Wednesday, September 9, 2015

[Re-read] Jon I - Notice Something. Stop. Notice Something. Stop. Talk. Stop. Move. Notice Something.

It's time to check out another A Feast with Dragons chapter! As you may have noticed during my re-read of Brienne I it was mostly an annoying experience as I felt the chapter was slow, plodding, with little coloration and little development of, well, anything. Unfortunately (perhaps) the next chapter up in the suggested reading order is Jon I from A Dance with Dragons, which I seem to recall wasn't exactly an edge-of-your-seat chapter, either. Hopefully, it will bring some character development, or a new look at stuff, or, you know, whatever. Join me and together we shall re-read Jon's first chapter in nine or so years (at the time) as father and son. Heavy spoilers for everything A Song of Ice and Fire, including, but not limited to, Jon Snow's last chapter in A Dance with Dragons! You have been warned. Also, bewbs. Maybe. And I know I should try and be a bit quicker with this re-read to get that feeling of a more cohesive narrative, which is the whole point of mixing together the chapters of these two novels - however, I have a hard enough time as it is getting a post done once or twice a fortnight, so please bear with me.

The chapter opens  with a "white wolf racing through a black wood", and I'm immediately thinking of Jon Snow's last chapter in the novel, because as you all know he gets stabbed and seemingly dies, but the text clearly hints at a solution that will allow Jon to live on - by warging into Ghost just in time. Why am I reminded of Jon's Cæsar-moment? Well, because it sounds like Martin took Jon's arc into a little something called a "circle composition", where he begins with Jon - as the white wolf, i.e. Ghost - and would have ended with Jon ending up back in the same white wolf - the circle complete. As we know, the editor was kind of antsy about Martin getting that book out before the fan-base imploded, and he had to cut it short, including two battles and presumably Jon's warging. The introductory paragraph of this chapter also uses words that could be associated with death and cold if you think about it - black and pale, which could be seen as Martin using colors to foreshadow that last chapter. The moon is murmuring "Snow", which I'm sure has some meaning as well; dragons are associated with the moon, and this could be seen as a very subtle hint of Jon's Targaryen blood. Maybe! There are still a whole lot of maybes, and the answers are so slow in coming that it's no wonder half of Martin's readership are balding because of the tearing of hair in frustration. Not me, though! I have a proud mane still, though it is going grey even as Martin is struggling with his saga. I was young once, when I began this story. Sigh.

Far off, Jon/Ghost (even the name of the direwolf becomes appropriate with the last chapter in mind, that's impressive - did George always had that chapter in mind when naming the direwolves way back in the previous century, or did he arrive there organically, so to speak?) ..uhm where was I? Yeah, he hears his packmates calling to him, and they are "hunting too". A wild rain is lashing upon his "black brother" who is eating goat - is he referring to Rickon's direwolf here (Shaggydog - will we see a scene where, you know, Shaggydog shags?), or a Night's Watch member? Hard to know at this point. Well, members of the Night's Watch usually don't tear at goat flesh. A little sister lifts her head to sing to the moon with a hundred small grey cousins singing with her (there's another title for George, "A Choir of Wolves") - this certainly sounds like Arya's wolf, Nymeria, and so it becomes obvious that the first one is, indeed, Shaggydog - also, wasn't Skagos or wherever the hell Rickon is have goats? I wonder though how Jon/Ghost can "hear" them from such impressive distances! That's basically weirwood magic, isn't it? Arya and Sansa certainly don't have such a strong connection. Is Martin breaking his own rules here? If Jon can sense the others over vast distances, he essentially knows how to operate "scrying magic" (for lack of a better word) without all the skills Bran needs to level up in at the cave with Bloodraven. Which could be because he's half Targaryen - after all, it seems that the Targaryens can develop strong bonds with their dragons and might sense the other dragons wherever they are, with Jon basically doing the same only with direwolves.
Look at me, getting all interested in this stuff, even when most of my waking time has been occupied by other franchises this year. Come on, Martin, throw us some scraps. This is the awesome story I want more of, more than even Star Wars.
*Checks Not A Blog*. *Bangs head against desk, cracking open skull. Blood everywhere.*

