Read Along with Rhube 20: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 39 & 40

Bloody hell – I’ve done 20 of these things? O_O (index of previous posts here).

Chapter 39: Jon

Not a lot of action in this chapter, mostly set up. Jon allows Val to go north of the Wall to parle with Tormund Giantsbane, inviting him to join them in the safety of the Wall and share their food in exchange for help defending against the White Walkers and so forth. It’s not a popular decision. Stannis regards Val as his prisoner and a wildling princess, even though the wildlings don’t really work like that. Jon is relying on Val’s word and her returning before Stannis does.

Several of Jon’s men come to complain at him about this and other things. Many other things. They want more men, but not more wildling men, and certainly not the giant, Wun Wun. Stannis’s queen, Selyse is unhappy about her accommodations at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and her ‘Hand’ writes to say that she wishes to move to the Nightfort, which Jon has ceded to Stannis. They also don’t like the wildling women, and have taken to calling Long Barrow, where they are based, Whore’s Hole. Nor do they like that Jon has made a wildling man master-at-arms, nor that a former catamite has joined their ranks (Satin). All of this despite the fact that the foundation of the Night’s Watch is men who have committed crimes ranging from petty to murder and rape – crimes which are forgotten and never spoken off once a man takes the black and devotes himself to the Wall. It’s a nice moment of irony.

Perhaps the most disturbing news, though, comes from north of the Wall. A witch called ‘Mother Mole’ (an unfortunate name, I have a damnable time remembering that she has nothing to do with Mole Town) has persuaded thousands of wildlings that she has had a vision that they will be rescued by a fleet of ships taking them to safety if they head to an inhospitable ruin called ‘Hardholme’. Jon wants to send ships to pick up these wildlings, which his men think is madness, until he points out the somewhat chilling fact that if thousands of wildlings die of exposure following Mother Mole to Hardholme, there will be thousands more dead people to rise and join the fight.

Not much to say about this chapter, it gets the job done. Tensions are building between the different factions Jon has introduced into the Night’s Watch by forcing them to accept wildlings and women amongst their numbers. It’s obviously the wise choice – the necessary choice – but it’s won him few friends amongst his own men. The Night’s Watch desperately needs men. I hope Val can persuade Giantsbane to join with them too. They’re going to need to join together to fight the forces of winter. I don’t doubt Val’s word (perhaps that is foolish of me in a George R R Martin novel, but it’s how I feel) but I’m not at all sure Tormund will go for it.

The really nice moment is at the end when we see Jon has realised what is suddenly obvious and clearly hasn’t occurred to anyone else at all – that dead wildlings doesn’t mean less foes, but more. That’s what you want for showing the wits of a character – to have them think of something the other characters didn’t and that the reader didn’t think of either. Nicely done. A simple, but chilling, moment.

Chapter 40: Tyrion

The Selaesori Qhoran has been becalmed for days. Tempers are running short, and the supposed good luck of having a dwarf on board is wearing thin in contrast to the supposed bad luck of having a woman on board. Tyrion is persuaded to come down off his high horse and onto a pig. He tilts with Penny in the mock jousting she used to perform with her brother in an effort to raise the crews spirits. It doesn’t really work. What really surprised me, though, is that Tyrion seems to have come complete about-face and decided that he wants to joust with Penny, not just as a last resort to cheer up the sailors, but as an opportunity to ingratiate himself with Daenerys.

Tyrion also goads Ser Jorah once too often and earns both a fat lip and expulsion from the cabin they have been sharing. He goes to stay in Penny’s cabin instead. Penny decides to make her move on him and he gently rebuffs her, using his mockery of a marriage to Sansa as an excuse, which Penny is innocent enough to accept.

A massive storm brews up – from the sound of it, possibly a hurricane? This, then, is the squalling grey monster with one eye of the priest Moqorro’s prophecy. It nigh-on destroys the ship, killing many, including the priest. Then dubious rescue comes, in the form of what Ser Jorah identifies as a slaver.

I like the resolution of this aspect of the prophecy. I was genuinely puzzled as to what malevolent, tentacled thing might be approaching Daenerys with one eye. A hurricane works. Or a tropical storm – I know the distinction between the two is essentially just one of strength, and I’m not sure how well they really would have survived a hurricane.

I also liked that Tyrion did not sleep with Penny when the opportunity arose. It’s a tricky line to walk. On the one hand, why shouldn’t he find another little person attractive? If he only fancies big women is this saying something bad about taller ladies being objectively more beautiful? I have a friend who is endlessly incensed by the fact that Gimli is smitten by Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. He’s a dwarf, after all, why should tall, willowy elves be considered objectively more beautiful by all peoples? On the other end of the scale, though, I feel the film Freaks looming uncomfortably large in the background. It’s a film from 1932 set in a freak show. On the one hand it makes for challenging viewing, as the true monsters as presented as being the ‘normal’ performers. On the other, the catalyst of all the terrible events of the film seems to be one man’s (Hans) daring to think that he could love a big woman (Cleopatra), even though he himself is a little person. the unpleasant message: stick to your own kind and everything will be OK.

I have to wonder if there is a bit of deliberate reference to Freaks on Mr Martin’s behalf. apart from the ‘humour in difference from the norm’ aspects of Penny’s way of earning a living, Penny herself recalls palpably the meekness of Frieda, the little person who is in love with Hans and who wants him to see how they could have a much happier life if only he would stick to his own kind and marry her, not Cleopatra.

I think, on balance, it is handled well. Tyrion does not dismiss Penny for anything to do with her size. She is simply too innocent and simple in her outlook to be attractive to him. I also liked that he was not cruel in turning her down, turning to the very naivety that is the reason they are unsuited as a way of letting her down gently.

All in all, a good chapter, and one that brings Tyrion and Jorah that much closer to Meereen, even though it looks like they will arrive in the hands of slavers…

Read Along with Rhube 19: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 37 & 38

(Index to previous ADwD posts here.)

Chapter 37: The Prince of Winterfell

AKA Reek, AKA Theon. Again with the names! I guess it sort of does have some impact here, though. In spite of himself, Reek is starting to think again as Theon, but will it be enough?

In this chapter, Ramsay marries Jeyne Poole, who is pretending to be Arya. It’s not clear who knows that she is not Arya, apart from Reek The Prince of Winterfell Theon. What is clear is that it if Jeyne doesn’t play her role, she won’t be doing much of anything for very long. Poor Jeyne, at the start of the chapter she just thinks she is going into a forced marriage under a false name; she has no idea of the sort of man she is marrying. Hanging over this whole chapter is the question of whether Theon will come sufficiently to himself to launch some kind of rescue.

He takes her to the godswood and gives her away, as the closest thing she has to a family member. Despite Theon’s brief fantasy that she will announce to everyone who she really is – getting them both killed, but also getting the truth out – she meekly submits, and he confirms for all those gathered that she is Arya. They then return to the repaired hall to feast. Lord Wyman Manderley is there, suspiciously cheery, having brought with him a great deal of food, including three giant ‘pork’ pies. Funny that he somehow lost three Freys along the way. It’s pretty clear that Wyman has had his revenge by baking those men into the pies, and now he’s taking great pleasure in feeding them to his oppressors.

Also present are a bunch of musicians – ‘Abel’ and his six women. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking this is Mance and his six spearwives. Hanging over the feast is the question of whether there will be some great uprising before the marriage is consummated. ‘Abel’ is there to save ‘Arya’, ‘Reek’ flutters around the verge of becoming Theon again and coming to her rescue, and there are some very bitter northman in the room who might be persuaded to rise up, or at least sit back and do nothing. But no one is clearly who they seem, no one is sufficiently committed to their roles. Abel does nothing. Wyman is content to have his secret cannibalistic joke. Theon seems to come close, especially when Ramsay insists that Theon accompany him as the ‘Prince of Winterfell’ when he goes to bed her. Finding that ‘Arya’ is dry, he commands Theon to go down on her first – I presume in some mockery of the tradition of a lord’s right to have his way with a newly wedded bride of his subjects (Theon having once proclaimed himself Prince of Winterfell, Ramsay his subject, before their positions were so dramatically reversed). For a moment it seems he might refuse, but he does not.

This is a well-constructed chapter. It is tense and horrible on several levels. We want the last minute rescue, and Martin dangles it artfully before us again and again, but the time is not yet ripe. Any rescue at this point would wind up with a lot of people dead, including, probably, the lady herself. All the fake names and duplicity hover around, looking as though they should be symbolic of something deep, but I can’t find it. They seem to be symbolic of… the fact that everyone’s hiding something, which isn’t so much a symbol as a fact. Still, tensions and understated horror reign.

