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 10: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 19 & 20

(Index to previous ADwD posts is here.)

Sorry for the gap, guys, I felt the need to review something else at the weekend, but my Reviewing Through the Time Machine posts tend to be a bit more in-depth, and it sort of took it out of me. Anyway – onwards and upwards!

Chapter 19: Davos

Bless him, Davos sort of gets to do something, this time. He gets hauled before Wyman Manderly, Lord of White Harbor, but is treated as somewhat less than a King’s Hand. A bunch of Freys are present, and Davos is unable to get an audience alone with Lord Wyman. The Freys have fed him and his some rather astonishing lies that cast the Red Wedding as Robb Stark’s fault. Rather than a Frey blood bath, they maintain that Robb and his men turned into wolves, and that it was they who killed Wendel Manderly. Some of the court are apparently convinced of this, others seem to be paying lip-service to the belief because the Lannisters apparently have Wyman’s son, and he’s therefore unlikely to move in any case, and it’s in his best interest to keep the peace with their side.

There’s a really interesting moment when the tide almost turns. With how much Davos considers himself a man of few words, it was inevitable that he would say something to catch someone’s ear. He appeals with honesty to the cost and a reminder that they have common enemies with those who killed the king. He may mean Robert, but he strikes an emotion with those who feel the pain of Robb’s death in his role as King in the North. Northmen (and women) have always felt an intense loyalty to Winterfell, almost over the King in King’s Landing. The real crime – what divided this country and made war inevitable – was the death of Eddard Stark. Robb was just a symbol, but Eddard? That blunt, honest man – that good northern man – their true king, who they had followed into war before. Yes, they’re angry about that. They want blood for that. And they find voice in Wylla, a young girl. Young enough to think you can show defiance without consequences, or idealistic enough to believe it is worth it. She almost has them, for a moment, but in the end, these people know the pain of war better, and their lord’s head is in a noose as long as the Lannisters have his son and there are Freys in his court.

Although by the end of the chapter we’ve effectively returned to the status quo, I loved it. I loved the politics, I loved the tensions, I loved Wylla. I was crying out for more non-objectified female voices, and there she is, speaking naturally and powerfully, even if she’s then silenced. I loved the stories that can be told and accepted without the advantage of instant news-transmission and images we have in our modern age.

Most of all, I loved the way the blood was stirred when Davos and Wylla called to their murdered lords and ladies – to their murdered kings, and, most of all, to Ned Stark. He was never crowned, but he was their king more than anyone who has claimed the crown since Robert died. And, of course, he’s our king, too. It’s a nice synergy of dramatic tension with reader-emotions. He’s been dead these many books, but we still love to hear his name. He was the protagonist in an ensemble cast in the first book – good and true and doomed. Whether you thought he was stupid or not you had to root for him. I was surprised at the outrage people who hadn’t read the books felt at his death at the end of the recent TV series. And yet, it’s that depth of attachment that we’re all called back to. As I mention in my summary, his death is the turning point of this whole story: Bran’s fall, Cersei’s infidelity, Daenerys’s growing army, even Catelyn’s blunder in accusing Tyrion – all of it could have come to much less if Joffrey hadn’t commanded Ned’s head be parted from his shoulders.

I like that Martin is weaving the emotions of the characters through with the emotions of the readers in this way. It’s skillfully done.

Chapter 20: Reek

Oh, this is a nasty chapter – in a good way. I think.

Our good friend, Reek (née Theon) is dressed up in normal people clothes and sent out under his own banner to treat with those who hold the ruins and towers of Moat Cailin. Unknown to everyone, including those who man the towers, they’ve already effectively lost them. They are manned by the rejects of their army. They have the advantage of position, and could still do damage to the Boltons if they stayed put, but disease and each other would kill them all in time. The scenes inside the tower are sickening in a way that draws forth the brutality of war in a way we in our safe homes are rarely exposed to. This is not the violence of war; this is the neglect of war. This is the dehumanising grind of war.

With some little resistance, Reek persuades the men manning the towers to surrender on condition of safe passage. Of course, the mad Ramsay Snow Bolton reneges on that promise, killing them all. He is then able to present these towers to his father, Roose Bolton. In a nice touch, even hard man Roose has the decency to be shocked at Reek’s appearance: ‘What is this, some mockery?’ he asks. The twist in the chapter comes when the captive Arya is revealed, however, for this is not Arya. Reek, or rather, Theon, knows Arya. And with all the growth spurts in the world, he knows this is a different girl – a girl he recognises, too: Sansa’s friend, Jeyne Poole.

This brings back some stirrings of memory. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time to pretend to be Arya, and, again, without our world of instantly knowable faces, it’s a plausible pretense. Oh, but poor Jeyne, as you bow meekly to the man you have said you’ll marry in Arya’s name… this will not end well for you, I fear. And, lord, I hope something happens to spoil this little ruse and thwart Ramsay’s claim before he can convince people that he really has married Arya. That would give him a more powerful claim than any army could. As we just saw in the last chapter, the Stark name means something.

