Read Along with Rhube #29: Chapters 57 and 58

(Index of previous ADwD posts here.)

Just as an FYI, we’re now up to p. 754, and this post will take us up to p. 792. It would have been well-useful if I had started out by recording such helpful locatory information seeing as GRRM doesn’t seem to think we need chapter numbers in a book that has more than 60 of the fuckers, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

Chapter 57: Tyrion

Yezzan zo Qaggaz, the dude who bought Tyrion et al, has caught the plague. This is bad because belonging to Yezzan, and being in his favour, is about as cushy as it gets for a slave. Oh, and because they might also catch the plague. And, being slaves, they might very well be killed if their master dies. If they’re not claimed by someone less savoury. Unless, that is, they can escape.

Tyrion, ever cunning, makes the excuse of fetching water for Yezzan to get himself and Penny out of the tent. He also persuades the guards to let him take Ser Jorah to carry the water (they’re not very bright guards). Jorah is a broken man. Slavery does not suit him, and he seems to have adopted a state of near catatonia in response, refusing to move, absorbing his beatings for disobeying without complaint. But once he sees that they are heading for different tents to Yezzan’s he perks up a bit.

Tyrion’s plan is to throw in with Brown Ben Plumm, who tried to buy them from Yezzan before, recognising Tyrion. And it works, he even persuades (apparently) Plumm to take them on as Second Sons, not merely a gift for Cersei, pointing out that he, Tyrion, can be a very good friend to those who do him a turn.

I like this chapter, for the most part. Tyrion gets to be cunning and they get free of the yoke of slavery, which was a slightly tedious side-bar. Things move one step closer to Tyrion meeting Daenerys and forming an unstoppable alliance (or so I like to dream). But it’s not without its flaws. The ‘freak show’ preference of Yezzan for unusual slaves provides Martin with a reason for Our Heroes to stay together when they are bought, but one can’t help but feel that the audience is expected to enjoy the exoticism of the ‘freaks’ as well. Sweets, the intersex slave, is sympathetically portrayed, but Martin doesn’t miss the excuse to have a character make a quip about him being able to ‘fuck himself’. It’s from a guard with whom we’re not intended to sympathise, but it isn’t exactly challenged. Yezzan’s own morbid obesity is often riffed off by Tyrion, both verbally and in point-of-view description. It isn’t out of character – we’re used to off-colour jokes from Tyrion, and we know his philosophy of speaking plainly about things that others will mock you for – but then one has to ask oneself why the author made the character morbidly obese anyway. After all, an author does have control over these things. I assume it is as a representation and manifestation both of Yezzan’s wealth and self-indulgence. On one level that’s fair enough – obesity would be a sign of unusual wealth – but it also perpetuates a stereotype of fat people as selfishly indulgent and in some way deviant. The combination of the fat man presented as unreasonably self-indulgent and ridiculed for supposedly comedic effect, and the ‘collection of freaks’ he has made of his unusual slaves, together suggests that this is more for our entertainment – presenting the ‘exotic’ and the extreme for our entertainment. For ‘colour’. It’s a bit uncomfortable.

We also see another two uses of the word ‘teats’ to describe breasts. It’s just a really uncomfortable and objectifying term. It says ‘these are not the woman’s breasts, these are things for you to tug on and get something out of’. It equates the woman with a cow – with a not especially intelligent animal bread for complacency and usefulness to others. In other words, it’s pretty gross. I get that it shows the coarse language of those who use the term – I don’t mind coarse language – I just think an unusual number of men seem to be using the same term in this book, and from a wide variety of backgrounds. It doesn’t really represent coarseness of the characters, to me, it represents a rather unpleasant enjoyment of objectifying and dehumanising women via their breasts.

Oh, and did I mention that one of the Second Sons takes the opportunity to have a quick grope of Penny whilst commenting on her ‘teats’ and how exotic it is for a ‘dwarf’ to have ‘teats’? Why? Just because. Just for ‘colour’. Yeah.

