Apologies beforehand if this post seems a bit disjointed. I’ve been chipping away at it for a long time (in true Ice & Fire-fashion, he almost said aloud).
|Hey look, I have a gentle heart after all. Mm.|
All right, time to take a dive back into A Breeze of Butterknives…I mean, A Storm of fricking Swords. I think it’s such an awesome title. A STORM OF SWORDS. I know a lot of people find Martin’s titles bland but this one is epic in my opinion. You’re not just getting a blade thrust through your chest, you’re getting a storm of swords right in your face. Epically so. The title does perhaps lie a little bit, though; it suggests all-out war, mayhem and new levels of violence but most of the storylines are smaller scale, its more about the characters, a string of weddings, trials and politicking. The war for Westeros is somewhat in the background for most of the book, partially because we’re never close to the frontlines, and partially because there’s not that much going on (as I mentioned in my write-up of Game of Thrones Season III Episode V right here). Is this an early sign of Martin losing his grip on the story (for those who think that he did actually lose his grip on the story)? The conflict between the kings which was so central to most if not all storylines south of the Wall takes something of a backseat (perhaps because we’ve lost two of those kings – Renly and later Balon), and the story focuses more tightly on characters and talking about the war. What I am trying to say is that we’ve zoomed out from the battlefields. As long as the chapters are awesome it doesn’t matter, but really, if you think about it, as you progress through A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, doesn’t it feel as if the core of the story has kind of…drifted away? I’ll be on the lookout for the war from now on, to see if I’m merely wrong in my perception or if there’s something to that feeling.
Daenerys Stormborn’s in the market for something new
So we’ve come to the chapter that was so beautifully brought to life on the TV screen, where Daenerys meets Kraznys, the disgusting foul-mouthed slaver lord of Astapor (loved actor Dan Hildebrand’s work in the role).
It opens with kind of a close-up, focusing on the center of the Plaza, where a red brick fountain smells of brimstone and features a twenty foot tall bronze harpy. Unusually perhaps for Mr. Martin at this point in the saga, the chapter gives us a lot of exposition here in the beginning, something that we’ll see seep in more and more. First there is the detailed (and pretty cool I admit) description of the harpy statue, followed by exposition on Old Ghis, an empire long gone in true fantasy tradition (and maybe there’s a bit of foreshadowing in here too, since it was Valyria that destroyed Old Ghis with dragonfire); he circles back to the statue as it is and remains a symbol of that old empire, so I have to say that Martin does his expo well here, as it is all connected, and it doesn’t go on for pages and pages – almost suddenly, Kraznys mo Nakloz speaks up with a line of dialogue that breaks the lull of exposition with a harsh and direct “Tell the Westerosi whore to lower her eyes”. And with just that line of dialogue Martin establishes the Kraznys character (and will delight us with more, even harder, words).
He’s a pretty offensive guy, verbally, this Kraznys. I imagine George had a lot of fun writing his dialogue, and I can imagine lots of folk thinking it’s too much. I think it’s perfect, both because this character becomes such a contrast to the almost holier-than-thou angelic Daenerys (she’s certainly angelic in Emilia Clarke’s guise, and I find it hard not to imagine her when I read) and because as a reader I’m reminded that not everyone drops everything they have to join Dany’s crusade – thus, it stays fresh and somewhat realistic. Used to be I thought Daenerys’ story felt tacked on and not as interesting as the rest of the story – now, and I admit the TV show has some of the blame for it – I find her story more interesting, it’s almost a bit biblical in fact. The Bible doesn’t exactly shy away from intense violence, tunics and dry areas either. Also, Daenerys is *kind of* a messianic figure, isn’t she? There’s a lot of biblical imagery in Daenerys’ chapters, that’s for sure and I bet you there will be a book about it anytime now (maybe there already is, to accompany the collected quips ofTyrion Lannister). I'm not going any further into this particular subject, as I am sure to get mired in endless arguments against religion.
ANYWAY, back to Kraznys' opening line (dammit I have to double-check his name every time - not looking forward to Dany's chapters in A Dance with Dragons in that regard). Unlike in the TV show, we learn quite early on in the chapter that Daenerys understands Kraznys' insults, but it doesn't take away from the chapter - rather, both ways work. It came as a surprise (possibly) to viewers, while readers enjoyed knowing she understood everything while Kraznys doesn't. This little ploy really adds a nice layer (or subtext if you will) to the chapter. Oh, and look, we're introduced to the translator girl Missandei!
