Wednesday, March 11, 2015

[Re-read] The one prophet accepted in his own land, apparently

Time to delve into another chapter of the combined epicality that is A Feast with Dragons. I've been through the two prologues, so now it's time to get back to the main story lines proper. Wait. What? "The Prophet"? Is that, like, another prologue? Why do chapters all of a sudden have titles after three fat novels of not having them? It breaks the rhythm?! 

Those were, approximately, my thoughts upon finishing the prologue in A Feast for Crows and then seeing the title of the first chapter. And I still find it jarring, not just the added titles but also the fact that Martin suddenly throws in a small host of minor characters as POVs. Time still has to tell whether this change will, in the end, show to be a wise decision. As of 2015 I am still not entirely sure I needed all these Ironborn chapters, for example - we could've had a chapter in which one of the main characters learns that "there has been a kingsmoot out on the Iron Islands, and one of Theon's uncles won." 

Still, here we are, and Martin thought it was best to give us more insight into both the Iron Islands and Dorne (though we still don't have "eyes" in the Westerlands and the Reach...and the Stormlands, though we've visited those); is he kind of making the reader look "through a tree" as it were? Will we end up realizing that all these titled minor POV chapters is what Bran has been seeing through the Heart Trees network? That would be a neat way to kind of make these chapters more...eligible, for lack of a better word. No, I don't buy into the idea myself, but...I feel that it could help tie these seemingly loose additions better into the narrative by way of Bran Stark.

Anyway, time to get into the psyche of a certain Aeron Damphair. For the reading order I'm using for this re-read, check it out here. Check out the two prologues here: Varamyr and Pate.

Aeron's debut.
Right. I remember when this chapter was released as a teaser in DRAGON Magazine #305 (a magazine devoted to the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game) under the title "The Arms of the Kraken". What could a poor zealot, waiting for years already, do but buy said issue? I believe I still have it somewhere, along with issue #307 which also featured Westeros heavily (there was an article about how to play in Westeros using D&D rules - yeah right - and featured a fascinating cover of Melisandre, and that's the Melisandre as I have since envisioned her kind of). That issue (#307) also featured my favorite depiction of Sandor Clegane, The Hound, which I remember scanning and putting on this blog way back when. You can find a scan of the page with the Hound (as well as some other great pieces of art from the issue, by scrolling down this very page). Ah, those were the times. There was still so little Ice & Fire-merchandise that I could afford to buy whatever showed up, most people were not aware of the brilliance of the series yet which made it kind of cool in that secret club way, and by the time these Dragon issues were published, we knew a new novel in the saga would soon be upon us. Unlike now. Nobody has a fricking clue as to how close or far away we are from The Winds of Winter. It's driving me up the proverbial Heart Tree (I do have to note that the novella was published in 2002, so we didn't really know how far or close we were to A Feast for Crows, dammit).

Anyway, "The Arms of the Kraken" is slightly different than the final version in the novel; in the book, the chapter opens with the prophet drowning men on Great Wyk; in the earlier version found in the Dragon issue, the chapter starts out not with "the prophet" drowning men, but Aeron Damphair. Of course, it's the slightest change, but it tells us that Martin decided that Aeron at this point sees himself more as a prophet, someone important, someone others should heed, than just Aeron. 

I may have mentioned this before, but whenever I teach literature and/or writing, and in particular when I'm talking about creating an interesting first sentence to hook your reader, it's the first line of this very chapter that I use as an example:

The prophet was drowning men on Great Wyk when they came to tell him that the king was dead.

I change the word "prophet" to "priest" and remove the mention of Great Wyk so as to not confuse students, leaving me with "The priest was drowning men when they came to tell him that the king was dead." Once the students see the sentence, I ask them why this is a great opening, why this more likely than not will have people read on. They recognize that there is an element of the macabre (the drowning), of the surprising (a priest drowning men), and there are more than a few questions tucked into this sentence: Why is the priest drowning men? What did these men do to deserve drowning? Who comes to tell him about the king? Why is the king dead and what does it matter? It always works to get the students to think about how they construct their opening sentences - get in something surprising or humorous, make sure there are questions that need answering (as Gandalf would've said), and perhaps sprinkle it with something strange, twisted or macabre - something that makes the reader curious, even if it's morbidly curious. I still hold on to this one after fourteen years of teaching. Its one of those small details in Martin's works that made me more conscious about writing as a craft and as art. And it's so much fun to see when students pick up on it and craft their own great sentences that totally promise one heck of a story (following up on that promise is another story entirely, of course). Also, even after showcasing Martin's uncanny ability to hook his readers, I still get occasional hickups like "We were bored" or "Everything was just so great!" as openers. Right, that was an entire paragraph just on the opening sentence. Will I ever get through this chapter? Needless to say, I find this a great sentence. The mystery of the drowning and the king is of course no longer there for me, but as a crafted piece of sentence it still works so well.