Chapter 38: The Watcher

Odd point of view, this. Instead of returning to one of the players in the scene, we follow Areo Hotah, man-with-axe, and servant of Prince Doran Martell. The scene unfolds as the prince is presented with a massive skull that is thought to have belonged to Ser Gregor Clegane – aka The Mountain. The Prince and his family are pleased by this, especially the Sand Snakes – Obera, Nymeria, and Tyene, bastard daughter’s of the prince’s dead brother Oberyn. Gregor killed Doran’s sister and her children, so they’re pretty pleased to hear that he had a painful death.

The head is presented to them by Ser Balon Swann, as a gift from the Lannisters. He’s also there to ask that Princess Myrcella (daughter of Cersei, betrothed to Trystene Martell) return to King’s Landing, and that Doran accompany them to become the boy king’s Hand. Doran suspects that this is a trick, which is confirmed by Balon’s obvious discomfort when Doran proposes travel by sea, as opposed to by road, where it is suspected there would have been an ambush. Balon is also concerned to find Myrcella and her protector, Ser Aerys Oakenhart are away at the Water Gardens, and not there to greet him. The reason for this is that Aerys has been killed following a rebellion plotted by Princess Arianna and the Sand Snakes, for which the Sand Snakes had been detained in the Spear Tower until recently. I honestly can’t remember the details of this – I had forgotten this plotline completely until this chapter, and only now have vague recollections of what happened.

Anyway, after the presentation of the skull, the prince, the Sand Snakes, the Princess Arianna, and (for some reason) Areo Hotah retreat to discuss what to do in private. Doran would be a fool to go to King’s Landing. Balon will need to see Myrcella, but they need to work out how to handle the fact that his brother in arms is dead. The Sand Snakes are generally reactionary, but Doran advises caution, because he knows a few things they don’t. A plan emerges. Princess Myrcella has been led to believe that Gerold Dayne (aka Darkstar) tried to kill her and that Ser Aerys died protecting her. Doran mainly wishes to maintain a holding-pattern, and will send Lady Nym in his stead to King’s Landing. He has heard of a fleet departing from Lys. He hopes this is Quentyn with dragons and Daenerys. Of course, we know that it’s the lost prince, aka Young Griff. Either way, it could go well, for them.

This chapter was interesting. I didn’t remember any of the players well, but they do have an interesting plot. One of the Sand Snakes is apparently wearing a see-through dress, which I found a bit odd and rather unlikely, but ho hum. I like Prince Doran’s cunning. I like that we’re hearing of some interaction between what’s going on in the south and Westeros, finally. I like that everyone’s going to be very surprised when they find out whose fleet it is. I do feel sorry for poor Quentyn, though, off on his fool’s quest with his family thinking he might somehow have succeeded already. Smart though they may be, they clearly have no idea of the scale of the task they have set him.

Read Along with Rhube 18: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 35 & 36

(Index to previous ADwD posts here.)

Sorry to keep you waiting for this one, had to try and get on top of real life things for a while. But I’m still reading, and this behemoth ain’t gonna review itself. Let’s get to it!

Chapter 35: Jon

Short and sweet, this one. Time has come to swear in some new men of the watch, and some of them want to do it before a tree of the old gods. This means going out into the lands beyond the Wall. For some reason, Jon decides to go out with the men escorting the new blood. I’m kind of with Dolorous Edd on this one – he points out that, nice though the gesture is, Jon should really be thinking of looking after himself as Lord Commander. Nevermind, it means we get eyes and ears outside the Wall.

So, they head on out and it turns out the weirwood is rather farther from the Wall than I supposed from when Jon went to take his oath there. It’s late in the night by the time they arrive, and they do so to find a bunch of wildlings huddled around the tree, come to die before their gods, because they had nowhere else to go. Things are a bit tense for a moment, especially as one of the wildlings is a giant, who starts roaring something unintelligible to most of the men. Fortunately, though, one of the swearees is a former wildling himself, and he is able to speak the Old Tongue. He talks the giant down and is able to explain that they’ve just come to worship themselves. Once communication is established, they’re also able to invite the wildlings back to the Wall with them, which they’re pretty willing to do, seeing as they’re near death, and the only reason they didn’t go surrender to the Wall in the first place is that they heard about Melisandre’s burning of weirwood in her fake Mance-killing show. Nice one, Melly.

So, Jon is now up some new recruits, including a giant. He gets back to the Wall somewhat later than intended, but fairly safe and well. He finds a letter waiting for him from Stannis, saying that he’s taken Deepwood Motte and plans to march on Winterfell to take it and save Jon’s sister, if he can. Jon ponders that if Stannis were his brother Robert, he’d take his men on a forced march and probably get there with the advantage of time and ahead of the snows. Stannis is unlikely to do this, however, so it’s probably not going to end well.

I liked this chapter – I like that some of the wildlings are integrating and actually choosing to take the Black. I like that the wildling, Leathers, is able to use his knowledge of the Old Tongue to the advantage of the Night’s Watch to bring more wildlings into the fold. I like the exploration of religious tensions. There’s a little mention of further tensions with the women who have volunteered to help man the Wall, but I can’t say it overly engaged me. Having women in your army causes tensions – wah wah – that doesn’t mean they aren’t good fighters – wah wah – but some men can’t help themselves anyway – wah wah. Nothing wrong with dealing with this issue, it’s just that so far it’s very much predictable and uninteresting. Clearly we’re being set up for some Event further down the line, but there’s nothing to write home about, or to the Internet with, yet. This chapter progressed things a bit, but didn’t do that much more.

Chapter 36: Daenerys

The predicted waves of plague-riddled Astapori have arrived at Meereen. They’re starving and dying. Some say they are eating their dead. Against everyone’s guidance, Daenerys goes out to deliver the food herself. Appalled at their conditions, and knowing that things will only get worse if the people don’t wash and dispose of the dead properly, Dany gets down off her horse and goes to help them herself, shaming everyone else into joining her. Everyone thinks this is a bad idea, but Daenerys reassures herself that the blood of the dragon never gets sick, which I guess is nice for her, if true, although I don’t know about her men.

So, they feed and wash the sick and fifty of her Unsullied go to help burn the bodies of the dead. Then they return to the palace and wash a lot. After which Dany has to go speak to the Graces about her upcoming wedding, where they try to force a number of ‘merely symbolic’ concessions on her, including an examination of her lady-parts to verify that she’s still fertile… which of course she isn’t. It’s not clear whether she wins the day on that, although she concedes virtually everything else, including washing Hizdahr’s feet as a symbol of her subservience. Dany demands that he should wash her as well, which he concedes to, but I can’t help but feel that if this marriage goes through it’s not going to be as much to her liking as she thinks it’ll be.

After this, Daario arrives with bad news. Hearing that he’s covered in blood, Dany breaks her resolve not to see him anymore, although it turns out that the blood is mostly someone else’s. His news shocks everyone: Brown Ben Plumm has gone over to the Yunkai’i. I don’t know if I’m supposed to remember this dude, but I don’t. Dany does, though, and she’s as shocked as everyone else. Is this one of her predicted betrayals? If this is the one for money, was she wrong about Ser Jorah? (Answer: yes, but I guess she lacks our omnipotent perspective.) She commands the closure of Meereen’s gates, even though this means that the Astapori will be left helpless outside.

After this, Daario and Dany are left alone and she gives into her inexplicable desire to sex him up. Apparently realising she’s unsure about what the prophecies mean anymore means that she now thinks Daario won’t be one of her betrayers? Don’t ask me, I don’t get any of this line of character motivation. All I can think is that this dude has killer pheromones. His final line before she ends the chapter by saying ‘What are you waiting for?’ is to boast that he’s had a thousand women before her. I guess it must be true that some women are turned on by lines like this, but to me it’s not only laughably cheesy, but the cheese is an unpleasant, oily sort of cheese. Eh… I’m bored of bitching about the Daenerys/Daario plotline. If you’ve come this far with me you know why it bothers me, and, to be honest, this is probably the least offensive chapter in which he has featured. At this stage I just have to go ‘Lust is blind’ and hope that it won’t be too long before his inevitable betrayal.

As for the rest of the chapter, well, I’m glad the war appears to finally be reaching her. I know it fits with the realism that armies take a while to get together and go whether they need to be, but we’ve been doing an awful lot of treading water down here in the southerly plotlines. The plague-filled Astapori outside the walls are interesting, though. If the Yunkai’i are in for a siege then that’s going to cause them problems. Biological warfare FTW!

