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A Dance with Dragons George R.R. Martin
A Dance with Dragons A Dance with Dragons runs chronologically parallel to A Feast for Crows, eventually meeting up with the characters of the series’ fourth book and continuing on for several hundred more pages. Some major storylines and popular characters who were omitted in the fourth book return. Most importantly Jon Snow at the Wall, Bran Stark beyond the Wall, Daenerys Targaryen and Barristan Selmy ruling in Meereen, and Tyrion Lannister on the run from King’s Landing. Theon Greyjoy (omitted from the A Storm of Swords as well) in Bolton captivity and Davos Seaworth in White Harbor return after being assumed dead. We find new characters Quentyn Martell and Griff both on separate quests to Meereen. Finally Arya Stark, Asha Greyjoy, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, and Victarion Greyjoy, whose storylines were running parallel in A Feast for Crows, signaling a syncing of the chronology.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think we the readers were always meant to be partial to the North. The Starks, if not always the most prepared to play the game of thrones, were always the most moral actors. I was pleased to see some of the oft mentioned Northmen play a larger role in the storytelling. The beheading of Davos Seaworth in part four never made sense given the losses White Harbor suffered at the Red Wedding so the few chapters with Wyman Manderly clear a lot up. He and Robett Glover of Deepwood Motte pledge their loyalty to Stannis and scheme their revenge on the Boltons. Manderly especially is portrayed as quite cunning in contrast to the his outward appearance as “Lord Too-Fat-to-Sit-a-Horse”. The anger he secretly harbors towards those who murdered his family members reminds me of Doran Martell’s simmering rage from the previous book. The mountain clans - the Flints of the mountains, the Wulls, Norreys, and Liddles - show their loyalty to House Stark by allying with Stannis as well. They prove the better winter marchers on Stannis’ ill-advise trek to Winterfell. The Umbers, whom I always wanted to see more of because I enjoyed the Greatjon, split their allegiance with the Boltons and Stannis, but state that they will refuse to fight each other, leaving open the possibility that they are actually on the same side. The struggle for power at Karhold after the execution of Rickard Karstark comes into play as well. Alysane Mormont pledges Bear Island’s support to Stannis as well. Even what we learn about the now hated Boltons, a ruthlessly cruel house, is welcome.

The different houses and alliances of the Known World are one of the more nerdy aspects of the series that I enjoy. A Dance with Dragons is great in this respect because it dives deep into the politics at and beyond the Wall, across the Narrow Sea, and in Slaver’s Bay.

At the Wall Jon Snow makes the bold decision to integrate the recently defeated Wildling army south of the Wall and even into the Night’s Watch. Tormund Giantsbane works with Snow to bring thousands of Wildlings from different clans south of the Wall. Mance Rayder is used by Melisandre. Signor, the new Magnar of Thenn, is married to Alys Karstark to sure up the Thenn’s alliance to the Watch. Others like the Weeper, Rattleshirt, Varamyr Sixskins, Wun Wun the giant, and dozens of other characters are mentioned, adding to the richness and detail of Martin’s Known World. On top of that characters like Tormund, Val, and Mance are given important parts, adding some depth and likability to the mostly villainized Wildings. Throughout the series Martin is at his best when a previously hated character is given depth.

As with each previous installment we learn more about the history and politics of the Known World. Across the Narrow Sea on Tyrion’s journey we more of Pentos, Volantis, and other Free Cities. Beyond the Wall we are introduced to the oft mentioned Children of the Forrest. In Barristan Selmy’s much deserved point of view chapters we learn more about the events preceding Robert’s Rebellion.

Another interesting plot device is the use of sellswords. Talked about often in the earlier books, which mostly took place in Westeros, they now serve as important actors in the warring in Slaver’s Bay.

It looks as if the much respected Golden Company is on its way to Meereen. However, on the advice of Tyrion Lannister it changes course to Westeros. Here “Griff” - actually the long-thought dead Jon Connington - begins a quest to win the Iron Throne for “Young Griff” - actually Aegon the long-thought dead son of Rhaegar Targaryen. This is probably the biggest of all of the surprises in this fifth book.

