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A Clash of Kings, by George R R Martin

Title: A Clash of Kings
A Clash of KingsAuthor: George R R Martin
Year of Publication: 1998
Length: 761 pages
Genre: fantasy
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 4 stars
Spoilers: Be ye warned!

I feel like A Clash of Kings is the book that gets overlooked in this series. A Storm of Swords is generally the highest-rated, best-reviewed, majority-fan-fave of the series. A Game of Thrones tends to fall in second in the overall vote, noted for its tighter plot and for having that “new series shine” — the sense of creation and world-building that generally makes successful first books so enjoyable. Fan opinions are wildly split over A Feast for Crows — some hate it, some defend it, but they care either way, and will generally voice their opinions quite vehemently, one way or another. Whereas A Clash of Kings slips through the cracks a bit. And that’s a bit of a shame, because there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

It’s a set-up book — carefully placing all of the dominoes that get knocked down in A Storm of Swords. And there’s a lot of intricate political posturing, re-posturing, sizing up, and kicking in the shins that happens to get those dominoes in line. The title of this book refers to the War of the Five Kings which storms up after Robert’s death. So let’s wander through this book by means of examining those claimants, shall we?

We learn a lot more about Robert’s brothers, for a start. Stannis (the middle child) and Renly (the youngest by a good margin) have both declared themselves, proclaiming Cersei’s children to be bastards born of incest. Which is true — the trouble is that half of Westeros isn’t listening to them. Or, rather, only half of Westeros is listening to Renly, and no one is listening to Stannis. Stannis is an interesting character, because he’s a total jerk, he has (as the HBO series put it) the personality of a lobster, and you get the sense that he doesn’t actually want to be king, but he sees it as his right and therefore he’s going to take it, come hell or high water (or, possibly, both simultaneously, as we see later in the book). He actually has a lot in common with Ned Stark, in that bullheadedly righteous sort of way, even though he never liked Ned (on account of Robert liking his foster-brother better than his actual brother). Strictly following the rules of succession, he does have the best claim, but, in the immortal words of Renly Baratheon, “No one wants you for their king, Stannis. Sorry.”

Renly, meanwhile, is an utter charmer, who has married pretty young Margaery Tyrell in order to bring most of the South under his control (the exception being the Dornish, still holding themselves aloof till they see how the first few rolls of the dice go). He might make a good king; unfortunately for him, he doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush to get there. He has a host 100,000 strong, all ready to besiege the Lannisters, could easily tear them apart while they’re distracted with the Starks… and he’s lollygagging his way up the Roseroad, holding tournaments and feasting his vassals. He’s a perfect picture of a romantic, chivalric king… and his tardiness gets him killed. Because Stannis, although nobody else likes him, does have a sidekick sorceress who thinks he’s a legendary hero-king reborn (her reasoning is really flakey, if you ask me, no idea where she got this into her head from) — and Melisandre has some pretty icky shadow magic on her side, which she uses to off dear little brother.

So much for Renly. The contender giving the Lannisters the most trouble is Robb Stark, the King in the North, who is winning battles left, right, and center. He has Jaime Lannister prisoner, along with a host of other Lannisters and Lannister-kin. He’s advancing down to the Westerlands, the Lannisters’ home territory.

Unfortunately, these successes are marred by the arrival on-scene of the fifth king in the wars: Balon Greyjoy, who led a doomed rebellion ten years earlier, and who sees the current chaos as an excuse to reassert himself. He decides he’s not quite satisfied being King of the Islands, however, and sends his son Theon — erstwhile hostage/foster-son to Ned Stark, who grew up best friends with Robb — to take the North. Theon does this, for reasons I still can’t quite figure out. It’s clear as can be that the other Greyjoys have no regard for him whatsoever, that they see him as soft and ruined from his time at Winterfell, that they can’t even bring themselves to like him all that much… and yet he doesn’t hesitate to stab Robb in the back and take over Winterfell in the name of the squids. Fortunately, the remaining Starks, Bran and Rickon, manage to escape — though to save face (…somehow), Theon kills two peasant boys of the same age, and tells everyone that he killed Bran and Rickon.