Having been hooked, Martin can develop the setting around the prophet a little bit; a quick sketch of it being a bleak and cold morning, of how the three first to drown had not struggled yet now the fourth man is struggling against Aeron's peculiar ritual. It's like baptism, with more salt and less compassion. While it has been stated that Aeron is drowning men, we now learn that the fourth is but a boy, which makes Aeron seem even colder and less compassionate. He tells the boy to be courageous, that he must "drink deep of god's blessing". It's fascinating really, because religion is of course known to foster the strangest of rituals, but we haven't really had a very religious character in the series before, so it feels fresh (in the cold salt spray-way of freshness) and expands our knowledge of Martin's setting. So far, it's written with Martin's usual crisp style and pace, so it doesn't feel like an intrusion upon the existing story as much as expansion. Aeron urges the boy to resist the fight, because he will be reborn. Only later did I realize that Aeron was basically filling their lungs with water, then getting it out of them fast, performing CPR - or should I say cardiopulmonary resuscitation - yet seeing in this act a religious ritual. That's a neat little twist on it all, and I remember chuckling at myself for not noticing immediately. How did Martin come up with this one? It boggles the mind. Very creative use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. We learn that the boy's name is Emmond, and Aeron needs the help of four others to keep him below the surface long enough to stop struggling. Aeron then spouts off a prayer to the "Lord God" (that is, the Drowned God), beseeching him to let Emmond be reborn from the sea and be blessed. Yes, Emmond seems pretty dead: Pale and cold and peaceful. Of course people will believe it to be a miracle when Aeron revives these "drowned" men. Just like miracles seemed to happen a lot more when people in general were a bit less informed about reality, Martin keeps his setting tied to a medieval mindset, making it feel real and gritty and believable, all at once. Even Melisandre, we will learn, needs to resort to certain tricks to achieve her miracles, though I'm still confused about the shadow babies. 

Aeron Damphair Fantasy Flight Games

The three men who arrive with the news of the king's death are the Sparr (a hatchet-faced old man who is the law on this part of Great Wyk), his son Steffarion, and one of Gorold Goodbrother's sons (they are so alike that Aeron can't be bothered trying to figure out which one it is). The three have to wait, however, showing us that Aeron puts himself above even the lord of this region. I like it when Martin doesn't tell me this, but shows it through Aeron's actions. Instead of deferring to the Sparr, he goes on finishing his business with Emmond; they take him out of the sea, and we get this really nice image as Aeron climbs out of the water "naked but for a sealskin clout that covered his private parts". Fortunately, he is given a robe quickly, one in the colors of the sea and the Drowned God of course, and then they form a circle around Emmond. They pray, but they also work Emmond's arms, pump his chest, and then Aeron gives the boy the "Kiss of life" again and again until the boy vomits sea water and wakes up. Did I really not see the CPR going on the first time I read this? Maybe I did, but was momentarily confused by the ritualistic description. Satisfied with another one returned, we learn through Aeron's thoughts that priests do indeed lose a man from time to time, but Aeron has never lost one - so he's really good at CPR. It might just come in handy later down the story if someone needs a quick resuscitation! Who knows, maybe Martin did put this here not just for show, but for a future emergency. No wonder the whole prophet-thing is going to Aeron's head; he's the best priest on the Iron Islands (by way of saving everyone he drowns, how chilling is that, not literally speaking). And so we learn that this whole ordeal is a way of baptizing men; "You belong to the god now," Aeron tells Emmond, in this case it seems that Emmond has become ordained a priest of the Drowned God, though I might be mistaken - the Sparr mentions he was drowned as a boy, yet he is not a priest or acolyte or what have you. Emmond, however, is given a robe similar to Aeron's and a driftwood cudgel (how effective is that going to be when Emmond faces the Mountain that Rides?). Slowly but surely the chapter lays bare that Aeron is not just a very devoted priest, he's a fanatical zealot, as one can surmise when he tells Emmond, "We pray that you shall wield your cudgel fiercely, against all the enemies of our god." He is taking it all up a notch, isn't he, much like what we're seeing going on in certain parts of the world right now. Conflicts becoming religious conflicts. Fighting with your one true god at your back. We'll see that in general, A Feast for Crows opens up the religious canvas of Westeros quite a bit. It feels as if, following A Storm of Swords, Martin felt that, while he had a good medieval fantasy going, he was still missing a few ingredients that were key to making the Dark Ages, well, dark. And here it comes crashing into the series like the waves upon the shores of Great Wyk - religion. Other "typically" medieval elements that have been "missing" (though I'm sure no one noticed at the time) will also suddenly turn up, such as a lord's right of "First Night". Maybe Martin just learned more about medieval history while writing and wants to put more of it into his novels (though that seems unlikely, Martin does seem like he has a lot of knowledge). It expands the setting, yet I'm left with a feeling that if it wasn't important in the first three books, why spend time and energy on it now, when the series has settled into a certain groove? Now, of course, the gods have been part of the series from the beginning, so it is easier to accept religion becoming more prominent (and since the POV here is a zealot, it makes it even easier to absorb), but some other elements seem to pop up out of nowhere. Anyway. Aeron is finally ready to trade words with the Sparr. 

