Monday, June 8, 2015

[Re-read] Daenerys I (ADWD 3) - War for the Yawn

No, really. How do all these days just fly by, with me not being able to even read one chapter from A Feast with Dragons? And how come there's already a new, ninth episode of Game of Thrones Season V available? Well, I can only blame myself for not being able to keep up with the world of Westeros - I've been indulging myself with my own stuff, spending what little free time I've had tinkering with my role-playing game world. But today! Before watching episode nine, and before reading any online commentaries for that episode, I am going to try and cram in a chapter re-read. It's been a while. One good thing can come from this slow-down, though - I might still be blogging A Feast with Dragons when The Winds of Winter is announced, or even published. Once the announcement hits, I'm certain to speed up, because I do want to get through this combined re-read of books four and five just to feel ready for book six. It's been quiet on the Not a Blog-front for a while, which I take as a sign for Martin actually working on the book (until he announces he's been editing some anthology, of course), so maybe I should get my pace up - set a goal of one chapter a week, at least. For this week, at any rate, I have arrived at Daenerys' first chapter in A Dance with Dragons, the seventh of the combined re-read A Feast with Dragons. I'm already convinced that combining the two novels makes for a better read; while I'm only on the seventh overall, it already feels as if the story flows better. To my surprise, I found Tyrion's previous chapter to be better on a re-read, too, if a bit slow, so it seems as if I'm slowly turning around - at least a little - on my initially pretty negative view on these books. Let's go!

...And hours passed, in which I, tongue lolling, worked on a map of a province of my campaign world instead of continuing this post. Oh, the distractions! The few hours in the day! Right. Daenerys. Here we go. I'm kind of procrastinating here, because my memory of Dany's chapters in Dance do not compel me to read them again. I remember them as being overly long, overly plodding, and riddled with forgettable names that made it hard to keep track of her court. I better make a concentrated effort this time - I'm sure it will pay off....or am I really that sure...dun-dun-DUNN!

(Eight hours later...)

Real life got in the way. And I was subjected to a massive spoiler for last night's Game of Thrones episode, even though I have steadfastly avoided any site related to A Song of Ice and Fire. But I should've expected it, this really hasn't been my day today. Bad luck from early dawn. One of those days, you know. Perhaps not the best day to get cracking on a Daenerys-chapter, 'cause they tend to drag in this part of the story, to put it mildly. But as I said earlier today, maybe I'll enjoy it more now that I'm focused and wanting to like +1. So here we go again. Dun-dun-and-dunn.

Right, so the chapter opens with Dany hearing a dead man coming up the steps. In a world where the dead do indeed walk, this opening does raise the eyebrow - is she talking about a wight, or are we entirely metaphorical and "dead man" means "doomed man", which of course it is. Her pillars are purple and she has made her throne an ebon bench. A bench! Is "ebon" an adjective anyway? Blogger doesn't think so. And her hair is tousled, but also silver-gold. I thought it was silver only, so there I learned something new. Ser Barristan tells her she doesn't have "to see this", and you have to hand it to Martin, he still knows how to get a reader curious. What's "this"? Why is there a dead man approaching? She says that he "died for her", as she clutches a lion pelt to her chest. I have to say that is some awkward imagery, and when Martin / Daenerys feels the need to stop to ponder the "sheer white linen tunic" covering her "to midthigh" (another word Blogger doesn't accept as TRVE) I am already beginning to lose interest..because, Martin first builds up interest through making me wonder what's going on, then he hits the brakes to describe her freaking underwear. Or whatever. Oh, it is explained that she had no time to dress properly before this audience; she had been dreaming of a house with  a red door. She is so going to find a house with a red door in this story. Also, red signifies blood and death, so it might not be a happy reunion..with the door.

