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 7: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 13 & 14

(Index of previous ADwD chapter reviews here.)

Sorry this was so long coming – it’s been a busy week and I found chapter fourteen rather annoying to start with, so wasn’t greatly drawn back to it. I polished it off this morning, though, and did find some positive things to say about it in the end. To the review!

Chapter 14: Bran

Someone finally got somewhere! Finally! There’s been such a lot of set-up and people pootling about on journeys but not actually getting anywhere or doing anything significant, but Bran did it – he reached the three-eyed crow. But he has to battle through a bunch of zombies, first, who are lying in wait for him and his party under the snow.

This was nicely done. I enjoyed the fight. I’m still a bit puzzled as to why the group spends a goodly little bit of time standing around discussing how they need to get a move on rather than talking and walking at the beginning, but ho hum. Once they get going and the white-walkers rise out of their snowy holes to attack, it’s all pretty cool. I loved the bit where Bran possesses Hodor’s body to save the large simpleton by directing his strength to battle the monsters and move in the right direction. Very interesting – especially with the question hanging over it of what would happen if Bran’s body were to be killed whilst he was in possession of Hodor. That said, I did find the comment ‘He wondered what Meera would think if he should suddenly tell her that he loved her’ to be rather out of left field. Is this Bran just thinking that he could mess with Meera’s head by having Hodor tell her the he loves her? Does Bran love Meera? Does Hodor? What? More context needed here, please!

Anyway, they battle the white walkers and escape into the cave that has been their destination with the help of a ‘child of the forest’ – a creature Bran recalls from Old Nan’s tales. (Just an aside, here, but I loved the moment in Game of Thrones, the TV show, where they have Old Nan tell Bran the scary stories of above the wall he really wants to hear. Very nicely done. Served for a very effective call back for this moment in my mind.) Alas, Brandon’s monster, the ranger, cannot enter, as there’s some kind of ‘No bad things allowed’ field surrounding the cave. Anyway, the child takes them down through the cave until finally they reach the three-eyed crow, who turns out not to be a crow at all, but a man or corpse with roots growing all through his wasted body.

It’s a nice image and nice for a character to actually reach their goal for a change, but I was starting to feel a bit of ‘wonderous new things overload’ towards the end of this chapter. For most of A Song of Ice and Fire these books have been curiously and interestingly devoid of fantastical elements. There was a rumour of dragons and white walkers, but little of magic actually seen. It was all politics and sex and violence. In some ways its great to be finally seeing the magic that underlies this world, but in others it’s a bit of a sudden shift. Now we have child-like beings with cat eyes leading us through magical caverns to an undying corpse-lord prophet. I dare say I’ll get used to it, but for now it’s a bit like walking into another book.

Chapter 14: Tyrion

Sadly, the start of this chapter is very familiar in style. Unlike Bran, Tyrion is nowhere near his destination, and I have a feeling he’s got a great deal of journeying left before he gets there. And now one of his companions is a septa who just happens to like getting naked and going for a swim in front of him every morning and who seems utterly cool with the fact that Tyrion makes no secret of perving over her whilst he does it. I’m not sure if I want to yawn or smash things. I just don’t know what this section added to this chapter except to make me feel alienated and objectified. Is something going to hang on this flirtatious septa’s nudist ways somewhere down the line? It doesn’t seem like they’re destined to have a relationship together – Tyrion’s fairly clearly hung up on the idea of finding Tysha and somehow persuading her that gang-rape is a thing that should be forgiven in the name of love.

Eventually, the chapter moves on and finally starts to have some interesting elements. Tyrion notes that there’s something decidedly fishy about the extensiveness of the education Young Griff is receiving from the Halfmaester (this keeps making my think of the Hoffmeister, help me). He then challenges the HoffHalfmeister to a game of not-chess*, the winner of which will win secrets from the other. We don’t find out exactly what it is that Tyrion wins, but I guess it’s something to do with the birth of a king, as Tyrion thinks something cryptic about this at the end of the chapter.

One thing I did really like about this chapter was the scenery in the last few pages. I’m a sucker for ruins, and the image of Nymeria’s palace at Ny Sar broken and home only to bonesnapper turtles was pretty striking. As was the appearance of the Old Man of the River – a turtle of truly massive proportions. I only wish this moment had been dwelt upon a bit more, as it’s quite a striking concept, but felt a bit thrown in at the last moment.