Aeron, seeing the world through his lenses, wonders why the Sparr has arrived if not to prove his faith. It's a minor detail that adds to the character of Aeron; here's a fellow who can't comprehend any other view of life, or style of life, than the one of his faith. If you don't drown properly and rise from death, you're not good enough. We learn that the Goodbrother son is the one named Gormond, and it is this lad who is actually coming with the news. Before Gormond can say anything, however, Aeron interrupts by asking if he's been drowned. Clearly, drowning is important to Aeron, in case you missed that. Gormond confirms that he was, on his name day, then gets the plot rolling by immediately (fortunately) telling Aeron that he has been sent here by his father, Lord Gorold, who wishes to see Aeron.

Aeron, as mentioned, feels himself more important than some lord, so he tells the boy that his father can come seek him out himself. "Let Lord Gorold come and feast his eyes," Aeron says, and I can't help but think of that sealskin clout. Is that wrong? Gormond insists that he has come to bring Aeron to "the keep" - Aeron thinks the boy is afraid to get his boots wet (again, his faith kind of determining what he is thinking, being suspicious of anyone not properly drowned and all that). And here Martin does spell it out for us: "I have the god's work to do." Aeron Greyjoy was a prophet. He did not suffer petty lords ordering him about like some thrall. Not sure Martin needed to spell it out, I think the text makes this pretty clear without directly telling the reader. Aeron learns that Gorold has had a maester's bird from Pyke - and without looking I'm confident Aeron will scoff at this because maester's birds suck because they are do not belong on the Iron Islands, because, you know, separating people into "us" versus "them" is something religion is quite good at - let's see...WHAT?! Dark wings, dark words? Why does Aeron use those words? I thought they were, like, Stark-y? I thought that phrase was kind of like the Lannisters' "A Lannister always pays his debts". Maybe not, then. The Sparr says that the message brought by the bird can only be spoken of in private. Aeron wants to be difficult of course, stating his men aren't just mere men, they are drowned men, servants of god, so there are no secrets to be withheld. Wow, I'm still kind of surprised he didn't scoff at the bird being a maester's bird. And here I thought Aeron was one-dimensional. The Sparr then orders Gormond to tell it - and we already know it, of course, but Aeron kind of doesn't, though Martin wrote it in a way that could make you think so; anyway. "The king is dead."

"What do you mean, 'the king is dead'? Oy've 'eard no such thing."

The king in question is of course Balon Greyjoy, Aeron's older brother. Aeron had not seemed ill, which adds to our suspicions that Balon was murdered (by another of Aeron's brothers, to boot). We learn that, aside from the Drowned God, Aeron had one other important thing in his life - Balon. So with Balon dead, he only has his religion left. Now he's one-dimensional, all right, I get it. Gormond explains that Balon had fallen off a bridge at Pyke and was dashed on the rocks below. Ouch. Aeron immediately connects this to the Storm God (who?!) and claims that the Storm God cast Balon down. You see, the sky and sea have been at war for a thousand thousand years, and Balon had made the Iron Islands great again, and the Storm God did not like that so he cast Balon down. Quite the plausible conclusion, and arrived at so quickly. If the story ever needs a detective I hope Aeron isn't nominated. I do like how Martin shows us how irrational thinking can lead to the strangest conclusions, though. For some people, a logical conclusion just isn't enough. Because it doesn't support their views. In this regard, Martin does a great job playing with this theme through Aeron Damphair, and that might be why I enjoy reading about him even though many readers (as far as I am aware) don't really like him. Well, I don't like him either, but he's interesting. Aeron demands a horse, picks the strongest of the animals (Gormond's, which is funny, because now the boy will get his boots wet and muddy), and we can see how, merely by being elevated to the status of a prophet (in Aeron's eyes; most likely, people are compliant because he is a Greyjoy), Aeron can pick and choose and do what he feels like (and probably enjoying the power trip); he is not fond of horses (because they don't belong, just like maesters!) but he feels he needs to be fast, and so he rides off, leaving the party of three with two horses and telling his drowned men to meet up at Pebbleton beneath Lord Merlyn's tower. 