And what of the other Starks? Well, Jon’s up north of the Wall on the Great Ranging. Some interesting things happen, but this section is definitely all set-up for the next book. They meet Craster, an enthusiastically incestuous wildling, who marries his daughters and gives his sons to the Others; they find a hoard of dragonglass (obsidian); they find out that the “king” of the wildlings is bringing an enormous host south to storm the Wall. Arya, meanwhile, is on the run, disguised as a boy, headed up with Yoren to “join the Night’s Watch” — really Yoren intends to drop her off at Winterfell. Also in the group destined for the Wall is Gendry, one of Robert’s bastards, who’s been sent away for his own safety (Cersei’s starting to hunt down and destroy the bastards, since they support the truth of her children’s incestuous heritage), even though he doesn’t know who he is. The group gets caught up in the middle of the battles, however, and Arya winds up at Lannister-held Harrenhal. She assists in its overthrow, aided by the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar, putting it in the hands of at-least-nominally-Stark-bannerman Roose Bolton. The end of the book sees her finally saying “Balls to all of this”, because the Boltons are clearly just as screwed up as the Lannisters, and escaping.

Meanwhile, Sansa is in King’s Landing, and Catelyn is running errands for her son and brother. I have a problem with Cat and Sansa’s viewpoints in this book, in that they don’t really exist to have viewpoints. It’s not what they’re doing or thinking that’s important. They exist to show us what’s going on with the war and in King’s Landing, respectively. Our two kings in those regions — Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon — aren’t POV characters in of themselves, nor is anyone else close to Robb. The other viewpoint in King’s Landing is Tyrion, whose chapters are both hugely intriguing and vastly frustrating, as he desperately tries to hold the city and the kingdom together with both hands, and gets absolutely no credit for doing so.

The story in Westeros culminates with the exciting Battle of the Blackwater. Stannis’s fleet sails on King’s Landing, only to be trapped by enormous chains raised in the water and incinerated by wildfire (a nigh-unquenchable green substance something like the legendary Greek fire). They also get smashed by the sudden (if belated) appearance of Mace Tyrell and the power of Highgarden — all those in the south who hadn’t switched allegiance over to Stannis when Renly died. So, the Lannisters prevail, though it’s at considerable expense to poor Tyrion, who leads a sortie and ends up getting half his face sliced off — by a catspaw belonging to his dearly beloved sister.

Finally, out in the east, we have Daenerys, the allegiance across the Water, who no one in Westeros is quite aware of yet — though a few rumours are leaking back to them about three-headed dragons. After making her way across the red wastelands, she ends up in the city of Qarth, where she is at first feasted and feted, but where she soon realizes, everyone’s out to get her, in some way or another. Dany’s best moment in this book is her chapter in the House of the Undying, where a group of powerful warlocks show her a lot of fascinating prophetic images, and then threaten her life. She, via toughest dragon Drogon, burns them to a crisp. This doesn’t make her any friends in the city, though, and she’s soon the target of assassination attempts (again). She’s saved from one of them by Strong Belwas, a champion pit-fighter, and his supposed squire Arstan Whitebeard, sent to Dany by her old Pentoshi protector, Illyrio Mopatis — who has also sent ships, so that Dany can get the hell out of Dodge.

Overall — this is a solid build-up book. Far more so, I think, than A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, which appear to be, together, serving the same purpose for Winds of Winter, but not doing it nearly as well. The storylines in A Clash of Kings are getting more complex, but they remain crisp and focused. The number of POV characters hasn’t yet spun out of control.

I couldn’t help, during this re-read, thinking about how HBO’s going to handle translating this book for the next season. We’ve already heard rumours that they’ll be pushing Jaime Lannister’s plotline up — indeed, the end of the last season saw a scene that doesn’t happen until the end of ACoK. I suspect that the book-to-season ratio is going to break down pretty swiftly, and I have no problem with that — the plotlines start to diverge more and move at different paces from here on out, so I trust the screenwriters to rearrange sensibly. We also know that Natalie Dormer, a fairly big name, has been cast as Margaery Tyrell, which gives me great hope that we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the series than we do in the book. Renly’s trip up the Roseroad might get a lot more screen time, not just seen through Catelyn’s eyes, but followed through since the beginning. HBO’s already seeded that by including some scenes with Renly and Loras that weren’t in AGoT — clearly they realise (as GRRM has not) that the Tyrells are a damn interesting family and need more time devoted to them. I also wonder if they’re going to make any attempt to hide the fact that Arstan is Barristan Selmy — which Dany doesn’t find out, and which the book doesn’t make totally explicit, until late in A Storm of Swords. The big adaptation question, of course, is the Battle of the Blackwater — the episode which GRRM is writing for next season. They can’t really skimp out on it like they did the battles in the first season; too much of real importance happens during it. So, it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. Filming started last week — so we should find out in April.

