, January 31, 2014

[Re-read] Davos IV: From Dungeon Rat to Lord Admiral Hand in Seven Easy Steps


Ah, Friday. Is there a better day in the week? Well, Saturday is an obvious candidate, but Friday is pretty great. That feeling of a weekend coming up. Everyone at work's a little happier. Friday is like a beautiful promise. Like fantasy! A promise of escape, of enjoyment. So Friday = Fantasyday. I loves it. 
Perfect day for another chapter of A Storm of Swords, especially since it's snowing heavily outside for the twenty-first day or so in a row. No seriously, we're snowed under here. Soon, people can just walk over the walls of my castle and take it. Hmm...could that happen in Westeros, I wonder? 

'Snowed Under' (c) FFG
Speaking of fantasy, I've (re)published a few of my latest flash- and short stories from SFFWorld to my collection at Words are Wind. I've apparently been on a roll as I won the last short story competition with my story The Heresiarch Aflame. I noticed I hadn't updated since June '13, but I've tried to write a short story or flash every month, mostly for fun - and now I've put them all up, good and bad. Shame I didn't realize I liked to write twenty years before, but I guess that's how it goes. Of course, not all the stories are good enough and I only win now and then, usually when I've sunk some extra thought and time in it. That's the great thing - participating nets you comments and constructive criticism from other participants. The other stories I've written lately and uploaded are Capsized, His Horned Liege, To Serve the Order, The Bournemouth Shades, Sidecar Sally, The Mad Lady Aryel, and Roland, Witnessing, which is the most recent submission and currently being voted for (or not) over at SFFWorld. A rather quirky story where I'm experimenting a little bit, but that's what I do with many of these small stories. I've toyed with high fantasy, horror, even let myself be inspired by Narnia in one of these. It's fun to make up stories! ...but writing them down is a bit of a hassle...

... because there's just so much fun to do and so little time. Granted, I should perhaps stay off the addictive computer games. They are the real time-sinks in my life once I get hooked on one game or the other. The last couple of months I've been immersed in Everquest 2 as noted before, and my enthusiasm hasn't waned yet (in fact, quite the opposite - it's a bit like Steven Erikson's books, you have to dig a little bit to find the gold but once you find it, you realize this is the good stuff). Now that I've found a guild with nice people I suspect I'll be continuing to game in the world of Norrath as I now have the means to traverse the more dangerous dungeons waiting to be looted mightily. I've also gone so old school it's older than an old school with the recently released Might & Magic X: Legacy. I've had it on Steam since the day it was for sale as a work-in-progress (what do they call this, pre-release something something?) and it lagged so much I haven't bothered. But somehow, automagically, when it was finally officially released, it ran smoothly and I could enjoy a foray into the lands of Oldschool, were you move tile-by-tile even when in town. Gameplay-wise it plays more old-school than Might & Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven which I devoted a lot of hours to back in the mid/late nineties. But it's the kind of computer RPG I love. Dungeons, turn-based, monsters, a party of characters as portraits, healing potions and quests. I approve of this kind of entertainment and challenge. A third game I've sniffed at is an actual old school game, Realms of Arkana 2: Star Trail, also recently released on Steam. Haven't had a chance to properly get into it, and I probably never will, but you know. I still believe I'm somehow a young carefree man with too much time on my hands. Where did they go, those days when I had the time for seemingly endless dungeon crawls? 
Yup, that's me. Estellae. Note the Targaryen "ae". Talking to a frog at thirty-eight years. /facepalm

Hello, my name is Digression. How are you doing? I don't know. Me neither. Let's get back on track 'cause I'm really writing this post to share my thoughts on A Storm of Swords, Chapter 37: Davos IV. Admittedly Davos is one of the less interesting characters in my opinion, but he gets to experience a whole lot of interesting things anyway, so here we go and there you blow. Davos

Who is seaworthy!! A man you can trust! Man, how blunt can a last name be? Not that I've considered it before. But there it is. Davos Seaworth. Davos sounds like a Greek island, by the way. I don't know whether Greek islands can be trusted, or if that is indeed what George R.R. is trying to tell us. Could it be an hitherto undiscovered theme of deepest meaning in the saga? Okay, I'll shut up and go for it now. 

So, we left Davos in a dungeon the last time, where Lord Alester had just become his roommate. Which is kind of weird because wouldn't you put these guys in separate cells just to be sure? Makes for a less interesting scene, of course, I know that. They are hearing people approach in the darkness, Lord Alester is all hopeful that his captors have realized their mistake and have come to free him. It is Ser Axell Florent and four guardsmen who arrive outside the cell. Hopeful Alester wonders who sent for him, but grumpy Axell calls him a traitor and he's there for Davos. Now that's got to hurt for our Lord Alester. A solid bitch-slap right there. Davos fears he's being fetched only to be thrown on a pyre, a sacrifice to the Red God. Oh, religion, you. The interesting thing here is that Alester and Axell are brothers, and Axell treats Alester like a dog's droppings. Axell shows that he's been brainwashed by Melisandre, and for him there is only one god now, the Red God, Rh'llor. Did I tell you I am sick of spell-checking this god's name? And why does Rh'llor sound like a being more at home in Lovecraft's Chthulhu mythos? Could the Red God be a slumbering (or awakened, since his magic seems to work) monstrosity from outer space? They leave Alester whimpering and begging in the darkness, and Davos learns it is King Stannis who has sent for him, not Melisandre. That's good news. 

We get a nice description of the walk up the many stairs, and I believe Martin loves describing Dragonstone. It is an evocative location, and the way he can play with light and shadows and wind and weather here is nice. They end up on a stone bridge spanning a courtyard where the nightfires are burning, when Axell turns around and tells Davos that if he were in charge, he'd burn them both - Alester and Davos. This tells me something of just how fanatical Axell has become to Melisandre's cause, because you know, for good people to do bad things you need religion. Entirely subjective opinion, but it seems Martin is thinking along the same lines. I have no idea whether the author is an atheist or a devout something, though. Interestingly, Axell claims to be able to see in the flames just like Melisandre does, and he claims to have seen that Davos will betray King Stannis! Wow, I have never caught on to this little bit before. That's quite interesting, really. That line, "Stannis Baratheon will sit the Iron Throne", I believe they have given it to Melisandre in the TV show, but I feel like we will end up seeing Stannis in the Iron Throne, even if it's for just a few seconds before he is brutally murdered by someone. You know, it's the kind of prophecy that most likely will turn out true with a twist. It feels that way. What Axell is really after, though, is Davos' agreement to tell Stannis to make Axell the new Hand of the King (take his brother's place). Alester even promises him a new ship. We get a not-so-flattering description of the man, and it seems that by merely looking at him Davos doubts the man can keep such a promise. A short but intense little scene with a great backdrop (Dragonstone's courtyard below, the wind howling around the battlements, the threat that Axell could just shove Davos off the ledge) - and then we come to the Stone Drum and, within it, the Chamber of the Painted Table. 

Stannis sits behind it, wearing a grey wool tunic, a dark red mantle and a plain black leather belt - and he seems ten years older to Davos; in fact, Davos is shocked at his friend and king's appearance.He looks drained. All right, now I am not so sure Stannis will sit the Iron Throne. Isn't this just sublime foreshadowing of Stannis eventually becoming a wight in the army of the Others? (...) the bones moved beneath his skin like spears, fighting to cut free. Even his crown seemed to large for his head. His eyes were blue pits lost in deep hollows, and the shape of a skull could be seen beneath his face. That sounds like a wight! Will he sit the Iron Throne as an undead? Man, can this story go in many directions or what?! Davos is unsure of Stannis now, both exemplified through Stannis' changed looks, and the fact that Davos wonders if Stannis is now being controlled entirely by others; Davos wonders if Stannis actually knows he has been imprisoned (the TV show made it pretty clear, though). But Stannis seems to be much less hostile than what Davos seemed to expect on his way here; Stannis calls him friend, tells him he has missed him, and that he needs his good counsel. Stannis asks Davos what the penalty for treason is. Davos becomes even more insecure - is Stannis talking about Davos, or someone else? 

"Death," Davos finally replies, as if Stannis doesn't know; and Stannis gives us a list of traitors who paid the price, which, fascinatingly enough, includes Rhaenyra Targaryen of recent The Princess and the Queen fame. Stannis tells him we're talking about law, and not cruelty, when discussing the death penalty. That is just so Stannis Baratheon. In a sense, you could argue that Martin is telling us that even though the man's changed, his core remains the same. Or I am reading too much into this sequence. Your pick.
Stannis isn't talking about Davos, but Alester, still down in the dungeon. Stannis goes off on a rant and we get some more historical background. Has someone pieced it all together into one continuing text of lore? That Randyll Tarly, for example, he's really been living the (brutal, medieval) life. He's often talked about, at any rate. Then, Stannis tells Davos how Axell wants to resumre the war, and gives us a list of reasons why not to do so - in essence, an update on the situation for Team Stannis. 

