So by now everyone and their mother (and mine) has either read Game of Thrones, watched the show, both, or is tapped into the cultural zeitgeist enougSo by now everyone and their mother (and mine) has either read Game of Thrones, watched the show, both, or is tapped into the cultural zeitgeist enough to know what happens in this book. Instead of actually reviewing it, I thought I would take this opportunity to provide a higher level view of the book in light of the show and what happens later in the series (yes, TONS and TONS of spoilers in this review both for this book and the series as a whole).
I decided to re-read Game of Thrones, an activity I rarely do, for two reasons: 1: It had been so long since I had read it originally. I couldn't recall some of the details and how the show may have changed them. I remember enjoying it a lot the first time through and was curious if it would still hold up after many years and the TV show. 2: I have an irrational hope that when I finish A Dance with Dragons Martin will release the next book in the series.
I can safely say that I still enjoyed the heck out of this book and had a greater appreciation of it, now that I have a much better grasp on the history and politics of Westeros. I also saw a lot of foreshadowing (which I will get to later) that I had forgotten about. The prose had a certain elegant economy, describing things beautifully without breaking the flow of the passage.
As far as the next Song of Ice and Fire book goes, who the hell knows. Martin had better not pull a Robert Jordan though, we don't need Brandon Sanderson to get sucked away from the Stormlight Archives again.
So, rambling, but entertaining thoughts.
I had forgotten how cynically hilarious Littlefinger is:
Littlefinger: Is there a man in your service you trust utterly and completely? Ned Stark: Yes Littlefinger: In that case I have a delightful palace in Valyria that I would dearly love to sell you. ~~~ Ned Stark: Lord Baelish, what you suggest is treason. Littlefinger: Only if we lose. ~~~ Ned Stark: ...now you expect me to believe that you tried to protect the girl? How big a fool do you take me for? Littlefinger: Well, quite and enormous one, actually.
Littlefinger was a great foil to all the puffed up, self important honor bound lords and knights Martin populates King's Landing with. And, if Ned had listened to him, all the unpleasantness that ensued could have been avoided (view spoiler)[even if Littlefinger started said unpleasantness to begin with (hide spoiler)].
I really empathized more with Sansa this reading, knowing what was in store for her. She had very clearly bought into all the knights and maiden tales that the modern jaded, cynical reader would scoff at. She relied way too much on the surface appearance of things and assumed people would act the roles they held. Some of her observations were painfully fun/hilariously depressing:
She could not hate Joffrey tonight. He was too beautiful to hate. ~~~ ...but she knew Joffrey liked hunting, especially the killing part. Only animals, though.
Oh my sweet, summer child.
I had much less sympathy for King Robert this time around. Mostly because he was both terrible at governance and abused his wife, then blamed her for his actions:
Purple with rage, the kind lashed out, a vicious backhand blow to the side of the head. She stumbled against the table and fell hard... "You see what she does to me Ned."
On top of the spousal abuse he was very much an absent king, letting his small council run most of the day to day operations save for the occasional demand (like the Hand's tournament which merely put the crown further into debt). The tragic part is he recognizes his own shortcomings in this matter: "I was never so alive as when I was winning the throne, or so dead as now that I have won it.
The Tyion/Bronn bromance was just as awesome as the TV show.
My pardons... but you are scum, Bronn, make no mistake. Duty, honor, friendship, what's that to you? No, don't trouble yourself, we both know the answer. Still, you're not stupid. ~~~ Bronn: Always follow the big man into battle. Tyrion: And why is that? Bronn: They make such splendid targets. ~~~ Tyrion: Splendid, I seem to recall saying 'find me a whore', not 'make me an enemy.' Bronn: The pretty ones were all claimed. I'd be pleased to take her back if you'd prefer a toothless drab.
These two really needed a spinoff show, traveling around with Shae and getting into hijinks.
Some observations about the show:
I am a big far of the HBO show Game of Thrones. I think they do a splendid job adapting the source material. I think most of the changes they have made were well chosen, giving characters more development and cutting some of the fat away.
That being said, it certainly impacted my re-read. I have difficulty imagining the characters any way but what the actors look like, even if they were quite different from in the book. Take Tywin for example:
When his once-thick had begun to recede, he had commanded his barber to shave his head... He razored his lips, but kept his side whiskers, two great thickets of wirey golden hair that covered most of his cheeks from ear to jaw.
Not quite Charles Dance:
Further, Martin envisioned his Iron Throne to be much more badass than what was on the show:
Still, I think the show does a great job bringing the books to life.