In Meereen different companies are allied against each other in the siege of the city. On the queen’s side are Barristan Selmy with his knights-in-training; freedmen companies such as Symon Stripeback’s Free Brothers, Marselen’s Mother's Men, and the Stalwart Shields; Skahaz mo Kandaq’s Brazen Beasts serving as the city watch; the remains of Dany’s Dothraki warriors; the Stormcrow mercenaries lead by Dany’s love interest, Daario Naharis; the Unsullied lead by Grey Worm; and, of course, 3 dragons.

Against the queen are the masters of Yunkai and their slave army; the Long Lances sellsword company; a Quarthian fleet; the Tattered Prince’s Windblown company; Bloodbeard’s Company of the Cat; Ben Plumm’s Second Sons; and slingers from the city of Tolos. Plumm and the Second Sons, having once betrayed their employer to Daenerys, betray her to Yunkai. Quarthian Xaro Xhoan Daxos was once Daenerys’ suitor but is angered at her insistence at stopping the slave trade. The Tattered Prince decides to put himself in a position to easily switch sides if the war turns. Against both sides is a mounting plague.

It’s dizzying to try to keep track of the names, groups, and alliances. Martin could have been forgiven for putting less effort into the world outside of Westeros. But he refuses to skimp on characters, politics, and geography at any point. It’s probably the reason his planned trilogy will stretch to at least seven books.

-power hard to hold By the end of the novel a main theme we witness is that of characters in over their heads. Quentyn Martell has come too late and with too little support and charisma to win the hand of Daenerys Targaryen. His response is to try to mount one of the queen’s two remaining captive dragons.

Roose Bolton, having just ascended to Warden of the North, realizes he has enemies all around him. Almost every house in the North lost men at the Red Wedding and none of them believe the lies the Boltons and Freys are using to justify the massacre.

Despite Stannis’ victory at the Wall and in Deepwood Motte, his momentum is slowed by a blizzard on the way to Winterfell.

The young command of Jon Snow is fraught with peril as he tries to integrate the long-time enemies of the Watch into its ranks. Many of his brothers make their reservations known while others openly defy his leadership. Stannis’ presence at the Wall tests the Watch’s neutrality. Snow haggles with the king at every turn, careful to tow the line between fighting for the Watch and defying a king. Lady Melisandre seems threatening but more often than not she tries to warn Snow of danger. All the while, as men bicker, an invasion from the Others looms.

As the story returns to Asha Greyjoy she is barely holding on to the iron born foothold in the North.

Maybe even Daenerys Targaryen has overestimated her ability to rule. The Sons of Harpy insurgency is cutting down her forces within her city walls. Her idealistic stand against slavery runs up against cold economics and the status quo. Trade, not human rights, are what the merchants of Quarth, Tolos, Volantis, and Yunkai value. She relies heavily on sellswords, traditionally unloyal allies.

The story reminds us that taking power is not the same as keeping it. Gaining power eliminates some problems but creates others. In fact the amount of peril you’re in and the number of enemies you have seems directly proportional to the amount of power you have. Jon Snow was always in danger as a soldier of the Night’s Watch - from Wildlings, and Others to Watch leaders like Aliser Thorne. In general though he was unimportant and forgettable. When he became Lord Commander his decisions can anger the entire Watch and the self-styled King of Westeros. Asha’s power play on the Pyke in the previous book put her in her brother Euron’s crosshairs when she could have easily become his loyal soldier. Now she languishes in her newly acquired forrest castle, surrounded by enemies with no support. The treachery of the Boltons bought them the North, but didn’t buy them lasting allies to hold it. Stannis is able to quickly win parts of the North, but in order to maintain his standing he must build on it quickly, leaving him on a disastrous winter march. And Dany, of course, is seemingly on the brink of disaster after having just conquered three great cities. Martin never gives the reader a minute to relax. There is no such thing as victory in the long run.
 