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A Dance with Dragons, by George R R Martin

Title: A Dance with DragonsDance With Dragons
Author: George R R Martin
Year of Publication: 2011
Length: 959 pages
Genre: fantasy
New or Re-Read?: New after a six-goddamn-year-wait
Rating: 3.5 stars
Spoiler Warning: Enormously. I will have one general reaction paragraph that is non-spoilery, and then everything else will be stuffed to the gills with spoilers.

I don’t know how to feel about this book. I don’t know that I like it any better or any worse than A Feast for Crows, which was my least-favourite book of the series thus far. And I was, if not expecting, at least hoping to like this one a lot better, because I so many more of my favourite characters were in this one. And there were certainly parts I enjoyed a lot. But there were a lot of parts that frustrated me, a lot of parts that bored me, and a lot of parts that felt completely extraneous. It’s definitely in need of judicious editing. I sort of get the feeling that his editors, so happy to have him finally declare it finished, didn’t actually spend much time editing before sending it to print. Apart from a lot of unnecessary repetition and a lot of extraneous material, I also found five typos.

Spoilers Begin Here

My biggest disappointment in this book was Dany’s plotline. She spent 95% of the book pissing me off. I’ve been saying for years that if Dany didn’t wake up and get out of Meereen in this book, I was going to throw an epic hissy fit, and, well, I did. Because she spent almost this entire book not only staying in Meereen to try and rule, but making horrifically stupid decisions while doing so. And she totally lost sight of herself. She forgot her goals, she forgot her history, she forgot who she actually owes loyalty to, she forgot what she’s trying to do. She let other characters manipulate her into poor decisions. It sort of felt like she just gave up on being herself.

At least, at the end, there’s a sense that she’s realised this — that she feels ashamed for having tried to be something she’s not, that she recognises she’s going to have to start over with a different approach — but that doesn’t make this book any less of a waste of time as far as her plot was concerned. She’s going to start The Winds of Winter in more or less the same place as she started A Clash of Kings, only with larger, uncontrollable dragons and more people trying to kill her. It’s pretty obvious that Dany’s is the story that most would have benefited from GRRM’s original plan of jumping five years of story-time between books. Having decided not to have that time lapse, he had to fill the space with something… and that something really isn’t very good. The only moment of her story that I really enjoyed in this book was when she subdues and then flies Drogon. That felt good. That felt like my Dany. Nothing else in the book did. And it so pains me to say that, because I’ve defended her against the Mary-Sue accusations, she’s my pick to win the whole series, and I so badly want to stand by her… but it was difficult to like her in this book. Not only that, her chapters started to bore me in this book. I could not care less who ends up in control of Slaver’s Bay. They can slaughter each other till the cows come home, as far as I’m concerned. My emotional investment is in Westeros. I don’t want to have to care about an entire other continent’s worth of politics — particularly not when this story is already over-large and in desperate need of trimming and tightening.

On the bright side, more characters are starting to find Dany, which means that her part of the story is getting more POVs… Except those also weren’t very well-used. Quentyn Martell, who I had high hopes for, turns out to be completely and utterly pointless. His entire story could’ve been cut from this book with no detrimental effect whatsoever. And it pains me to say that, because I really wanted him to turn out to be a cool character, possibly a dragonrider, possibly one of Dany’s husbands. Instead, he’s inoffensive but ultimately pretty uninteresting — cute and sweet, but more pitiable than enjoyable. He’s hard to root for — and he doesn’t get enough chapters to allow the reader to make a real connection with him. His boldest action is also his stupidest action, and the one that leads to his premature death. We also get some POV chapters from Barristan Selmy, and here, I think the main flaw is how underused he was. Even though he’s with Dany the whole time, his chapters don’t start coming in until about halfway through the book, and I think it could’ve been beneficial to have his voice throughout — especially to give opinions on Dany making highly questionable decisions.