And that’s about it, for now. Toodle-pip!

Read Along with Rhube 17: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 33 & 34

(Index to previous ADwD posts here.)

It’s a bumper ADwD weekend, here in Womblevonia. I’m still playing catch-up with my reading and trying to make sure this doesn’t end up as something I doggedly do all winter as some kind of penance for my geek-sins. Not that I’m not enjoying it, it’s just that I don’t have a lot of time left over to review anything else, atm, and I know not everyone comes to ISotHM for the RAWR.

Let’s get started!

Chapter 33: Tyrion

This is a nice little chapter, mostly about character development, but that’s OK.

Tyrion and Ser Jorah have set sail for Slaver’s Bay, and taken poor Penny, the dwarf girl who’s brother was killed in Tyrion’s place, with them. Jorah is mostly drunk, seasick, and taciturn. Tyrion is mostly bored. He talks to a red priest who’s on board for a bit and reads the three books the ship lays claim to. Penny mostly hides away in her cabin, grieving. She doesn’t know anyone except Tyrion and Jorah, and she’s understandably not comfortable in their presence at first. Tyrion determines to be a friend to her when Jorah refuses, however, and eventually wins her trust. Jorah suggests that he sleep with the girl, but Tyrion doesn’t fancy her, even when she starts angling at him either as a bed-companion, or as someone to take her brother’s role in the comedy dwarf jousting that used to earn her a living.

The chapter ends as they pass near the ruins of Valyria, but not so near as to see it. That, we are told, is to become cursed. We learn that Tyrion’s uncle, Gerion, went to Valyria and never returned. Tyrion had begged Lord Tywin to let him go along, but Tywin forbade. It sounds as though there was a massive earth-movement – quakes and volcanoes, sinking cities beneath the waves and turning the sea to acid. Nice. Tyrion discusses it with the red priest, Moqorro, who also has visions, just like Melisandre. He has seen that others seek Daenerys, including a ‘tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood’.

So, no real events, in this chapter, but a lot of colour. You know I like the whole lost-civilisation thing, and Valyria has been hovering in the background, a looming past that we see only tantalising glimpses of. (Is it bad that I sort of want Martin’s next series to be a prequel? In the unlikely event that he finishes this one, that is?) I may get a bit drowned in visions, though. I sort of like it, but at times the sudden upsurge in magic in this book is too sharp a contrast with its notable virtual non-existence in the earlier volumes. I’ve known many people to praise the originality of the series as a fantasy tale with relatively little magic. Well. It’s certainly not that anymore.

The twisted black thing with one eye and many arms is intriguing, though. Methinks this is not Quentyn. Daenerys’s missing black dragon, perhaps? Not with the many army and only one eye. It sounds more figurative – could be the plague from Astapor, but then, what’s the eye? Curiouser and curiouser.

I like that Tyrion befriends Penny, and also that he does not sleep with her. I had a fear for a while that he might, and it would be all ‘Gosh, isn’t it just easier when people stick to their own “kinds”?’, but fortunately, it wasn’t. I sort of like that Jorah callously suggests it, though. It rounds out his character. Loyal he may be, but that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. I wonder if those lines will make it into the TV series, if they make it that far. It does underline that there are some of the differences in characterisation, however much my hormones would like imagine Ser Jorah as he is in Iain Glen’s portrayal.

I both like and don’t like Tyrion’s attitude to Penny’s name. He’s disgusted by the fact that she’s chosen a name for herself that signifies her worth as equivalent to the smallest denomination of currency. He therefore refuses to call her by her name. He’s right in his analysis, and that it is a sad thing that she devalues herself so. At the same time, though, that is the name that she chose for herself, and there’s something a bit distasteful in the fact that he refuses to use it. It’s disrespectful of her and looks down on her for not having the intelligence to recognise how stupid her name is and that she should have the self-respect to choose a better one. Oh, Tyrion, you’re too smart for this – have the sense to recognise the irony in what you’re doing.

It sort of hits a nerve for me. I chose the name ‘Rhube’ as my Internet handle more than a decade ago. Actually, it goes back to before I was on the net – back when fans communicated almost solely via fanzines. I initially chose the name ‘Spacehippy’ for my interactions with ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the Hitch-Hiker’s fanclub. But someone assumed I was a man, and at the tender age of 14 I was too embarrased to correct them, and chose to go by ‘Rhubarb’ instead. I won’t bore you with the details, but ‘Rhubarb’ had a meaning for me and tickled me. When a penpal I got through ZZ9 took to shortening it to ‘Rhube’ I was flattered by the affection this signified. When the Internet entered my life and I started frequenting my first online forum, the Star Ship Titanic help forums, it was only natural that I take the name ‘Rhube’ with me. I have a lot of good memories tied to that name, memories that stand in stark contrast to the associations I have with my real name. There’s a power in choosing a name for yourself, one that I think Penny probably knows well. Imagine how I felt, then, on entering my university creative writing group’s forum, when one of my new university friends told me ‘Great to see you here, but we have to find you a new name – that’s AWFUL’. His objection? ‘Rhube’ sounds like ‘Rube’, which is apparently a slang term I’d never heard of for ‘country bumpkin’. It simply wouldn’t do for me to call myself something that, in his eyes, undervalued me and revealed my ignorance.

Took me a long while to get over the anger and shame generated by that careless comment about how stupid I had been not to respect myself more in my choice of name. Now I know that he was the idiot, and have embraced my self-chosen name again, but I’m still angry that I allowed him to colour my thought that way. So… I guess what I’m saying is: it’s awesome that Martin is presenting this nuanced look on the complexities of prejudice and respect, but all I want to do is just shake Tyrion and say: ‘Grow up! Do her the decency of respecting her choices, whatever they may be, gods damnit!’ Hope it comes out and they have a blistering row that brings him to his senses.

Chapter 34: Bran

Ohhhhh, this shit is creepy.

Bran continues life with the children of the forest and the greenseer that’s mostly just a corpse wired into a tree, now. He learns to control ravens, and that the reason people in Westeros use ravens rather than pigeons to carry their messages is that the First Men learnt from the children to slip into the skins of the ravens and speak the messages directly, rather than tying scraps of paper to their legs.

Bran is also getting far too comfortable about using Hodor to go places and do things. He’s also clearly working up to using Hodor to have a physical relationship with Meera. Not convinced she’ll be 100% cool with that, dude. Plus, they’re eating a blood soup of unknown meat – what are the odds this turns out to be man flesh?

Towards the end of the chapter they decide that it’s ‘time’. The children give Bran a paste of weirwood seeds, the mush of which apparently has red veins in it from the red sap of the trees. I’m not entirely clear how that works. I’d have assumed that if you mush it up it would go a pinky colour, but whatever. With some reluctance, Bran eats the mush and finds that he can see things through any weirwood tree he chooses, and because time feels different to the trees, a moment in the past can feel as present as now. Bran sees his father as a younger man beneath their tree back at Winterfell, and as he calls out to him Ned almost seems to hear him.

When Bran wakes up, Hodor carries him to his bed in the darkness. Neither Jojen nor Meera are there, Meera having wandered off with a case of the sads earlier. There’s something ominous about their absence. Bran resolves to stay awake until Meera gets back, but instead he slips into visions of the tree at Winterfell again, going rapidly back in time to what seems to be its beginning, where a woman slits the throat of a captive in what seems to be an offering. At the end, Bran cries out, asking them to stop, and one is left wondering whether this is only happening in the deep past at Winterfell, or if something is happening to Bran himself, or one of his friends. Meera’s and Jojen’s cryptic comments hint at something like that. It’s not clear what there is for them to do here, but it seems that Jojen, at least, does not expect to be going back down south.

So, anyway: super creepy. Suggestions of cannibalism are rife, whether real or symbolic. I have to say, the whole ‘going into the tree’ thing, with roots wrapping round and through your mouldering corpse, is squicking me out. I have actually had nightmares about it, people. I don’t want this for Bran. It’s not clear that he wants it, either, he’s just kind of going along with it, not least because no one else has offered him an option of a viable active life where it doesn’t matter that his back is broken. I keep wanting for him to stand up and say ‘no!’, but I don’t think he’s going to. And I guess that’s maybe part of my problem. He’s still so young and impressionable, he’s too easily led, too eager to show that’s he’s a brave man and will give things up if called upon. I don’t think I’m going to be happy with how this ends, and I can’t decide if it’s the book being good in taking me to extremes, or if I actually just don’t like it. I think it’s probably the former, but… what can I say? I’m uncomfortable. I’m half dreading the next Bran chapter because I’m not sure I want to find out what’s happened.

