Still in Westeros: ‘A Dance with Dragons’ (1/4)

The lesson: Never decide that a book is too heavy to carry around, for lo, you will find yourself reading many other books, as public transit is a wonderful place to read.

The result: I’m making very slow headway throne A Dance With Dragons. But enough of that! Enough of the three other books I’ve finished (or nearly finished!)! Enough half-assed, spoiler-ducking conversations with friends who’ve finished the thing and insist on just saying, “Oh, kittens. Kittens, kittens, kittens,” whenever I bring up unresolved plot points.

I’m on page 252. I’m whelmed. Not over, not under (cue Sloan); just whelmed.

Here there be spoilers.

What surprised me most, as I read the first quarter of this book, was the characters I missed. With A Feast for Crows, I desperately wanted Dany and Tyrion chapters, but now that I have them, I want Sansa and Brienne and, though I can hardly believe I’m saying this, Jaime chapters.

This is partly to do with the characters and partly to do with the fact that all of those people were in particular, shifting situations, seeking things, or seeking to understand things. To be fair, everyone in A Song of Ice and Fire (which people like to abbreviate ASOIAF, and I’m going to call ASIF because I like it better and it makes more sense) is trying to understand things — things that will keep them alive, or get them home, or help them take over the world, depending. But in A Dance with Dragons, as compared to Feast‘s often peripatetic chapters, there is currently a lot of sitting

Dany is sitting precariously on her throne-bench in Meereen. Reek curls into a dungeon corner, trying, horribly, to eat his fingers. Tyrion sits on a boat, or at a fancy spread at Illyrio’s home, or on another boat, stewing all the while on his father’s words: “Where whores go.” (When not sitting, he’s still “waddling.” And still a delightfuly sly bastard, though a somewhat more beaten-down one.) Jon stands, rather than sits, at the Wall, chosing to be a leader the only way he knows how: by having no friends. But he stands up to Stannis as best he can, even when Melisandre gives him Ygritte’s words: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

Davos sits in White Harbor, presenting a hopeless care to Wyman Manderly and perhaps really losing his head (when his head and hands turned up in the last book, I thought two things: a. there was no proof they were his actual body parts, and b. Martin has long ago proven how closely he hews to the no-real-death-without-a-body rule. How many chapters end with someone — gasp! — maybe hit on the head with an ax, or hanging, or otherwise being menaced, only to turn up hale and hearty in their next chapter, a few days down the narrative line?).

Bran does the least sitting around, as his story picks up in the snow north of the Wall, in the company of the still-unexplained Coldhands. I got a little bored with Bran when last we saw him, but things are picking up for the young Stark, what with meeting a Child of the Forest and all. (Where the youngest Stark is, I don’t yet know. I miss Osha.)

Dance thus far feels like a middle book; 252 pages in, it’s still mostly setup, as Martin moves the pieces around the board. (To be fair, A Storm of Swords felt like a lot of setup, too, and look how that turned out.) It’s tough to pin down exactly what I think is missing, but I think it has a lot to with the moving backwards aspect of the book. We’re still running parallel to Feast, not moving on from it; a Jon and Sam scene looks like it has exactly the same dialogue it did when we saw it from Sam’s perspective. The last book drew half a picture, and this book continues filling it in, pushing the boundaries of the narrative back out to Dany in Slaver’s Bay, back north of the Wall, on to White Harbor, where we’ve never been before

Three things really stick out from these first chapters (though the creepy prologue was pretty effective):

• “… those are the bones of a child.” Oh, Dany. All that talk about the dragons growing, and she’s yet to figure out how to train them — or even seem to try. Of course they don’t differentiate among their prey. Of course this was going to happen. Of course it never occurred to us, or to Daenerys, that the dragon-children wouldn’t be content with sheep. And even with this happening, I hated to see two of her dragons chained up in the former fighting pit. Where’s Drogon? Is he small enough to capture, or would he roast anyone who tried? Will Tyrion’s limited knowledge of dragon lore be enough to start training these three? I don’t think “Bad dragon; no biscuit” is going to cut it.

• Who is this Wylla Manderly, and why is she so forthright and, well, right in her opinions about kings and loyalty?

• “He knows who I am.” Now we all know who you are, little Aegon Targaryen, but not how you escaped, or where you’ve been hiding, or why this feels disturbingly like one of those Battlestar Galactica moments where Ron Moore and his writers pulled something out of their collective sleeve, planted in in the middle of a ship, and expected us to accept that it had been there all along. I have far greater faith in George R. R. Martin than I do in Ron Moore, but this threw me, and not in the good way I was hoping to be thrown (you know, the oh-shit-they-really-did-kill-Catelyn way). I’m reserving judgement for obvious reasons, and I simultaneously love and hate the wrench this throws into Dany’s plans for the Iron Throne.

Now, back to it, and back to Reek-who-isn’t-Reek. Until the halfway point…

Still in Westeros: ‘A Dance with Dragons’ (1/4)

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