Yeah, well, for all the things I've been negative about regarding the two last books, I have to admit that at the same time I find it fascinating and fun to explore new parts of the setting, such as, in this case, the Iron Islands. For all the weirdness of the culture there, I do like it. Hard and isolated, cold and windy, the sea close on all adds a new perspective, maybe a little less believable than the cultures we've seen so far, but still enjoyable. While certain parts of the two books are excruciatingly slow, this Aeron chapter is a breeze (don't tell the Storm God). 

A little insight into the Islands is just what Martin gives us in a quick paragraph as Aeron rides; it paints a picture of a hard land, and it teaches us that Great Wyk is so large that some lords have holdings that do not border on the sea (the Goodbrothers being one such House, which - of course - Aeron frowns upon). He thinks of the Goodbrothers as "crabbed and queer", and I find it interesting that this leads Aeron to think of his brothers - especially since there are later hints that Aeron may have been abused by one of them, thus linking "queer" and "brothers".

Now it's getting tricky - for all the nice pacing, tense sentences and excellent characterization, we are now straying deeper into exposition territory. First the paragraph describing the landscape and giving us a little information on Great Wyk (which is short and to-the point), but now two long paragraphs of explaining the Greyjoy family in more detail. It gives us a lot more to chew on, but this feels more like a dump because the story doesn't specifically ask for these details at this point. Aeron just begins to think about his brothers, and that's it. Only the "queer" word can be seen as a bridge leading to this exposition. Exposition is always better hidden through dialogue and actions, so maybe if Gormond had joined Aeron on that horse, Aeron could have told the young boy a little bit (so as to inform us as well). "What do you know of the Greyjoys, boy?" This is not to be, however. Instead we get these paragraphs revealing the past - the only caveat being, that we learn of this past through the eyes of Aeron, and as such we must take it for what it is. The POV of a zealot. Not that his personality shines through in his thinking about his brothers; it feels more like the author intruding upon the flow of story to give us a history lesson. Again, one of the main differences between the better flowing previous novels and the new ones.

At any rate, Quellon Greyjoy was the father of no less than nine sons, by two wives, with Balon, Euron, Victarion, Urrigon, and Aeron being the sons of Quellon's second wife. Actually, there was a tenth son, a "sickly idiot" named Robin (is this a nod to Sweetrobin up in the Eyrie one wonders), "best forgotten". Aeron can dimly recall one of the three sons by Quellon's first wife, who apparently had greyscale - is this the first instance where this disease is mentioned? I wish I had searchable versions of these books, but I don't. I have books three-five on Kindle for PC/Android, but I can't find a search function. Anyway, greyscale is going to become more important later on as part of the narrative. Only four of these ten lived to manhood - Balon, Euron, Victarion and Aeron. We are given some background on Balon to paint him as the fiercest Greyjoy of them all, and we realize that before Aeron became a prophet, he was not behaving in a way that Balon (or his other brothers) could approve. Not sure how much of this information we really need; it shows that life is hard, of course, and it allows Martin to show us how Aeron feels and thinks about Balon, his oldest living brother (until he learns he's dead in this chapter, anyway), and how he feels about his own past. In essence, Aeron has redeemed himself (in his own eyes), become something better - stronger and harder.

Late in the evening Aeron approaches the spiky iron battlements of the Hammerhorn, Gorold's keep. Another of Gorold's sons greets him (Gran, this time), and Aeron is admitted to the lord's hall, a dank and drafty place as befits a keep on the Iron Islands. There are daughters here as well, and Gorold is talking to a maester, wearing a chain of "many metals". The lord asks for his son Gormond, Aeron replies that he returns afoot. I love how direct Aeron is, telling it like it is with no humility. And, yes, here we get it confirmed - Aeron does indeed not like maesters; their ravens belong to the Storm God, and he does not trust their healing, "not since Urri" (so Urrigon Greyjoy died while a maester tried to save him). This is Maester Murenmure, we learn, and the lord wishes him to stay when Aeron asks for everyone to leave the hall. Aeron insists that Murenmure too must leave, and then Gorold says it is his hall and that Aeron has no right to decide; but Aeron is rigid as rigid comes, and says "Then I shall go," essentially forcing the lord to do as he wishes anyway.