Speaking of Penny, she is starting to annoy me, largely because I think she is drifting out of believability. I mean, yeah, I guess she was super naive and had been shat on all her life, but… this was a woman who took a knife to Tyrion to try and avenge her brother. Suddenly all that fight just… isn’t a part of her character anymore? Even Tyrion comments that it’s weird that she’s so passive – even more passive than Sansa! I know we’re just seeing it through Tyrion’s eyes, but it’s not like we’re given a challenging perspective. It’s not like we even get Penny’s perspective. Not that I’m advocating yet more POV characters, and not that you can’t have passive or gentle female characters. I do not, for instance, have the same complaints about Sansa. The problem is more that with Penny… there’s no there, there, anymore. She’s been reduced to this pliant girl who’s happy to moon around after Tyrion. And I know I said I thought it would be off for Tyrion to have a romance with her if it suggested that little people should ‘stick to their own kind’, and I’m glad there is a character motivation for Tyrion not to be interested in her, but his constant, unchallenged dismissiveness of her is making her feel like she’s just a vehicle that allowed Tyrion to move from A to B that Martin doesn’t really feel moved to do anything with for the sake of her character.

So, I guess there were quite a few things wrong with this chapter after all. Huh.

Chapter 58: Jon

This chapter starts with Jon dreaming that he’s fighting wildlings, killing all the people who are now his allies, yelling that he’s the Lord of Winterfell, and even killing Robb, before he is woken up by Mormont’s crow. He notes that for the first time the crow calls him by his full name ‘Jon Snow’. And, more curiously, it also mutters ‘King’ and then ‘Snow’, although Jon does not put these two together.

Jon gets up and rides out to meet Tormund Giantsbane at the head of the wildling horde waiting to pass from one side of the Wall to the other. But first they must let pass their sons – a blood price to ensure the behaviour of the wildlings. Some idiot also sends three daughters he says have king’s blood to present to the queen, although she’s no doubt idiot enough to take that as meaning something to the other wildlings (it doesn’t). They also donate a significant amount of treasure, vital for buying provisions for the dramatically increased population.

Tormund tells Jon that the horn Melisandre burnt was not really the horn of Joramun, but merely a huge horn they found in a giant’s grave. And Jon wonders if Mance Rayder lied to him. He thinks to himself ‘And Joramun blew the Horn of Winter and woke the giants from the earth‘. One assumes this is a line from a historical text, poem, or legend of some sort. One might wonder if such a line would suggest not a giant horn, merely a horn to wake the giants… which one might assume to be human sized, given that all the giants would be asleep.

Tormund also has information about the Others – that they are far more terrible than their armies of dead men alone. That they can raise a white mist of sheer cold – the sort of weapon that cannot be countered with a sword. Perhaps the natural opposite to dragon fire? Jon keeps to himself that he has found Dragonsteel, which might be able to fight the Others where ordinary steel cannot.

The chapter closes with a message from Cotter Pyke concerning the ships Jon sent to rescue the wildlings at Hardhome, and it’s a doozy. Their ships are damaged and some lost. The wildlings have been eating their dead. There are dead things in the woods and dead things in the water. The Braavosi captains are only taking the women (suggesting that they want to take them as slaves, not to rescue them) and a wildling witch has told her people that they are all slavers, so the wildlings are fighting the Crows, not going to them. It is a plea for help (via land) but with what possible resources can help be sent? How can help avoid the Others if not by travelling by sea?

This is a chapter that contains a lot of interesting information, but no interesting action. Whatever’s happening at Hardhome sounds pretty interesting, but some wildlings going through a wall is… pretty dull, really. In terms of dramatic structure, it’s pretty poor. There is no central enigma that is resolved – just some people moving without problem from point A to point B. It’s all set up. Really interesting set-up, but set-up nonetheless, and thus a bit of an odd chapter to have eight hundred pages into a thousand page book.