The moon calls "snow" again, and I'm really too dim to understand the significance of the moon calling (beyond a possible Targaryen-connection), and I also don't understand why it cackles. Is the moon an old crone? Ghost remembers how they had been a litter of six, which is Martin giving us more "You might have forgotten this" updates. The moon insists now, "Snow." How do you insist "Snow" anyway? The language throughout the opening paragraphs feels a little off, particularly when certain words are repeated very close to each other. It takes me a little out of the story, as it's not written with the same precision as Martin had before. Now the wolf runs away from the moon (and how is that possible - I suspect we'll have to accept that the language is a bit borken, perhaps, because we're in Ghost's POV more than Jon's here); toward a cave, and more use of words that could foreshadow the last chapter, darkness and pale and icy and all that. He also senses Summer, on the other side of the great "cliff" which we now realize must be the Wall. "Snow." All right, we've heard it. Come on. For an ancient entity, the moon sure has a limited vocabulary. An icicle tumbles from a branch - too heavy? Melt?

A raven comes flying, landing on Jon's chest - it was the raven that was cawing "Snow", which Jon heard through the veil between warging and, uhm, not-warging. Jon has been sleeping, of course, his mind inside Ghost somewhere at the Wall. It continues to cry "Snow", which by now is really tiring, so I am definitely cheering for Jon when he throws a pillow at the animal, much like I threw my alarm clock this very morning in the hope that it would break and that it would be Saturday. The pillow, unfortunately, hits a wall instead of the bothersome raven, as Dolorous Edd pokes his head through the door. He asks his Lord Commander if he's ready for some breakfast. It still feels strange to Jon to have his own steward. Still angry with the bird, he tells Edd he wants "roast raven", while the raven shrieks "Corn". Dolorous Edd's reply here made me chuckle: "Three corns and one roast raven (...)" I imagine him saying it impersonating a waiter. Droll, as Edd should be. However, and this is a problem I have with the characterization of Edd in this work, Martin overdoes it and Edd becomes more a caricature than a solid character. It would be short and sweet if Martin had just stopped there, but instead Edd drones on, "Very good, m'lord, only Hobb's made boiled eggs, black sausage, and apples stewed with prunes. The apples stewed with prunes are excellent, except for the prunes. I won't eat prunes myself. Well, there was one time when Hobb chopped them up with chestnuts and carrots and hid them in a hen. Never trust a cook, my lord. They'll prune you when you least expect it." That's an awkwardly long sentence about nothing. Martin simply "overdid it" here, and the initial dry-wit-joke is ruined. In my personal opinion, of course. That's a whole paragraph I would, as an editor, have asked Martin to...prune.

Jon asks if there's been trouble "from the stockades" during the night, but Edd says that there hasn't been trouble since Jon "put guards on the guards". We're reminded of the wildlings Stannis took captive and that he smashed Mance Rayder's patchwork host (that's a great description); guards have been sneaking wildling women into their beds, including Night's Watch members (showing us they are breaking their oaths - something Jon did as well, with Ygritte). Edd also tells Jon two more wildlings turned up to surrender, a mother with a girl. Another possible foreshadowing of Jon's demise when Edd mentions there was a boy too, but the boy was dead, a word the raven repeats.
There are still wildlings out and about, however, including the Weeper and Tormund Giantsbane, the presence of danger still real even though Stannis had smashed the wildling host. We are reminded there is power in king's blood - almost certainly something that will become relevant for Jon Snow's arc sometime in the unforeseeable future - and we're reminded Stannis gave a living child to the flames, which Jon thinks makes Stannis a monster.

For some reason we need to know that when Jon takes a piss, he fills the chamber pot. The wolf dreams have been growing stronger (that feels like a more vital plot point not to miss); more reminders, of Robb's death, and of Theon Greyjoy allegedly murdering Rickon and Bran - but Jon knows their direwolves, at least, are alive - which we already knows Jon knows, because he just saw them a page ago. Such a waste of space. As if nobody decided to re-read the first four books when A Dance with Dragons was published. And another, more obvious foreshadowing of Jon's fate: "He wondered if some part of his dead brothers lived on inside their wolves." Here we have it, Jon's going to live on inside his wolf.

Opening a window (very exciting), the morning "hits him in the face". Apparently, the raven - which belonged to the previous Lord Commander - is "too clever by half" and also ate the Old Bear's face once he died. Again, words repeated a little too close to each other (in this case, 'face', but not terribly annoying).