Aeron walks off, but before reaching the door, Maester Murenmure speaks up: "Euron Crow's Eye sits the Seastone Chair." That is enough to turn the Damphair; Martin illustrates how ominous this news is to Aeron by describing the hall as growing colder. Balon had sent Euron off two years before, swearing that if Euron ever returned, he would be executed. Lord Gorold explains that Euron came sailing into Lordsport the day after Balon's death, claiming the castle and crown as Balon's eldest brother - and now Euron is sending ravens to summon every captain and every king on every island to bend their knees and do him homage as their king. It's quite preposterous - not just Euron's actions, but how Martin manages to insert a brand new character into the story and have him just come and claim the Iron Islands like that. And this so makes us wonder about Euron Crow's Eye, it's a wonderful way of setting up a badass character really. Sounding as if he can't really believe it, Aeron refuses the news, saying that "only a godly man may sit the Seastone Chair" (one can wonder just how godly Balon was, but we have already learned that Aeron always looked up to him). We learn that Balon and Aeron have spoken about the succession, and that Balon wished his daughter Asha to succeed him; Aeron had insisted that no woman will ever rule the Ironborn, not even Asha, strong as she might be. The maester's "mouth flapped open once again" (great way of describing how Aeron feels when the maester speaks), pointing out that the Seastone Chair by rights belongs to Theon Greyjoy, or Asha if Theon's dead. It's so weird to think back on Theon Greyjoy in the beginning of A Game of Thrones. He was just this abrasive background character, yet now he is spoken of as the heir of the Iron Islands. Say one thing about Martin, say he loves complex and interesting character development. Only, Theon is at the mercy of Ramsay Bolton, so what we as readers can infer here is that Asha is the next in line.

Aeron is contemptuous of the maester, waving away the statement; his are the laws of the green land, not of the Islands. They begin to discuss what might happen after these recent events, wondering whether Victarion will make a claim as the admiral of the Iron Fleet; Aeron says that Euron is indeed the older brother, but Victarion is more godly. The maester wonders if there will be war between the two brothers, and I'm filing that one as foreshadowing - I have a feeling Victarion and Euron will indeed become bitter enemies - over a certain dragon queen - but that's still far ahead. Aeron says that "ironborn must not spill the blood of ironborn", which Lord Gorold calls a "pious sentiment", effectively telling us that Aeron might have his godly notions, but Euron Crow's Eye won't care one whit. However, when Aeron learns that a Sawane Botley was drowned for saying that Theon is the rightful heir, Aeron thinks that's a good way of solving the problem - after all, no blood was spilled. This shows us that Euron seems to be playing by the "rules" (or rather, traditions and culture) of the Ironborn. So, we finally get to the point of the meeting - Lord Gorold wants Aeron's advice, simple as that. Is he going to go pay homage to King Euron, or not? When Aeron tugs his beard and thinks, I have seen the storm, and its name is Euron Crow's Eye I wonder where he gets this thought from. Is it from a vision he has had? Did someone else tell him this? I can't remember if this is something I should know now, or if there will be a later reveal. Anyway, I find it interesting that we've had several mentions of the Storm God being the enemy of the Drowned God, and now he thinks of Euron as a storm. Is Euron truly an enemy of the Iron Islands, and will Aeron himself perhaps have to face Euron, as a servant of the Drowned God? I admire how much political details, distilled into these characters, Martin manages to cram into this one chapter. And how he manages to make the Iron Islands feel so vividly different from the rest of Westeros at the same time; reading Theon's chapters never gave that sense of Ironborn culture, obviously, yet now we learn so much more about Theon's true origins. It becomes a fascinating tapestry. Wait a minute, am I starting to enjoy this stuff more than I did before?

Aeron gets angry with the maester's prattle, and tells the lord and his maester that it is time to stop listening to the people of the green lands and listen to the sea again, to the voice of god. Aeron thinks his voice sounds powerful, and feels that his god is with him. He is offered a room for the night, but zealot that he is he prefers to sleep outside near the sea. This guy surely must have constantly clogged nostrils. He asks for a horse, and the lord provides. The lord sends the third son, Greydon, to guide the Damphair down the hills to the sea. Drowsing in the saddle, he hears the sound - the scream - of a rusted hinge, and he mutters, "Urri." Here's a little mystery for us to solve. First, Martin gives us some more background on Urrigon Greyjoy; he lost half his hand at fourteen when playing "the finger dance" (involving flying axes), and his wife had a maester try to sew the fingers back on, the hand mortified, there was fever, and Urri died. When Balon heard of this he removed three of that maester's fingers, and in the end the maester died the same as Urrigon. And, capping the paragraph with a little surprise, we learn that it was Aeron Damphair himself who had sent that axe flying to cut off his brother's fingers. So we have some guilt here, clearly; and also, our first glimpse of what Aeron was before becoming devoted to the Drowned God. In essence, he was a drunk, a reveler, taking pride in how far he could piss, mocking everyone and everything, basically a loser, then. There's a lot more background information to digest, including the story of Aeron's ship Golden Storm, yet it feels more like fun trivia than stuff necessary for the plot. It's mostly character development, or rather, character study. Aeron links Euron to the scream of the rusted iron hinge  - it sounds to me as if Euron abused/molested the two youngest Greyjoy brothers, Aeron and Urrigon. Or maybe just Urrigon, and Aeron witnessed but never said anything, thus enhancing his guilt. One more tidbit about Euron to make sure we know just how badass he is: he paints the decks of his ships red to better hide the blood soaking them.