Oh well, let’s talk about what was interesting. Firstly, Jon’s dream. Clearly a dream belonging to a man with confused identity and warring desires, suggesting that catastrophe lies ahead if he can’t resolve these. He doesn’t know if he wants to side with the wildlings, with the Nightswatch, or claim his birthright (or what should be his birthright if he were not illegitimate). Meanwhile, Mormont’s crow seems to suggest another role for him: king. Whether that’s king of Westeros (going with the fan theories that suggest he’s not Ned’s bastard, but Robert’s), or king of the wildlings, it’s not really the sort of thought that is appropriate for a man who’s taken the black.

And there’s the fact that the bird is calling him Jon Snow, now, which fits with my theory that Mormont was actually a skinwalker, too, and is living on through his bird. My thought is that Mormont is slowly gaining greater control over the animal and desperately trying to communicate advice to Jon, who is walking a tight-rope he’s possibly not experienced enough to be secure on, yet. And there’s the fact that crows are heavily linked with prescience in ASoIaF.

We’re also treated to a few more tantalising hints about the Others, although Martin is still wise enough to know that the less we know about them the scarier they are. Just a drop or two of information to whet our appetites with.

And the thing about the horn, of course, and the question of whether Mance is still playing his own game, keeping information from Jon.

All of that is pretty damn cool.

This is an odd pair of chapters – one is all excitement! Escape! Plot development! But marred but aspects that are ostensibly set down to add colour, but are more uncomfortable than they are engrossing. The other is dull and uneventful, but brimming with really cool information that actually does colour in the world a bit more for us.

Ah, and so it goes. ASoIaF remains as flawed as it is brilliant.

Read Along with Rhube 24: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 47 & 48

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

Making up for lost time! Lordio, I sort of wish I’d started out giving page numbers for these chapters – it’s surprisingly difficult to find where I was last at. Ne’ermind, too late now. Onwards!

Chapter 47: Tyrion

When we last saw Tyrion he was about to be taken by slavers, now he’s on the auction block. Him and Penny seem likely to go for a pretty… uh, penny. Being performing dwarfs and all. Ser Jorah? Not so much. He gave a good fight before they took him, earning himself a bad reputation, and hearing that Daenerys is married took it all out of him. He’s been beaten physically and mentally – there’s not much left.

There’s a bidding war over Tyrion and Penny, spurred on by Tyrion, who sees that one of the sellswords has recognised him for who he really is. Tyrion knows his chances are better with someone who recognises him as a Lannister – whether to take him to Cersei (who is, after all a long way away) or as a man who would pay his debts to anyone who freed him. Alas, the sellsword is outbid by a large wealthy man who likes to keep a menagerie of ‘freaks’, Yezzan zo Qaggaz. Tyrion persuades Nurse, who supervises Yezzan’s menagerie, to take Jorah, too, claiming that he plays the role of the Bear in a sketch of ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ that they perform.

Their first job as slaves is to perform at a feast, and then serve at table. They perform admirably, and as Tyrion boasted of his skill at Sheldon’s three person chess cyvasse on the auction block, he is commanded to perform in a wager between Yezzan and the sellsword who tried to buy them, who turns out to be Brown Ben Plumm – the man who betrayed Daenerys for money. The wager is that Plumm will win the dwarves if he can beat ‘Yollo’ (Tyrion). Of course, he does not. But in performing so well, Tyrion and Penny please their master, and it is decided that they will perform for Daenerys as entertainment in the great pit. Our players draw ever closer together…

This was a fun chapter. Tyrion on fine form ‘selling’ himself on the auction block. And poor Ser Jorah, learning that he has come too late, and Daenerys is already wed. Not that he had much of a chance – she was always going to need to marry for advantage, and marrying him has little to offer. It’s a nice note, though, his utter dejection after having just displayed his power and prowess trying to fight off a bunch of slavers by himself.

The game of cyvasse is also well employed, in this instance. However much as Tyrion is humiliated and physically beaten, Martin has yet to show him at mental disadvantage, and the encounters with Brown Ben Plumm and the future performance before Daenerys have him well set to turn the situation to his advantage.