Somebody in HBO's casting department didn't pay attention when they found Nathalie Emmanuel for the role: "No older than ten, she had the round flat face, dusky skin, and golden eyes of Naath." They got the dusky part down, I admit. Interestingly, it was Ser Jorah Mormont who suggested to Daenerys to keep hidden her knowledge of High Valyrian, a tiny tiny detail I have forgotten since last time I read the book. Guess it's been two or three years.
It's great how Daenerys also understands Missandei's translations back to Kraznys, and how Martin uses this to show us her character as well. She takes care to change Kraznys' foul language into something less offensive, and oh, they didn't read Kraznys' description either: "He has larger breasts than I do," Dany reflected. It's another grossly overweight easterner, but seriously (in case you think I'm actually annoyed by characters appearing differently between the show and the book) it doesn't really matter what Kraznys looks like. Still, for such a minor character, Martin is able to blow a lot of life into him. Excellent, quick characterization by way of swearing. Slynt approves.
It's freaking hot in the Plaza of Pride, so hot it burns beneath her sandals. That's pretty hot. Actually, it's about as hot as the bathroom floor in House Slynt, which the Lady prefers to keep that warm for the drying of clothes. Next time I'm down there to change a diaper or whatever (not on myself I must add), I'll pretend I'm in the Plaza of Pride, asking Daenerys out for dinner.
We get our first proper look at the Unsullied (they were actually present in her first chapter in A Game of Thrones) and just how hard as nails these guys are. Kraznys explains further how they are trained, which is also rather offensive; to my surprise, Ser Jorah Mormont isn't present (he's aboard the Balerion), but Ser Barristan is with her, tapping his staff and, according to Kraznys, smelling bad. Selmy is clearly uncomfortable with this army of brain-washed slaves and I don't blame him. Martin makes sure that we dislike this slaver and his methods, that's for sure. I kind of feel that he takes it a notch too far with the baby-killing. They also remind me somewhat of the clone troopers, in the way that "they are like one man", an army bred more than trained. We get the scene where Kraznys demonstrates Unsullied loyalty, and I remember how disturbing I found it the first time I read the novel. Few novels, actually, have disturbed me. There are scenes like this from Ice and Fire, and there's American Psycho. Can't think of any others actually, not right now anyway.
When Kraznys explains about the, ah, taking away of the penis and testicles so that the Unsullied shall know no temptation, I cringe. When he speaks of the Westerosi orders that have vows of chastity and says, "Their days are torment of temptation, any fool must see, and no doubt most succumb to their baser selves," I'm thinking that this is a big problem even today. Looking at you, Catholic church. The Unsullied are not even allowed to have names. They really have nothing. Except their weapons and armor, of course. Oh, and they change their names daily, which the show omitted. Daenerys is having trouble keeping her mask up, which gives us a little suspense, when Kraz begins talking about how all Unsullied must slay infants as part of their training. Selmy is losing his patience with this complete abomination of a slaver, a man so devoid of empathy he verges on the very edge of becoming caricature.
Kraznys reminds us once again just how good these eight thousand Unsullied-for-sale are, but I admit I do find myself not completely buying into this, I just can't imagine that so many men would turn into automatons, as if people can be so completely stripped of their humanity. Yes, there's brain-washing, but this is really over the top, isn't it? I mean, there's no free will, not a glimmer of independence, left in these soldiers. They are like robots. Still, considering the many strange, dangerous and terrifying things people have done in the real world...I don't know. I like the concept for a fantasy story of course, and since I'm buying that Dany is carrying around three dragons I can only accept the Unsullied as well, but...I don't know. Maybe I just don't want to accept the absolute cruelty these innocent slaves have been subject to. Enough!
Selmy advises her not to take the army; he reminds her that in Westeros, slavery is an abomination (kind of funny that Ser Jorah was a slaver by the way); Daenerys has a funny line when she tells him Joffrey won't hand her the Iron Throne politely; and Selmy says that "half of Westeros will be with you, (...) Your brother Rhaegar is still remembered, with great love." Now, this is interesting, isn't it? Half of Westeros? I guess he must have some knowledge, considering he was the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, in effect marshall of the seven kingdoms, but really? What half is that? Have we really felt/seen/read this in the chapters taking place in Westeros? Has Martin really planned to have 50% of the Westerosi people secretly longing for the return of the Targaryens? I remember there are a few more mentions later in the series, but so far there has been little - very little - positive talk about the Targaryens, but that could easily be because we only follow the POVs of the high and mighty enemies of the dragons. Could the smallfolk truly be sowing dragon banners in secret? It does turn out in A Feast for Crows that at least one major House is betting on Daenerys...it's quite interesting, and maybe if we get a POV from a commoner, we'll see more of this so far only alleged loyalty to House Targaryen. I am quite certain, though, that there's been no fond memories shared about Rhaegar - so far into the series. Yes, there's someone remembering him perhaps too fondly in A Dance with Dragons.
