Wednesday, November 9, 2016

[Re-read] A Feast with Dragons, Chapter 19, Sansa I

This is PART ONE of my re-read of Sansa I. Second part coming up as soon as I can manage. As always, possible SPOILERS (though there's nothing beyond ADwD in this particular post.)

Hello, hello, and welcome back to another chapter re-read. Today's subject is none other than Sansa Stark, the girl who is consistently learning about reality (the reality of a fantasy world, that is). It is the nineteenth chapter (already) of the combined re-read I'm calling A Feast with Dragons, using this proposed order. But before we delve into another chapter in the saga that (actually) doesn't seem to end, here's someone praising Steven Erikson and his Malazan saga (which is complete) because Steven deserves our attention for having delivered the arguably most insane (I mean that in a good way) fantasy literature project ever. Not saying George R.R.'s epic saga is sane, though. His ability to keep all the details straight (except a horse's eye color here or there), his clever use of foreshadowing, his plotting etc. is all on a godly level, particularly books I-III (love forever), but he's so famous know it's time more citizens of Earth came to realize there's another series out there, ten fat doorstoppers of the most epic fantasy, that leaves people changed. And that's the hallmark, IMO, of a tier one fantasy story: it changes something in the reader, fundamentally or not. Martin changed my reading habits, fueled my interest in medieval history, changed the way I ran RPG campaigns and how I wrote material for those, and made me try to write a bit of fiction. Erikson...he kinda made me do all this stuff again, so now Martin's influence on me has been coated with a paint of Erikson. What the hell am I babbling about anyway? Let's reeaaaaaaad. 

Of all the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, Sansa is the one I am the most curious about as we head toward a possible release of The Winds of Winter. Why? Because I have a feeling her 'true' (book) story will be quite different from the story served in the Game of Thrones show. I may be wrong, of course, and TWoW!Sansa will indeed end up approximately where she is at in the last episode of season six, but the way there must surely be quite different, what with all the Vale stuff and no North stuff (so far, in the novels). Hence my curiosity. Anyway. I need to kind of erase the TV show from my mind and jump into this chapter as if I just came from A Storm of Swords with no idea where the story is taking Sansa (or where Sansa is taking the story).
This Sansa-chapter, "Sansa I", by the way, is once more from A Feast for Crows, book four - actually the seventh chapter from book four in a row. Next time we'll dive into another Feast chapter again, with "The Kraken's Daughter" (but after that, there's a string of Dance chapters). Kinda looking forward to re-reading the Ironborn chapters, I've forgotten a good deal about everything that went down on the Iron Islands (because I haven't really read book four in a decade). All right, Chewie, hit it!


All right, George R.R. doesn't do it often, but when he does I'm immediately intrigued: I'm talking about giving the readers a look into a character's past, revealing something we didn't know yet. Here, we start out with the story of Little Girl Sansa and her memories of a wandering singer who had stayed with the Starks at Winterfell for six months; the old man had sung "of knights and quests and ladies fair", and Sansa had enjoyed it so much she cried when the bard left. This memory allows Martin to work in some post-humous Eddard Stark dialogue, which I appreciate, being a fan of that character. The words used by Ed in this memory are poignant, too: "I cannot keep him here against his will. You need not weep, though. I promise you, other singers will come." That first line reminds me of Lyanna Stark; get the feeling Ned couldn't keep her at Winterfell against her will. Of course, this line is most likely not a reference to Lyanna, but that's what thoughts the line evoked for me; also because you get "I promise you" in there which definitely reminds me of Ned's promise to Lyanna. This piece of backstory also serves well in (re)establishing how Sansa started out as a wide-eyed girl impressed with tales of chivalry, and how she's gradually learnt the world is a more brutal and unforgiving - and unchivalrous - place. Sansa had also prayed in the godswood for a new bard to arrive, reminding us Sansa is actually a fairly devout character; I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) Sansa is the most-praying POV of the series.