Chapter 48: Jaime

Jaimeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Finally, we see Jaime again 😀 He is come to resolve a seige that has been going on needlessly long, and been handled very ineffectually by a Lord Jonos. There’s yet another episode of needless focus on breasts and nipples that I could have done without, but it’s mercifully brief. Unfortunately, Martin also decides that it’s necessary to have a feature of the landscape known as the ‘Teats’. O_O Not that it’s 100% implausible in and of itself – lord knows there are some funny named places about (Cockermouth springs to mind – although I’m pretty sure it didn’t mean the same thing when they first named it, just as ‘Effin‘ is not really a rude word; I once went on holiday to a place called Sandy Balls, and visited a nature reserve called ‘Windy Gap’ on the way back, but they weren’t really named for body parts). These hills, however, really were named as an act of objectifying a woman (although it’s disputed as to which one), on top of employing the most over-used and unpleasant word for a woman’s breasts in this book: ‘teats’. I have never read any book that used the word ‘teats’ so much. And that’s not because the book is so long – I’m talking percentagewise. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it used at most one or two times in pretty much any other book I’ve ever read, but Martin has got stuck on it. Once or twice is shock value, this is just unpleasant; not skillfully unpleasant as in a horror novel to intentionally discomfort, though – I’m pretty sure this is meant to be funny and titillating. Way to alienate your female readers. Yes, you still write some truly awesome lady characters, and I give you full credit for that. It does not make this kind of casual objectification OK.

But enough about that. Jamie sorts out the siege, showing some intelligence and skill that has nothing to do with his sword. Not screwing Cersei appears to be good for him. Speaking of Cersei, he receives a fairly moving plea from her to come to her aid, and ignores it. It’s kind of awesome. He’s growing up. And I think maybe he really is sort of falling in love with Brienne (and I ship Brienne/Jaime so hard).

Speaking of Brienne: !!! Last time we saw her she was apparently being killed, and I was all ‘Nooooooooooooooooo!’. Actually, considering all the things I’ve forgotten about the last book, it’s impressive how much Brienne’s fate was seared into my mind. I’ve been on tender-hooks waiting to find out if she’s really dead, or, you know, undead. After all, death doesn’t have to be final in a GRRM book. And she shows up, saying that she has found Sansa. And with a bandage on her face…

So, is Brienne alive or undead? What has happened to her since we last saw her? I guess if she were undead she’d have black hands, and nothing was said about that, but maybe she’s wearing gloves? I kind of hope she’s not undead, but I kind of don’t dare hope it. OH MY GOD but I want to know more about what’s been going on with her RIGHT NOW. But it’s the end of the chapter and we’re left waiting. You tease!

Suffice it to say that this chapter had a couple of really, super annoying moments, and moments of glorious squee. Could be a metaphor for the whole book.

Read Along with Rhube 22: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 43 & 44

(Index of previous ADwD posts here.)

I’m playing catch-up, so you get twice in one weekend! 😀

Chapter 43: Daenerys

So, Dany and Daario are now doing a whole Romeo and Juliet thing – wishing the dawn away so that they can have rampant bunny-sex and forget about the fact that Danerys has promised to marry Hizdahr. You can imagine how much I enjoyed these scenes. To give him his credit, though, Daario genuinely seems to be attracted to Daenerys as a strong woman. He doesn’t like this marriage, not only because it takes her away from him, but because he knows the Meereenese are chipping away at her power base, and Hizdahr is likely to steal it out from under her the moment they are married.

Not that I’m now sold on him. I still have no clue what was supposed to be attractive about him in the first place, and up until this point he really didn’t seem to have that many admirable qualities. All in all, it doesn’t seem to me that Dany is presented as loving him because he respects her power. To be honest, that came as a bit of a surprise. Dany’s interest has so far been expressed as a wish to be dominated by him. But whatevs.