Greydon leaves Aeron at dawn, and Aeron continues alone, stopping at every village to preach to the people. He tells them that the king is dead, but that a new king will rise. Some villagers decide to follow him, so that when he reaches Pebbleton he has a dozen men walking behind his horse. It shows us that Aeron does indeed have a commanding presence, yet a dozen isn't that much, so maybe he isn't as good a prophet as he thinks himself to be.

In Pebbleton, his Drowned Men await him. I have to say I grow a bit tired of the repetitions in this chapter; driftwood cudgels, from the sea, the sea, the sea, the sea. At the same time I can appreciate that the repetitiveness enhances the feeling of Aeron's single-mindedness. He is always about the Drowned God, and the sea, and confirming to himself that he is being empowered by said deity. Crawling into a shelter built for him, Aeron prays for guidance, asking his god who should be king in Balon's place. I don't think I ever felt any particular Lovecraftian inspiration here, but now that I've read the whole thing, and The World of Ice and Fire as well, I am getting the feeling the Drowned God - if it exists at all - might just be some awesome Chtulhu-like tentacled horror beyond imagination. We already have the "What is dead may never die" proverb which sounds very Lovecraftian, and with words like "Sing to me in the language of leviathan," one can but wonder if the Great Old Ones live beneath the waves in watery halls, dreaming.

Through Aeron's pondering, we learn that Victarion is the strongest of the brothers, fearless and dutiful, and that he does not love Euron, "not since the woman died"; again, Euron Crow's Eye is involved in some death (his arrival one day after Balon's death, coupled with the Ghost of High Heart's vision, suggests to me that Euron paid a Faceless Man, perhaps even Jaqen H'ghar, to kill Balon).

When he can't find sleep, he walks out into the black sea, naked and pale and gaunt, a wave smashing against his chest. He thinks of himself as once being the weakest of Quellon's sons, but now he is strong, made strong by the Drowned God. When he feels the chill of the sea on his bones, it leads him to think of the hill of Nagga, "the bones of the Grey King's hall". He takes this train of thoughts as a message from the Drowned God, "for he had found the answer in his bones". Kind of cheap, really. Anyway. Feeling good about it all, he gets some rest, doesn't even think of screaming iron hinges, and the following day he is met by Lord Merlyn, and he tells the lord that the king is dead. Lord Merlyn tells him he's had two birds, one summoning him to Pyke, another to Ten Towers. He asks Aeron for advice. Merlyn explains that it is Asha who is sending out ravens from Ten Towers, where the Lord of Harlaw resides; he says that Balon meant for Asha to sit the Seastone Chair, as Aeron knows is true. Man, Martin could have made a trilogy just based on the Iron Islands, couldn't he? This is just an explosion of new stories, characters, places. And it comes four books into the saga. No wonder I felt kind of betrayed. But I do like the Iron Islands. It's all rather confusing. It's quite unconventional, at any rate. Let's break up the flow of the three previous books by introducing a whole new culture with its own internal problems and a host of new characters. It's an amazing decision really. Did Martin so fall in love with his setting that he wanted to expand even when the story could've gone on without the power struggle among the Greyjoy brothers? Or will time show that this is as important to the main narrative as everything else?

Aeron tells Lord Merlyn that the Drowned God shall decide the succession, and tells him to kneel. The lord kneels, and receives Aeron's blessing: a stream of seawater on a bald pate. In my version of Feast, the lord is called both Merlyn and Meldred. I have to check the appendices - is his full name Lord Meldred Merlyn, or is it a mistake? Ah, it's Meldred Merlyn. Kind of confusing in this passage.

After the blessing, Aeron gathers his "school" (how far can he go with all the sea analogies?!) and has another sermon, repeating what we've heard so many times already through the chapter. Storm God, wrath, plucked Balon, the king is dead, yadayada. Now I'm getting impatient. For all the color the chapter provides, I'm now ready to move on. It feels as if Martin stretches it, to fill a certain number of pages, or whatever. The drowned men cry in unison, "A king shall rise!" which we've also kind of heard before. Aeron asks them who should be king, and to no one's surprise his drowned men want him for king. He has enough insight to explain that he was not meant to sit the Seastone Chair, though. Then he tells them what the god says (though we know he was just having a thought while wading in the dark waters of night), "No godless man may sit my Seastone Chair!"