Irri whispers that she must not touch the 'dead man' because it's bad luck. Jhiqui corrects her, and we get the by now entirely over-used "It is known". But is the overuse of "It is known" a counter-point in the narrative to Jon Snow's (well, technically Ygritte's) "You know nothing, Jon Snow"? It might just be so. Daenerys actually thinks of them as "utter fools" when talking about anything but horses, and why are these women whispering in her ear anyway? Are they her appointed counsilors? If yes, why have "utter fools" to counsel? We are reminded of how the two came in Dany's service, before we have Grey Worm appearing on stage, torch in hand. Bronze cap, three spikes. Four Unsullied, bearing the dead man on their shoulders. You know, when I act surprised (as in: Wait, it IS a dead man?!) I *am* actually surprised. I haven't read this chapter since the day it was published, and that is beginning to be a long time ago - and my memory circuits were never among the best. But hey, it was a dead man. But then the first paragraph doesn't make sense - she never heard a dead man coming up the steps, she heard the Unsullied, headed by Grey Worm. Nitpicky? Sure. But it works as one of (presumably) many examples of why I feel this text is inferior to the first three novels, were everything is so crisp and well-paced and, above all, thorough. Things are a little more sloppy here (in terms of technical writing, I suppose) and this is one example where I'd say Martin could have written it differently - he could have gotten his point across without resorting to a stale metaphor ("dead man walking") which didn't even function as a metaphor all the time the dead man she heard was actually dead and being carried by other people. OKAY.

The deadbeat is smooth and harless, cheeks slashed open from ear to ear; tall, blue-eyed, fair of face. More wounds than she can count. We don't know how far she can count though, so this makes no sense. Just joking.

A harpy was drawn on the bricks where the corpse was found, and so the Sons of the Harpy are introduced, and hey, the writers of Game of Thrones took pieces from here for season five. That's nice. Stalwart Shield, an Unsullied - and also the corpse we're focusing on - had been off duty and so he had gone to a brothel and ended up dead. Long story. Grey Worm explains that even though a man lacks his manly parts he still has a heart, and it is a bit sad that Stalwart gave the prostitutes money just to hold him. A nice little detail that breaks Daenerys' heart (reading between the lines here, of course) but the blood of the dragon does not weep. We are given a quick refresher course about how the Unsullied name themselves (maybe there's one who named himself Cockless Wonder?); Grey Worm says that Stalwart had been swarmed from all sides, giving us a clue that the Sons of the Harpy are many, not just one or two Meereenese geezers having fun. Dany says a silent prayer, hoping that one of the Harpy's Sons is dying even now. Well, that is a bit weird, too. Why is she hoping for just one Son to be dying, when she just learned Stalwart Shield was swarmed? "Hey Dany, a whole bunch of people killed him." "I hope one of them dies!" Also, what god does she pray to? I assume she's just mouthing off a prayer without a hotline to any deity...which is fine, I'm not criticizing here, just genuinely wondering...did the Targaryens ever have gods? Or did they see themselves as gods? Or were the Valyrians their god? If Dany has a god, which is it? The Great Stallion? The biggest most badass dragon? Could R'hlorr be such a dragon - a fire-breathing one, and the Great Other be a huge ice dragon? Not implausible, actually. Right. Back to the chapter. But I'm noting this down for further research.

Ouch. Not only was Stalwart murdered in a most brutal way, they forced the genitals of a goat down his throat. And we're told in a perfectly casual manner by Grey Worm, as if he were discussing the import prices of tea with Daenerys. Thanks. Martin, but I already knew you can imagine the most twisted, horrid things. You don't have to put in something grotesque all the time. Well, Dany at any rate observes that the Sons of the Harpy are growing bolder and I think we already could surmise that. This is a big problem with Dany's arc for me in ADWD. She suddenly feels a lot less smarter than the way she was portrayed so far. That's what I remember feeling three years ago, anyway. Four years, sorry. She realizes she is still fighting a war, but this time against a hidden enemy. She shrugs out of the lion pelt, closes Stalwart's eyes and tells Grey Worm to seek out the Blue Graces and ask if they have received anyone with a sword wound; Grey Worm is also told to check out who's been gelding goats of late and I can't help but laugh a little at that. It just sounds awkward. "Find them," she says, "so that I might teach the Harpy's Sons what it means to wake the dragon." And...I don't feel it. She sounds so...lacking of conviction. Maybe it 's the way her dialogue here is written. It feels a bit clunky. Anyway and anyhoo.

