This is the good shit.
If I had some unease concerning the prologue and first chapter, chapters two and three have set my mind to rest. They were both gripping, entertaining, and perfectly fashioned. Both chapters ended on lines that made me shiver, making me feel my own unworthiness as a writer in the way that truly masterful writing always does.
Chapter 2: Daenerys
I put off reading this chapter for a bit. Daenerys was probably my least favourite view-point character of the preceding books, for reasons I’ve talked about on this blog before. She felt very much, to me, like an object of male gaze, and I felt considerable unease at her rapist-turn-lover storyline. It’s not entirely unrealistic – human behaviour and emotion is rich with variety and most women in these sort of societies could not really hope to marry for love, or even lust, and I’m sure that some of them found ways to love men whom they originally only welcomed to their beds because it had to be done. The trouble is that it follows a long tradition that romanticises rape and often only allows women power through sex. Both of these elements were strong in Daenerys’ plotlines.
However, when I settled down with chapter two, determined to just get through it, as I had so many Daenerys chapters before, I was very pleasantly surprised indeed. Part of it maybe a reflected spectre of the portrayal of Daenerys in the recent HBO adaptation. Hard to put a finger on why I was so much more engaged with her in the TV show than in the book without rereading, but I was. But I also think her presentation has generally changed for the better. She’s standing on her own, now, and she’s wielding power that has nothing to do with her body.
Daenerys is a canny ruler. She’s ruling a large and disparate group of people – nations, really – as the head of an invading force. It’s a very precarious position to be in, and she’s canny about how she wields her power and how she presents herself to her newly conquered peoples. We see how she molds herself to new customs to present an image of power, and I come to realise that she didn’t simply adopt Dothraki customs because that’s what she fell into, she did it because she’s adaptive by nature. She’s a survivor, and she knows how to size up what she needs to do to both fit in and take command. She’s channelling a little Elizabeth II, and I’m liking it.
Where Elizabeth created an image of herself as the Virgin Queen, and used the tropes of Petrarchan ideals of courtly love to manage the powerful men about her, Daenerys presents herself as a ‘mother of dragons’, and demures by self-describing as a ‘young girl’ before ripping someone a new one with their own stupidity. She draws on the cultural tropes of womanhood to make her gender seem less offensive and to soothe raised hackles, but her decisions are sure and fierce. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and it’s not because of the dragons – the dragons are a tool she was smart enough to unlock, and canny enough to utilize. In fact, we see in this chapter that, far from representing a strength, they are currently a massive liability that she will need to be strong and clever to control.
Chapter 3: Jon
Jon was always one of my favourite characters, so it was with great pleasure that I picked up his tale again, but I continue to be shocked at how much I have forgotten. perhaps I should have reread some of the previous books so I could find my feet again, but this isn’t a problem I’ve had with other long series. I suppose one must recall that this is an unusual case. The last book was only half a book, some of the events that immediately precede the events of ADwD are ones I haven’t revisited since I read not the last book, but the one before that, and it was some years ago, now. As we pick up the story with Jon Snow as Lord Commander of The Wall, I find I can’t remember how Lord Mormont died. I don’t recall Bran and Rickon being killed, or any event that would explain why Jon thinks they are dead when they are not. It is a little confusing, and although I understand why this book and its other half were published separately, I’m not convinced that, stylistically, it was the best choice.
But it is what it is, so I will make do. I enjoyed the chapter, nonetheless. I must say I find Snow much sharper in the books than he is portrayed as being in the TV adaptation, and I like him for it. You can see why he’s commander, and it’s not just because he has good mates. He handles the powerful, willful, and smart Stannis Baratheon very skillfully.
I really like Stannis as a character, as well. The only one of Westeros’s competing monarchs who has the sense to recognise that the real danger lies to the north, and if it isn’t dealt with immediately there won’t be a kingdom left to rule, before long. Yet he’s not simply a good king – he’s belligerent and difficult, and you can see why he didn’t draw the support he deserved by way of his rightful claim to the throne and his evident wisdom concerning the demands of rule.
I look forward to more of their power struggle, and I look forward to seeing just what they will – what they can do to defend The Wall. I’m also hooked by the chilling promise that there is a betrayal hovering somewhere down the road for Jon, as there is for Daenerys. There are some interesting parallels, there. Plus, I want to know what will happen when (if?) Arya reaches The Wall, to be re-united with her brother.
Exciting, isn’t it?