This is a chapter made of exciting but horrible and worrying things. Two thumbs up!


I’ve read much further than this, so should be able to get you another update soonish, but I’ll sign off now to maintain the bite-size chunk. Toodle-pip!

Read Along with Rhube 8: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 15 & 16

(Index to previous ADwD posts is here.)

Chapter 15: Davos

Not a lot really happened in this chapter. Davos wanders around, picks up some rumours about how the people in White Harbor feel about the political situation, and works himself up to entering the castle. That’s it.

I didn’t want to find myself agreeing with the rumours – that A Dance with Dragons adds a whole bunch of new characters that don’t really add anything and just clutter up the book – but I have to admit I can see where some fat could be trimmed. On the other hand, I still like Davos well enough, and nothing about this chapter pissed me off, which meant that it was a nice little bit of peace before being hit by the next chapter.

I could see that it was Daenerys, and after the last Daenerys chapter I put off reading this one for a few days. Then I thought: ‘Come on, Daenerys chapters aren’t all bad – you quite liked the first one, it might be OK.’ Well.

Chapter 16: Daenerys

The opening paragraph hit me like a punch to the gut. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or hit something:

“The dancers shimmered, their sleek shaved bodies covered with a fine sheen of oil. Blazing torches whirled from hand to hand to the beat of drums and the trilling of a flute. Whenever two torches crossed the air a naked girl leapt between them, spinning. The torchlight shone off oiled limbs and breasts and buttocks.”

No, there’s nothing in Daenerys chapters aimed towards the male gaze at all. After this paragraph, we learn that there are some male dancers – barely sketched in with anonymous faces – responding to their female companions with erections that Daenerys finds arousing as well as comical. Because, as we saw in the previous chapter, nothing turns Daenerys on more than men getting turned on by naked women. ‘Are they meant to inflame me?‘ Daenerys briefly wonders. No, honey, they’re meant to inflame the (assumed heterosexual male) reader, as indicated as the paragraph that’s introduced by this ponderance goes on to consider the reactions of the men watching the scene, rather than examining Daenerys’ own reaction, as you might have thought.

And just to make things extra fun, the reason for this spectacle is that Xaro Xhoan Daxos of Qarth is in town, which means that Daenerys has switched from her formal Meereen attire into that wonderful bit of exotic clothing that’s designed to reveal her left breast. Described in exquisite detail: ‘In his honor Daenerys had donned a Qartheen gown, a sheer confection of violet samite cut so as to leave her left breast bare. Her silver-gold hair brushed lightly over her shoulder, falling almost to her nipple.’ And despite the fact that both her and Xaro are supposedly more interested in the male dancers, Daenerys’ breast, the oiled female dancers, and the reactions of the other males in the room are what dominate the first page of this chapter.

What I’m describing here is what I felt in responding to this. I don’t want to cast aspersions on George R R Martin’s character – I’ve mentioned before how much I admire him and how much I appreciate the strong female characters he’s put in this violent, bloody, and sexually charged world. Nor am I against a little voyeurism. My problem is that chapter openings like this just utterly alienate me and make me feel really uncomfortable – not least because the things we’re being told about don’t seem to flow naturally from the viewpoint we’re supposed to be taking in the scene from. We see a snippet of Daenerys’ thought, but what we then go on to discuss is how the men in the room are feeling. Xaro observes later that she was more interested in the men, and we’re not told that she’s aroused by the women, but she sure seems to spend more time looking at the latter. It jars. It makes me feel that the scene was not written from Daenerys’ point of view, or mine, but for a heterosexual male perspective. I accept that Daenerys’ wearing the Qartheen dress is in keeping with her general habits and adaptability, but I struggle to see how this fashion arose. Yes, there are cultures that have clothing that exposes breasts, but these are often ones where nakedness in general is not so much a thing of note or eroticism, or the revealing garments are strictly for private moments with one’s husband, not for public functions for all to see. None of this seems to fit with Xaro’s culture, and to me it feels as though the reason for that is that the custom has not arisen naturally from within that culture, it has been imposed upon it by an impulse to titilate the reader.

And again, all of this is a shame because, when I could finally force myself to pick up the book again and read past this, some really interesting things actually happened. Significant things actually happened, and I’ve been crying out for a bit of those. Xaro gifts Daenerys with 13 boats from each of the ‘Thirteen’ – powerful factions within his people – on the condition that she leave and take her war to Westeros. Daenerys is sorely tempted, but she decides not to accept, showing a maturity and wisdom in finally recognising that she has a responsibility to these cities she has invaded that goes beyond waltzing in and trying to impose an ideal. This is a really, really interesting angle. It’s very pertinent today, when you consider so many of our modern wars, supposedly fought on idealistic grounds, but apparently not thinking through the consequences of trying to impose our values on another culture.

For what it’s worth, I think Daenerys’ values are right, and I think that’s what we’re meant to think. I think the way her war started even had some merit. She forged her position in the dothraki society by refusing to back down from her values, and when the dothraki abandoned her, her people were formed of the freed slaves whose loyalty she had won by her actions. But then she starts marching across a land and telling it to give up its customs or face the wrath of her dragons… and that becomes much more problematic. The balance of power has shifted, and it changes her moral responsibilities, as well as the different political systems she must work with and the threats she must face.