The fun part of this chapter is that Quentyn has finally got himself an audience with Dany, and reveals his plan. Bless his little Dornish socks. But his offer comes too late. She is to be married to Hizdahr for the sake of peace within her city and without. Dany rejects his offer, she has to, but she has the decency to respect the distance he has traveled to reach her, and commands that others treat him with the honour he deserves. Must make for a nice change after the road.

And so Dany marries Hizdahr. The chapter ends with them both bound ‘wrist and ankle with chains of gold’. The metaphor for bondage is a little obvious, but if you squint a little there’s a nice echo back to Tyrion strangling Tysha with the Hand’s chain of gold. There’s also a nice moment where Dany declares she will ride to her wedding on a horse, but her maids regretfully point out that she cannot ride in a tokar. A nice demonstration of the ways that fashions have so often been used to stunt women’s ability to act freely, as well as a symbol of how this marriage is likely to restrict Dany, and prevent her from doing the things she wants to do. The inability to ride a horse is a nice symbol, considering her first power was as khaleesi of the Dothraki, a horse people.

Of course, I’m frustrated that Dany can’t marry Quentyn, but he’s not ready for her yet – he’s still a bit soft around the edges, and Dany wasn’t in a position to change her mind about marrying Hizdahr at that stage. Not without unleashing anarchy. Guess I just have to wait for Hizdahr to get killed off!

Chapter 44: Jon

Queen Selyse arrives at Castle Black, and is a right pain to everyone. This is Stannis’s queen, and she’s rather aware of her position, sadly without the savvy to do much sensible with it. She also has various irritating hangers-on, such as the delightful Ser Axell Florent, who fancies himself as a husband for Val. Plus one daughter, Princess Shireen… who has greyscale. Surely not a good thing for a potential monarch to have, what with the early death and madness we were hearing about being associated with this disease earlier in the book.

More interestingly, Selyse brings with her a banker from Bravos – Tycho. Tycho is come to chase after the debts of the iron throne, as Cersei has refused to pay them, and as far as the banker is concerned the debts are owed by the thrown, and whoever sits on it. If Stannis is prepared to pay those debts, he could have a powerful ally/source of coin. But it would be taking on an awful lot. But for Jon, what’s more important is what Tycho could mean for the wall. He wants money for food, and for ships to rescue the foolish wildlings who have headed up to Hardholme to die. They haggle under the watchful eye of Mormont’s raven, finally settling on an agreement that pleases neither, but probably means they both got something.

Incidentally, I’ve been developing a theory about Mormont’s bird. After all the wargs in this book, and with the story earlier about how people used to use ravens because they could possess them to send messages by having the ravens speak it… well. All I’m saying is that it’s not beyond the realms of plausibility that Mormont’s raven carries something of Mormont’s spirit, and may be guiding Jon, somewhat, from the grave. Not that I expect this theory to be confirmed in any way, but it fits, for me.

The big surprise comes at the end of the chapter – a grey girl on a dying horse. Jon was expecting Arya, I was expecting Jeyne (although it puzzled me that she would arrive so soon), we’re both wrong. It’s some girl we’ve never heard of, before. Woman, really. Alys Karstark – rightful heir to Karhold, if her brother dies, on the run from a forced marriage. She reveals that Arnold Karstark declared for Stannis in the hopes of provoking the Lannisters to kill her brother, though he plans to betray Stannis in the end. Before that happens, they hope to force her into a marriage to a man who will almost certainly kil her off once she’s produced a child, just so that they can lay claim to her birthright.

It’s all a bit of a mess, really, but the point is that she has come to John for protection, and she is neither Arya, nor Jeyne. Which leave me wondering… Jeyne’s escape is somewhat less assured than it previously seemed.

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 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

Read Along with Rhube 4: A Dance with Dragons, Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter Six: The Merchant’s Man

This, unless I am much mistaken, is a new view-point character: Quentyn Martell. He’s named as the ‘Merchant’s Man’ because he’s pretending to be a servant to hide his mission. His mission is to find a way to Daenerys and wed her. It’s treason, against one king or another, but it’s probably a smart move.