Axell Florent, (c) FFG
So much detail! Axell explains his plan to Davos. Simple enough, but at the same time we learn how one Lord Belgrave had to wash a beggar's feet at the command of King Baelor the Blessed; there's the curious note that the Celtigars own a horn that can summon monsters from the deep (krakens - and, could the Drowned God be a giantific kraken? Or at least something big with tentacles that would match the Red God's lovecraftian visage - if he is indeed such a mythic creature)?
Stannis needs to hear from Davos what he thinks of Axell's plan. Invade House Celtigar's ancestral island, loot it for what it's worth (and use some of it as payment to keep Salladhor Saan happy), that is. And Davos, ever the most honest man to replace Lord Eddard Stark in the story, tells it true: the plan is stupid. Makes Axell almost go up in flames. Davos, much wiser than Axell, tells them that it makes no sense to attack House Celtigar, for there are no true enemies there. No Lannisters. It would be disastrous, for so many people of Claw Isle did die for Stannis' cause on the Blackwater - attacking them now, even if their lord has sworn fealty to someone else, would be a very stupid decision, politically. Kind of a wonder Stannis needs Davos to figure this out, but there you go. 

The conversation that follows is interesting and realistic, and the tension lies in how honest Davos can be before someone gets angry enough to cut his throat. And indeed, soon enough Axell has a blade out, ready to draw blood. Fortunately, Davos manages to stay alive by giving Stannis some food for thought. Did Stannis himself remain utterly loyal to King Aerys when his brother Robert rebelled? No. And that's just a fantastic slap in the face for Stannis Baratheon, rigid - there was a time when he was more flexible. And now he should be flexible when it comes to House Celtigar. Lord Celtigar may be a traitor, all his people on Claw Isle had no choice but to either follow his lead, or die. Lovely bit.

Stannis admits the truth can be a bitter draught, tells Axell off and calls for Melisandre. Stannis tells Davos how hard it was to choose between brother and liege. And it's one of those few moments were we get a glimpse of the man inside the shell. And we learn that Stannis doesn't really want the Iron Throne (there's also the curious fact that the throne seems to have a will of its own, cutting those it deems unworthy - at first I thought, mmmm, could it be magical or something but then I realized that Joffrey should be cut to ribbons a long time ago so it is probably just a tale that grew in the telling, so to speak). Nope, Stannis is all about the law and the throne is his by rights. He would fight just as hard to secure it for, say, Renly, if by law Renly should sit the throne. He is a man of duty. He owes it to his daughter. His reasons are crystal clear, really, just hard to imagine a man being so...rigid. Small line of particular interest in there - Ser Barristan once told me that the rot in King's Landing began with Varys. Stannis thinks that Jaime should have been sent to the Wall (if you read the theories on Jaime ending up at the Wall fighting the Others, then this line could be seen as foreshadowing of the vague kind); and then, abruptly, Stannis asks Davos, "Why did you wish to murder Melisandre?" 

See, in lots of cases it helps to actually talk about things instead of going all violent. Just ask, and maybe you can figure out a way to solve a conflict without the need for blood. So, good for you, Stan. You could've asked right away, too, saving Davos days in the dungeon among rats and piss and rat's piss. And Alester. Again, Davos is honest: he wants revenge for the death of four sons, whom he thinks she gave to the flames in sacrifice. Stannis tells him she had no part in it; it was the Imp's doing. Davos tries a different tack; she slew Cressen and Ser Cortnay Penrose and Renly, Stannis' brother - and Stannis says, no, no, she was with him when Renly died. This irks me - does not Stannis always come off as honest and truthful, harsh as he may be? Yet here he clearly lies, because he knows that they gave birth to a shadow baby and it was sent off to kill Renly. Has she cast a spell (a glamor as we later know she calls it) on Stannis? Is he conveniently forgetting the implications here? Anyway, Stannis surprises Davos when he says it is Melisandre herself who wished Davos to be spared from the fire Axell wanted for him. But why? 

The chapter kind of skips to a new topic when Stannis brings up Robert's bastard son (one of them at any rate) Edric Storm and how he's sick and how Stannis thinks that neither Robert nor Renly ever took good care of him, but the point seems to be that Melisandre claims there is "power in a king's blood", and this suggests that they are thinking of sacrificing Edric for the 'greater good'. It's a little bit confusing (but probably realistic) how their talk flows from one topic to the next, but eventually it culminates with Stannis agreeing with Davos that there is no point in destroying House Celtigar - Stannis sees that every man must answer for his own actions (which I suppose is important to remember for later). And then, just like that, Stannis makes Davos his new Hand of the King (Axell's gonna love that one) - Martin against makes a point of telling us that Stannis' sword, Lightbringer, is a fake. All Stannis wants is loyalty, honesty, and service - and for that, Stannis wisely sees, no man is better suited than the once-smuggler of onions, the Seaworth. Stannis goes through the list of other candidates, finding no one good enough for the job. I'm mentioning this because Stannis says that "the new Sunglass sailed for Volantis after I burned his brother..." and that could be another seed for the story to come - will Daenerys pick up the new Sunglass on her way to Westeros, a man intent on avenging his brother? If yes, Martin can safely point back to this chapter and say, "See? I already prepared you for this character." Or, the books being dense enough already, he could skip it and no one would complain. 

Melisandre enters and I love how we only hear her first - a woman's voice "rich with the accents of the east"
(or the Netherlands, according to the TV series) - and she speaks of the 'great battle', the mother of all battles, for a powerful evil is gathering its forces (Sauron?!) and soon comes the night that never ends. Stannis now reveals that he too sees things in the fires, but the way it is written it could be argued that maybe Melisandre is casting spells (sorry glamors) that trick Stannis into believing he is seeing stuff. It's still a bit muddled at this point. And I like it that way.
So what did he see? He saw the Fist of the First Men, didn't he, and the dead come to attack the Night's Watch. Melisandre explains that the great battle has already begun, the Other on one side, Rh'llor on the other. Turns out Melisandre wants Edric to conjure more powerful visions, but Stannis won't have it. That's good news. For Edric Storm. I love how Stannis says, "I'll hear no more of this. The dragons are done," can't wait to "see" the look on his face when they show up. 

She throws a few fat leeches in the fire of a brazier (apparently she's been draining Edric Storm, which, dear Stannis, could explain why the boy's a bit out of it!) and then Stannis says three names: Joffrey Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy, and Robb Stark. Robb the last of course, because that's the one we're the most invested in. I am not sure I got the importance of this chapter-ending bit the first time around. There is no text here explaining what is going on. Still, Martin creates a somewhat gloomy and ominous atmosphere that makes me go "Okay, this is probably bad for those three in some way..." Stannis does tell her that she has to be content with those leeches, I realize that, but still... 

...all in all a nice chapter to read through again, with some small details here and there to file away for the future. I love how the chapter is almost exclusively talkety talk and yet it is atmospheric and interesting. If you caught on to that last bit on your first read and thought "Oh, wow, those three are so dead", I applaud you for your clarity of mind and acuteness of perception. 

Next up - an awkward bath tub scene, and more!

Oh, and happy birthday, my first-born son :-) 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rekindling the Passion for Ice and Fire

Yes, George R.R. Martin's been called 'the American Tolkien'. Many fans disappointed with the later books in A Song of Ice and Fire feel it an unfair comparison to the grand old master. Me, I'm beginning to slowly turn around, as I have been exploring a few Ice & Fire blogs that go incredibly in-depth in their analysises and speculation, leaving me completely amazed at how much stuff people are still finding in Martin's work. Through debate and a more positive attitude, I am beginning to warm up to some aspects of Feast/Dance, realizing that Martin may just have done a few clever things after all with books four and five. There are still many concepts I am not comfortable with, but I have a feeling once I reach Feast in my seemingly endless re-read project, I may be much more positive toward it than I have been the last decade. I honestly don't know how much my readings suffered from being angry with Martin's PR skills and the Long Waits, but it feels good to have my passion for Ice and Fire in the process of being rekindled. Too long have I been stuck in the rut; I want to appreciate what I've gotten instead of being angry with what I haven't. 

One such blog that has made me reconsider not only Feast/Dance but the entire series, is a blog run by a fellow who calls himself Dorian the Historian. In it, he goes deep into comparing Ice & Fire with Norse mythology (which, if true, makes the moniker "The American Tolkien" apt). He is quite convincing as he suggests none other than Ser Jaime Lannister as Azor Ahai. Have a read! I am not saying I buy the theory hook/line/sinker but when you read it and see the possibities and the connections, I can't help but think what I thought while reading the previous A Storm of Swords chapter - that one can read so many things into this material. I wish I had the mental fortitude to build such theories, but that's not me, oh no. I need time to rock, read and game. I cannot delve so deeply; but blogs like this make it easier to mentally join deeper discussions on the works. 

Another in-depth blog which helps me appreciate the later books more, if only because the blog provides some food for thought, is The Meereenese Blot,  birthed and kept alive by one Adam Feldman Currently he is trying to make me see that the character Penny isn't just a worthless addition to A Dance with Dragons; interesting in many ways, but I am not sure I am convinced as long as when I read about her I feel something's wrong. She's Cognitive Dissonance Incarnate. 