I think Martin's prose is under appreciated. Everyone applauds him for his nuanced characters, sprawling setting, and deep history, but the man knows how to turn a phrase:
In the dawn light, the army of Lord Tywin Lannister unfolded like an iron rose. ~~~ ...arakhs and arrows had sown a terrible new crop and watered it with blood. ~~~ He moved like a panther, and that ugly sword of his seemed a part of his arm
Really great, descriptive passages that are beautifully efficient in their economy of language.
Some random musings: -Sam has sisters! I wonder if we will ever run across them or if he will meet them again. -First runner up for title of best foreshadowing: Lord Walder Frey might be sworn to Riverrun, but he was a cautious man who had lived a long time by making certain hw was always on the winning side. -Winner of the title for best foreshadowing (double points for irony):Roose Bolton (!!!) nodded. "Go in there alone and you're his. He [Walder Frey] could sell you to the Lannisters, throw you in a dungeon, or slit your throat, as he likes." -People forget that before Brienne, there was Dacey Mormont, who "... had been given a morningstar at an age when most girls were given dolls." It would have been awesome if she ever hung out with Brienne. -The Eastern Market that Dany visits hints at some really awesome cultures and animals: people who wear monkey tail hats, shadow men who cover their bodies in tattoos, manticores, giraffes, some sort of dinosaur ("...terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws."). I know Martin has built a big enough world already, but I would love to see more of Essos's cultures and strange beasts. -Martin did a great job finishing this book off, making the reader super eager for the next book. All of the main characters found themselves at an awesome jumping off points for the next book: -Rob had a smashing victory over the Lannisters and has been declared King of the North -Tyrion has been given the trust of his father and the power to straighten things out in Kings Landing -Jon will be joining the Night's Watch on a giant ranging north of the Wall -Dany now has dragons!!!
All in all the re-read was well worth it. Not just because the book is great on its own, but because knowing more about the world and the events to come enriches the experience. This book has made me quite confident I will enjoy the rest of the series as I slowly work my way through them.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
And my slow re-read of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series continues with the third installment A Storm of Swords (which is probably one of the worst types of weather to be stuck in, just ask so many characters form this book). Since everyone and their mother has read, watched, or is at least aware of the plot lines in this series I thought I would instead write about my experience with the re-read and point out quotes, passages, and ideas I liked. Expect lots and lots and lots of spoilers for the books and TV show.
When I initially read this series I thought this was the best book of the lot. So much action, twists, amazing characters, and plot development. After reading it again I stand by that assessment. Martin does a stupendous job keeping things moving in an interesting direction for just about all the POV characters. While a lot of the first half of the book is set up, it is expertly written and pays off big time in the second half. Subtle clues that Martin drops bear fruit and once again we are reminded that standard fantasy themes are about as popular in Westeros as Greyscale.
First off we have some pretty awesome new characters. From High Garden we have the Queen of Thorns, Matriarch of the powerful Tyrell family. She is old, sassy, blunt, smart as a whip, and turns some lovely phrases:
"Gallant, yes, and charming, and very clean. He [Renly Baratheon] knew how to dress and he knew how to smile and he knew how to bathe, and somehow he got the notion that this made him fit to be king."
"We should have stayed out of all this bloody foolishness if you ask me, but once the cow's been milked there's no squirting the cream back up her udder."
"His [Lord Tyrell, her son] father was an oaf as well. My husband, the late Lord Luthor. Oh, I loved him well enough, don't mistake me. A kind man, and not unskilled in the bedchamber, but an appalling oaf all the same. He managed to ride off a cliff whilst hawking. they say he was looking up at the sky and paying no mind to where his horse was taking him.
"And now my oaf son is doing the same, only he's riding a lion instead of a pelfry. It is easy to mount a lion and not so easy to get off... Should you ever have a son, Sansa, beat him frequently so he learns to mind you."
[At Joffrey and Margaery's absurdly extravagant wedding] "I do so hope he plays us 'The Rains of Castamere.' It has been an hour, I've forgotten how it goes."
She is played to perfection by the indomitable Diana Rigg, and he scenes with Charles Dance's Lord Tywin were some of the best of seasons three and four.
Another great new character we meet is the Oberyn Martell, brother to the Prince of Dorne and general badass who earned the nickname Red Viper from his amazing snake collection (Hold a moment, I am being told it is because he is rumored to use aggressively nasty poisons on his weapons. Oh well, an honest mistake on my part).
The High Septon began with a prayer, asking the Father Above to guide them to justice. When he was done the father below [Lord Tywin] leaned forward to say, "Tyrion, did you kill King Joffrey?"