Stalwart is carried out of the purple-pillared throne room, but Ser Barristan Selmy (another dead man right there, eh) stays behind. "The years had not yet robbed him of his skill at arms." HBO begs to differ!! Damnit. Daenerys resettles on the bench (is Martin trying to teach her some humility here? She wants the Iron Throne, the mother of all thrones so to speak, and she has to make do with a bench - perhaps a thought worth chasing, but not right now - I just need to get this chapter out of my system. So apologies for any spelling mistakes et al, I'm writing like the wind here. No, not the wind of winter. More like the wind of involuntarily-twitching-of-tired-eyes. So.

Ser Barristan tells her that the Unsullied are soldiers, but not warriors - made for the battlefield, not for the backstabbing in the alleys of Meereen. A lengthy exposition on the political state of Meereen follows (there are still slaves, her rule doesn't really extend beyond the walls, the stores are great but dwindling yayaya Brown Blen Plumm took his Second Sons south to guard against Yunkai)...she wonders who can help her with the Sons of the Harpy, because the Unsullied aren't "made" for it, neither is Ser Barristan. Then she begins to think of "glib-tongued" Daario Naharis. Yup. He can fix. And another long paragraph of not very interesting stuff (this is not the author's fault; I am just not as enthralled with Essos as he has become - I really really like Westeros). We get the height of the Great Pyramid repeated, one hundred feet taller than the Wall (so that's a pretty tall pyramid), and again there's this feeling that Martin is using the narrative to contrast - and perhaps parallel - Jon and Dany's stories.

Viserion senses that Dany is distraught. It lays coiled around a pear tree. We are reminded of his colors - eyes and horns of gold, as are his scales (which I always imagined where white - is it the sunset playing tricks on my eyes? Anyway, the reason Martin is giving us a quick recap of Viserion's colors will be apparent later down the line, in Tyrion's chapters. What's interesting about Martin's choice of a pear tree is that it (intentionally or not) symbolizes fertility; and what do you know, at the end of her arc in this story, it seems she's fertile again. What the whole of this sequence with Viserion wants to tell us, though, is that the dragons are growing "wild of late". So many words just to get that point across. This is another example of what I feel went wrong with Feast and onward: it's almost as if Martin - at times, not all the time - uses a ghost writer who just isn't as skilled as he is. I mean, come on. A book or two ago, Martin would have shown us the dragons growing unruly, not just told us. A scene where Viserion really snaps at her would be more interesting than him coiling about a pear tree while Daenerys stands at his side thinking, for sooo looong. She watches the dragon climb the sky. She goes back into the pyramid. She gets her hair brushed. Yawn.

Clumsy garment. Shapeless sheets. Hips. Could fall off. Tangle, trip, and bind. A paragraph devoted to the tokar, right there. Oh man, more than a paragraph! She must wear it, because if not she will be forever hated. It's Martin exploring culture and customs, and, intended or not, it could be seen as a hidden comment on, say, how women dress under the yoke of certain religion-infused cultural traditions. However, once you have a dress showing off one boob, it kind of obscures any subtle or not so subtle commentary. If that is what it is. We're reminded of Brown Ben Plumm again, so he's probably gonna feature later down the line.  Golden tassels. Ivory, onyx, jade. Yeah yeah the old emperors of Yi Ti. Her ancestors or something. For a second there I thought I read "a crow should not sit easy on the head" which would reinforce any theory on Martin paralleling Jon and Dany but it is "crown".

Another paragraph gives us a history lesson. There have been five Aegons, and there should've been a sixth but he was murdered while still a baby. See, this is of course vital backstory as it ties directly into the ongoing narrative with Aegon possibly being alive. Yet more than half the paragraph is made up of reminders like Rhaegar being slain on the Trident and Viserys being crowned in molten gold. But also - more interesting - she thinks that if Aegon had lived, she could've married him. Setup much? It's the kind of insertion that makes me think Young Griff is Aegon; that Martin is setting Dany up to meet him (and he'll fail to live up to her expectations most likely). I am surprised that Aegon is closer to her age than Viserys, though. The way I remember it, I remember Young Griff as indeed young. But so is Dany. The TV series makes it hard to forget the ages of the original versions of the characters.

Another paragraph reminding us of all the children that were nailed up to point the way to Meereen. I understand the need for a recap - that wait between Feast and Dance was, excuse the language, fucking brutal - but right now, with me wanna do nappy nappy, it's rather boring. There, I said it. I'm bored reading this stuff. I never thought I'd think of A Song of Ice and Fire as boring, but that's precisely what it is right now, in this chapter. And all the things she thinks for herself are all basically variants of "I have to win or else I lose" which get tiresome too.