But the book keeps rolling on. Tune in next time for more Read Along with Rhube!

Read Along with Rhube 16: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 31 & 32

(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)

This is starting to feel like a captain’s log – the numbers are losing all meaning. Or at least, such is the sort of thought that strikes me on a Saturday morning.

Let’s do this thing!

Chapter 31: Melisandre

So, this was an interesting chapter. We finally get to see inside the head of Lady Melodrama. Turns out she’s intentionally all show, her clothes filled with the fantasy showman’s staple of powders and other things designed to make her look impressive. Not that she doesn’t do real magic. The chapter opens with Melisandre as she seeks visions in her fire. She prays to R’hllor to see Stannis, or the girl she believes is Jon Snow’s sister, but these are not the things she is shown. Instead she sees ‘A wooden face, corpse white‘, which sees her back, next to a boy with a wolf’s face. She hears voices ‘Melony’ cries one, ‘Lot Seven’ says another. A great grey cliff, full of caves, where fires go out one by one as a white mist rises, leaving only skulls, which mean death. She sees Jon Snow with skulls all around him. In other words, plenty of fodder to keep the reader flipping back and forth going ‘Ooo, is this the bit that was what was meant by the cliff and those skulls?’ etc and so on.

Some of it we can interpret for ourselves already. The wooden-faced corpse next to the boy with the wolf’s head who sees her back must be the greenseer and Bran. She assumed this is ‘the enemy’ – is she right? Surely they are both on roughly the same side… but we don’t really know what the greenseer’s gameplan is. As for Jon Snow surrounded by death, well, that’s hardly news. Interesting, though, that she asks R’hllor to show her a glimpse of ‘Azor Ahai’ ‘your king, your instrument‘, and she is shown Jon, and not Stannis.

There’s also another bit of magic revealed in this chapter. Melisandre calls ‘Rattleshirt’ to her and tells him off for not wearing his armour of bones. They talk about a spell, a glamour… and I don’t now about you, but it was starting to fall in place by this point. You remember how suss it was when ‘Mance Rayder’ denied his own identity as they killed him? How Rattleshirt moved much too quickly for a man his size when Jon fought him? Well, it turns out that (quelle suprise) that wasn’t Mance Rayder at all, but the Lord of Bones, Rattleshirt. Burning him alive helped to seal the illusion cast on Mance himself to make him appear to be Rattleshirt, thus allowing Lady M to spare him despite the need to kill him as a traitor. This is nice from the magic point as well – seemed like an awful waste of king’s blood to produce Stannis’s light-show with the sword, didn’t it? It also seemed a bit weird to find out that Lady M was capable of mind-control. But, of course, if R’hllor is a god of light, then the magic his servants work will be the play of light – seeing and illusions. The ring ‘Rattleshirt’ wears is not to keep him under Lady M’s control, it is to maintain an illusion, which makes a lot more sense.

Anyway, Lady M wants to win Jon’s trust by saving his sister, but she knows that he won’t send men after the girl himself, so she proposes to send Rattleshirt to save her instead. Jon, of course, laughs at this – the Rattleshirt he knows is as likely to kill and rape his sister as save her. So Lady M must reveal her hand, and they let Jon in on the secret.

It’s a nice chapter. Lady M still isn’t exactly my favourite character, but I was crying out for her to have a bit more depth, and now she has it, along with some explanation as to why she seemed to be all show before. It’s fitting and it works. I’m also much more at ease with the spell concealing Mance Rayder’s identity as opposed to controlling Rattleshirt. It makes much more sense, and is actually pretty cool. Also: yay! Mance Rayder isn’t dead!

Chapter 32: Reek

Poor Reek, he is a broken man. In this chapter, Lord Roose comes in to give Ramsay a bit of a telling off about being so publicly vile, then takes Reek away with him… although not before Ramsay commands him to spy on his father for him, and promised to take another finger off Reek when he returns. Dick.

Roose may be cruel and stern and heartless in his own way, but he proves somewhat less so than Ramsay. On their ride, he talks to Reek like a human being. Roose tells him about the ‘first’ Reek, who was sent to Ramsay as a servant and companion to keep him in line when he was a boy. Instead, they seem to have encouraged each other in depravity. He also confesses that he’s fairly sure that Ramsay killed his true-born heir, and that he expects the bastard to kill any new sons he makes with his new wife, also. Roose also reveals his plan to clean Reek up and make him presentable, but Reek begs him not to do so. Finally, they arrive at their destination and Roose introduces Reek to Lady Barbrey, who is shocked by what Ramsay has done to Theon Greyjoy. She says: ‘What did your bastard do to him… Is he mad?’ to which Roose replies: ‘He may be. Does it matter?’ Being introduced as Theon is too much for Reek, though, he falls to his knees, denies his identity, and says: ‘My name is Reek… It rhymes with freak.’

That’s a horrible last line. I haven’t been entirely sold on Reek’s habit of recalling his name by saying afterwards ‘it rhymes with x’. I mean, I do buy it that he would invent such a device for remembering his new name by, but as a literary device, punctuating his chapters, I was somewhat uncomfortable with it, especially as some of the words used for ‘x’ seemed jarring and out of place. I was worried we were building up to something like this, and, for me, it really didn’t work. It felt cheesy and forced, not helped by the fact that ‘freak’ is the worst possible choice of word for the ‘climax’. It’s a bit too knowing a choice for someone as mad as Reek clearly is, and too modern-sounding a word for the setting.

I should be clear: I am whole-heartedly of the view that all fantasy works are set in translation, and thus a certain amount of modern slang and phrasing is not entirely out of place. ‘Freak’ is not in and of itself a specifically modern turn of phrase, but it feels out of sync with the tone. Used in an earlier iteration it might have worked, but left dangling at the end of the chapter, as the climax… it didn’t have the strength of authenticity to carry it. The whole set-up felt a bit forced to begin with, and the choice of word just let the moment fall flat.

That said, this was an otherwise well-constructed chapter. Reek’s story required some relief, it was getting just too unremittingly awful. This isn’t a point about unbearable horror, but about the maintenance of dramatic tension and keeping the audience on side. If we’d had yet more unpleasantness for Reek with no end in sight it would have lapsed from stomach-churning horror into dullness. The reader would have thrown up his or her hands and said: ‘We get it! Ramsay is evil and he’s driven Reek mad. Yawn.’ So Roose needed to come in to ‘save the day’, but he strikes just the right note of ‘I don’t wish you any ill, but I’m not exactly a good man myself, and I’m only doing this because you’re useful.’ It’s nicely handled. I just wish the final line hadn’t been so forced.

And that’s it, for now. Tune in next time for more A Dance with Dragons

Read Along with Rhube 15: Chapters 29 & 30

(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)

Two posts, so close together, what’s going on? What’s going on is that this book got gripping and I’m trying to catch my reviewing up with my reading. That, and if I kept the same pace I was keeping I’d be doing this through until Christmas. Onwards!

Chapter 29: Davos

Things are actually happening for Davos, too! He spends a while in an unusually pleasant (i.e. not horrible) dungeon being looked after by a man who refers to him as ‘dead man’ and likes to show him his weapons (fortunately, not in that way). He writes some sad little letters to his family and mourns that he could not have been a better husband and father. Finally, Lord Wyman Manderly sends for him…but not to kill him. For, you see, it has been a ruse! The jailor kept calling him a dead man because, as far as everyone else is concerned, he is dead. They killed some criminal and stuck his head and hands on poles, complete with an onion stuck in the mouth. Nice.

It turns out Wyman isn’t as thick as he was pretending (and, you know, I think we all had our suspicions, there). By fake-killing Davos, Wyman has managed to get his son back. Now Wyman wants to strike a bargain. He’s murderously mad at the Freys, but he’s a Northman at heart. He’ll give Stannis his allegiance on one condition: that Davos smuggles one of Ned Stark’s sons to safety. You see, Theon’s squire escaped from the slaughter at Winterfell, and he saw the two boys escape. One to the north, and one to the south. I assume the southerly one is Rickon, I honestly don’t remember this part. Anyway, that’s Lord Wyman’s price. But apparently Rickon has been taken somewhere so terrifying that they eat human flesh. I have no idea what this means. I know they do that in Astapor, but it doesn’t seem likely that Rickon is gone there.