We're taken back to the present, with the description of a "dead man singing" in the dungeons of the Eyrie, immediately giving us the setting for the chapter and setting up a mystery to make us want to read more. In two paragraphs, Martin shows what a master of story telling he can be. His prose may not rival the greats of literature but he sure has a knack for drawing you in. The sky cells get a quick mention, as that's where the "dead man" is singing. So there's a singer in a Sky Cell (to sum it up) so it nicely ties with Sansa's memories of the bard at Winterfell (it's the dead man singing that triggers the memory in the first place, we realize). How does Martin make it seem so effortless, it just flows so well. The dead man sings of "the Dance of the Dragons" Jonquil and her fool, Jenny of Oldstones, and the Prince of Dragonflies; all legends that I suspect have some bearing on the narrative (especially Jenny perhaps). There's something about the description here that makes me think Martin is kind of summarizing the series up to this point: "He sang of betrayals, and murders most foul, of hanged men and bloody vengeance." The Starks, the Lannisters, the Freys, the Martells?! Anyway, Sansa is unable to escape the singer's voice which I struggle to believe as the Eyrie is pretty big and there must be places where the man's singing can't reach her. The walls are of solid stone dammit. Martin continues to describe the dead man's songs, now defining the quality of the man's voice. Perhaps this is where Martin could have drawn a line and gotten on with the story, but it's just one additional paragraph (still, feels like a bit of bloat). She thinks of the singer (Marillion) as a menace to her wellbeing and asks Littlefinger to make the man stop. Petyr, however, says he has given the man his word which is all kinds of ironic of course (but why does Petyr want the man to keep on singing, keeping the entire castle on edge?)

Petyr has written heaps of letters after Aunt Lysa's death, ravens coming and going; we learn that Sweetrobin has problems sleeping because of Marillion's incessant singing; and we learn that "Lord Nestor is making his ascent on the morrow." This is Lord Nestor Royce of House Royce. It's a strange thought that the entire series actually opened with a character of this noble house, Ser Waymar. Nestor is the Keeper of the Gates of the Moon and High Steward of the Vale, so a very highly ranked Vale character then. Seems Mord, the gaoler, has coerced Marillion to lie to Royce about what happened (with Lady Lysa), showing us the scheming character of Littlefinger once more. Gotta love book!Littlefinger. When he calls Sansa his daughter - part of the elaborate lie they are playing out - she thinks of herself, staunchly, as Sansa Stark, daughter of you know who, and it's quite interesting mostly because it contrasts with her sister Arya trying to become "no one". She does think of Littlefinger as a bold character, which I find slightly ironic as he comes across as a coward, someone in the shadows; not wishing to meet Nestor she asks him if there's any chance she could stay in bed or whatever when Nestor arrives; the implication here seeming to be that Sansa is afraid of being caught lying and masquerading as Petyr's daughter. Petyr shows Sansa, by the way he chooses his words, how to turn truths into lies, and seems almost convinced of his made-up story about what "really" happened. What we're seeing is Petyr coming up with a cunning plan that will not only deflect blame for the murder of Lysa but also see him take over the reins of power in the Vale. From the first book, Littlefinger always fascinated me, and to get up close here and see some of his methods is great. What a smartass. Complimenting Sansa (at least that's my impression) on her eyes, Littlefinger deems it a smart move to parade her in front of Lord Nestor and tells her they have to do this to survive; "Some lies are love," Petyr says and it's a chilling statement and one piece of dialogue you'd think was more 'famous', it's pretty much right up there with "winter is coming" and "the things we do for love" and "only death may pay for life." Anyhawk.
"We'll serve him lies and Arbor gold," Petyr says, concluding the discussion. Now I know there are theories out there that basically say "if Arbor gold's mentioned, it means deception", and at least in this case it seems to be the symbolical link; the talk is about lies, and the wine is Arbor gold. Sansa realizes he is lying to her as well, hence the use of Arbor gold in this very moment; it kind of underlines and confirms Sansa's suspicion: Littlefinger is lying right now, to her face. She realizes it, but they are at the same time comforting lies.

Sansa is troubled by Lysa Arryn, her aunt's last words, and she is seemingly confused about whether to trust Littlefinger a little or not; she thinks of him as two persons, one "warm and funny and gentle" (which I don't feel we've seen to any degree so I don't really buy this) and the other "smiling slyly and stroking his beard", i.e. the manipulator, the deceiver, the whisperer. She reminds herself that Littlefinger never really helped her (before taking her out of King's Landing); she's been saved by Tyrion and the Hound and Ser Garlan, but not Petyr. One is Littlefinger, the other Petyr; and Sansa does not know where the man ends and the mask begins. I like these descriptions, and you're kinda happy for Sansa to finally figure out what kind of character she's dealing with here. With nowhere to go, though, she might as well try to hold on to Petyr for now - her only true friend (and really, Sansa has lost so much, no wonder she'll accept friendship from someone she doesn't really trust).