Finally there's Race for the Iron Throne, which offers detailed analysises as well, written and maintained by Steven Attewell.  I haven't looked into this one much yet, but have bookmarked it for future reading. Because I don't have enough to read /sarcasm dripping 

Speaking of having my Ice & Fire passion rekindled, I committed an article the other day for Tower of the Hand, called The Music of Dragons. Have a look if you care. It's about musicians being inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire.  

As for Waiting for Winter: Re-reading A Clash of Kings: Part I, it's still a bit delayed, but once it's out I honestly believe it's going to be a treat. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

[Re-read] Catelyn IV: All the North Has Left (Part II)


Where was I? Oh, right. Catelyn's fourth chapter in A Storm of Swords. I thought I could wrap it up in one session last week, but it took a while to chew through and write about, so here's the second half of my thoughts as I re-read the third novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Spoilers that you really don't want to know all over the post! 

The Horn of Winter? The Horn of Dragons?
A random horn?
But first, some thoughts on the recent news that's spread like wildfire over the last days. I believe it first appeared on the Wertzone blog, and was quickly discussed elsewhere (like at the Tower of the Hand). The "news" - perhaps rumor would be a better choice - is that The Winds of Winter is expected in 2015. Terrific news, of course, and at least one full year earlier than I predicted. It would be our shortest wait since the wait for A Storm of Swords, in fact. Heck, 2015 feels almost rushed. That's like next year. If I get both a new Martin novel and a new Star Wars movie in the same year I can safely call 2015 an interesting year for my inner geek. The most interesting part about this news-rumor, though, is the fact that it seems to confirm what I've moaned about on this very blog many a time, especially in the early years of the blog: Yes, George R.R. Martin's many projects do in fact hinder his progress on A Song of Ice and Fire. There it is, so a big "What did I say?" to all those who've been saying that I was wrong. And with that out of the way (sadly I lack sun glasses 'cause I feel like wearing sun glasses now to ground my "What did I say?" smugness) - let's finish up this Catelyn Tully Stark chapter. 

So I whip up my Kindle for PC software 'cause I read the book on the computer when I'm not at home in my precious Basement Library of Dead Wood (sounds like a MMORPG dungeon instance but I assure you, I've got less rats) - and, the program starts up where I left off, and what do my eyes see first?

"I am not dead yet, Mother."
Suddenly Catelyn was full of dread.

Man, how much more could Martin signal that infamous wedding? It's like being repeatedly slapped in the "Did Aegon kill King Torrhen's father?" I think it is a great choice not to give us a Robb POV in this series. We are left judging the character based on other characters' understanding (Catelyn, mostly - but she's his mother, so I'd say you can have some confidence in her ability to read Robb), and he becomes that much more enigmatic when we don't know what's really going on his head, especially when it comes to his sudden and surprising marriage to Jeyne Westerling, but, at least until now, also his decision-making related to the war. Ironically, in a sad way, Catelyn and Robb seem focused on the threat of the Iron Islands, never seeing the threat that has arisen in their midst; they correctly think that Balon Greyjoy must kill each and every Stark heir to have a chance at holding the North, but they do not know that Balon holds no such ambitions, not really (I suppose one could argue this); instead, someone much closer is being rather ambitious about replacing the Starks in Winterfell...and there's a rather interesting post about it right here, though it is full of spoilers all the way through A Dance with Dragons (thou hast been warned). I'm taking some of the ideas presented here with a generous pinch of salt, but still...it's interesting how one can see/read plotlines into the story that aren't really there (except between the lines) - yes, A Song of Ice and Fire remains a rewarding reading experience because there are so many layers. 
face and never noticing until you black out. Or some such. Well well. Catelyn is busy trying to convince Robb to give up this whole war-thing, but the boy is as stubborn as his father was. Yes, boy, not man; it's made clear that Robb's motivation, when push comes to shove, is all about vengeance for his executed father: when Catelyn tells him Balon bent the knee, and that Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon, Robb replies,

Interestingly, Robb blames Catelyn for freeing the Kingslayer when he himself is acting out of emotion; he fights a war to avenge his father, while Catelyn freed Jaime Lannister in order to save her daughters. He can't see how their actions can be compared, because he is blinded with hate for the Lannisters, for they murdered his father - even though Jaime had no part in it (all right, he did give Ned some trouble before he fled the capital). It is both easy to understand how Robb can be angry with his mother for her perhaps rash decision, and to understand why Catelyn chose to free Jaime. I can also understand how Robb sees her actions as both an offense to him as her superior (king), but what they don't seem to realize is that their disputes affect the others around them, helping to lead to downfall. This was perhaps more evident in the TV series, where Robb's role was greatly expanded, but I kind of feel dissent growing around them as I read, even though there's nothing stated directly (at least not so far). Maybe the TV series is affecting my perception. Catelyn wants to strike him, for the first time in her life at that, but holds her hand. She finally tells him to think on what she's suggested and leaves him. A beautifully and realistic dialogue between them makes these characters come alive, with all their fears and hopes and worries. Though I personally feel the story took a wrong turn and that this is partially because of the fates of these two, at this point I think Martin is particularly strong. Also, it is weird how I've begun to imagine Michelle Fairley as I read these chapters - and I used to be upset she didn't look like Catelyn (she still doesn't, but what an actress!).

We jump a few hours ahead in the narrative. Catelyn is sewing in her bedchamber when young Rollam Westerling comes running to tell her it's supper. She tells him he's a dutiful squire. Now why would Martin bother to add this tiny event? Why point out that Rollam Westerling - Robb's squire - is the one coming to pick her up? I guess the obvious answer is that Martin wants to show us how much Robb trusts the Westerlings. She thinks of Bran when seeing Rollam, which I suggest is Martin's way of trying to make us trust Rollam (and by extension, the Westerlings) just to rub it all in our faces later when, you know, stinky stuff goes down.

So we skip straight to the table in the Great Hall (the book never states where exactly they are but I suppose that's where they take their meals). Again, one could get the feeling something's...off. Robb is cool and Edmure surly; all right, that's to be expected. But then you have Lame Lothar, let's not forget he's a Frey, who is "the model of courtesy", speaking warmly of Lord Hoster Tully, offering his condolences "gently", praising Edmure for his victory at Stone Mill - it is all too clear this guy is either a total suck-up or someone trying his best to be accepted. Probably for nefarious reasons. Walder Rivers, however, is harsh and sour with "Lord Walder's suspicious face". Quite interesting how Martin, again, places emphasis on one of these "outsider" characters to lull us into a false sense of security. I know it worked for me the first time! 
I like how Catelyn still thinks of all the courtesies as "empty words" (which also happens to be an amazing song if you're into some busy metal music). As if she's half-aware, semi-conscious of the platitudes and that these people really shouldn't be trusted...is she being lulled into complacency as well? 

The Westerlings excuse themselves and leave before Lame Lothar Frey clears his throat. Another small and subtle thing going on here - all the Westerlings leave seemingly as fast as they can; it shows us they're not really that interested. Which one could transfer to Robb and Jeyne's marriage. Perhaps a hint that she doesn't care about Robb, not really; she is being moved, a pawn in the greater political game. Anyway, Lothar tells them his father (Walder Frey) has had a letter from "his grandsons" - Walder and Walder, that is, the two young boys that were sent to Winterfell to be fostered there as wards, that time-honored tradition of yore. Lothar then, is the one to bring Robb and Catelyn the disastrous news. "(...) Winterfell is burned." 
Catelyn isn't the luckiest of characters, is she. Husband dead. Two sons presumed dead. Two daughters held hostage by the enemy. One son trying to fight a war. And now, her house has burned. Granted, the North was never really her place, but still. Easily lost in the shocking news is the fact that Walder and Walder "are presently at the Dreadfort" (was there ever a more giving-away fortress name?) - we'll keep that one filed. Seems these two Frey boys still have a role to play. So, according to Frey, Theon put Winterfell to the torch, and Ser Rodrik Cassel, who joined Catelyn up and down the Kingsroad in A Game of Thrones, has been slain as well. People she likes are just dropping like flies around her. After A Dance with Dragons, one has to take letters from the Dreadfort with copious amounts of salt - but I'll argue that the Walders have been told to write this letter (one would perhaps suppose that the castellan of the Dreadfort would send such a letter, and not two Frey boys - it's kind of weird, isn't it? Or am I forgetting something important? It's hard to keep it all straight when you know what's really going on up there but the characters at Riverrun have no idea). 

Robb is so enraged he can't speak, instead slamming a fist down on the table, turning away to hide his tears. Lothar can reveal that the women and children of Winterfell hid and were brought to the Dreadfort by Roose Bolton's bastard son, Ramsay Snow. Robb cannot believe it, for Ramsay was a "monster and a murderer and he died a coward", so here's some complexity for us to unravel with regards to Roose's offspring. Maybe we'll see more of this Ramsay /trollface. Robb wonders what happened to Theon (I suppose he's got kind of a beef with his former almost-brother). Nobody seems to know, oh-oh. 