Overall, this was not my favourite chapter so far, but it did have a few nice elements, and has led me to speculate hat Young Griff is actually another suitor for Dany’s hand. Bless. He seems like a nice lad; she’d probably eat him alive. n the other hand, I might become Team Young Griff just so that she can get with a Nice Boy for a change – anything’s better than her current crush.

Tune in next time for more frolicking dragons!

* Incidentally, this version of fantasy not-chess reminded me rather strongly of Sheldon’s Three Person Chess from the Big Bang Theory. Annoyingly, YouTube won’t allow this video to be viewed embedded, so the below is just a pretty picture. You can view it here, though.

Read Along with Rhube 3: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 4 & 5

I’m hoping it doesn’t have to be said that all of these Read Along with Rhube reviews are going to be spoiler heavy. Essentially, I am assuming you’ve either read the chapters mentioned in the subject heading, or you don’t care. The nice thing is that if you’ve read some chapters, but not all, you can just pull up all the Read Along with Rhube posts via the categories, find where you’ve got to, and read only what you’ve already seen. I hope it works out like that, anyway.

On to the review!

Chapter Four: Bran

So, in this chapter we learn that Bran is not dead after all. Or rather, we’re reminded of that. As I mentioned in the previous RAWR post, I have rather lost track of some of the individual plots over the last few years in a way I hadn’t expected, and that’s a shame. I’m spending more time going ‘Ohhhhh yes, I remember’, or ‘Nope, sorry, still don’t have a clue’, rather than simply resuming a plot and excitedly pressing on to find out what happened. I could go on a Wikipedia spree and try to catch up, but apart from the fact that I want to avid accidental spoiling for other things, I think my confusion reflects something significant about the books and how they’ve been structured. I’m fully aware that George R R Martin is not my bitch or anyone else’s, but the long wait and unusual release decisions do have an effect worth recording.

So, here I am, dimly picking up the threads of Bran’s plot – remembering who Meera and Jojen are and why Bran is pressing on into the North whilst everyone else is running south. He’s travelling with a dead ranger to find the three-eyed crow of his visions. Rockin’.

It’s easy to forget that not everyone knows what the reader knows about the walking dead by this point. To me, it’s obvious that the ranger is a dead man, but the other characters spend most of the chapter figuring this out. This, combined with the now familiar scene setting that ‘it’s cold up North’, makes the chapter initially a bit slower going than the previous two. However, there are definitely elements of interest.

Following the opening scenes of the prologue, where we are told of (and see) the dangers of what can happen to a man who possesses wolves whilst they eat the flesh of other humans, or who possesses another human himself, it’s definitely creepy to read that Bran has been casually possessing Hodor, and to go with him as his direwolf feasts on the flesh of dead men of the Watch.

Also, despite the fact that it’s no surprise to the reader that the ranger is a dead man, the revelation of his status to the characters in the novel is very nicely built up to. The fact that he seems to have been leading them in circles, lying to them, killing men of the Watch… all distinctly troubling things that really make you wonder for the safety of Bran and his companions. And yet, the ranger does seem to have their interests at heart. And when he confesses at the end of the chapter that he is a monster, but ‘Your monster, Brandon Stark’ it is both poetically satisfying and chilling, nicely confirming and combining both the disquiet and reassurance we have been working through in our own minds.

There’s also a tantalizing question raised. There are two ways of reading that line. After all, we’ve known more than one Brandon Stark, and one was a ranger of the Night’s Watch, lost North of the Wall, possibly dead. Even though he refuses to reveal his face, is he tacitly confessing his own identity here as well?

Chapter Five: Tyrion

Ah, back with me old fave, Tyrion. This is an interesting and well-told chapter, but it’s largely getting us from A to B. It’s both literally and figuratively concerned with transporting Tyrion further along the road towards a meeting with Daenerys. In some ways, I’m loving this. With my new found admiration for the Dragon Queen, I’m all hot and bothered by the thought of her and Tyrion getting together and joining forces. I have a feeling that either something disastrous or fearsome will result, and I suspect the latter more than the former.

So, in some ways I’m all perked up at reading of Tyrion learning things that we already know about Daenerys for the first time. On the other hand, though, there’s not really a great deal to say about this chapter. It’s getting the job done – doing so in style, but that’s about it.

I don’t think I’ve anything else to report, for now. Tune in next time, for more of my thoughts on A Dance with Dragons.