Anyway, this was exciting and conspiratorial. Davos’s part is actually coming into play! Plus, some people know that Theon, turncloak though he may be, did not kill the Stark boys. Which is nice. I feel so sorry for Theon, now. I doubt that being known will help him, but still. And even if people are taken in by Fake!Arya, people know that Rickon lives and will accept him in precedence over her. I may not like the whole Boys First thing, but the thought of Ramsay in charge of Winterfell of stomach-churning.

A nice little chapter, full of intrigue.

Chapter 30: Daenerys

Things still suck in Meereen. Hizdahr is doing surprisingly well at keeping the peace, but they’re hemmed in on all sides and blockaded from the sea. It’s also suggested that the reason Hizdahr is doing so well is because he is the Harpy – the head of the Sons of the Harpy who have been killing all her freedmen. Daenerys doesn’t believe this, and, for what it’s worth, neither do I, but I’m willing to admit I may get egg on my face about that.

Then, just as things are looking sucky, a man arrives in the city from Astapor, muttering ‘She is burning’ – i.e. Astapor is on fire. He then collapses and dies. Not only has civil war utterly taken over the city, but it seems to have the flux. This is confirmed when more refugees arrive, and Daenerys realises that soon all the populace of Astapor will be fleeing this way, full of plague. Plus, they now know the Yunkai’i have hired mercenaries and are coming. She needs to take action, and soon. Some say she should kill all the refugees, some say she should use her dragons to attack the Yunkai’i, some that she should hole up in the city and simply let no one in. Ultimately, though, she knows she cannot fight two wars and a plague all at once. She feels guilt for the fate of Astapor, and cannot kill the refugees, but she orders a camp to be set up to contain them. She is not yet prepared to use her dragons (WTF are you going to use them for, Daenerys? If they’re going to eat people you might as well keep them happy and send them to eat the enemy), but knows she needs the whole city behind her. Hizdahr’s done pretty well at keeping the peace, she decides it’s time to marry…

Again, a nice little chapter. Tense and quickly paced. Things are getting bad in Meereen, and I feel that Daenerys needs to bring it out of the bag soon. Marrying is probably the right move, under the circumstances, but it’s worrying for the long view. How is she going to marry Quentyn? Maybe Hizdahr will get killed in the fighting, having bought her peace and stability in Meereen so that she can at least move on. Even so, what will Quentyn think if he arrives, finally in Meereen and she’s already married? What will Young Griff think, if he hears? Never bank on winning the affections of a woman you’ve never met if you’re depending on it to win a war you’ve already started.

Everything’s hanging in the balance, and that’s just where it needed to be to keep me well and truly hooked. Hussar!

Read Along with Rhube 14: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 27 & 28

(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)

An aside about the physical object: I still have no regrets about buying the hulking mass of maybe-I-won’t-read-this-one-whilst-I-walk-to-work; I still think the cover art is chic and stylish; the matt finish, though? Umm. Let’s just say that I have never managed to crap up the cover of a book quite so badly before, and this baby has almost never left the house since I brought it home. I’d show you a picture, but it’s late and my main light crapped out a couple of days ago – I’m typing by lamp-light – so if I took a photo you wouldn’t see much. (And yes, I said a couple of days ago. I haven’t replaced it yet. I am simultaneously afraid of potential spiders in the lampshade and in the box where I keep my spare bulbs. That, and I’m lazy. Do you want me to write a review, or do you want me to change a light-bulb? Only one practical thing per evening, folks!)

Chapter 27: Tyrion

Did I mention that I liked this chapter? I liked this chapter. I really liked this chapter. Tyrion and Ser Jorah brought together at last! And then…! With the…!

Daenerys and Jorah

Whatever could they mean?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s have a recap. Last we saw him, Tyrion was being abducted by an anonymous ‘knight’ who was taking him to see the ‘queen’. We were obviously supposed to assume that this was Cersei; I dunno about you, but I was rooting for Ser Jorah taking him to see Daenerys anyway. You all know I want to get Tyrion and Daenerys together, and apparently I now have a crush on Ser Jorah, so I was enjoying that, too. It has been alleged on Twitter that my current infatuation has more to do with the fact that Iain Glenn plays him in the TV series than the character himself. I can’t imagine what would give anyone that idea. I mean, what’s sexy about this (above-right)? And, no, I didn’t publically melt into a puddle on seeing that he was in Downton Abbey. Anyone who says differently has obviously been hypnotised by his deliciously reverberating voice… Ummm.

Honestly, I can’t remember whether I gave two hoots about Ser Jorah before I saw the TV series. It’s astonishing the things I have forgotten, and I usually have an annoyingly good memory for books. (Annoying, because it makes them difficult to reread.) But I must confess that it rather suggests he wasn’t really on my radar before. I don’t especially care. Some of the actors on Game of Thrones have differed sufficiently from my mental picture such that stepping back into the book version caused a bit of a jar. Despite my adoration of Peter Dinklage, and the fact that Tyrion was always one of my favourite characters, I simply can’t deny that I don’t find the Tyrion of the books sexy at all, whereas, Dinklage? Yes, I would. They’re similar, but subtly different characters. Tyrion of the books is funny and engaging and clever, but his charisma lacks the youthful freshness of Dinklage’s portrayal – it’s just a shade more bitter, more mature. But Ser Jorah… however he was written before, the writing now melds seamlessly with the picture in my head created by Game of Thrones and Iain Glenn’s delectable portrayal. Gosh. What a shame.

Anyway, Jorah is taking Tyrion south, apparently not having told him his name or anything like that. Tyrion remains sure he’s being taken to Cersei for a surprisingly long period of time, even after he figures out who Jorah is. I mean, come on – Westeros is in the north, what way are you going, Tyrion? You know there’s more than one queen. Why wouldn’t the man admit it if he were taking you to Cersei?

Ah well, it makes for a nice bit of tension. You know I love a bit of concealed identity, and we get two for one in this chapter – after all, Tyrion cuts a recognisable sort of figure as well. They nicely dance around the issue through most of the chapter, then Jorah takes Tyrion to see the widow of the waterfront, aka Vogarro’s whore. The widow is a lady who used to be a whore, but was then married by a very influential man. After his death she inherited his fortune and carried on his works and made his power her own. If she weren’t a former slave, she would almost certainly have been elected as a Triarch, despite the disadvantages of her gender – there is precedence, we are told. If anyone can get them passage to Meereen on the sly, it is she.

Of course, once Jorah reveals that it’s Meereen he’s headed to, Tyrion practically wets himself with laughter. It’s a nice moment, but I would have felt it more if it didn’t require Tyrion to hold the idiot ball for a bit. Nevermind. It’s a small part of a stonking chapter.

Of course, the widow knows exactly who they are and that they have nothing she wants. Or rather, they might do, but Jorah isn’t as quick as Tyrion at working out what that is, and he foolishly offers her money – as though she needed that. In the meantime, Tyrion has been clocked by someone. A fellow dwarf, and a young one. This was a tense and interesting part, well-played. Lots of things were racing through my mind. If this person is a dwarf, what if this is actually the child of Tyrion and Tysha, grown up to hate him? That’s stupid, of course, dwarfism isn’t usually hereditary and how would the child recognise him anyway? But hey, it’s fantasy, who knows? O’course, it could also just be a short person, like, say, Arya? Come to kill Tyrion for trying to murder her brother? (She doesn’t know the truth of that, after all.) It’s also nicely played, there, as the person, when they come charging at Tyrion, does so saying it’s because he got her brother killed…

But, of course, it’s neither of those things. It turns out to be one of the dwarves that were jousting as entertainment for Joffrey’s wedding feast. After Tyrion killed Joffrey, some idiots killed her brother, mistaking him for Tyrion, or at least thinking they could say it was him. It’s also a nice moment because it gives both Tyrion and Jorah the chance to show that they’re not bad sorts, and gallant in their own ways. Jorah protects Tyrion, Tyion tells Jorah to let the girl go, once he realises what’s up, and Jorah does, apologising to her.

In response, the widow says: ‘Knights defend the weak an protect the innocent, they say. And I am the fairest maid in all Volantis’. Her words are scornful in tone, but not entirely, methinks, in substance. She dismissed Jorah’s reasons for taking Tyrion to Daenerys because they sounded like the sort of romantic twaddle that could only be lies. Yet she’s seen that he does have a sort of honour, and she clearly likes Tyrion. Choosing to believe that he really intends to serve Daenerys, the widow tells Jorah: ‘Should you reach your queen, give her a message from the slaves of Old Volantis… Tell her we are waiting. Tell her to come soon’ – and, man, I felt a tingle just copying that out. It’s a fabulous line with a finely crafted lead-up.