Tyrion’s story briefly crosses Dany’s, but not for very long. Fleeing after having murdered his father, Tyrion first meets up with Illyrio Mopatis, erstwhile keeper of fugitive Targaryens, and then crosses the continent, aiming for Dany. Unfortunately, along the way he almost dies a couple of times and then gets sold into slavery. His chapters were the other ones that irritated me almost past my ability to endure them, as Tyrion spends at least 75% of this book mentally whinging about his daddy issues and his not-really-a-whore first wife. The refrain — where whores go — is repetitive in the extreme. I know he’s had some trauma, but so has everyone else in the damn series, and I feel like Tyrion should be tougher than that. He’s also putting far too much stock in his father’s last words — he won’t ever be free of Tywin if he keeps letting Daddy control him from beyond the grave.

Tyrion’s story also intersects that of one of our new POVs — Jon Connington, aka Griff, one of Rhaegar Targaryen’s best friends, who happens to be the guardian of someone who, we are at least led to believe, is Aegon Targaryen, Rhaegar’s son, who is generally believed to have had his head smashed in as an infant by Gregor Clegane. I say “led to believe” because a lot of fandom has already decided he’s a pretender, the “mummer’s dragon” of Dany’s House of the Undying vision. I don’t know how I feel about it one way or the other, although the pretender angle makes sense (particularly considering GRRM’s English Wars of the Roses inspiration). Mostly I’m going to be annoyed if this kid who gets introduced halfway through the series ends up winning, just because we haven’t had as much investment in him. So far he’s making a good go of it, though — he and Griff hired the Golden Company of sellswords and have already made landfall in Westeros, retaking Connington’s ancestral home.

Meanwhile, up in the North — Jon showed wins the Westeros Most Improved Award. Until his last two pages, when he makes a monumentally stupid decision, which apparently gets him killed (though I feel relatively certain Mel’s going to show up just in the nick and bring him back from the dead — thus indebting him to her). Up until then, though, he was kicking ass and taking names — and heads. Seriously, Janos Slynt sasses him one too many times, and for his outright insubordination, Jon does what someone should’ve done a long time ago and takes the jerk’s head clean off. Jon spends most of the book leading at the Wall — making really tough (and, in many cases, unpopular) decisions, sticking to his metaphorical guns, and all towards what seems like it’ll be the greater good. And then he gets word that Ramsay Bolton (see below) has claimed to have killed Stannis and intends to come after wh0-he-thinks-is-Arya and then after the Night’s Watch — and instead of framing this was “the Watch has been threatened; we need to deal with this,” Jon decides to make it about him and his family and declares he’s taking off to protect his baby sister (who he doesn’t know his a fake), which makes the Lord Commander of the Watch involved with politics in violation of his vows, which gets him stabbed.

Melisandre’s much-anticipated POV wasn’t nearly as mind-blowing as I’d hoped — and she only got one chapter. Bran also didn’t get nearly enough time, although he makes it to the three-eyed crow (who turns out to be long-ago Targaryen Bloodraven, who has more or less turned into a weirwood tree) and starts learning how to greensee. This provides a few exciting flashbacks, but ultimately, I was just left wanting more. I’m also excited about Davos, who does not die (as posited in A Feast for Crows), but who Lord Wymen Manderly (a previously barely-there background character who controls the biggest harbour in the North) sends off to Skagos to search for Rickon Stark. Manderly’s story is actually the bigger draw in those chapters, for me — he’s sort of turning into the Doran Martell of the North, plotting in the background and executing subterfuge while keeping himself outside of the realm of suspicion. It’s also strongly hinted that he serves several of the Freys to their kinfolk, baked into pies, which I highly approve of both for the bloody vengeance and for the classical/Shakespearean reference.