Then Aeron goes on to say that the decision must be made on Old Wyk, at the Grey King's Hall. In the name of his god, he summons everyone there, to return to Nagga's Hill to make a kingsmoot. This makes "the" Merlyn (why "the" Merlyn here all of a sudden?) gape, because there hasn't been a kingsmoot in, like, forever. Which leads to a long exposition, given as a lecture by Aeron, on the kingsmoots of old. This makes the gathered crowd roar and agree, and they begin to shout for a kingsmoot. The chapter ends with Aeron thinking he has done well; though only a few listened to him here on the beach below Lord Merlyn's tower, by Pebbleton, the author insinuates that this command from the Drowned God will spread across the Iron Islands, and so we can be reasonably assured we'll witness a kingsmoot. The first in a long time. It shows us how Aeron is dedicated to the Old Ways, and, prepares us for another clash of cultures in the future. Yet, by reading about the Iron Islands in The World of Ice and Fire, it seems pretty clear to me that the Ironborn culture is one that is doomed to lose every time.

All right, I already feel that the chapters from A Feast with Dragons are twice as long as chapters from previous novels in the series, but maybe it's just that Martin puts so much more setting stuff in them; really, there's something new to learn all the time. We have a more nuanced picture of the Ironborn now, and Martin has set up a conflict between Aeron, Victarion, Asha, and Euron Crow's Eye; my gut says this house of seaweed-covered cards will collapse and leave but one contender for the Seastone Chair, Theon Greyjoy. But that's so far into the future Martin himself hasn't even gotten there yet. I am so curious how Martin will resolve it all, and in just two books. If it gets resolved at all, ever. Anyway, another chapter re-read, and I do admit I found much to appreciate. I like the characterization of Aeron, though I don't like Aeron -at all -; I like seeing more of the Iron Islands; but at the same time its a chapter with a lot of repetition, and I can't help but feel that the main beats could have been solved with fewer words. The main beats being, a) Euron has returned and claims kingship, b) Aeron calls for a kingsmoot to resolve this political crisis the Old Way.

We'll stay with A Feast for Crows and yet another dramatic change to the narrative structure in the next re-read post - we're going to Dorne and the Captain of the Guards! Can you imagine waiting five years for the continuation of A Storm of Swords, you sit down to read, and first you have to get acquainted with Pate and his friends, then with Aeron Damphair and his religious agenda, and then some unknown Norvosi bodyguard and the Prince of Sunspear? Yes, it was very, very different from what I and most other people expected. It may have dampened my enthusiasm. And it may turn out it is easier to enjoy this time around.


  1. Great Read Mr. Slynt! You made a lot of interesting points that I didn't think about before, your Weirdwood theory in particular. The chapter naming has always been discussed but we are yet to reach a definitive conclusion, the only one that made sense to me was going from Reek to Theon, a difference that on a second read almost brought tears to my eyes.

    I rushed through the first 3 novels in about 2 weeks, but afterwards I was sort of exhausted and stopped halfway during Feast. Most storylines bored the heck out of me and I lost interest until after summer was over and I was done with work and with some free time. After I decided to keep reading I ended up feeling like most fans once the last two books were finished, angry and with blue balls, but I ended up really liking those two books. I don't have a favorite book in the series but the ones I usually go over the most are Fast and Dance. The Iron Islands storyline is provably my favorite after Brienne's with Cersei's coming a close third in this book.

    Anyhow, great re-read, it sure was a great beginning for the books re-read proper.

  2. greyscale - is this the first instance where this disease is mentioned?

    Shireen, Stannis's daughter has greyscale, so it was first mentioned in the second book's prologue. However, the disease was never mentioned, except in relation to her, before books four and five

  3. If the story ever needs a detective I hope Aeron isn't nominated. I do like how Martin shows us how irrational thinking can lead to the strangest conclusions, though

    Aeron is actually on the right track. All he needs to do is follow the logical chain further: Balon was struck down by an evil god. Who is the person most likely to be a servant of evil? Euron. And he would have the correct perp for Balon's murder. However, although he keeps talking about Euron as an ungodly man, he stops short of following through on this line of reasoning. Aeron should've been more of a zealot than he is.

  4. Euron's [...] Martin manages to insert a brand new character into the story and have him just come and claim the Iron Islands like that.

    Euron is mentioned before. Particularly in the chapter where Theon arrives in the Iron Islands, he mentions Euron as a very dangerous and cunning man, and a possible danger to Theon's glorious future reign.

  5. I have a feeling Victarion and Euron will indeed become bitter enemies - over a certain dragon queen

    Reading the tea leaves from the Victarion chapters, he probably won't survive much longer. My money is on death by dragonflame very soon in the sixth book. Victarion wants to rebel against his brother, but he probably won't make it back to Westeros alive to do so.