Tyrion’s idiot-ball induced stupidity is more than made up for in other ways. Firstly is his insight into the widow. He quickly sees that what she wants is respect. She’s a tough, smart lady who has earned power and wealth against all the odds, building a place in the community that, despite the fact that she is called by two names that define her in terms of her relationship to a man, is her place and her power. Yet she is barred from having her status recognised and achieving the election she clearly deserves because she was once a slave. She wants recognition, and she feels an affinity for a woman who was sold to a man and carved a nation and an army for herself by freeing slaves. She doesn’t want fairytales of princesses being rescued, she wants emissaries that will take her message to Daenerys and call her to Volantis – call her to take her war to them.

Tyrion also shows his smarts in other ways. You may recall my concerns about his plan for Young Griff to go north instead of south – that although it had some feasibility it under-estimated Daenerys and the distance between Meereen and Westeros. Turns out Tyrion didn’t think it was that great a plan either. He’s a disappointed to hear that Young Griff et al are headed north, rather than south. He recognises, as I suggested, that blood and a call to rally to someone else’s claim to the thrown aren’t going to greatly impress a queen like Daenerys. A call from another former slave and strong woman to come rescue slaves, however? She just might come to that.

I also enjoyed the relationship between Jorah and Tyrion. Methinks Jorah is starting to like Tyrion in spite of himself. A cliche? perhaps, but it’s well done.

Soon, my Dream Team will be coming together: Tyrion, Daenerys, Jorah, and Quentyn. Yes. This is what is going to happen. Nothing could possibly go wrong. It’s not like it’s a George R R Martin book, after all.

Oh wait. They’re all screwed, aren’t they?

Chapter 28: Jon

Less happens in this chapter. Some information gets exchanged, and some bits and bobs get set up.

Jon gets in on some training and shows he’s better than all the new recruits – quelle suprise – but then the Lord of Bones shows up and tests Jon’s metal. Jon finds him surprisingly spry for a man of his size. Hmm, isn’t that odd? Jon then gets a letter notifying him of Arya’s impending marriage to Lord Ramsay. And Jon is all ‘Noooo – I mean… oh dear. That poor girl. But she’s not my sister anymore. I am a good man of the Night’s Watch. I don’t have any sisters anymore. Nope’. But then Lady Melodrama Melisandre shows up and is all ‘I have seen your sister in my visions, Jon Snow… She’s running away. I can help you save her, if you give me your soul…‘.

It’s a nice little chapter that’s as long as it needs to be, and no longer. Lady M is still boring me to tears, and I’m all ‘But that’s not Arya‘, but it is Jeyne Poole, and that poor girl doesn’t deserve such a fate anymore than Arya does. Jon will be so sad when they rescue her (as they clearly will) and it turns out not to be his sister. But at least it looks like Ramsay won’t succeed in his aim of legitimising his rule of the North with this fake marriage to Arya. Not that you can ever bank on anything with these books.

Not much more to say about this chapter. If you’ve read any further (as I now have) you’ll know there are things about it that make you look back and go ‘Ohhhhhh’, but I aim to stay spoiler-free for all points up to the chapter currently being discussed, so I’ll leave it there. It’s past my bedtime, anyway.


Read Along with Rhube 13: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 25 & 26

(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)

Chapter 25: The Windblown

OK, I’m officially bored with the names that aren’t actually the names of the people whose point of view the chapter is from. Yes, it reflects the shifting identities they’re adopting, and there’s something kind of interesting about that. Also, ‘The Windblown’ is sort of appropriate, from that perspective, but ‘The Windblown’ isn’t even the new name of the person whose point of view the chapter is from, it’s the name of the company he’s joined. His new name is ‘Frog’, so, if we’re following the more interesting name-shift adopted for Theon Greyjoy, ‘Frog’ should be the new chapter title, as ‘Reek’ is for Theon.

It’s just messy, is all I’m saying. I’m used to looking at a chapter title and going ‘Oh, hurrah! A Tyrion chapter!’ or ‘Oh, A Daenerys chapter – is this going to be good or bad?’. Maybe that’s something Martin wants to undermine, but I rather like how my expectations for a chapter are sometimes formed by the name and then upset if the chapter goes in a different direction to what I expected.

Anyway, in case you were wondering (because it is a bit frustrating, isn’t it, when you’re trying to work out who exactly is being talked about whilst you’re trying to get into a piece of writing) this chapter is actually from Quentyn Martell’s perspective. Now he’s travelling with a company of mercenaries called ‘The Windblown’. They solved their dilemma about how to reach Daenerys without getting greyscale or dying on the Demon Road by signing up to fight in an army… that’s going to fight Daenerys. And that’s most of the dramatic tension for this chapter. Quentyn’s all worried because he’s off to fight the woman he’s meant to marry, but if they have to break their oaths and run away from the Windblown they’ll not only be oath-breakers, they’ll have a bunch of deadly mercenaries who know the land on their tails.

There’s something rather sweet and naive in the way they’re worried about breaking their oaths. Just about everyone else in these books has broken at least a dozen oaths or turned their cloak or something similar along the way. Usually they’ve decided to square it by adopting a new, slightly grimmer code of honour. These guys are all new and shiny.

Well, not quite so shiny anymore. The other purpose of this chapter is to let us know that sweet Quentyn has been exposed to the horrors of war at Astapor, which is a city that’s really, really gone to Hell. He’s levelled a bit in fighting, and also bit in War-Is-Hell. Bless.

Here be my new pet theory: whilst Young Griff is swanning off in the wrong direction making initially plausible but ultimately stupid tactical decisions in the game to win Daenerys’s hand, Quentyn is going to have seen the rougher side of the world, fought bloody and dirty and been thoroughly disabused of the idea that Daenerys is some pretty little princess waiting to be claimed. We see a little bit of that in this chapter, as he starts to hear the rumours that have been spread about her. He’ll arrive at Meereen having served time as the lowest of the low, changing himself to suit the needs of his situation, just like Daenerys. He’ll still be a little bit green, because he couldn’t possibly go through all the things she has, and I suspect he doesn’t have quite the inner command that she does, but that’s OK. She’s attracted to powerful, domineering men (I may not like it, but I can’t deny it), but we’ve already seen that she’s more prepared to make deals on marriage with men who are less imposing. She sends Daario away from her because she knows he’s a distraction and not good for her rule. She accepts Hizdahr’s offer as a business deal that has nothing to do with lust and all to do with striking the right deal. I’m also sure that part of what she responds to is his thoughtful and unpresumptuous manner. Whatever her desires are, she’s agreed to marry a man without half as forceful a personality as herself, and conscious or not I suspect that is a part of her choice.

Quentyn also isn’t so unfortunate as to have a better claim to the throne. Instead he offers money. Daenerys makes the deals that take her to her goals. She needs money. She has armies, but cannot feed them. She has cities, but she cannot keep the peace. She’s made one deal in favour of peace, I think she’d make another in favour of money. I don’t think Quentyn will win her with physical prowess or charisma, but if he’s shown himself competent and flexible – adaptable – and learnt a thing or two about fighting along the way without becoming arrogant… yeah, he might be in with a chance.

I’m Team Quentyn again. Yes, I changed my mind – these books do that to you, that’s why I like them.

Anyway, Quentyn also has good luck, which, as Machiavelli said, is an important part of being a good leader. The company he’s in has chosen to take both sides in the upcoming battle and sends all its Westerosi members out as defectors to greet Daenerys. Which actually means that Quentyn et al don’t have to defect at all! Hussar! Honour intact.

I enjoyed this chapter, but it’s not without flaws. The many and varied mercenary companies are interesting and colourful, but not always convincing. One is led by a girl, younger than Daenerys, who apparently bred and raised her slave-warriors. Something doesn’t scan, there. Might it be plausible that some enterprising young maid would set up her own company in mirror of Daenerys’s triumph? I don’t know. Maybe. She might try, I’d be surprised if she succeeded. But I’m pretty sure she couldn’t breed up men older than herself to fight for her.

Similarly, the stilt-walking Herons are completely implausible. That someone might breed up a company of abnormally tall slaves, even display them sometimes on stilts? Yeah, I buy that. I also understand the idea that these other companies are supposed to be representing the follies of people playing at war. But I can’t see them lasting a day being asked to march on stilts, let alone fight. Maybe someone will pitch up with links to examples of something like this from history, but right now it’s stretching my credulity.

Oh well, can’t have everything.

Chapter 26: The Wayward Bride

See, at least Quentyn has a reason to not go by his name if he’s being presented as a chamelion, but can’t we just call her ‘Asha’? No? Bah.