We move on to the next topic, and it feels kind of rushed, with little time to properly evolve Robb and Cat's agony over the loss of Winterfell. "My ancestral home gone? Well, that's a shame. Where's Theon?" However, Martin wisely kind of moves out of Catelyn's emotional zone here, as if she's fighting to maintain control and dignity and not think about the tragedy (maybe a state of shock?). Anyway, Walder Frey wishes to forgive Robb upon the condition that he apologizes for insulting him face to face. Catelyn mislikes this notion at once, but Robb says he's pleased and tells Lothar he never wished to cause "this rift between us", as if it helps saying it to this unimportant fellow. 

Walder promises Lothar's sister to Edmure - Roslin Frey - of "gentle nature" and with a "gift for music". Edmure doesn't like the sound of that, evidently, as he shifts in his seat and tries to suggest seeing her first. Walder Rivers tells him that he'll meet her at the wedding, curtly (though it sounds more like an interruption, which is not curtly). Anyway, Ed reveals what shallow guy he is because he is only interested in her looks, but it seems that Walder Frey will withdraw the offer unless Ed agrees to not see Roslin until the wedding day. Perhaps strangely! Because, doesn't Roslin turn out to be quite the doe-eyed beauty? I guess that would make Robb and/or Catelyn too suspicious, you know, I'm just saying in case Walder is planning something they're not aware of...Man, it's kind of hard to blog about this and not talk about all that will happen - but I want to focus on the here and now, so forgive me if I am obtuse at times, or make little sense. So Lothar also tells them his lord and master wishes the marriage to take place at once and if you ask me, that's a bit suspicious. Perhaps as suspicious as it would have been if Lothar presented fair Roslin. However, Walder has a pretty good excuse made: there's a big war going on, and wars kill people, and one better gets married quick and make some offspring you know just in case. There's more, all lies of course, and it should perhaps create some cognitive dissonance with Catelyn just hearing Lothar speak of Walder as someone who wishes to die peacefully knowing Roslin has produced an heir (especially considering the size of the Frey family!)

The discussion around the table continues, Edmure wanting to refuse, Robb forcing the agreement through. Edmure is really not stepping up to the challenge. He is, to use a word Martin uses himself, rather peevish. The chapter ends with Edmure finally agreeing, to make amends for his folly at the Battle of the Fords. For a first time reader, perhaps not the most exciting end to an chapter. For a re-reader, so ominous...Weddings in Westeros: I sure wouldn't mind missing them.

And with that, I bid you a fond afternoon/evening/morning/whatever, and I am off through snowy weather. Seriously, it's been snowing every single day for two weeks. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pulpy

Ah, it feels good to have finally organized the to-read pile and forcing myself to take one book at a time. Reading many at the same time is just not getting me anywhere, is it? So last night I finished the second book of the Elric of Melnibon√© saga, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. I think I can sum up the book in a few sentences: It's pulp. I enjoy pulp now and then, it's almost like a guilty pleasure. It is far better than the various D&D/Forgotten Realms novels I tried last year, because Moorcock (such an unfortunate name) manages to write in a very efficient, yet descriptive manner. It's almost like reading a Conan comic in a way. Still, if reading A Song of Ice and Fire is akin to playing a deep political roleplaying game with adult friends, then reading Elric is the equivalent to bashing down dungeon doors with the kids. Or something like that. Enjoyable, forgettable, but with some striking images and quirky ideas throughout - high fantasy, indeed, somewhat soulless (sorry Michael), a quick read between more demanding novels. I do like Elric himself and his mighty sword, Stormbringer, a weapon that seems to obviously have inspired Steven Erikson's sword Dragnipur. Lovely.
Next I'm going to finish King of Thorns which lies half-read on my night stand, and then (and I am kind of worried about this one) finally - finally - I shall bite through Sanderson's The Way of Kings. Four years to finish that one. I never said I was a fast reader, but this is ridiculous. Time to finish. Funny thing is I have accidentally timed it rather nicely with the sequel ^^ Now if only I read Martin as slowly! I would still be voyaging with Tyrion up and down the river. 
I have a few more Elric books as well, but they can wait. Now I need something a little bit more substantial. 

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate did have a magnificent closing paragraph, though. It really resonates with me, though I cannot know whether Moorcock (snicker) was trying to convey the idea that I got out of it.

(...)
"Man may trust man, Prince Elric, but perhaps we'll never have a truly sane world until men learn to trust mankind. That would mean the death of magic, I think." (...)

Well said.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

[Re-read] Catelyn IV: All the North has Left (Part I)


Coincidence or divine providence? Last night I had a friend visiting and he asked if we could watch an episode of Game of Thrones (they are showing season three on Norwegian national TV these days) and I was like "Of course", not even knowing it was on, and it turned out to be episode three I believe, the episode which finally introduces Riverrun and the Tullys to the TV show; with the opening scene showing Edmure trying to light his father's boat as he drifts down the river, and Brynden taking the bow and helping him out (fun scene, by the way, with some great acting). The coincidence then, is that today's chapter, Catelyn IV, features this very scene! Surely the old gods are watching... or it was just a minor coincidence. Speaking of coincidences, one thing I really like about the three first novels is how Martin manages to avoid too many coincidences - the story seems to flow naturally from cause to effect and back. In one way it can be frustrating I suppose, as in the scene where Jon Snow and Bran Stark almost meet in A Storm of Swords, or when Sam and Arya actually do meet but do not know each other in A Feast for Crows - as a reader I want Bran and Jon to meet, but it would feel too coincidental, right? As the story goes on, however, it feels like coincidence is creeping more and more into the story. One example is Ser Jorah Mormont meeting Tyrion Lannister. That one feels really coincidental to me, imagining the sheer size of Essos and they just happen to meet up like that. All right, it can happen, of course, but somehow a meeting like this throws me out of it for a while, because that's not how the story and the setting has worked so far. Maybe I should write an essay about coincidence in A Song of Ice and Fire...for now, though, it is time to revisit that wondrous third book, and Catelyn Stark's fourth chapter.

If there's one character in the saga who relies heavily on italicized internal monologue, it's Catelyn, and to prove this once and for all, this chapter opens with Catelyn's italicized internal monologue: "Let the kings of winter have their cold crypt under the earth." It's an interesting line, the prose beautiful (read it aloud, it's a great sentence once you put a certain rhythm to it) and its meaning clear - Catelyn still prefers the Tully way of doing things, even after all these years as Lord Eddard's wife up in the frigid North. That's how I read this line, anyway - it's an admission, perhaps not even consciously stated, and at the same time it links so beautifully to the scene at hand, with her father Lord Hoster Tully laid in a wooden boat, a funeral the Tully way. Personally I'm with Catelyn on this one - better to sail down a river in "shining silver armor" than being interred in some dark crypt below the castle. I like how Martin links the faith of the Seven into the funeral ceremony as well (seven are chosen to push the boat to the water), showing us a tiny but distinct bit of culture from the Riverlands, different from the other kingdoms of Westeros. Robb Stark, Lord Bracken, Lord Tytos Blackwood, Lord Vance, Lord Jason Mallister, Ser Marq Piper, Lame Lothar Frey: these are the seven men who push Lord Hoster's boat to the water. Take note of that last one - the Frey has come to Riverrun to treaty with Lord Edmure, along with an escort of forty soldiers commanded by one Walder Rivers, a bastard of Lord Frey himself. Apparently Edmure wasn't very happy with this visit because, by sending a bastard and a cripple to parlay, Lord Walder Frey shows disdain. It is but the first of many signs, that Walder Frey is, perhaps, not the best of allies.

Robb however, "had shown better sense" by being courteous, among other things asked Desmond Grell to step aside and give Lame Lothar the honor of being among the seven chosen to push the funereal boat. In hindsight, it is ominous reading. As we know, that better sense of courtesy won't help Robb much in the end; what if he had been as prickly as Edmure? It could have changed the entire story. I have a feeling it would have been better to end up in an open war against House Frey.

Catelyn watches from the battlements as her father's boat glides onto the river, and sadly thinks that Bran and Rickon will be waiting for him. It is smart of Martin to remind us that Catelyn still believes the two boys are dead, there's enough stuff to juggle here and a small detail like this is easily forgotten without reminders. And of course, in a way, it is essential to her developing fatalism.