1040 pages
978-0553582017
This product was released around 2011 by Bantam
I consumed this around June 2014
More: A Dance with Dragons
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 7/14/2014 8:55:53 PM
 
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A Feast for Crows George R.R. Martin
A Feast for Crows There is a point after the death of Balon Greyjoy that you think some of the madness will cease. The Ironborn have been called to a “kingsmoot” by the priest Aeron Greyjoy. House Greyjoy’s rebellion has taken Moat Cailin, House Glover’s Deepwood Motte, House Tallhart’s Torrhen's Square, and burned the Stark’s Winterfell, but there is a sense that they cannot hold it given their power lies in their fleet, not an army. Balon’s brothers Victarion and Euron are the favorites to be chosen by the other lords of the Iron Islands. Asha Greyjoy, a fierce captain and Balon’s only daughter, makes a bid for the throne by demonstrating the folly of continuing this conquest. At the very least it seems the more devout, more skilled, and more respected Victarion will win the lords. Then Euron steps forward with his dragon’s horn. The first born exiled son wins the day with his plan of conquering Westeros with Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons.

It is then that I you realized - if you hadn’t already - that this warring will never end. George R.R. Martin will not be ending the Song of Ice and Fire with a stable truce between the just actors of the known world. Such leaders exist throughout Westeros, but there are just as many, if not more, who take power at the expense of the weak. And those who are power hungry know how play parts of the Game of Thrones that the Starks of the world reject. Ned Stark and his House are now burnt and scattered while the Lannisters, Boltons, and Freys rule from the Dreadfort to King’s Landing.

After the carnage of the end of its predecessor, A Feast for Crows is rather tame. The Seven Kingdoms seem to be settling. Roose Bolton, though not mentioned, is probably consolidating power in the North. There is word that the Manderlys of White Harbor have spurned Ser Davos Seaworth. Most of the river lords who stood with Robb Stark have pledged their loyalty to the Iron Throne in exchange for the lives of their kin who were spared at the Red Wedding. The Riverlands are lousy with Freys and Lannisters as they attempt to expunge the Blackfish and the remaining Tully garrison at Riverrun.

Martin continues to transform Jamie Lannister from one of the most hated and immoral characters to one of the most liked and moral ones. His sister Cersei, however, continues to be consumed by jealousy and ego.

Brienne of Tarth continues her tireless search for Sansa Stark, but Sansa is hidden away in the Vale, disguised as Petyr Baelish’s bastard daughter. Baelish, having killed Lysa Arryn in A Storm of Swords, seeks to hold his title of Lord Protector and guardian of the sickly Lord Robert. He doesn’t have the army to defend against Lord Yohn Royce and the other lords of the Vale who wish to expunge him, but with cunning typical of his character, he prevails in his encounter nonetheless. Baelish’s scheming puts Sansa in the position of inheriting the Vale and the North her brother had lost.

Though his tactics involve scheming instead of fighting, Baelish is much like the Ironborn in his tireless pursuit of power. Both start the Song of Ice and Fire in lowly positions. The Ironborn are confined to their islands after their rebellion was crushed, Balon’s sons killed or taken hostage. Baelish is on King Robert’s small council, but holds no lands. Both are content to wait, but neither ever forget the goal, no matter how distant it seems.

After two full books without a mention, House Dorne make a brief appearance at the end of A Storm of Swords. It is in the fourth book where they are given the full treatment. We find that they too have been biding their time. Prince Doran’s daughter, Arianne Martell, and his guard, Areo Hotah, each have point of view chapters. The Dornish are incensed at the death of Oberyn Martell, who was slain by Gregor Clegane at the end of the previous book. Sunspear, the seat of Dorne, seems to be in conflict, with Oberyn’s bastard daughters (the Sand Snakes) clamoring for war, Arianne seeking to elevate Princess Myrcella Baratheon to queen of the realm, and the Prince trying to suppress it all. The gout ridden Prince is seemingly unphased by all that has happened to his kingdom. His people think him weak, but his cautious demeanor masks a smouldering rage. His grief for Oberyn Martell is a blip compared to the anger he harbors for what the Lannisters did to his sister Elia and her children during the sack of King’s Landing.

In what I thought was the most dramatic scene of the book, Doran allays Arianne’s fears that she was not meant to be his heir. The old men he had offered to wed her to were meant to be rejected. She was meant to wed Viserys Targaryen and exact vengeance upon the Lannisters. Tyrion Lannister and Khal Drogo undid those plans, but the hunger for revenge remains. The Martells have long served as garnish to the story of Westeros, but (to stick with the metaphor) their contribution has been simmering out of sight the whole time.