Asha Greyjoy is holed up in Deepwood and has just heard word of the fall of Moat Cailin. This leaves her very vulnerable. She can’t go back to the Iron Islands because her uncle has usurped her claim to the throne and married her in absentia to some old guy she has no interest in wedding. She’ll be disowned by everyone if she kneels to Stannis, and now she’s wide open to both Stannis and the Boltons. As she waits for attack and fails to decide what to do she has sex with some guy called Qarl after she repeatedly refuses him because she’s too tired and is not in the mood. But apparently she likes being taken by force after she’s clearly and firmly said ‘no’. I’ve already talked about the problems I had with this scene, so I won’t go into it again – I’m as bored with discussing this sort of thing as I’m sure you are.

After the sex, Stannis attacks, with the clansmen one assumes he won over, following Jon’s plan. They’ve dressed themselves in trees to hide their approach. Part of me likes the Shakespearean call-back to Birnam wood coming to Dunsinane – it’s a good idea, why not re-use it? But, on the other hand, I knew exactly what was going to happen the moment she noticed that the trees were making a lot more noise than they should have been. It felt a little obvious.

Asha makes the decision to flee into the woods rather than surrender or get slaughtered in the castle. She plans to make for her boats, but is attacked by the clansmen in the night. We’re left on a cliffhanger, with things looking very bad for Asha.

I hope she survives. Asha is a good character, and I enjoy her arse-kicking adventures. I suspect she will. Shortly before the attack Tris Botley tells her a tale of someone who challenged a kingsmoot because he could not be there to make a claim. This apparently tips off something in Asha’s brain that can better her situation, but we aren’t told what – only that it doesn’t apply to her claim to rule the Iron Islands. I’m kind of hoping it’s that she’s realised that you can’t be married to someone in absentia, which seems blindingly obvious, to me, but maybe they do things differently in the Iron Islands. In any case, the very fact that we don’t get to see what it was she realised suggests to me that she’s not dead yet. She better not be. That would be very annoying.


All in all, a solid couple of chapters, and I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed the chapter that followed them very much indeed! But, alas, I have not the time to review it now – you’ll just have to tune in for the next Read Along with Rhube to find out why!

Read Along with Rhube 12: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 23 & 24

(Index to previoues A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)

Gosh, I’ve done twelve of these things and we’re not even half-way through the book! In many ways this is a rather peculiar way to read a novel. I’m enjoying it, but at the same time I almost always have half a mind on what I’m going to say in my post afterwards. Or sometimes I will get really caught up in it, and I’ll think, better stop soon or I’ll have forgotten what I thought about the first few chapters of this read when I come to write the review. In general, though, A Dance with Dragons has been such a mixed bag that it’s usually OK. Part of the deal with the many characters POV thing is that you’re constantly changing about between characters that you really like and ones that you care less about, meaning that there are natural stopping point from time to time.

Anyway, enough of my blather about me. On to the main show!

Chapter 23: Daenerys

Oh Daenerys, Daenerys, whatever shall I do with you? You make me love you, and then you frustrate me so.

For the most part I liked this chapter. Further interesting politics. I like that Martin does interesting politics without making everyone flawlessly good like they were born knowing what they were doing. This is not The West Wing, with everyone spouting off snappy one-liners and miraculously untangling politics that the audience is running to keep up with (I say this with love), these are intelligent people in difficult situations. They do make brilliant moves, but they also get confused, overwhelmed, make mistakes, make decisions that are good from one point of view and bad from another, decisions that seemed wise at the time – even insightful – but that another perspective, or time, casts a different light on.

People are often pretty harsh about Catelyn for kidnapping Tyrion when she did, but what was she supposed to do? Sure, the evidence was circumstantial, but she had good reason to think that the Lannisters are devious buggers, there was an evident threat to her family, with good reason to think that Lannisters had killed the last Hand. She’d had warnings from her sister, who had walled herself away to keep her own son safe. And now this man pitches up at the same Inn as her, she tries to hide, but he recognises her. She can’t sit and pretend to be at ease with him, and he’ll probably never be in such a vulnerable position again, isolated from his family and its wealth. She has an opportunity to turn the tables on the man she believes tried to kill her son, and she seizes it. With hindsight it’s an incredibly stupid and fateful move, but it really wasn’t that dumb at that time in that place under those pressures.

I discussed in the last post that I think we’ve seen Jon make some understandable but ill-advised decisions recently, and I have a feeling we’re seeing Daenerys do the same. She’s in a difficult position. A position of both strength and weakness. She has risen from a place of begging and abandonment to being a queen in charge of an army, freeing slaves and terrorising regimes. She’s made a mistake in abandoning Astapor in terms of protecting the people she frees. She’s realised her mistake and wants to avoid doing the same in Meereen. But Meereen is not the same city, and she seems to have forgotten that she left Astapor not because she sought expansion and further conquest, but because she is building an army with an ultimate aim of going north to Westeros. She cannot hope to be queen of both Slaver’s Bay and Westeros. Empires are built on complex stable infrastructures, and she doesn’t have that. She’s not queen of a long-established, well-organised nation setting out for expansion. She’s one woman who with her dragons, her sharp mind, her birth-right, and her force of personality has called some people to her because they smell power, some because she offers freedom, and some because she threatens destruction. This is a power for either seizing one territory and making it her own, or marching through a bunch of territories, gathering people into her army, and taking with her to her eventual goal: Westeros.

She has to decide which is her true goal, and she hasn’t yet. And that’s the problem. In this chapter the Green Grace, an old woman of great power, goes to Dany to try and persuade her to marry a man of good standing from Meereen, to try and bring peace, Hizdahr zo Loraq. If she means to stay in Meereen and forge a new nation, it is the right choice. If she means to go on to Westeros, it is disastrous. In speaking to the man himself, she agrees to marry him if he can bring peace for ninety days and nights. In this time and place it is a good deal. She’s under immense pressure, and her power base is sorely threatened by her inability to maintain stability in the city. If he can do the task it will be exactly what she wants, but, equally, it seems a near impossible task, so she should have a great deal of time to think about a way out of her deal even if he does succeed. Taking the long view, though, whether she stays wants to stay in Meereen or go on to Westeros, marriage to this man is utterly the wrong choice. She will lose her independence and the power of the promise of her hand. Much of the book so far has been concerned with men who are desperately trying to reach her and win her because marrying her would mean so much. What’s more, marriage to her is simply worth so much more to a Westerosi man. What is her Targaryen blood to a man from Slaver’s Bay? Even her dragons are merely part novelty, part terror in these Southern lands. But in Westeros they mark her out as true royalty, and they have a specific significance with the threat of winter approaching.

Speaking of the dragons, this has been very badly handled. It’s understandable that she was shocked at the thought that one might have killed a child, especially as a mother whose own child was stillborn. But the dragons are a substantial portion of her power. She has lost one and her neglect of the others will be turning them against her and loosening her control of them. She needs to embrace their destructive power and use them as a threat. I’m not saying I want her to be a tyrant, but she is only weakening her own position by chaining up the source of a significant proportion of her power like this. It’s a powerful symbolic message that I doubt is lost on the people of Meereen. I’m surprised we havent already seen people commenting on the fact that she’s lost one. Frankly, I think we need to see her on the road with those dragons again, but that’s not going to happen if she’s waiting around for 90+ days seeing if Hizdahr zo Loraq can bring peace.

So, anyway, I think this is going to end badly, even though it seems surface wise of her to be taking responsibility for the carnage in Meereen. But I actually like that Martin is adding this complexity and depth to her character. I enjoyed this. What I did not enjoy were the scenes with Daario. In particular, the nature of her fantasies about him: ‘His kisses would be hard and cruel, she told herself, and he would not care if I cried out or commanded him to stop‘. I want to be very clear what my objection is, here. I completely understand that this is a fantasy, many men and women fantasise about sexual acts they do not wish to perform. Many men and women engage in consensual BDSM. There is nothing wrong with any of that, and given the unusual life Danerys has led it’s not implausible that she might like her sex a little rough. The problem is with the context. The context of fiction presenting a woman’s ‘No’ as meaning ‘Yes’. I find things like this deeply uncomfortable as they are presented as the norm when they are not the norm. We fight so hard to make it clear that ‘No means no’, and I know that BDSM people also fight hard to make it clear that they support safe play with clear boundaries and safe-words. Daenerys is fantasising directly about having her lover ignore her when she commands him to stop. By itself, it’s just a fantasy, but it fits in with the other problematic elements of Daenerys’s presentation, with the fact that she falls in love with her first rapist, with a history of fiction and real life that takes a woman’s words about whether she wants to engage in sex or not as not really serious, or probably part of a game. What’s more disturbing is that in a few chapters time another strong woman is taken by her lover after repeated and firm refusals, but ultimately gives in and decides she likes it. So close together it made for really disturbing and uncomfortable reading, for me. Just a little indication to clarify that this was part of a pre-established consensual pattern, or something in the narrative tone to at least acknowledge the problematic nature of the issue, could have made this OK. But there’s nothing, and that makes me deeply uncomfortable.