Now, a scene such as this could be rich with symbolism and foreshadowing. If the dead lord on the boat represents his House, we see "the boat emerged from beneath the high sheltering walls of the castle, its square sail filled with wind (...)" and "Tully's rudder held true and he sailed serenely down the center of the channel, into the rising sun". This could be interpreted, then, as House Tully coming relatively unscathed out of the whole War of the Five Kings, even though it is centrally located - and if you really feel like overanalyzing this bit, they end up as allies of a risen Dorne ("the rising sun"). Or Japan. Shrug.
My point is that there are so many nice descriptions that could be read in different ways that you can never really know what is truly symbolic, or what is truly foreshadowing. But if Riverrun and House Tully come out on top, you read it here first :p

Catelyn has to remind herself that her somewhat weak younger brother Edmure now is in fact the new Lord of Riverrun. Lifting the bow and firing off a flame arrow, he manages to miss his father's boat. Edmure blames it on the wind, and tries again, but again the arrow drops into the river instead of hitting the boat. Edmure becomes embarrassed, taking a third string. I suppose the scene shows us how tense and nervous Edmure is, and I kind of feel sad for the guy. In the TV episode I feel the scene became more humorous than sad, partially due to the way the Blackfish so nonchalantly picks up Edmure's bow, shoots and leaves, all Man. In the book, Brynden is a little bit more courteous; "Let me, my lord," he offers, wanting to help Edmure out of his awkward situation. Edmure refuses though, fires a fourth arrow, which also misses. Only then does Brynden the Blackfish shoot his arrow and hit the boat. In other words, Brynden Tully is painted with rather different strokes, don't you agree? And I think I prefer the book Blackfish. Anyway, as the boat goes up in flame, Catelyn imagines hearing her father whisper (actually the book states that she does hear him whisper) Watch for me, little cat. If I were the editor I would have made that an upper-case C, so fans would not have to spend their time and energy wondering if Hoster was thinking of a particular cat and if said cat was a cat he once owned named Tansy. More interesting, this is a very subtle (so subtle in fact that I may be over-reading this) foreshadowing of Catelyn's fate later in the book. Actually I don't think I'm overreading this, I am convinced this is meant to add an ominous layer to the texture that is Catelyn Stark's story.

Whereas television Blackfish is non-chalant like Bronn, book Blackfish tells Catelyn that Edmure should not be ashamed, telling her that Hoster himself missed when his father was sent down to hold court with the fish. Even so, the point I suppose is to show us that Edmure Tully is a weak lord, or at least seen by others as weak, and that Edmure is struggling with his father's death. He's almost like a real person, that Edmure, more so than many other secondary characters defined by exaggerated traits.

Hoster's last word was "Tansy". Man, this has to come up again. Rosebud?

Robb tells Catelyn he wished he had known him better, but the distance to Winterfell was always too great for the two families to have any meaningful relationship. Now, this the TV series illustrated perfectly by not introducing Riverrun and the Tullys until the third season. 

Catelyn wonders how things are going for Brienne and Ser Cleos - she believes they should have reached King's Landing by now, but there's no word - foolishly, she imagines Brienne already on her way back with Arya and Sansa. Foolishly, I say, because the whole plan is foolish - sending two people through war-torn lands to make a deal with the most notorious family in the kingdoms and thinking that will work out just fine.

People are offering up their consolations to Robb (which is kind of funny as Robb never met his grandfather - or so I have come to understand it), before we get an even closer look at Lothar Frey. It's kind of funny how he just grabs the spotlight in this chapter, it's so much easier to see Martin's gardening here when you know that Lothar is kind of vital to Catelyn's story. He asks Robb for an audience, which he is granted. Lothar has been instructed to tell Robb that, "He was young once, and well remembers what it is like to lose one's heart to beauty", and we can all be happy that Walder Frey is a nice guy who understands Robb and his Queen Jeyne, because, you know, young love and all that.

Catelyn however doubts that Walder has said such a thing; after all, the Lord of the Crossing speaks of his wives as bedwarmers and brood mares. She does convince herself though that it was a nice gesture of him to bring forth the sentiment. She realizes it as courteous talk, not truth. Now, Catelyn, take that thought one step further - I mean, can you trust this guy? After his talk with Lame Lothar, Robb asks his mother to walk with him and have a private chat.

Walking off, several italicized internal monologues appear, making it clear that Robb Stark is burdened by the weight of his responsibilities as King in the North, and that he only feels good when he is around his wife's family, the Westerlings. To be honest, I wish we could have seen more of Robb's story in this book; I believe it was a good decision by the writers of Game of Thrones to expand his role. Now, reading the book, I can't really feel his love for Jeyne, or his affection for her family - we're just told that this is the way it is, deal with it. It lessens the impact, I suppose. Of course, there's only so much space.

We delve back into warfare and politics as we learn of several defeats - Robb regrets some of his decisions, ponders trading their captive Martyn Lannister for Robett Glover who was captured after the battle of Duskendale - but Catelyn, perhaps being careful because she already disappointed her son so much when she released Jaime Lannister - only tries to comfort him, telling him that Ned would have been proud of him, that he must expect to make some mistakes as well.

If Catelyn hasn't experienced enough shock over the last couple of books, Robb tells her that Sansa has been married to Tyrion Lannister, the man Catelyn possibly hates the most on the continent (looking at it from her point of view, it's not surprising she loathes him - hell, I love how Martin keeps twisting perceptions). Some soap operatic misunderstandings and Tyrion is, in the eyes of Robb and Catelyn, a terrible oathbreaker who only deserves to be beheaded. They ponder why Sansa has been married off, quickly realize that she's next in line for Winterfell after Robb. She tells him that nothing is going to take Robb away from her; she would go mad if something happened to him (da-da-dum!) - "You are all I have left. You are all the north has left."
Catelyn urges him to bend the knee but it doesn't sound sincere, more a hopeless try, but of course he refuses. He's kind of like his father in that regard. 

I'm really sorry to split this chapter in two posts but there's this thing called time which I always struggle to manage and right now there's so much stuff on my plate. Hopefully I'll whip up the second half of this chapter re-read within the week. Meanwhile, it is snowing for the seventh day in a row and it really is piling up and man I wish I had a copy of The Winds of Winter to accompany it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

George R.R. Martin's "The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens"

The view from my office right now! Jon Snow to the far left.
It is snowing like crazy-snow here right now, and has been doing so for days (and is expected to continue for a few days, with a blizzard thrown in for good measure later today). Outside it's as if you've stepped right into the lands beyond the Wall and then some. It's not unusual in these parts of course, but the massive amounts whirling down these days is stunning. I am literally up to my knees in snow when I go outside to brush the snow off the car before going to work. Annoying, yes, cold, definitely, but also very beautiful - an almost magical, dare I say fantasy, feeling to it. The way the branches of trees bend under the weight of fresh snow...I like it. From inside, that is. And everybody who knows me just a tiny bit has to tell me that "winter has come" wink wink nudge nudge. "Not yet," I reply in an ominous tone...

Anyway, the debate seems to continue over at Tower of the Hand where I had a little discussion with Stefan Sasse (as mentioned in my previous post) - hundred and seventy comments and everybody's civil, not bad. I didn't actually expect anyone to kind of agree with me, but hey, there they are. The funny thing though is that I feel like I am kind of coming around a bit, what with Stefan's suggestions to read Adam Feldman's The Meereenese Blot to get a more positive view of A Dance with Dragons. I'm sticking to my points mostly, but maybe...maybe I can find some love for it after all. What our discussion eventually ended up with was that it's a matter of taste, though, and thinking about it, I suppose that at least some of my gripes with A Dance with Dragons does indeed come down to taste. Many of the revelations in ADWD were things that I personally just didn't enjoy that much; I would have preferred, as an example, for a certain people to remain extinct and not live beneath a hill and look the way they do. All this is a matter of taste, right? I fell in love with the series mainly because of the intrigues at King's Landing and the great characters present there, and the warfare and the grittiness. Now, five books in, the story has gone in a direction I don't like as much as others, and this has nothing to do with the book's technical qualities. I remain convinced, however, that as a piece of literature, the last two books aren't as well executed. 

Enough. I have finished Martin's contribution to the Dangerous Women anthology, and here are some of my thoughts presented haphazardly. I spent a few days reading it in chunks due to real life competing with my reading time, not because I was bored with it or anything - so that's a good thing.
I've got to admit I wasn't very positive toward it (I read all the other stories but one first - I'd never be able to do that ten years ago); I am not that interested in Targaryen history and lineages and all that; I have lost my respect for the author; and I'm kind of more interested in progress on The Winds of Winter.
All that being said, I admit I was pleasantly surprised!
The full title of the piece was, by the way, also something that made me wary. I mean, come on.
The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens. Being a History of the Causes, Origins, Battles, and Betrayals of that Most Tragic Bloodletting Known as the Dance of the Dragons, as set down by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown (here transcribed by GEORGE R.R. MARTIN). 
He really likes his name best in capital letters, our George.
Now I am feeling that the title is supposed to be at least a little tongue-in-cheek, and that I am being way too serious about this stuff, not wanting the "here transcribed..." part to ruin my illusion of the "reality" of Westeros, if you know what I mean. It's like when I hear George Lucas talking about Star Wars as if it isn't real. So, I decided not get hung up on the overly long title, even though it does not appeal to my nerd-senses at all. The title breaks the illusion, simple as that. For me, that is. But I'm not going to be all nerdy about it. Still, one could half expect to find a character named Ser George R.R. Martin in the next novel. This whole "shattering the illusion"- thingy which obsessives like me don't like much was also a minor detail which made me dislike A Dance with Dragons where real-life bloggers were given "roles" in the novel. It breaks down that wall, you know. I have to live with that, of course. But still. Trying not be too bothered about it.