He would not waste a heartbeat. "No."
"Well, that's a relief," said Oberyn Martell dryly.
Oberyn abruptly changed the subject. "It's said there are to be seventy-seven dishes served at the king's wedding feast."
"Are you hungry, my prince?"
"I have hungered for a long time. though not for food. Pray tell me, when will the justice be served?" (Yes, even badass warriors can tell terrible Dad jokes.)
But hands down, he probably had one of the greatest one-on-one fight scenes in all the books when he showed down with The Mountain that Rides. Pedro Pascal absolutely rocked this character in the show and owned just about every scene he was in.
Rereading this book gave me a better context to understand some things. Like this amazingly prescient prophecy given by an ancient, tiny woman:
"I dreamt I saw a shadow with a burning heart butchering a golden stag, aye(view spoiler)[(Stannis shadowbaby killing Renly) (hide spoiler)]. I dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung. On his shoulder perched a drowned crow with seaweed hanging form his wings (view spoiler)[(the murder of Balon Greyjoy by a faceless man and a clue to the person who hired the killer) (hide spoiler)]. I dreamt of a roaring river and a woman that was a fish. Dead, she drifted, with red tears on her cheeks, but when her eyes did open, oh, I woke from terror(view spoiler)[(Lady Stark's death and resurrection as Lady Stoneheart) (hide spoiler)]."
Later we get another snippet of prophecy whose means currently eludes me: "I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom tripping from their fangs(view spoiler)[ (I am guessing this is Sansa) (hide spoiler)]. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow(view spoiler)[(not a clue) (hide spoiler)].
Pretty awesome stuff.
Martin, for all the crap he get about rape and sexual violence (a lot of that is probably warranted) does do a magnificent job highlighting just how damaging the patriarchy is and allowing his female characters to shine through with some kickass scenes.
"So long as you [Cersei] remain unwed, you allow Stannis to spread his disgusting slander. you must have a new husband in your bed, to father children on you."
"Three children is quite sufficient. I am Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, not a brood mare! The Queen Regent!"
"You are my daughter, and will do as I command."
"I will not sit here and listen to this-"
"You will if you wish to have any voice in the choice of your next husband... You will marry and you will breed. every child you birth makes Stannis more a liar"
Not quite the fairy tale glamour of being a queen of your own kingdom. Even the highest ranking woman in the realm is still but an object for the males in her family to use for political gain.
"Woman, you bray like an ass, and make no more sense."
"Woman? Is that meant to insult me? I would return the slap if I took you for a man. I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, khaleesi to Drogo's riders, and queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros."
You can guess who ends up failing in the "not being killed by the other" competition.
And on that note I think it is important to point out something that is often glossed over. Daenerys gets a lot of (well earned) crap for being a terrible political leader. As we see in the subsequent books, but get the first glimpse of in this one, she stumbles from one bad policy to another, typically making things worse. But we rarely see Robb "I'm so cool I get an extra 'b' in my name" Stark get similarly lampooned. Let's look at some of his terrible mistakes:
-Killing the Karstarks and alienating a significant amount of Northmen. -Trusting Theon "My Dad rebelled against Robert Baratheon and has been bitter ever since" Greyjoy with securing an alliance with the Ironborn whose entire existence is comprised of raping things they had not already set on fire. -Denuding the North of most of its military strength. -Marrying for love/because he got infatuated with a maiden thereby pissing off a major supporter who also controlled the only route back to his homeland. -Trusting anyone who has a torture device as their family symbol. -Being more than 10 feet away from his own direwolf.
The difference between him and Daenerys is that he had the courtesy to let all his mistakes end up killing him while she has stuck around for all the books. Seriously, he was a great battlefield commander, but just as bad of a political leader as her, but she gets a lot more crap for her efforts than he does.
One final note I want to make before getting into some of the many, many, MANY great bits of prose is the choice that both Tywin Lannister and Stannis Baratheon face regarding the execution of the war.
Tywin: "Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner?"
Stannis: "My duty is to the realm. How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? the darkness will devour them all, she says... what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?"
Both, no matter how much they might deny it, take the same approach to justify their actions. Sure, they may be killing people, but think of all the people that AREN'T being killed. I found it interesting how subtlety Martin juxtaposed these decisions in sequential chapters. And the question is by no means settled here, many other characters will have to face the decision of how to weigh the needs of the many compared to the needs of the few. Of course I am sure it helped Stannis and Tywin that the needs of the many so conveniently aligned with their own needs.