Reznak and Skahaz (whoo?!?!) are waiting atop the marble steps. Reznak mo Reznak tries to flatter her, and is a seneschal. Beware the seneschal, I remember. A small, damp man (how can a man be damp? I need to check the dictionary - "damp" probably doesn't mean the same as "damp" does in any of my native languages, which is "steamy"), bathed in perfume, Martin is laying it on so thick you pretty much have to ignore him as being the "Seneschal" Daenerys is warned against. It is too obvious, isn't it?
Skahaz mo Kandaq (oh gods, the names...give me Ser Preston Greenfield any day, now that's a cool name that rolls of the tongue) growls something (interrupted by a whole paragraph of Daenerys describing Skahaz) about being told about Stalwart Shield's demise. Skahaz says the murderers must be punished before Daenerys continues to describe his appearance. She is told that all the old slaving families are her enemies: Zhak, Hazkar, Ghazeen, Merreq, Loraq, and Pahl most of all. And I just don't care. I've never heard of these families before. They have never been shown to be adversarial, and there is nothing here that grabs hold; great villains - and boy can Martin do great villains well - are carefully presented through the narrative, given gruesome deeds to do - betrayers, conquerors, schemers, hated family members - I mean, come on: we've had Tywin, Ser Gregor, Sandor (arguably), Joffrey, the Boltons...how can unknown family units from Meereen top this? Not by a casual mention.

Again, we are being told things in retrospective - Daenerys thinks back on how Strong Belwas had cut down Oznak zo Pahl in single combat - but before this chapter there was never the sense that "ouch now she's kicked up a hornet's nest by having that Oznak guy killed" so, again, I sit here and have no interest whatsoever in any House Pahl members. Daenerys increases the bounty for offering information on the Sons to a whopping thousand honors. Skahaz Shavepate says she should exact vengeance by killing one man from each of these families. Reznak "squeals in distress", saying that's a dumb idea. I guess Martin is setting up these two characters here, for the reader to ponder which one is actually helping her and which one is a villain. The problem is that they are not very distinctive, greatly not helped with those hard-to-pronounce similar-sounding names. When Daenerys goes into talking-to-herself-in-her-head mode again, wondering who will be the third betrayer (of the prophecy of the Undying), she rattles of a list that makes me want to stop reading right now and do something more productive. Would it be Reznak? Shavepate? Daario? Ser Barristan? Grey Worm? Missandei? Katy Perry? Yawn!

Yawn, incidentally, sounds like a good name for a city or character of Essos. Finally we're done with these two boring characters. The hall is full of people as Missandei announces her with her long list of titles (yawn). Until they stand together, Meereen will know no peace, she thinks to herself and I'm like, YEAH WE KNOW, DAENERYS. WE KNOW THAT YOU KNOW. DO SOMETHING. Oh gods and this is the first chapter. It's going to be crucial, I think, to be high on coffee the next time I reach a Dany chapter. This almost hurts.
Blablabla.
Lord Ghael. Slippers from Cleon the Great. Decorated with green freshwater pearls. Interesting. I am glad to know because otherwise I would have imagined the slippers being decorated with blue saltwater amethysts. Oh well. I guess the pearls are another nod to Yi Ti (see: The World of Ice and Fire). "Great Cleon will be pleased to know they pleased you." Please!

Blabla King Cleon here King Cleon there. The Butcher King. Intimidating title, but we never get to know this guy (or have I forgotten him)? It's all just talky talk in the throne room (or wherever they are right now, I honestly lost sense of place and time here). It just goes on. Hizdahr zo Loraq. Oh good, another character with a name you either can't pronounce or mix up with the other ahrs. Tall, slender, amber skin. Bows. Dany needs this guy. He is wealthy. Not only is he wealthy (as Daenerys first thinks) but also rich! Wow. Fighting pits closed blablabla. He comes to have them reopened. He's been at it five times before. Daenerys, in a display of utterly obvious exposition put in a character's mouth, tells Hizdahr she knows his arguments and proceeds to rattle them off in a long, overcooked paragraph. Basically turning to the camera and recounting it all for us. I almost miss the canned laughter. Come on. This isn't nearly as vital as anything in the first three books, I simply cannot fathom how anyone can honestly say this is as good as anything in those classics.