The other exciting story up North is that of Theon. I still don’t like him, but I’ve started to pity him (rather like how I feel about Sansa, really). Ramsay Bolton — currently vying with Walder Frey for the Most Destestable Character award — first turns Theon into Reek, a whinging, cringing, mangled shadow of a man. During the course of the book, though, Theon starts putting the pieces of himself back together. This ultimately leads to him rescuing Jeyne Poole (disguised as Arya Stark and forcibly married to vicious, abusive Ramsay to cement his claim on Winterfell) and his sister Asha (taken captive by Stannis Baratheon). These chapters are probably the best written in the book — even if you don’t like Theon, as I don’t, his story is pretty compelling.

Then, entirely separate from all those stories, we have a smattering of chapters from folk we saw in A Feast for Crows – Jaime, Cersei, Arya, Asha, Areo Hotah, Victarion. I know this is probably going to be a minority opinion, but I really wish none of those chapters had been included at all. For one thing, it makes the timeline even harder to get straight, because it puts the narratives even more out-of-joint than they already were. For another thing, with the possible exception of Arya’s, they don’t feel as thematically linked together as many of the other stories in A Dance with Dragons, which have fairly strong connections of disease and decay (both literal and figurative, both of physical and mental health), as well as of quests-for-identity. (A Feast for Crows, by contrast, was much more about the mechanics of politics: maneuvering for control, filling in power vacuums, and setting up the pieces for the next play). And for a third, I think it was just more mean than anything. Nothing from AFFC gets resolved — you just end up with more dangling ends. It’s kind of a dickish tease.

The best of that set is definitely Areo’s chapter, which shows us what the Dornish are up to — lots of plotting that could turn out for good entertainment in the future (assuming, of course, that these plans don’t fizzle out as anticlimactically as Quentyn’s story did). I also enjoyed Jaime’s chapter, partially because he’s become (against all odds) one of my favourite characters — but it really didn’t satisfy, since it was, again, only one chapter. I’m also going to be severely irritated if Brienne really has sold him out to save her own skin, because I don’t care for her at all, and Jaime deserves a better ending than that. We need him to strangle Cersei before he goes. Speaking of whom — Cersei’s chapters were pretty painful. That bitch deserves all kinds of pain and suffering, in my opinion, but the glorious celebration of misogynistic abuse that the Faith heaps on her is just awful. She confesses to fornication (though not to incest or treason), and the Faith forces her to take a walk of penance through King’s Landing — naked, shaved bald, and barefoot. Public humiliation is what religion turns to when it’s gone sour and rotten, and it makes me distinctly uncomfortable. I now want to hold off her inevitable death long enough for her to exact retribution on those pious jackasses. Arya’s chapters were just kind of nothing — only a couple of them, and they didn’t so much feel like they had an arc of their own in this book so much as they got left off from her arc in the last book, and GRRM only got around to finishing them now. As for Asha and Victarion, theirs are the chapters that upset the timeline the most, I think, because it sort of implies that everything from the Greyjoys in A Feast for Crows happened really quickly, in a much shorter span of time than everything else in that book. Asha has been forcibly wed to some Ironborn lord who I probably should remember from AFFC, but totally don’t, and has run off to hold Deepwood Motte on her own — except then she gets besieged, loses, and gets taken captive by Stannis. Victarion does nothing in this book except sail towards Dany and prove what a disturbing creeper he is. If that horn of his really can control dragons, I’m going to be so irritated, because of all the characters who don’t deserve one, he’s damn well near the top of the list.

In the epilogue, we see Varys taking rather more direct and definitive action than we’ve witnessed before, outright murdering Grand Maester Pycelle and Kevan Lannister, who had been serving as Regent with Cersei imprisoned. He flat-out says that he couldn’t have Kevan restoring peace between the Lannisters and the Tyrells, because he needs everything still broken and chaotic for a Targaryen reconquest. Specifically, for Aegon. Interesting, considering we’d more or less assumed he was clearing the way for Dany. I don’t know if I think he’s intended for Aegon all along, or if he’s just not putting all his dragon eggs in one basket, as it were. The other interesting thing about the epilogue is the revelation that the maesters of the Citadel have officially declared it winter. Someday, I’d like to find out how they know/determine the change of seasons.