Obviously there are tons of other juicy details that I have neglected (Jamie's redemption arc, the devastation war causes populations ("War was everywhere, each man against his neighbor."), and the great threat of the Others to name a few), but there is only so much digital ink available. Sufficed to say this book is filled to the brim with action, intrigue, and twists that make it, in my mind, still the best book of the series.
Now on to some fun passages!
Dolorous Edd is the best Edd: "I never win anything. The gods always smiled on Watt, though. When the wildlings knocked him off the Bridge of Skulls, somehow he landed in a nice deep pool of water. How lucky was that, missing all those ricks?"
"Was it a long fall? Did landing in the pool of water save his life?"
"No. He was dead already, from that axe in his head. Still, it was pretty lucky, missing the rocks."
Damn, George Martin can turn a pretty phrase: Pale mists rose from the black earth as the riders threaded their way through the scatter of stones and scraggly trees, down towards the welcoming fores strewn like jewels across the floor of the river valley below.
Oh Sansa, welcome to the terror that is adulthood: They are children, Sansa thought. They are silly little girls... They've never seen a battle, they've never seen a man die, they know nothing. Their dreams were full of songs and stories, the way hers had been before Joffrey cut her father's head off. Sansa pitied them. Sansa envied them.
Sometimes the accounting bits get a little tricky/It is all relative really: I've lost a hand, a father, a son, a sister, and a lover, and soon enough I will lose a brother. And yet they keep telling me House Lannister won this war.
Way to be a total fatalistic killjoy Tyrion: It all goes back and back, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our stead.
Because of course Joffrey is a little racist: Of late the king had been repeating little jests about the Dornish that he'd picked up from Mace Tyrell's men-at-arms. How many Dornishmen does it take to shoe a horse? Nine. One to do the shoeing, and eight to lift the horse up. Somehow Tyrion did not think Doran Martell would find that amusing.
Wildings or Marxists?: "The gods made the earth for all men t'share. Only when the kings come with their crowns and steel swords, they claimed it was all theirs. My trees, they said, you can't eat them apples. My stream, you can't fish there. My wood, you're not t'hunt. My earth, my water, my castle, my daughter, keep your hands away or I'll chop'em off, but maybe if you kneel to me I'll let you have a sniff. You call us thieves, but at least a thief has t'be brave and clever and quick. A kneeler only has t'kneel."
Thoros, the Best Red Priest: "I say we need a fire. The night is dark and full of terrors. And wet too, eh? Too very wet."
(Speaking of the Red God...) Everyone always forgets that second part: "The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope.
Jon Snow, a know nothing who is also terrible at vows: "Donal, the hot knife, if you please. I shall need you to hold him still."
I will not scream, Jon told himself when he saw the blade glowing red hot. But he broke that vow as well.
And why not finish up on the true villains of this sprawling morality play:
A horse's head emerged from the darkness. Same felt a moment's relief, until he saw the horse. Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. On its back a rider pale as ice... The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new fallen snow.
I will preface this review by stating that I am a huge Brandon Sanderson fan. He is probably my favorite author that is currently writing.
With that beI will preface this review by stating that I am a huge Brandon Sanderson fan. He is probably my favorite author that is currently writing.
With that being said I think Sanderson did a pitch perfect, text book opening book for a Fantasy epic:
-Opens with cryptic scene from ages before the main plot takes place, hinting to a great conflict and wonderous forces that will shape the world. -An introduction of the main characters in vastly different situations to bring a wide range of this new setting to life. -Occasional interludes with semi-recurring or one use charatcers to add to the depth of the world and explore a parallel plot that does not (yet) directly touch upon the main characters. -Puts obstacles in the path of the main characters and grows the characters as they overcome them, endearing them to the reader and setting them up for some very fascinating future development. -And, most importantly, ends both with some very satisfying conclusions to plot lines and sets up HUGE cliffhangers for the next book in the series while laying the groundwork for the greater, more existential threat, that must be vanquished.
Some of you may say "Wow, that's a lot of tropes to fit into one book." But remember, at this point every single plot line/event/character is some sort of trope (see the website TV Tropes if you don't believe me), and Sanderson embodies this archetypes so effortlessly that even when we are introduced to the character on the traditional hero arc, I didn't feel like I had read that arc a thousand times before. (Also, it is a really big book, so it can fit in a lot of tropes if it needed to)
I won't bore you with too many details of the book (vaguely fuedal-esque societies with some nifty magic, interesting social conventions, and a deep history; protaganists from different walks of life; things are more than they appear, etc. etc. etc.) sufficed to say that if you like Epic Fantasy and/or Brandon Sanderson novels this is an absolute must read. I was salivating for the next installment immediately after finishing the last page....more