The night is full of Marillion's songs (and Martin sneaking in an add for his Songs the Dead Men Sing, a short story collection. No I kid but the reference's there); more song titles are given to us so that we may ponder their significance; "The Day They Hanged Black Robin", "The Mother's Tears", and "The Rains of Castemere". All three titles evoke the Red Wedding for me, though I have no idea if that's what George wants me to. Listening to the poor man's songs she begins to feel pity for him, out there in the Sky Cell (still one of Martin's greatest inventions). She keeps telling herself to trust Petyr and that Marillion is the bad guy for trying to rape her; she even thinks that lies were the only thing keeping her alive in King's Landing, which is a rather blunt piece of exposition to show us how Sansa is growing more...adept at lying.

At dawn she's awoken by another song, gods what an irritating fellow, I can only imagine if Justin Bieber stood outside singing all day and night, I'd probably go stark targaryen raving mad. Anyway, after so much internal insecurity it's about time to get some plot, some action, some movement. And that movement is the already mentioned Royce coming up the mountain for a chat with Petyr. Lots of strangers in the man's entourage, but also his son Ser Albar's there, mentioning this in case he pops up later. Petyr and Maester Coleman stand ready to welcome the guests. Sansa is really frightened, to the point she's got trouble talking; Petyr introduces her as his "natural daughter Alayne" and Nestor doesn't seem to suspect anything wrong with that. Petyr tells her to go get Sweetrobin and take him to the High Hall; she responds with a "Yes, Father." She thinks she sounds thin and strained, worrying that Royce will see through her deception; but Sansa, you are learning. One day, you will use that particular skill - lying - to, ah, I am not sure what, but it's gonna have a payoff; maybe you will use lies to gather an army for Jon Snow, I don't know. We'll see. Maybe. When. If. TWOW.

Lil' Robert Arryn has been crying and she decides to wash him to make him look better. Like Sansa, the boy's rest is disturbed by Marillion's whining from the Sky Cell. We are reminded how frail Robert is - to the point you can't really give him a good scrub. With his mother gone, Robert has begun to sneak into Sansa's bed at night; not particularly interested in this development, Sansa had Ser Lothor Brune lock the boy's room last night. She tells him Royce awaits, the boy isn't really interested; he wants a story, entirely consistent with the character we learned to know in Storm. I kinda like Robert Arryn as a character, very different from all the others. Robert is afraid of moles, and that's one primary reason for not wishing to see Lord Nestor. I admit: I chuckled. In some ways he reminds me of book!Tommen, who also feels more child-like than some of the child POVs of the series. Sansa lies to Robert about how much Petyr had loved Lysa, but Sansa knows now that he has only ever loved her mother, Catelyn Stark. It's quite interesting that Sansa is actually aware of this; and how she tries to justify Lysa's murder in her mind, thereby sort of letting Littlefinger get away with it. Finally Robert is washed and dressed and they go to the High Hall, where Lady Lysa was shoved out of the Moon Door (I still don't agree with the TV show's decision to have it be a Moon Trapdoor; just seems too silly IMO). Gotta love the way Martin describes the High Hall with a few short descriptions, just enough to evoke a sense of color and temperature, and a few nouns to solidify the mental image (like the marble and the fifty silver sconces).

Robert is put upon the weirwood throne, and Lord Nestor Royce is ushered in by Petyr. Very formal. Love the sky-blue cloaks of the guards. The boy says Marillion threw Lysa out of the Moon Door. Ser Marwyn Belmore (who?!) asks if Robert witnessed this; Robert tells him Alayne saw it, and Petyr. All of the attendants now look at Sansa, which obviously makes her uncomfortable because now she really has to keep her cool and lie like never before; hesitating and shivering, Petyr asks the lords forgiveness, for his daughter is still having nightmares about it. You sly fox you. Love Littlefinger doing what he does best. This also gives Sansa some time and a crutch to lean on, and she ends up becoming even more convincing, complete with a tear, than expected. Robert ends up crying angrily which only adds to the sense of truthfulness. Ending up with another shaking spell, Ser Lothor is forced to pin the boy until the spasms subside. Then, Robert is sent back to bed at Petyr's behest, which is to his advantage of course because he can't risk the boy blurting out anything that would cause suspicion in Nestor. Well played Petyr. Gotta love the long silence following this incident; When their footsteps died away there was no sound in the High Hall of the Eyrie. Royce, however, seems to be convinced and Marillion, the singer, now definitely becomes the scapegoat. Poor guy. Sansa notices how well Petyr lies; so smoothly she almost believes him even knowing he's lying. "My lady was too trusting for this world," indeed!

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