We're given a quick briefing on where the various important characters have established themselves - Stannis in the King's Tower and Jon in Donal Noye's rooms behind the armory. Jon thinks about Donal Noye as he looks at the meager possessions he's left behind. There's a new word here entering the Ice & Fire - vocabulary, "niello". I had to check it out back when I first stumbled upon it, and since then I've forgotten so I have to check again. Was that some kind of fabric? Let's see...oh, right, a 'black mixture of copper, silver, lead (...) used on engraved or etched metal'. I've said it before, it always jars a little when there's suddenly a new, strange word showing up, because it feels as if the author just discovered the word and felt it was appropriately medieval and so put it in his work; and when it hasn't been mentioned before in thousands of pages, it stands out. Maybe if there is to be a Special Edition of the saga he can retroactively put niello in A Game of Thrones. That was only half a joke.

We're told Stannis has been riding down the Kingsroad as far as Queenscrown, inspecting ruined forts and walking atop the Wall at night with Melisandre (doesn't he sleep?). They pick captives which Melisandre questions, presumably using her sorcerous skills to divine the truth from these wildlings.  He hears the clatter of shields and swords from the armory, which is weird because have the Night's Watch ever practised at swordplay in the armory? That must be impractical. We're told that Cotter Pyke loves to fight and that he has a "gift for training men", so this is probably something we'll see later. At least, Martin wants us to keep in mind there's a guy called Cotter Pyke at the Wall.

Not content with just skipping to the chapter's plot points, Martin feels the need to tell us that Jon's cloak hangs on a peg by the door, and his sword belt on another peg. It is all very exciting. He puts it on and goes to the armory. The rug where Ghost usually sleeps is empty, which does not come as a real surprise since we know Ghost is out hunting. Two guardsmen at the doors, one named Garse, asking if Jon needs "a tail", an expression not used before. Jon says he can find the way himself. He hates having guards trail after him. Martin telling us, somewhat bluntly, that Jon would have wished he had guards trailing him in that last chapter?

Oh, Iron Emmet's lads are at it in the yard. That's more practical. Jon stops to watch a moment. How slow can these chapters be?! Jon thinks he can maybe make a steward out of clubfoot Hop-Robin. OK, we'll keep it in mind. Geez.
Jon gently corrects the clubfoot man, showing us a glimpse of Jon's position as a leader. I guess that's relevant.  He also spots a few of Stannis' knights practising. Then a booming voice calls after him, calling him BOY. He ignores it. Then, "Snow, Lord Commander." Better.
Jon stops (again).
It's a tall knight hailing Jon, telling him a "man who bears Valyrian steel should use it for more than scratching his arse." Not a lot of respect for the Lord Commander to be had from that one. The knight in question is named Ser Godry Farring, a new character if I'm not mistaken, who had slain a fleeing giant during the battle, driving a lance through the giant's back, with the queen's men now calling him Godry the Giantslayer.  Ser Godry wants Jon to show how well he can fight, but Jon says he doesn't have the time. Ser Godry says Jon is afraid. Jon leaves him.
What a weird scene to include. What is the point? To show that not everyone cares about Jon's rank? To allow the reader to imagine not everyone will support Jon later in the story? I don't know. I feel Ser Godry's just a throwaway character.

Right. Hopefully Jon doesn't have to stop anymore and we can get back to the story. So far, he's woken up, eaten (or at least ordered food), pissed full a chamber pot, and strolled out of his room and out into the courtyard. But first! A paragraph on the state of Castle Black itself, in case you missed it. He tells a couple of queen's men to get better gloves because it's cold. Halfway up the steps of the King's Tower he meets Samwell Tarly, and while the text doesn't explicitly state it, Jon stops (sigh). To have a chat. Sam is apparently learning archery by reading about it in a book, and Stannis is angry because almost no House of the North wants to declare their allegiance to him.

Finally Jon gets his arse - to use a Ser Godry term - to the solar of the King's Tower where Melisandre is seated by the fire, and Stannis standing behind a table. Long description of Stannis looking haggard. Who cares, he's dead. Thanks for that, HBO. Stannis asks who Lyanna Mormont is. We get the exposition along with Stannis. Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK. That's pretty cool, though, innit. Only Karhold seems to be with Stannis, while the rest of the North is holding the same attitude as the Mormonts. The North is cool in more than one way.