So, the good news is that I found this a rather interesting and engaging story for the most part. I did not expect the prose to be like it is. I thought it would be more dry (though chunks of this material reads like a history description in a roleplaying game sourcebook). I didn't expect neat political intrigues in King's Landing, which is what I'm so fond of. But there it was. Martin also manages to write a history lesson with a nice pace, there's always something coming up of interest, and though the characters aren't painted nearly as vividly as they are in A Song of Ice and Fire, they are interesting enough. And so many of the classic Martin trappings are in place - numerous characters, cool nicknames, bloody and brutal events, betrayals and murder, Lannisters, Starks, Baratheons, Tyrells, Targaryens, some droll humor (not much, but a little), I couldn't help but lose myself for a few moments in the world of Westeros again.

Ack, I should have taken notes as I read (but that would ruin the experience a bit); there were several times where I made a mental note of "this is something I should mention" but the words flew by (as we know, they are wind). I noticed that the novella's editing suffered a bit, much like A Dance with Dragons. If I'm not mistaken, a character even changed name halfway through. Missing punctuation, some clunky sentences and even a sentence that didn't make any sense no matter how I tried to analyze it. Could be me, though. Or the fact I read the e-book.

The novella is in fact more of a history lesson than a story, though; leaning closest, perhaps, to tragedy. I kept thinking while reading that I would have loved to see Martin flesh this stuff out into a serious stand-alone novel complete with Ice and Fire's POV structure, characterization and depth. In some ways, then, the novella feels like a very detailed synopsis for such a story. Especially the early scenes feat. Ser Criston Cole and the council in the Red Keep would have been rather nice reads. Maybe I have to do it myself.
I really loved the political scheming and intrigue and back-and-forths in this story.

While I enjoyed the lesson and the characters, there is one thing I feel as rather odd; how all these epic events happened not that long ago yet we hear almost nothing about it in the main series. Granted, there are some mentions but I am talking specifically about all these dragons flying above the lands and cities and towns of Westeros, burning down this hamlet and that, some crashing into the God's Eye, some fighting each other in the sight of so many people; in my mind, it feels as if the dragons should have been gone much longer for their memory to have become so vague in A Game of Thrones. I don't know. Maybe it's that pesky taste-thing again. It's also kind of weird how all these families and locations feel just like they do in A Game of Thrones, centuries later.

Also; in The Princess and the Queen the House Baratheon is refered to as ancient - isn't that a direct mistake compared to existing canon? Just asking, my brain ain't what it used to be.
Rhaenyra Targaryen

Finally, Martin continues to deploy his much beloved medieval words and phrases, a few new ones have entered his vocabulary (which I'm sure we'll see more of in The Winds of Winter) to the point that it becomes a bit annoying, especially "must needs" must needs go, if you ask me. I wish he could keep to the prose and style he established in the first three books, but of course these books are written over a long time so it should be obvious that Martin's writing evolves a lot between novels and novellas.

All in all then, it was an enjoyable read. I kept longing for a proper story though, written like the main books instead. I don't know how many novellas of this type Martin can churn out before people get fed up with it (not saying he's planning on it). For a Targaryen loyalist this must be fantastic stuff, though. For a Lannister loyalist like myself, not so much - the Lannisters aren't really on the top of their game two centuries prior to Lord Tywin.

Some information that certainly will crop up again in future books (like how to handle dragons) is interesting, too.

And now it's WEEKEND BOYS AND GIRLS! Take it easy and don't do anything I would do.
(Which is skiing and drinking beer, if you must know. And finishing Michael Moorcock's Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. And hopefully find time to write down some ideas I have for a short story. And perhaps another beer. And, if the stars are right and Chthulhu stays asleep, another chapter of A Storm of Swords.)



Monday, January 13, 2014

Trial by Dialogue

      So, the other day I had a discussion with fellow Ice and Fire enthusiast Stefan Sasse (who occasionally comments here on Stormsongs as well), where we discussed the quality of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Which, I learned, now seems to be called Feastdance because many people, to improve the reading of both novels, have mixed up their chapters into one cohesive read. Intrigued by this, I have decided that if I ever get through A Storm of Swords and still have passion for my re-read project, I will read the books in the 'mixed order' Stefan suggested while we debated.

Anyway, our little trial by dialogue has been published over at Tower of the Hand, so head on over and see two different viewpoints on Feastdance. I admit that Stefan had some good points and for what it's worth I am absolutely going to give Feastdance a shot with his (and other fans') thoughts in mind as to what exactly these two books are trying to accomplish. Will I change my mind? Probably not. Do I hate these two books? No way. They're just not as good as the first three. And, as Stefan says in our discussion, it might just boil down to taste when it comes to the plot itself. 

Anyway, go on and read our Trial by Dialogue! Stefan has a geek blog too, by the way, The Nerdstream Era, with a lot of links and posts related to Ice & Fire. And, of course, he's the author of one of the books in the column to the right of this post. He's also written a number of articles at Tower of the Hand, showing himself to be man with a lot of interesting thoughts regarding the series. Who said we're obsessed?

It should be obvious that this discussion came about because I have moved my Re-reading books to Stefan's publisher. Waiting for Winter: Re-reading A CLASH OF KINGS Part I was scheduled to be published as an e-book on December 22nd, but that plan didn't work out (partially because my script was so looong - I know how you feel, George!). As far as I am aware, there's some serious copy-editing going on to get the book published before the end of this month. It will look a lot better than Waiting for Dragons (again, look to the right column) with a photo I took myself. Very atmospheric. I'll show it here in not too long. It's going to be a great book, though, seriously, I am happy with this one (and Part II). 

Finally, I skipped the next to last short story in the Dangerous Women anthology. I did finish Pat Cadigan's "Caretakers", which I didn't really like because I felt the story promised one thing, and gave us something else (I'm still scratching my head as to why there was so much focus on serial killers in the beginning), and it was a bit of a slow read. Excellent characterization, though. The two main characters really did feel like sisters. The plot just left me a little...underwhelmed? Following "Caretakers" is the next-to-last story, "Lies my Mother Told Me" by Caroline Spector, and this is one of them Wild Cards stories. I am not skipping it on principle but because superheroes simply don't interest me at all. And, after the Trial by Dialogue I really felt like diving back into Westeros, and lo! and behold. I began Martin's epic novella last night. Too late to finish it in one reading, though, so I'm going to finish it today I suppose. I'll come back with a proper review once the Wall has fallen. I mean, once I have finished it, of course. 

As for news? I suppose we've all seen the Game of Thrones Season IV trailer. Perhaps more than once, even. I know I did. It has me excited to a certain degree. I think we'll have a great Red Viper. Not too long until he turns up in my re-read, so I better get cracking on that next chapter as well. The Winds of Winter seems to be on track though. Nothing forthcoming from the author can surely mean he's too busy. Perhaps not busy writing, but still. It seems like he will be able to keep up the schedule he set up with Feast and Dance.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Weekend geekery

Estellae inspecting Horse the horse.
Time to geek! The kids are in bed, and Lady Slynt is out with friends. Woo!
So what to do? Well, the obvious choice is The Elder Scrolls Online, for which I have a beta key. I can't say anything more about it, though (I tried a little earlier today) due to the NDA. Yeah, I think I'm going to play that for a little while, and let my ranger Estellae (yes, she has the Targaryen 'ae') in Everquest II have a break tonight - although I feel the urge to get back to Norrath and finish a quest I was busy with last time I was there. I was thinking about writing a post explaining why I have come to the conclusion - after many years of pondering - why I feel that Everquest II beats the other big MMORPGs I have played obsessively (Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, The Lord of the Rings) and somewhat (Dungeons & Dragons Online, EVE Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes) but that's kind of pointless all the time it's free to play and anyone can make his or her adventures. One big problem though: I'm so tired I'm cross-eyed. So a quick romp to Tamriel, then, the world of the Elder Scrolls, then finish the short story in Dangerous Women I'm on, and then sleepy. 'Cause my children, for some unfathomable reason, like to get up really early in the morning and it's my turn to get up first tomorrow. So close to the Ice & Fire-story in the anthology, now.

Tomorrow's geekery is the fact that the local film club is showing The Empire Strikes Back on the big
My favorite movie poster. Surprise!
screen. I'm taking mini-Slynt #1. It's going to be great. Is it wrong to look forward to this when I have seen the film so many times I can quote it almost from beginning to end without watching? Pretty nerdy. And maybe I'm lucky to get in a little more gaming on the computer tomorrow night as well. Who knows? Not I.

For Sunday I wish I could say I was going to play tabletop RPGs but alas, I am not able to plan more than one day ahead. Maybe I'll be a good dad instead and go skiing or whatever. Healthier, too. 