All of this is deeply interesting, and the conclusion – a declaration of war – marks probably the most significant event of the book so far (at around the 200 page mark). I just wish I hadn’t been distracted by that jarring confrontation with all those ‘oiled limbs and breasts and buttocks’ in the opening scene.

Read Along with Rhube 5: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 8 & 9

(Index of previous ADwD chapter reviews here.)

Chapter 8: Tyrion

Tyrion’s still on a road trip. Things are a bit less cushy for him, now, but he’s still exchanging witticisms and pottering along, seemingly ahead of all the other people who are rushing to claim Daenerys, whether for wife or as a partner in conquest. I think it probably stands in Tyrion’s favour that he’s more interested in the latter. I doubt she’ll have much time for suitors. Her hand in marriage is too valuable an asset to give away. Apart from the potential threat to her own power from marrying, if she can keep suitors in competition she’ll keep more of them in play.

I really don’t have that much to say about this chapter itself. Like most of the Tyrion chapters so far, I’m afraid it pretty much just got the job done. I still love Tyrion, and the chapter was still enjoyable, but at the moment he’s just serving as a witty punctuaion mark between other chapters as he gets from A to B.

One thing I’m noticing about Tyrion in general, however, is that I don’t find him nearly as attractive in the book as in the series. He’s still a favourite character, but I guess it just goes to show that the Dinklage-appeal is a definite addition factor. Man brings his own charisma to the role and makes it his own. I suspect there were also some directorial or adaptational decisions about presenting him as more clearly a goody-within-the-Lannister-camp. Although they maintained the moral complexity of the books, they were probably looking to simplify the lines wherever possible, not to mention the impulse towards presenting a cast that’s easier to identify with. They may have been unsure about how an audience would react to having a little person as a main character. I don’t know.

On a different tangent: let us engage in a bit of wild speculation. The big question hanging over all these books is ‘Who will win the Game of Thrones’. There’s a distinct possibility that the answer will be ‘no one’. It possibly depends on whether Martin is more tied to grim themes as opposed to historical analogues. If we’re talking thematically, there’s a clear temptation towards the ‘rocks fall, everybody dies’ philosophy. Who wins when you struggle over power? No one. In one sense, that’s not grim at all – it speaks to the wonders of co-operation, love, and looking after each other. On the other, if co-operation fails to materialise sufficiently to save the people of Westeros to the threat from the North, that speaks for a rather negative view of human nature. Grim though his books are, I suspect Martin really leans towards something more balanced. No one is purely good or purely evil in these books.

What about the history, then? Oh, here I show the rather large gaps in my knowledge. I had a very engaging and oddly tense discussion a while back about which House aligned to what and who might be successful based on historical analogies. Sadly, I remember very little of it, much like my history lessons from school. Honestly, most of what I know about this period comes from Shakespeare, and I know that’s not a reliable resource. Looking at the Wikipedia page on the Wars of the Roses was just confusing. I think the conclusion of the discussion was that someone unlikely will come in out of the blue and make a claim for the throne on the basis of marrying the right woman. Based spuriously on this, my money is on either Tyrion or Littlefinger with a marriage claim for Sansa, but Daenerys is looking like a stronger and stronger contender. Plus, Tyrion also looks plausibly set up as a Richard III analogue – physically differing from the norm, yet extremely clever. He was also blamed for Bran’s accident, initially, which could be considered an analogue for the princes in the tower.

Speculations, I has them.

But let’s move on.

Chapter 9: Davos

Yet another character who rings bells in my mind but isn’t that familiar. This is Stannis Baratheon’s Hand, who has been sent south with a fleet. He has very poor luck with the weather, loses a lot of ships, and ultimately loses the favour of his pirate friend, who’s sick of a certain lack of money. The pirate guy let’s Davos off on one of the Three Sisters, islands theoretically under the rule of the Vale, but with an uncomfortably rocky history. Essentially, their loyalty is up for grabs.

Davos is captured and brought to Lord Godric. Godric toys with him for a bit, but ultimately hints that he might come out for Stannis if the winds prevail. He’s canny, he’s stepping back from the action. He knows that what really matters is that some strong ruler pulls the country together in time to defend the Wall, for winter is coming. But that doesn’t mean he’ll come out for Stannis just because Stannis is at the Wall now. He lets Davos go as though he had never been so that he might try his hand at winning support for Stannis where it’s most needed.

This chapter was interesting. I enjoyed getting to know Davos better, and Godric made a pleasing little nod to Ned that tickled the fangirl in me. We also learn that Jon Snow’s mother was possibly a woman of the Three Sisters, who likely got it on with Ned when he was in town in the last war. That seems to put paid to those rumours that he was really Robert’s son, but there’s still no proof. Again, this chapter was more about helping characters on their way than really getting anywhere, but it was fun.

Tune in next time for more of A Dance with Dragons