"Is Arnolf Karstark the only man of honor in the north?" Stannis wonders. We'll see...

The dialogue feels stilted, constructed, to give the reader the necessary knowledge of the political state in the North (and South) of Westeros, but I suspect there will be some nice dramatic irony here when the story is done - Stannis reminds Jon that the one true king of Westeros stands before him, while we'll probably see this get turned around completely. There's some digression about (golden) dragons, another hint of Jon's parentage, hidden between the lines here, when Stannis asks about gold and silver (but apparently is only getting turnips for his efforts). Jon talks about Lord Manderly being the one in the north with some riches, another character we need to keep track of as he'll have a vital role to play even though we technically don't know it here. And on and on they talk, showing us that the story perhaps has become a bit too unwieldy and large as there's so much detail to sift through; they are talking about Manderly and White Harbor, and letters and taxes and promises and alliances, Val the princess, Mance Rayder, and how his life is forfeit, and Stannis telling Jon he is going to burn Mance Rayder for the north to see how he deals with 'turncloaks and traitors'. It's dense, but what this all basically amounts to is Jon and Stannis hashing out the details on how to move the plot along, by looking at various options (would a marriage be able to seal a more solid alliance, for example). Stannis means to man all the abandoned Night's Watch forts along the Wall. What feels awkward is that Jon has a better grasp of politics than Stannis.

I'm sorry but I just can't focus here. There's so much talk. It's all important to the plot I'm sure, but it's ..I don't know, I feel the scene needs more life in it, somehow. I'm not even sure we need all this stuff this way. Could we have learned the important pieces of information here through other literary techniques than just a seemingly endless conversation? It all boils down to Jon not accepting to become Jon Stark. Stannis shows him his light-rippling blade but it doesn't seem to impress Jon. Back and forth. "I need more men." "You can have my men." "But I need MOAR." "But the Wall belongs to the Night's Watch." "But I need them all under MY command." "No MY command." Jon is showing himself to be a tad more loyal to the tenets of the Night's Watch these days. The scene peters out and we find Jon outside again. Melisandre shows Jon out, because she wants to have a chat with him.

This conversation sits a little better; not that I dislike the previous scene or anything, I just feel it went on for too long and made the character of Stannis seem a little, well, useless in the sense that he's supposed to be a pretty decent military leader. Melisandre declares that she can see into men's souls, speak to kings long dead and children not yet born, and that the visions and things she hears are never wrong, but can be interpreted in a wrong way. Almost surprised she admits that. She says she has seen Jon in her fires. Apparently "one of the hinges of the world" is found beneath the Wall, which I suppose is important. She says that Jon has many enemies and that he doesn't know all of them (another foreshadowing of the last chapter) - it is stated so bluntly here that I find myself wondering why Martin painted it on so thick. "It is not the foes who curse you to your face that you must fear, but those who smile when you are looking and sharpen their knives when you turn your back. You would do well to keep your wolf close beside you."  That last line especially seals the deal. Melisandre is basically telling him he is going to be betrayed. And what do you know, when Jon is finally accosted Ghost is seemingly not close by (but comes running so Jon can 'cross over').

The chapter ends with Melisandre saying, "Then you know nothing, Jon Snow," which I suppose is meant to make me go all wide-eyed and WOWZERS SHE KNOWS JON HAS HEARD THIS BEFORE. Does it mean Melisandre saw Jon in her fires when he was with Ygritte? Possibly. Was Ygritte's hair "kissed by fire" to provide a link to this new relationship, Jon - Melisandre? Possibly. Is it ominous? A little, perhaps.

Am I glad this chapter is over? Definitely. That was another looong-winded chapter where the essentials could have been distilled into a paragraph or six. Why didn't Melisandre speak more plainly to Jon about the dangers he will be facing? To test him? Is she beginning to suspect that JON is the guy she should be supporting as opposed to Stannis? And will we ever see the end of this story?

Next time: BRAN. As it happens, I really enjoyed Bran's A Dance with Dragons chapters when I first read them - they were few, and so packed more punch as opposed to the drawn-out too-many chapters of Jon (and Dany). More story in less words.

All right, another chapter that didn't convince me I'm wrong about Feast and Dance being less than the first three novels in the saga - but there are so many more chapters to come, so hopefully the good will outweigh the bad in time, and I can become reborn.

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