Gotta love this exchange:
"I will feed her jellied dog brains, and a fine rich stew of octopus and unborn puppy."
"Many delicious dishes can be had here, he says."
I chuckle at the simple, but oh so effective, ploy of using imagined language barriers to carry the entire scene. So entertaining, no wonder it did well on the TV screen as well (I think it's my favorite scene in season three, actually).
Well, the meeting is eventually over, and Daenerys with her entourage leave the Plaza of Pride (could it have a more ironic name). We are treated to a closer look at the city, Selmy gives us an old rhyme to summarize the city ("Bricks and blood built Astapor, and bricks and blood her people"), tells her to leave the city, but Daenerys wants to follow Ser Jorah's advice instead. She thinks of Ser Jorah and how he had tried to kiss her, and how that had woken something in her that had been dormant since Khal Drogo (that would be her sexuality), there's a paragraph of Daenerys fingering herself which turns into a lesbian scene when Irri discovers what she's doing and helps her along (and which I'd categorize as, uhm, interesting but unnecessary I suppose)... And there's Strong Belwas, enjoying a haunch of dog. Why not, I say? Dog, cat, cow, fowl..it's all meat. Not that I prefer to eat dog. I just don't find it shocking.
Jorah awaits her, asks her how the meeting went, and anger flares up in Daenerys (Jorah wakes the dragon) because she's pretty upset about the Unsullied and how they are treated. It is clear that Dany has lost a great deal of confidence in Jorah, because of the kiss, because of the way he goggles her, and because he adviced her to check out the Unsullied - however, she has decided to buy them. Aboard, the dragons have been restless in her absence (take note).
Sweetness but it's a long chapter. I want to play Neverwinter but I had decided to finish this longish post. Discipline before dalliance! Now there's a word we'll have use for come A Dance with Dragons. No, not discipline. Daenerys is reminded that she must take Westeros with fire and blood, Jorah reminds her that atrocities exist elsewhere as well, there is some discussion on tactics (so as to explain why they don't attack the city with what forces she has), and through her questions and advice-seeking, we learn that she does try to be like her legendary heroic brother Rhaegar, quite obviously when she asks, "When he touched a man on the shoulder with his his sword, what did he say?" which basically equates to, "What would Rhaegar have done in my case?" There's a difference though, which Jorah utters with his immortal line that closes the chapter, "Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died." Which is a more poetic way of saying, "Listen, Dany honey, you have to use some dirty tricks and swallow your pride to get this invasion-thing of yours going. Yes you'll be buying eight thousand men who have strangled puppies and killed infants, but that's what you got to do if you want to win the Iron Throne." Epic stuff!
But seriously, before I venture into the world of either casual gaming or dreamland as provided by my longed-for bed, I wish these early books had some sprinkling of people remembering Rhaegar fondly so as to support both Selmy and Mormont's statements - unless they are actually hyping him up for some reason. I could be wrong and have overlooked / forgotten any such passages, but I can't for the life of me remember any passages glorifying Rhaegar the way Selmy does. Maybe in one of Sansa's chapters? She's always on about heroic knights and chivalry and stuff. Maybe I'm just asking for too much too late. Maybe George "built" Rhaegar's story as he wrote so that it was too late to retroactively put him more into the backstory? A man can wonder, and wonder some more. I could check out some websites of course where people discuss all this and more, but it doesn't really matter does it? Either Rhaegar is remembered as a hero and once Daenerys lands in Westeros we'll see half the continent raise the dragon banners, or Selmy and Mormont have been filling Dany's head with notions that turn out to be not entirely true.
And now for a quick detour to Martin's blog to check out the latest news on Ice & Fire. Haven't been there in a while. Maybe there's an update on The Winds of Winter, or an insightful commentary on some element of his masterpiece. Loading page..whoa, almost forgotten the redesign. Disturbing.
Headed for Conquest? What! That sounds like a post about Daenerys! Or is it Aegon? Stannis?! Oh. Mr. Martin is going on a road trip to Kansas City. On the Scale of Interest (SoI) I'd rate that a good 1.
More Wild Cards Goodness? Not sure if I'm being trolled or if there actually exists Wild Cards goodness.
The Great Gatsby? Who has time for movies these days? SoI: -3.
The Rogues are Coming? I give up. SoI: 1.
Coming up: BRAN (if Hodor can help him up. Awww a joke about the disabled. Sorry)