Blablabla Your Radiance Your Magnificence Your Fighting Armpits expenses, open pits, I am only a young girl and stuff, hey Xaro Xhoan Ducksauce namedrop, the answer is still no for the sixth time and off a very limber man stalks. He might be handsome but for the silly hair, thought the Dragon Queen who was infatuated with a gold-toothed blue-bearded freak. Reznak. Green Grace. Hizdahr. Magnificence. Grazdan. Oh, here's Grazdan. Sigh. Grazdan desires gold. Who? Grazdan that's who. Did you know that he once owned a slave woman who was a very fine weaver? Hold on, not just in Meereen but in New Ghis.And Astapor.AndQarth. AS WELL! I'm noting this down for further research; it might be vital to the endgame. More backstory, this time on the state of the city. State of the city-state. Rich woman comes, wants her jewels and her house back. Accusations flung at "a certain noble of the Zhak." Read it out loud. It sounds funny. Maybe. A man must entertain himself when the entertainment fails to entertain. Waaa.  Maidenhood. Gelded. Rape. Law. City. Young boy. Slight and scarred. Saw his mother raped (of course). I am queen over a city built on dust and death. If that doesn't suit you, my dear Mother of Dragons, than get off your ass and either do something about it, or better yet, go to I don't know Westeros??! Take your ships and sail for the Vale of Arryn, it's easy to attack from the sea and you'll have an instantly super-fortified piece of the realm. Better than Meereen. When Dany doesn't give the young nameless boy the justice he seeks she realizes that she just made another Son of the Harpy. She's learning to rule. I know. I understand that. But that doesn't make it any less tedious for me.

By midday she feels the weight of the crown on her head. Not very subtle there, the narrative, but I do feel it. *Stifles yawn*
Blablalba sculptor denied. A big pike is offered. A suit of burnished rings is offered. She is getting gifts, perhaps paralleling the gift-giving when she got married to Khal Drogo? Slippers uncomfortable. TAKE THEM OFF THEN. She does. She's tired of being regal.Magnificence.

I freely admit I skipped a page now. Sorry. That's unprofessional of me, but I'm quite sure nothing happened.
Ah there. Where before Martin's chapters always felt genuinely moving toward a great cliffhanger or revelation or exciting scene, the interesting part here feels more like an afterthought. After pages of back and forth between characters of no interest to me and Daenerys trying to learn to rule, we finally get to a point (although it never felt as if the chapter was converging toward it) - a shepherd spills a sack of children's bones on the floor - and Daenerys realizes her dragons have begun to feed on children (well, Drogon is feeding on them at any rate). This reveal is cool, of course (not for the child or its nearest family, of course), and gives us as readers something exciting (or disturbing, whatever you prefer), something that makes us curious about Dany's next chapter - what will she do now that her dragons are attacking people? It totally overshadows the previous six gazillion pages of bickering Essos-characters and the Sons of the Harpy too; cause, the dragons we're interested in; they are in fact (this cannot be denied) the most interesting characters in Dany's story line, a bit like the Millenium Falcon is much more interesting than Lando Calrissian and Nien Nunb piloting it in Return of the Jedi  if you take my meaning, and we know they are growing bigger and now we know they are becoming more dangerous.

It's the only real treat in a chapter that feels as dry as the Red Waste, as plodding as Samwell Gamgee in a field of cucumbers. It's not the worst example of bloat that we'll see, but it sure isn't a very vital, exciting start to Dany's Dance arc either. Somehow, the threats against her feel less important (the Sons of the Harpy) because we know they aren't end game material; and it seems as if Dany as a character has regressed. Where is the warrior queen?

If you found this re-read overtly negative, I cannot apologize; but I'm much less negative about most of the other story lines so do hang in there with me - we'll get our good old Mother of Dragons back, even if it must take fourteen more chapters of endless talking. But will there be endless walking? Join me on that journey of discovery as I delve into Brienne's first POV chapter, hopefully sometime next week (or sooner, if the Black Goat of Qohor wills it).

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