This is interesting: we’re starting to see a bit more interaction between the Daenerys/dragon plot and the rest of Westeros, and the smart folk who aren’t looking north to The Wall are sniffing the wind to the south and scenting power. We’ve not seen much of this chap, yet, but he’s got that much going for him.

I’ve heard some mutterings on the web about extra view-point characters making things confusing, so I had a little trepidation about this, but so far, I like him. Don’t get me wrong: pretty much every chapter now I’m going ‘Who is this person with all these grudges I’m meant to know about?’ and that’s for characters I really should remember. I can well believe that adding more to the mix will tax me greater still. On the other hand, though, we’ve lost a few characters along the way, and I can imagine that anyone romping through the books from the beginning, or after a refresh, would have no trouble at all.

So, I’m cautiously interested in Quentyn. And he’s in a pickle. If he takes the ship he’s arranged for the next leg of his journey they’ll most likely kill him for his money. No decent captain is going into Slaver’s Bay. There’s a war on, don’t you know? But the only other way to Daenerys is The Demon’s Road, which doesn’t sound too great, either, and might take too long. Quentyn’s awfully concerned that his bride will get herself killed before he can claim her.

He seems like a nice chap, but he’s only 18, and despite the surface practical wisdom, he’s a bit starry-eyed where Daenerys is concerned. I’m not sure where he gets the idea she’s promised to him from. It’s entirely possible I’ve forgotten this too, but the Wiki of Ice and Fire didn’t seem to know anything about it, either. He’s also thinking of her as the most beautiful woman in the world when he hasn’t even seen her, which possibly makes him the most innocent teenage day-dreamer in these books… except maybe Sansa, early on. This rather suggests to me that things won’t end well, but you never know!

Chapter Seven: Jon

Jon throws his weight around a bit. We start out with a bit of baby-switch-a-roo: Jon tells Gilly the wildling nursemaid to leave The Wall, but to take the baby child of Mance Rayder (the King Beyond the Wall) and leave her own child behind. Jon reckons there’s a chance that Melisandre will kill the child to help raise a dragon (as the child has king’s blood, of a sort). I don’t know where this comes from, but it’s an interesting theory. In a sense, Khal Drogo was a part of the blood sacrifice for Daenerys’s dragons.

For those familiar with the fan theory that Jon himself is actually Robert Baratheon’s bastard that Ned Stark took in as his own for protection, this provides a nice symmetry. I don’t know if I subscribe to this theory or not, yet. I didn’t like it when I first heard it, but it is growing on me.

Anyway, Gilly’s going south with someone else’s baby, and so are Sam and Maester Aemon. I don’t like seeing Sam and Jon split up, but Sam’s going to go learn to become a maester, and that’s awesome.

The big event of this chapter happens at the end, though: Jon sentences a man to death, and chops his head off. You could tell we were building up to some kind of event where Jon would have to show himself to be a man, and this did very nicely. Jon gives the Janos Slynt a chance – a genuine chance where if the guy did as ordered it’d be really good for the Watch – and the guy throws it in his face, so Jon executes him. He has to, and he shows his strength and grim determination in doing so. It’s also really nice to see him insist on doing it himself, recalling Ned’s instructions on how important that is, if you’re to take a life. It’s an action that commands respect: the action of a Lord Commander.

The other note that I really liked was blink-and-you’ll-miss it, but nice: Valyrian steel kills dragons. You could tell from book one that there was something special about Valyrian steel. On the one hand, it might have just been that fantasy thing where there’s always some kind of Super Special Metal that if your sword or shield or chain mail can be made of it, it’s really nice. Mythril, meterorite, Valyrian steel, whatever – it’s a trope. But it would have been really irritating if that’s all it was. Especially as so many of Our Heroes (or anti-heroes) have received special weapons of Valyrian steel at one time or another. Now we learn it can kill dragons, and all the old Houses have some… it’s like a light going on.

It took long enough, but I like it.

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.