OK, let’s move on. It’s not all bad. Dany finally comes to see that Daario is an amoral sleazeball when he proposes slaughtering the great families of Meereen at her proposed wedding. That’s a step too far and too great a stain against her honour, and she sends him from her presence, ordering that he be taken to see someone else in future when he calls so that she isn’t tempted by her desires. Yet she still ends the chapter by thinking ‘What have I done?!’ Oh, Dany, you frustrate me so.

Chapter 24: The Lost Lord

The ‘Lost Lord’ is apparently Griff. I have to admit, I’m not a fan of all these titles as opposed to names in the chapter headings, especially as they don’t necessarily reflect anything the character is actually known by, but whatever. I enjoyed this chapter, and that is a good thing.

Following the loss of Tyrion, Griff decides to take Young Griff straight to his army and reveal him as the lost Prince Aegon. His army being the Golden Company. So named because their fallen apparently have their skulls gold-plated and displayed outside their HQ. Nice. It turns out that the current leader, who’s a bit of a money-grabbing cowardly twat, has already revealed the big secret to his Trusted Lieutenants. Because he’s awesome that way. Anyway, there’s then some debate about whether they should really go south to join Daenerys. It was all well and good when she seemed to be coming north, but she’s not anymore, and these guys are, at the end of the day, sellswords. Their roots in Westeros may be a point of pride, but what really binds them together is gold. The leader, Harry Strickland, seems keen to abandon the plan all together.

Fortunately, at this point, the prince steps up and proposes a new plan – Tyrion’s plan. They go back to Westeros and try to do the job without Daenerys. There’s some wisdom here, in that he definitely sells it to them the right way. They like a fight, they want to take the fight to Westeros, and doing it without Dany makes them all feel more manly. But I can’t help but feel some concern that no one worries about the point Tyrion mentioned: namely that they do not have the numbers to succeed without Dany’s help. Aegon/Young Griff carefully leaves that part out.

Here’s another thought on that. Tyrion reasoned that Dany is a rescuer, and will come to Aegon’s aid when she hears that the last of her line is gallantly losing a battle in Westeros. I’m not so sure. Dany identifies with slaves – she was effectively sold herself. I’m not sure that she identifies that hard with other Targaryens. Her brother was a twat, and I’m not sure she’s shed that many tears about his loss. We also saw in the previous chapter that she says ‘His forebears are as dead as mine’ when Hizdhar’s lineage is raised. She thinks she has a right to the Westerosi throne, and she has a vague general feeling that she wants to go ‘home’, but she’s not the lost little girl who wanted to go home, anymore. She’s a queen, and I’m not sure how well she’ll take to some upstart saying he has a better claim to her throne who decides to attack a country that already has too many kings when he clearly doesn’t have the forces to succeed. She’s spent her whole life working to raise a proper army, and she’s supposed to give over to him now? It’s a long way between Slaver’s Bay and Westeros – I’m not that sure that she’ll speed to his rescue. Especially if she already has a husband…

But hey, it’s still a smarter move than trying to persuade sellswords to go against their gold.

The chapter ends with another little twist. It turns out Griff senior has been hiding something. Despite the dire warning to Tyrion to cut off anything that’s going black, it seems that Griff himself is developing greyscale. But he’s decided to ignore this in favour of keeping going as long as the prince needs him. This could mean bad business down the line, though, after all, this is an illness that ends in madness…

Read Along with Rhube 11: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 21 & 22

(Index to previous ADwD posts is here.)

Chapter 21: Jon

Jon has sent all his friends away, and he’s feeling it. Or rather: he sent away everyone useful because they were his friends and he either wanted to protect them or worried that he wouldn’t be Lord Commanderish enough if he hung out with people who were his mates. In many ways I like Jon and consider him smart, sensible, and canny, but I think this was a big, big mistake that he’s only going to feel more as time goes on. If we suppose that Sam, Aemon, and Mance Rayder’s child didn’t die on the high seas then it’s probably a good move for them, but not for Jon and the wall. He’s sent away two of the most knowledgeable, trustworthy, wise people in his meagre army. He’s also sent his mates away, and I really don’t understand his reasoning, there. Sure, he can trust them to man other parts of the wall, but he needs trusted lieutenants – it’s OK to have good men you can trust, Jon!

Anyway, he’s not a complete numpty. He makes his move to recruit the wildlings to his cause. He goes to deliver what little they can afford to share (and, really, they can’t afford to share it). He says nothing as one woman pleads for an extra apple for her sick son who cannot make it out to claim his own fruit, and is refused. Cruel and heartless, but necessary. He then makes his call: you can eat as well as any member of the Night’s Watch if you agree to defend the Wall. They don’t have to sign up and speak the vows, they just have to obey orders and fight for him. It’s a good offer. The wildlings have come because they want the protection of the Wall and the Night’s Watch from the white walkers and wights, and who would turn down the extra food and decent lodgings? Sixty-three join, including spearwives and at least one feisty girl. I imagine we’ll be seeing more of that girl, and I don’t imagine she’s going to be having an easy time of it, but I’m pleased to see her.

I liked this chapter. I liked Jon’s deal, I liked that not everything is going cushy with him after sending his mates away, I liked the details of the wildling culture that they have brought with them. They’ve carved faces into the trees on the road to Mole-Town, which they now inhabit. Just like the faces on their god-trees. Which raises an interesting question: are god-trees grown or made? I always assumed they were a specific type of tree that people found and carved faces in, but what if they were once ordinary trees that had faces carved in them and became god-trees? Maybe this is a wild speculation, but then, why are there no god-trees growing wild? Or are there, somewhere? Are there wild gods? I’m probably reading too much into this, but I was surprised that the wildlings would carve faces into ordinary trees, and now I’m curious.

All in all, a good chapter.

Chapter 22: Tyrion

He’s not dead – phew! But he’s not necessarily safe from greyscale, either. They’ve bathed him in vinegar, but he’s now got to prick his extremities every day to check he still has feeling, and cut them off if he does not. Nice. Things never go well for Tyrion, do they? Bet Tysha will be extra glad to see her nose-less, possibly greyscale-infected, rapist and former husband now.

Tyrion and Young Griff have an interesting conversation. Tyrion gives the usual ‘trust no one’ speach, but he also gives some advice. If Young Griff goes to Dany begging she’ll laugh in his face. Young Griff can’t see how that could possibly be, but Tyrion is very insightful in imagining the sort of woman that would be forged out of the life Daenerys has had, and the sort of woman it would take to command Dothraki and march across the land freeing slaves. He suggests that the prince go north to invade Westeros – when Daenerys hears that a lost Targaryen prince is fighting to reclaim his land (but inevitably losing), she’ll rush to his aid and see him as an equal. It’s a good plan, but I don’t know if I want it to succeed or not. I know I said I was Team Young Griff and I wanted to see Tyrion and Dany together, but I’m not a fan of the idea of her being tricked like this, and I like to think that she’d still be arrogant enough to command superiority rather than equality from anyone she weds. I like my image of her as an Elizabeth I, playing men off each other not as a game but to retain her strength in a world that doesn’t like strong women.

Anyway, Tyrion suggests this, and we have no idea yet whether it will be accepted, my guess is: probably not. Or at least, not yet. This is still Griff Senior’s show, and he has other plans. Tyrion and Haldon go into town to get a feel for the mood of the people. It seems… mixed. An awful lot of slaves are hanging around to listen to a Red Priest preach in Daenerys’s favour, but other people seem much against her – that she doesn’t understand how the economy of the whole world rests on slavery, and will soon be crushed. Tyrion plays a game of Sheldon’s Three Person Chess cyvasse with a man called Qavo for information, and then decides to visit a brothel on the way back.

At the brothel he tries to get a woman who speaks the ‘Common Tongue’ (can’t we just say he speaks Westerosi? There clearly isn’t a common tongue in this world, so calling it this perplexes me) but fails. He gets drunk and talks way too much about who he is. When he emerges, there’s a knight waiting for him, saying he’s going to take Tyrion to the queen… but which one?