It is interesting to note that the main female characters in this edition pretend to be someone they are not, or at least something they are not supposed to be. Sansa is disguised as Petyr’s bastard. Arya has already been Arry in Yoren’s trek to the wall, Nan the cupbearer at Harrenhall, Nymeria the direwolf in her dreams, and Salty on a ship to Braavos. In Braavos she must discard everything about her former life if she wishes to join the House of Black and White as an adherent to the Faceless Man god. Cersei is the queen regent, but refuses to hear herself called anything but queen. Asha Greyjoy wants to be queen of Ironborn, but by tradition they will only accept a queen. Brienne of Tarth roams the countryside as a knight would while often being encouraged to go home and marry by the lords and knights who do not accept her as a warrior.

I found interesting the groups not associated with a House in this fourth book. Call them non-state actors. There have always been mentions of sellswords like the Brave Companions and those across the Narrow Sea. And there have always been outlaws and rebels like Lord Beric’s Brotherhood Without Banners. After the spasms of violence that marked the end of the third book, non-state actors gain more prominence. The animals of Vargo Hoat’s Bloody Mummers terrorize the Riverlands while Dondarrion gives his command to vengeful Lady Stoneheart, formerly Catelyn Stark. (I was hoping we’d see more of Stoneheart, given her dramatic appearance at the end of the previous book.)

As the Iron Throne wages total war on its enemies and their lands, it forgets its duty to the Realm. It cannot, nor does it care to, stop outlaws from pillaging towns, raping women, and putting innocents to the sword. That’s if it is not the Throne’s own who are carrying out such atrocities. It is an interesting statement about the power of a state. When a state attains a certain level of power, the maintenance of that power supersedes the protection of its subjects. At this point people must look to others - or themselves - for safety. It puts the state in a difficult position. The harder the state fights to maintain its own power the weaker it becomes, having expended men, weapons, and money on military adventures, spreading its troops throughout the realm, and angering its supporters.

With this understanding we see the rise of the “sparrows”, common folk who flock to King’s Landing with stories of the atrocities committed against the faithful. It is a religious movement, but one that soon becomes political. In a quid pro quo the weakened Throne allies itself with the Faith of the Seven. The Faith is allowed to arm itself in the form of the formerly disbanded Warrior’s Son and Poor Fellows in exchange for forgiving the crown’s debt. Now armed though, the Faith sees fit to enforce its law upon the city...and even upon the Queen Regent.

While this fourth installment is slow and maybe, I dare say, the least enjoyable so far, it is foreboding. Dorne, the Iron Islands, and Petyr Baelish will be making their moves soon. Stannis Baratheon and Daenerys Targaryen have yet to tell their story. And Cersei Lannister has sufficiently hurt the crown so that it seems on the brink of collapse. As the War of the Five Kings died down the suffering of Westeros’ people did not stop. And that was with an alliance between two of strongest of the seven kingdoms. What happens when that collapses and the central government of the realm dissipates? In normal times the great houses and lesser lords might have been able to make due. Maybe even common folk could have gotten along on their own. But the fields have been burnt. Workers have been pillaged or are off pillaging. And as the Starks always warned, winter is coming. In fact, as Jamie Lannister learns gazing upon the riverlands, winter is already here.

This fourth book of A Song of Ice and Fire is the point at which Martin’s story grows too wide for even one of his books. A short explanation after the final chapter reveals Martin excluded Stannis Baratheon, Jon Stark, and Bran at the Wall; the Boltons in the North; Tyrion and Varys; and Daenerys Targaryen’s march through Esteros because he could not have finished all of the stories in one book and wanted to give the entire story of half rather than half the story of all.

The following characters have point of view chapters: Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister, Samwell Tarly, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Aeron Greyjoy, Victarion Greyjoy, Arianne Martell, Asha Greyjoy, Areo Hotah, Arys Oakheart, and Pate.
 
976 pages
978-0-553-58202-4
This product was released around October 2005 by Bantam Books
I consumed this around January 2014
More: A Feast for Crows
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 2/11/2014 7:13:41 AM
 
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