So, overall — I’m giving this 3.5 because I just sort of don’t know what to do with it. There were quite a few moments that genuinely excited me. But there were a lot of things that frustrated me, that needed editing, or that should’ve been held off till the next book. And there are some things still left unanswered — What has been going on with Rickon and Osha? And what about Maege Mormont and the others that Robb, back in A Storm of Swords, sent off to find Howland Reed? Between those questions and the many, many arcs that began in this book or in Feast that have yet to see any kind of fulfillment whatsoever… Well, I guess we’re in for another five or six frustrating years until The Winds of Winter comes out.

If anyone’s interested, I kept record of my play-by-play reactions to the book while I was reading over on my personal journal — the entry is unlocked and available for public view (or at least will be for a few weeks).

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A Game of Thrones, by George R R Martin

Title: Game of ThronesGame of Thrones  (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
Author: George R R Martin
Year of Publication: 2005
Length: 835 pages
Genre: fantasy
New or Re-Read?: Re-read in anticipation of the HBO series starting
Rating: 4 very solid stars

Be ye forwarned: This review is going to be long. I’m also splitting it into two sections: Spoiler-Free and Spoiler-Full. Mostly because I just don’t know how to talk about so much of this book without spoilers.

Spoiler-Free Section

I’m going to try to avoid giving the same review that, well, everyone else on the planet has. Yes; A Game of Thrones is not your grandfather’s fantasy series. Rather than good and evil, we have every conceivable shade of grey. No hero is without fault, and no villain is without… Okay, almost no villain is without some hint of redemption. (I hold severe reservations about Cersei and Lord Frey, for a start). GRRM doesn’t pull punches, and no one is safe — up to and including children and pets. Westeros is a far harsher world than most fantasy series exist in — its as much a political thriller as it is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Especially in this first book, the sorcery aspect is subtly played — rumors, myths, legends, long-forgotten things which no one quite believes in any more.

Okay, so, the requisite summary — And all I can really do without spoilers is tell you how things stand at the beginning of the book: Robert Baratheon is King of the Seven Kingdoms, after overthrowing the previously ruling Targaryen dynasty. He rebelled when the crown prince, Rhaegar, absconded with Robert’s fiancee, Lyanna, the younger sister of Robert’s best friend, Ned Stark. Ned lives up North, close to the Wall, which separates the Seven Kingdoms from the wilds and wastelands (where, we learn in the prologue, an ancient supernatural evil appears to have awakened). Ned has a wife, Catelyn, five children (Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon), and a bastard (Jon). He also has a brother, Benjen, who is a brother of the Night Watch, who guard the Wall. Robert has, for fifteen years now, lived in King’s Landing, towards the south of the continent, with his wife Cersei (Lyanna died in, er, mysterious circumstances before the end of the war). Cersei was born a Lannister, the ruling family in western territories. Robert asks Ned to come serve as the Hand of the King, and despite deep misgivings, Ned agrees. Further complexities ensue thanks to Cersei’s brothers, her twin Jaime (a member of the Kingsguard, who betrayed and murdered Aerys) and the dwarf Tyrion (snarky and smart as a whip). The last Targaryens, meanwhile, are in exile across the Narrow Sea, where heir Viserys is about to sell his sister Daenerys into bridal slavery to a horselord.

And oh yeah. The Targaryens used to have dragons.

Yeah, this book is so complex that even the briefest summary is that long. That gives you a good indication of the depth of the story, though — it has a true cast of thousands, which can be a little mind-boggling at first. The trick is just to let it all wash over you, refer to the index if necessary, and wait for GRRM to draw your attention to the people who are really important. You can notice the rest on re-reads. 😉

This series is also fun for a history geek, because there are a lot of parallels between Martin’s invented history and the history of England. Stark v Lannister pretty strongly resembles York v Lancaster in a lot of ways, the Wall and the wildlings show some inspiration from Hadrian and the Picts, and the “Dance of the Dragons” which is hinted at in this book and talked about a little more elsewhere has correlations to the civil war between Stephen and Maud in the mid-12th century. So there’s an added level of entertainment for readers like me.