But do I love Empire. What a movie. It hits all the right nerves for me. Looking forward to seeing it on the big screen again, where it comes to its proper right. I saw it back in '97 when it was re-released as a Special Edition. I suppose that's the version they will show tomorrow (unfortunately - it didn't add anything special in my grognardy opinion). Have a nice weekend, do something geeky, and enjoy.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

[Re-read] Arya VI: The Honor of Dogs and the Undead


NINE days into January and I can confirm that I am older but still not wiser. During the Christmas holiday, I found myself back in the zany, colorful world of Everquest II, which, since it is free to play and yet doesn't limit you terribly despite of this, was to be a nice diversion and turned into a couple of hours every freaking day since. And I'm telling myself, I always complain about time, and then I go play this silly click-click-click game instead of doing the stuff I want to do. I think it's the role-playing itch that needs scratching and so I wander off into some digital other-world to get my fix. Well, last night I said 'no' (again) and did some more important chores. Okay, I didn't really. I re-arranged my music library on my smartphone. Yay. Anyway, I feel that I did read too little in '13 and that's something I have to remedy! I want to read through A Storm of Swords a little faster, and then follow Stefan Sasse's advise and read A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons simultaneously, following a proposed chapter chronology.
YOU see, me and mr. Sasse had a discussion the other day about the qualities of these two latest novels, the result of which I will publish soon, and that's when he suggested this to me in order to make me realize how good the two latter books of the saga are. It shalt be interesting to see/read!

Meanwhile I have read yet another short story in the Martin-edited Dangerous Women anthology, this time "Name the Beast" by Sam Sykes. {Spoilers, baby}It was a rather interesting take on, well, a lot of things, a kind of fantasy vision of settling the Americas, but it was dense and I felt it needed some more exposition to understand just what a shict is; a werewolf? an elf? The story was divided into two distinct halves which culminate with a tragedy which I kind of liked, as most stories in fantasy tend to end rather well for most participants involved. There was some beautiful prose in this text, where the author takes a sight or sound and transforms it almost into a poem the way he describes it, the way he conveys the feeling of that particular sight/sound. You have to read it to understand it, I suppose. Still, the story didn't grab me and I had to work in the beginning but all of a sudden, almost unnoticeable, the author has led you to a point where you understand what's going on, and why. Well-written, entertaining but lacking a certain drive - that's "Name the Beast" in a nutshell. While somewhat complex in its setup, the story's titular beast was rather predictable in its nature, I must say. {Spoilers, baby}

Which brings me, rather not-so-elegantly, to the matter at hand, which is Arya's fifth (already) A Storm of Swords chapter; Arya's story was unfortunately - and in my personal opinion - somewhat butchered in the TV series, I wish we could see more of the characters and events and experiences from the novel. There better be Extended Editions of all seasons filling in all the blanks. A man can dream. Let's read Arya before I dream myself away from the moment.

And what a start to this chapter! This is such a good example of what I mean when I talk about Martin's skill"Her eyes had grown accustomed to blackness." Yes, folks, Martin foreshadows Arya's blindness. Isn't it neat? It is neat, isn't it? Or am I easily impressed? The blackness is because she's got a hood on her head, but Harwin pulls it off right away, and, to make sure you feel you're inside Arya's head now, she blinks "like some stupid owl". That use of the word 'stupid' is one of the simpler tricks Martin uses to establish POV, but it works right away, at least for me. Once she thinks this, I am seeing Westeros through Arya's eyes, and not Sam's, or Jon's, or Tyrion's, know what I mean? Turns out Arya and Gendry have been brought to the inside of a hollow hill, lending the chapter an air of classic fantasy adventure. It's not the Underdark or anything, but still, hiding out below ground / inside hills feels so... adventurous. The spirit of Robin Hood is also very much present, what with the outlaws hiding from the authorities, Anguy being such a great archer (even winning the tournament in A Game of Thrones), and Lem Lemoncloak being reminiscent of Little John. The only character really missing from the comparison is Brother Tuck, but I have a suspicion the monk Brienne encounters in A Feast for Crows may end up joining this lot and thus fulfill that particular role (because it seems that Martin is deliberately echoing parts of the Robin Hood legend). You could argue that Thoros of Myr fulfills the role in his capacity as a priest, of course. He's also got a shade of Little John. And you could argue that I'm full of shit and the Robin Hood comparisons are superficial and that's that, of course. Anyway, less Robin Hood, more Arya Stark!
'Knights of the Hollow Hill' (c) Fantasy Flight Games
at interweaving details throughout the series like a complex tapestry. Unless it was luck, of course. I mean, the first time you read the series the opening line of this chapter won't do more than establish Arya's current situation, but once you have read through the next novel, the sentence gains an additional meaning - one of foreshadowing - lending depth and strength to the story.
(These scenes with the knights of the Hollow Hill do have a decidedly British flavor to them, though, don't you think? Landscapes, characters...it's all very British; King Arthur (Edric Dayne?), Robin Hood (Lord Beric Dondarrion), Ivanhoe (uhm)...and I fricking love the atmosphere Martin establishes, almost as much as I don't love Essos). Anyway! Less Britain, more Westeros!

{Spoiler for A Dance with Dragons} Looking around in the hollow hill, Arya sees a huge firepit, and notices how the walls are stone and soil, with huge white roots twisting through them; I love this description, and I also wonder if these white roots belong(ed) to a Heart Tree? Mmmm... I scratch my chin as I ponder. There is another description to ponder as well: "The roots formed a kind of stairway up to a hollow in the earth where a man sat almost lost in the tangle of weirwood." Ah! It's weirwood, then - but still - read that description. Does this not sound quite like someone north of the Wall in Bran's A Dance with Dragons chapters? Is Martin actively creating similar images here, or is it a random similarity? Or does this description actively link Beric Dondarrion and his ability to defeat death, to the Old Gods of the North and the Children of the Forest (since the weirwood is mentioned as well) - and Bran Stark? A random thought perhaps but it just struck me; what if the Others are Children of the Forest, twisted and deformed by some evil? They are too tall, perhaps. Anyway, it seems to me that either Martin is trying to symbolically link Beric Dondarrion and Bran Stark, which might be a stretch I admit, or the Knights of the Hollow Hill have simply discovered a former Children of the Forest - outpost, and use it. That second one is rather simpler and more convincing, isn't it? Sometimes the simplest answer is the true answer, as they say in King's Landing.
Gendry is unhooded as well, and asks what kind of place he's in, and the fantasy vibe remains strong when Harwin replies (I assume it's Harwin, the text is unclear on the matter) that it's an old place, 'deep and secret'. As if Gandalf himself had instructed him to explain it thus! Doesn't help Gendry very much, though. Yeah, thanks now I am all satisfied and comfortable. That's precisely what I wanted to know.

Arya remembers a dream in which she tasted blood (it happens when you tear a man's arm off); nothing more is said of it, but Martin certainly didn't put in this little reminder for nothing. Will Arya eventually turn into a vampire, alternatively does this symbolize her increased bloodlust? Yeah I am not serious about the vampire suggestion. I remain in love with Martin's sneaky way of sneaking in sneaky passages like this, though, for later sneaky effects. Arya notices that the cave is huge and full of smallfolk. This is when we are finally introduced to Thoros of Myr, and Arya thinks that it can't be him because he's thin as a stick and she remembers the priest as fat. Another fantastic little detail that adds to the reality of the world. With war going on, it's no wonder that Thoros, who is living with an outlaw band, has lost weight. However, before we can get a closer look at this mysterious character, an even more mysterious character, the Mad Huntsman (you have to love that nickname), brings forth the prisoner - Sandor Clegane, the Hound. You can kind of feel that this will be an interesting chapter, no?
Paul Kaye as Thoros of Myr

Also nice how Martin can distribute his character descriptions - while the Mad Huntsman appeared in the previous Arya chapter we are only now getting a description of him. And I have to admit his nickname is the best part about him. Describing him also gives Martin the opportunity to tie up a few loose ends from the previous chapter (as in, "What happened next, before we got to this cave?") - turns out the Mad Huntsman didn't really want to go here and present his prisoner to Dondarrion, but here he is, convinced by Anguy's arrows. Arya listens to the conversation between Thoros and the Mad Huntsman, and it is hard for me to remember if I realized who the captive was, now that I've read it so many times and have been spoiled by a TV version of this scene as well. I don't think Arya is shocked either to learn, as the hood is pulled off his head, that the prisoner is Sandor Clegane. At least there is no immediate reaction from her; I mean, since we're inside her head, she would go What the fuck! right there, but she doesn't - she's calm, listening as Sandor recognizes Thoros, and Thoros admits that they've probably seen each other before, indeed.

Of more immediate interest is the fact that Thoros admits to having been a vain man, but now he has found the Lord of Light, which of course is the same god that Melisandre of Asshai venerates. It seems that Thoros, too, can see stuff in flames. The Hound isn't impressed, though, and delivers some very fine dialogue. Witness this exchange coated in awesome-sauce:
"Be careful how you bark, dog. We hold your life in our hands."
"Best wipe the shit off your fingers, then." The Hound laughed.
I love Sandor's dialogue. He's so bitter. So unafraid of anything (except fire, of course, which, oh so coincidentally, is the main medium of the Lord of Light).
This great banter is unfortunately soon turned into lengthy exposition; the Hound asks about them, and the cave-dwellers tell him so that we readers might get some insight into the community that has developed here inside this hollow hill. It's not bad stuff, by any means, but I prefer Sandor's snapping. Obviously, the exposition also works to remind the reader of Eddard Stark's decisions as Hand of the King all the way back in A Game of Thrones upon which this scene rests. Without Ned sending Dondarrion off to bring justice to Gregor Clegane, no Knights of the Hollow Hill. So delightfully intricate! The exposition gives us a rough look at Dondarrion's strength, another faction in the battles of Westeros.