  6. Victarion [...] does not love Euron, "not since the woman died"

    Euron seduced Victarion's wife and Victarion beat her to death. This was the incident that caused Balon to exile Euron.

  7. Did Martin so fall in love with his setting that he wanted to expand even when the story could've gone on without the power struggle among the Greyjoy brothers?

    Yes. It's a terrible thing when an author becomes successful enough that he can ignore his editor.

  8. my gut says this house of seaweed-covered cards will collapse and leave but one contender for the Seastone Chair, Theon Greyjoy. [...] I am so curious how Martin will resolve it all

    In one of the Asha chapters it has already mentioned that there is a precedent for a kingsmoot which is missing one of the contenders for the throne to be declared invalid and for another to be called. My predictions: Bran will be able to possess Theon, since he is a broken man and won't eject a possessing spirit like a normal individual. Bran will do so when Theon is brought in front of a heart tree by Stannis. Using a possessed Theon as a conduit, Bran will be able to provide real-time intelligence to Stannis, helping him beat the Boltons. As payment for this service, Theon and Asha will be set free by Stannis. Theon and Asha will return to the Iron Islands, where Euron's popularity will already be declining by that time, since his plan of conquering everything at once will already be leading to the inevitable defeats for the Ironborn. Asha will call a kingsmoot, putting forth Theon's candidacy. Bran will, through magical means, kill Euron and/or intimidate his supporters, maybe by causing a mass animal attack against Euron ala the Birds. Theon will become king of the Iron Islands, bend the knee to the Iron Throne, live for a long time and pass his seat to Asha's children.

  9. Yes, it was very, very different from what I and most other people expected. It may have dampened my enthusiasm. And it may turn out it is easier to enjoy this time around.

    Yes, it's much easier to enjoy books four and five once one makes peace with the facts that (1) the plot stalls completely, and (2) Tyrion and Dany, and to a lesser extent Jon, spend the books as complete grade-A screw-ups. Once one arrives at the fifth stage of grief, acceptance, one can reread these books and enjoy the excellent world-building and character development. Though I still wish that Martin stuck to his original plan of omitting this part of the story and staring the saga again after a five-year gap.

  10. To clarify: The maester who botched Urrigon's wound had arrived with Quellon's third wife (Robin's mother, of House Piper), not Urrigon's wife.

    Interesting theological contrast between the Iron Islands and the Sisters. Ironborn sailors consider storms the work of a malevolent god at war with the 'good' sea god. Sistermen who scavenge from (and cause) shipwrecks call them gifts, the offspring of a sky god and a sea goddess. Also, the legend of Storm's End involves the daughter of a sea *god* and a sky *goddess" whose parents sent punishing storms to the man who stole her with marriage.

    My imagined allegiance is to House Manderly, but Aeron is my soul mate in ocean-obsessed gloom. You treated him quite fairly here, which I appreciate. Great illustrations, too.

  11. Wow! Ten comments on the first day, that's a new record. Thanks for reading all! (Though I cannot know if Unknown is one, or two, or three people :-D) And some good stuff to ponder as well; I had forgotten Shireen, of course, but yeah, back in "ACoK" we couldn't be quite sure what greyscale entailed (how did it suddenly get so...contagious?); I like the completely opposite view of Aeron's detective skills; and I agree it looks like Victarion literally will be roast - which could mean that we'll see a showdown between Aeron and Euron instead?; I also like the suggestion that Bran will use Theon and that Theon eventually ends up on the Seastone Chair, it feels as if he kind of has to, although there's also the theory that he might be sacrificed; and Roger, thanks for the nice words. And Sasha, thanks for that stuff about the Sistermen - is this from "The World of Ice and Fire"? I read it, but you know...

    1. You should change the comment policy on your blog to allow comments to post immediately, without waiting for approval. It's impossible to have a conversation with the way it is set up now

    2. I got it from the first Davos chapter of ADWD, when he's dining with Lord Godric Borrell on Sweetsister. I don't think TWOIAF mentions it. ADWD made me fall in love with everything in and around White Harbor, including the Sisters.

    3. Unknown, I would change it, but each time there's been a lot of harassing comments to the point that I felt forced to make that restriction. It was really bad for a while, something that spilled over from the "Is Winter Coming?" (and other) forums where the same harasser was busy ruining the fun for everyone.

    4. Sasha, right, thanks - I'll be getting there, then. Yeah, I like White Harbor too.

  12. I don't buy the theon as a sacrifice theory. The phrase "what is dead may never die" hasn't become so attached to him just to see him die! Especially as theon did "die" for a time when he was reek...

    Personally I think he's more likely to be alive post ADOS than most of the stark kids...

    1. That's interesting, and you could be right of course - and Theon is pretty much deadened by Ramsay's "experiments"..