Spoiler-Full Zone

Re-reading this book is a trip, because you notice all the things that GRRM seeds so.goddamn.early! Hey, Prince Doran’s hedging his bets. Hey, there’s Barristan Selmy! Hey, they’re talking about Mance Rayder! Hey, Illyrio is talking about the Lord of Light! So many little tidbits thrown out that pay off later.

I noticed this on my last re-read as well, but I become increasingly convinced of the Rhaegar+Lyanna=Jon theory. It’s just… blatant, once you’re aware of it. Nothing in Ned’s memories or fever dreams about Lyanna makes the slightest bit of sense otherwise. And how much he hesitates every time Robert talks about how sweet and biddable Lyanna was and what a great marriage they would’ve had. What concerns me is that GRRM may flounce. Like, since so many fans have guessed that twist, that he’ll change it midway through the game (and, potentially, that’s why DwD was such a struggle for him to get through — because he had to change his initial plans).

Here’s another question I can’t quite figure out: Why does Westeros consider the Targaryens such a big deal? Why is everyone so hung up on them? I mean, I love the Targs, don’t get me wrong. But they were only around for 300 years. Less than that in the North and in Dorne. Yes, they united the Seven Kingdoms, but… for such a fractionally small part of history. I mean, we are talking about a land where (against all probability, language development, and genetic drift), families have had the same names and lived in the same territories for between 1000 and 8000 years. Is it just that they’re so recent? Folk certainly act like they were a much longer institution than they were. How did they come to so thoroughly dominate in such a short time? I find this odd.

I think the easiest way to compose my thoughts will be POV-character-by-POV-character. The first thing that strikes me, looking at these, is how narrow the scope is in this first book compared to later ones. Mind, I think GRRM widens the field far too much in A Feast for Crows (Greyjoys? Really? I’m supposed to care?) But here, 6 of 8 POV characters come from the same family. Our only alternate views come from Tyrion, member of the enemy family to the other 6, and Daenerys, far across the Narrow Sea. Compare this to 5 of 9 in A Clash of Kings, 5 of 10 in A Storm of Swords, and only 2 of 12 in A Feast for Crows, and, well, you see how the story expands outwards.

But, as far as A Game of Thrones goes, we have:

Ned: Eddard Stark, and his indefatigable honour, which pretty much gets everyone dead or in dire peril. Seriously! Most of the problems in these books can be linked to Ned Stark doing what’s “right” instead of what’s smart. I increasingly feel like the winners of this whole series will be the people who can balance honour and pragmatism. People who have no honour at all are villains, and we need to see them fail eventually, even if it takes a while. People with too much honour make idiotic mistakes that get people killed. The characters who are going to triumph, I feel, are those who choose to be honourable when they can be… but who aren’t willing to sacrifice everything for it, who would rather be practical than dead. Ned isn’t one of those people. Ned makes very poor decisions. What’s strange is that, as much as I know his execution shocked me the first time around (mainly due to the thought that POV characters aren’t meant to bite it), on re-read, he seems pretty much doomed from the start. There’s this black cloud that follows him around from the second he hears Robert is headed up the kingsroad to visit him.

Cat: Catelyn Stark, nee Tully, wife to Eddard, daughter to Hoster, sister to Edmure and (crazy-ass) Lysa. I have never liked Cat, and I’ve never made much of a secret about it. What really rubbed me the wrong way about her this time around, though, besides her catastrophically stupid decision to kidnap Tyrion Lannister without good cause, is her treatment of Jon. From the very beginning, she treats him like dirt on the bottom of her shoe. And I just don’t get it. Yes, I can understand being upset about having to house your husband’s bastard. But it’s been fifteen years. Shouldn’t she have reached some peace about that by now? I mean, this is a kid that’s a) not responsible for how he was begotten, b) her eldest son’s best friend, and c) a good influence on her younger children. Why so much hate? Apart from that — yeah, the catastrophically stupid mistake. And what’s worse is how smug she is about it, including her decision to take Tyrion to the Eyrie.