Arya realizes that one of the cave-dwellers, a 'scarecrow of a man', is actually the handsome Lord Beric Dondarrion, the one who her friend Jeyne Poole had been enamored of, and Arya can't understand how Beric has turned from a handosme knight into this wreck of a fellow. Oh, another brilliant line from Sandor: "Robert is the king of the worms now. Is that why you're down in the earth, to keep his court for him?" It's both a great line poetically (in my opinion of course) and also full of snide and sarcasm. Perfect. Generally speaking, I love this scene. Dondarrion tells Clegane that even though Robert is dead, he continues to fight to defend the realm, to defend Westeros. A noble thing to do, and of course Sandor laughs at that. Here they are, opposites in some ways and similar in others, Sandor and Beric. Both physically damaged, one representing he chivalrous knight, the other the disillusioned knight. Sparks are flying, folks, lighting up the cave like never before! Lovely lovely stuff.
It also paints Martin's world so vividly and can be used to show the contrasts and deconstruction of tropes; when the knights stand up, almost comically pompous as they pronounce themselves "holy brothers, sworn to the realm, to our god, to each other; the brotherhood without banners, the knights of the hollow hill", we both see Martin's love for a chivalrous, idealized, romantic medieval age, yet throws Sandor's reply right back at them with a rude and hilarious "I shit better men than you." It perfectly captures what Martin is doing with fantasy and historical fiction. In my opinion, of course. Again. Martin's exploration of the themes of honor and duty are interesting, especially when we get conflicting views through characters like Sandor and Beric. Anyway, I am rambling again.
By the way, I also notice that the Hollow Hill knights represent a 'new order' kind of, in Westeros - they are rather progressive in their way of thinking, what with putting away their banners (their differences); if one thing typifies Westerosi culture, it's got to be the noble Houses and their banners; the distinctions made between families; and here we have Dondarrion & co. shedding away that skin to stand together against a common enemy. It's all kinds of interesting really; they are like a miniature example of how Westeros should be dealing with the upcoming threat of winter, right? Dondarrion is an almost religious figure in the way he says goodbye to his former lordly life (well at least for now, during the war) and mingles with the commonfolk; he's still  a leader, but not in the noble, entitled way. It should take some interesting thought processes for a noble lord of Westeros to end up like this. And a few deaths, of course.

The exchange between Sandor and Beric continues. Beric accuses House Clegane, and Sandor won't hear it; again we are exploring nobility, responsibility, the function of the House; when Beric asks, "Do you deny that House Clegane was built upon dead children?" we are looking at the distinction between individual responsibility and familial responsibilities, which were more important in medieval societies.
Sandor represents the individual in his case, stating that he cannot answer for his brother's crimes. However, this does not excuse him from the murders he has committed, and which his captors begin to list: Lord Lothar Mallery, Ser Gladden Wylde, Lister and Lennocks, Goodman Beck and Mudge the miller's son, Merriman's widow (who loved so sweet, lol, nice addendum there, Greenbeard), Ser Andrey Charlton, Lucas Roote, the septons at Sludgy Pond, Lord and Lady Deddings, Alyn of Wintterfell, Joth Quickbow, Little Matt and his sister Randa, Anvil Ryn, Ser Ormond, Ser Dudley, Pate of Mory, Pate of Lancewood, Old Pate, Pate of Shermer's Grove, Blind Wyl the Whittler, Goodwife Maerie, Maerie the Whore, Becca the Baker, Ser Raymun Darry, Lord Darry, young lord Darry, the Bastard of Bracken....Point being, Sandor has killed quite a few people in his life, brutally at that; Martin is playing with ideas here, and I do love it because this is stuff that makes you think. We're in the world of ethics now; is Beric right to demand Sandor's execution for all those deaths, when he has no evidence, and why is the accusation against Gregor leveled against Sandor? Many questions arise, and when you read Sandor saying, "Enough. You're making noise. Those names mean nothing. Who were they?" at least I feel my sympathy fall away abruptly - the names mean nothing to him, yet these are people (as Beric says) whose lives he himself denied. Though it seems that Dondarrion is laying all blame on Sandor's shoulders, even if some of these people were killed by nameless Lannisters. What Dondarrion is doing, then, is throwing Sandor in the "Lannister" category, and that's wrong too, right?
And then Sandor has a minor-epic speech about what it really means to be a knight, and I'm all like Yeah go Sandor again. He denies his guilt, at which point Arya leaps forward and tells them that Sandor did in fact kill Mycah, the butcher's boy. Again, Martin makes an event thousands of pages ago take effect, and it remains impressive. For now. Also, all these names. All these characters that could have potentially had something to say in this grand epic. Silenced forever. Sniff.

Sandor finally recognizes Arya Stark, and is honestly surprised to see her alive. Of course, everyone else in the world does believe she's dead. When Sandor mentions this, Arya snaps back, "No, you're dead," which is just perfect.
Eventually, since there's no hard evidence for Sandor's killings, Beric decides that only the Lord of Light can decide - and so we get yet another trial administered by a god. You'd think that the Lord of Light, being a foreign god and all, didn't have the exact same kind of ritual for resolving conflicts as have the gods old and new of Westeros. I'd imagine a trial by fire, instead. So that's a minus point, I guess.
Arya thinks it a stupid idea because she knows the Hound is spectacularly well suited to a duel, and Sandor thinks it too, laughing loud and contemptuously at the prospect.

Well, hello, awesome art. 


Well, I guess you know just as well as me how the rest of the chapter turns out. There's a quick, well-described duel, Lord Beric goes down, rises from the dead like some myth come true, we are given our first glimpse of 'Ned' (Edric Dayne) who squires for Beric, there's lots of description to paint the scene, important questions can be found ("Do dogs have honor?"), Sandor has some more juicy stuff to say, Dondarrion's sword burns with fire which just reinforces the idea that Sandor stands against the Lord of Light (which may be why he ends up on that island in Feast, you heard it here first - he'll lead the Seven against R'hllor); Arya hopes fervently that Sandor will be killed (after all, he's on her hitlist), but Sandor eventually slays Beric, and that means that the Lord of Light approves of Sandor's innocence, even though Arya knows he murdered Mycah (we never saw it though, did we...) and thus, as they are bound by the honor Sandor has freed himself from, they must set Sandor free.

I used to think that the whole bit with Sandor appearing here, then going off, then coming back later felt a bit tacked on; unnecessary, even. Now I see it differently, obviously. This confrontation seems poised to foreshadow a greater struggle between gods, well that's my opinion for now, at least; it also gave us insight into Sandor's way of thinking, as well as provide Arya with a few important lessons. Also, this was the chapter in which Martin finally began to use the name 'Pate' for way too many characters.

The chapter ends, predictably but effectively still, with Lord Beric Dondarrion standing in the shadows behind Arya like a ghost, having risen from the dead.

You know, at this point in the story I think it's pretty cool. Martin doesn't use this as a weak plot device; neither is coming back to life easy for Beric. It's described as something macabre and painful and Beric losing more of his humanity for every time (which foreshadows Lady Stoneheart, I suppose), and as long as Beric is the one character continually revived for whatever reason, I'm cool with it. Beric is a martyr-like character, fulfilling a role that no other characters does in the series at this point, but when more and more people begin to twist in their graves and want to get up, it loses its effect. I also wonder forever who or what is behind the resurrection powers of Thoros of Myr - is it just part of the "awakening magic in the world"? Dragons reborn, the dead rise, people climb rope ladders and disappear into thin air, people find themselves inside animal skins etc. Interestingly the power to raise the dead is the same power that the Others use to raise their wights. This could imply that Rh'llor is the Great Other, and that Melisandre is actually following the wrong god (it would be like a Christian suddenly realizing he/she had been following Satan all along - but how can they know they aren't? Muhaha. Yeah sorry about that. I try to keep religion out of this blog, except for Martin's invented ones. Or I would never get to do anything.)

So, that was one heck of an entertaining chapter if you ask anyone! Just two more stories left until I can read new material from A Song of Ice and Fire again in Dangerous Women. Still not excited about it or anything, because those Targaryens are really not what I think of as what makes the series so damn special (it's not like they are Lannisters, you know), but I am really ready for The Winds of Winter. Only a few more years...he sighed.

Until the next time!

Oh, by the way. My new book, Waiting for Winter: Re-reading A Clash of Kings Part I has been postponed and will hopefully be for sale toward the end of this month (January). It has shaped up to become a pretty great book, with better editing and writing and well everything is better this time.