Sansa: Sansa Stark, second child and eldest daughter of Ned and Cat. I swear, she gets dumber each time I read this book. I know she’s just an 11-year-old girl and we shouldn’t expect too much, but, seriously? How did she grow up this dim at Winterfell? How did just living in the North not knock better sense into her? Her younger siblings show a lot more reason and judgment, so you can’t really foist it off on her youth. I wonder if this is, though, a weird streak that she does inherit from Ned rather than from her southron mother — this wanting to believe the best of people. But even so — Ned at least sees the bad and chooses to believe good will prevail. Sansa’s just so blinded by romance that she doesn’t even see it. She’s all, “Oh, Joffrey is my sweet prince and my life will be wonderful!” despite all evidence to the contrary. I mean, seriously, he’s an unabashed little jerkwad from the get-go. There is no redeeming trait in him whatsoever. How does Sansa not see this? I get it that we need her like this at the beginning for the general theme of “life is not a song” (despite the title of the series), but it doesn’t make me want to throttle her any less.

Arya: Arya Stark, third child and second daughter of Ned and Cat. The tomboy. Arya is fiesty and troubled, always feeling like she comes off second-best in comparison to her sister, never allowed to play with the boys in the way she’d like. Ned compares her to his sister, Lyanna — which I think says a lot about Lyanna’s character. Arya has a fiercer practical streak than most of the Starks, and she thinks faster on her feet than the rest of them do. Arya’s also one of the focus points about a theory I have regarding the direwolves — but I think I’m going to hold off commenting on that until I’ve gotten through A Clash of Kings again, because more of it becomes apparent there.

Bran: Brandon Stark, fourth child and second son of Ned and Cat. The dreamer. Him getting thrown out the window is the first “ohmygod!” moment of the series — the first moment when you realise that GRRM means business and won’t protect anyone. Admittedly, Bran doesn’t do a whole lot else in this book — his chapters are fairly introspective, and he is, until Robb leaves Winterfell, more our way to still see what’s going on in the North. The seeds are there, but Bran’s story doesn’t really take off until the Reeds show up.

Jon: Jon Snow, an illegitimate member of the Stark family. I love Jon. He’s one of my favourite characters. But I hadn’t realised just how much of this book he spends vacillating, and it sort of annoyed me on this go-round. I guess it’s necessary to get him to where he needs to be, and I feel like his plot arc is pretty much all about standing at the crossroads and having to make tough decisions about who he is and who he wants to be. Also his dream about Winterfell lying empty, with none of his family there to answer his calls, (pg 267 of the paperback) is really eerily prophetic, considering what comes later.

Tyrion: The Imp, the younger Lannister son. His chapters are probably the most flat-out entertaining of the whole book. He has such an interesting and sarcastic outlook on the world, which makes his viewpoint great fun to look through. I particularly love how he takes to Jon and Bran, and honestly, I really hope that circles back around by the end of the series. Bastards and cripples and broken things — and they could cheerfully take over the world. Tyrion’s so sharp, and you can really tell how his family has influenced him, too — growing up with the lions, he couldn’t let himself show weakness, so even when he has ever reason to be terrified for his life, he has to stay unflappable and irreverent.

Dany: Daenerys Targaryen, Stormborn, Mother of Dragons. My favourite character in the whole series — and she didn’t start out that way. Because she’s so weak and cowed by her brother at the start of the book, dragging her feet and looking backwards — but she gets over it. I love watching her grow, and I love watching her assert herself. Once she Takes a Level in Badass, she just keeps climbing that tree — it starts, I think, with her first moment of throwing off Viserys’s authority. And she keeps leveling up from there — her reaction to his death, “He was no true dragon,” is just kind of brilliant, and then how mercilessly she deals with Mirri Maz Duur — and then, of course, the dragons. Her bravery, her surety that the fire won’t hurt her, how calmly and fearlessly she walks right into it. The ending of this book is one of my favourite moments in the whole series thus far — just the idea of the sky being alive with dragonsong for the first time in hundreds of years, it’s so glorious.

Okay, a couple thousand words later, that may be all I have. For now. I’m sure I’m going to look back as soon as I post this and think of things I’d meant to say. I mean, I have thousands of thoughts about this book and the series, but not all of them structure into a review very well. And that’s what westerosorting is for.

A final thought: This is a book blog, yes, but should I also blog my responses to the “Game of Thrones” episodes as they air? I think I might, particularly with the book so fresh in my mind.

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