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Apr. 25th, 2013

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Back in 2010, I decided that (as with the Wheel of Time before it), I was done reading A Song of Ice and Fire until the series was finished. I hadn't read any of the books since A Feast for Crows came out in 2005, and knew I would need to re-read to refresh my memory whenever A Dance with Dragons finally emerged -- and then would have to re-read again some years after that, when we got book six, etc. Better to just stop and wait, however long that took. I sold my copies of the first four (to free up shelf space) and washed my hands of it.

About a month later, Martin announced the Really No We Mean It publication date for Dance, but that was okay: I was at peace with my decision. It came out in 2011, and I didn't read it, and I went on not reading it.

But in discussing the show with friends, I've grown tired of dodging spoilers (sometimes unsuccessfully). So I kind of wanted to read the book, just to fix that problem. On the other hand, it had now been more than seven years since I read the books, and I knew that without a refresher, I wouldn't find Dance as satisfying as I otherwise might. And yet, I didn't want to take the time to re-read that much stuff. On the other other hand, [personal profile] teleidoplex told me I wouldn't find it satisfying whether I re-read or not.

Reader, she was right.

I am putting this behind a cut because a) it's long and b) if your personal parade is a happy one, I don't want to rain all over it. Because I was not impressed with this book. No, that falls short: there are things in here that decrease my enjoyment of previous books. If reading about that is going to make you sad, then click away now.


Let me say this up front: I do not think this is as bad as Crossroads of Twilight, the absolute nadir of the Wheel of Time. Unfortunately, I do think it's worse than, say, The Path of Daggers -- which I consider to be the second-worst book of that series.

Just to give you a sense of scale.

Also up front: Martin faced a very large problem here. As I understand it, he had originally planned to jump ahead five years, to give Dany's dragons and some of the human characters time to grow up. The more he thought about it, though, the less feasible that seemed, so he decided to write a bridging book, which then turned into two, Feast and Dance. Makes sense, in a way . . . but it creates its own problem.

These books cannot contain any of the awesome, game-changing events we've been waiting for. Those events are already earmarked for a later point in the story. Dany returning to Westeros? Not gonna happen yet. The Others mounting a big attack and either being thrown back or overrunning the Wall? Nope. Bran busting out in his full skinchanger/greenseer glory? Later, my friends. Which means, inevitably, that this is two books of delay on the things we really want to see. Two books of smaller stuff. Some of it is undoubtedly the stuff Martin always meant to have happen in the downtime, which he felt needed to be shown rather than summarized; some of it, one suspects, is new material invented to flesh out that period into book-worthy form. But alas, another word for that latter is "makework." I wholeheartedly believe that Martin really tried to come up with interesting things to have happen, but ultimately, very little of it feels like it matters -- and I suspect that very little of it does.

I mean, what do any of our characters accomplish in here? Tyrion's biggest achievement in the entire story is discovering Aegon. Which isn't much of an achievement, given that Aegon then goes and publicly declares himself in Westeros; it only matters because presumably Tyrion will tell Dany, whenever the two of them meet up. The rest of his chapters are about him eating, angsting, fucking women or thinking about fucking them, wandering through half the world getting infodumps about the places he passes through, being humiliated with stereotypical dwarf follies, and failing to actually meet Dany. As for Daenerys herself, she eats a bowl of stupid this book (to borrow a phrase from [personal profile] teleidoplex): she lusts after Daario, waffles about her political problems until they grow even worse, and apocalyptically fails to deal with the issue of her dragons. Jon does better for a while . . . then grabs a double helping of Dany's idiocy cornflakes and sparks a coup. Bran gets, what, three chapters?, in which he starts to learn something useful, but doesn't learn it fast enough to actually do anything useful with it. Arya reminds us she exists, then kills a guy. Theon serves to show us that Ramsay Bolton is the most over-the-top caricature of evil in the entire series, and to get entangled with a byplot that doesn't even feel necessary. Asha is our pov on Stannis, ditto with the byplot. Areo Hotah's entire chapter could have been cut. So could Quentyn Martell's -- I am so glad we wasted all that time watching him wander around only to see him get roasted for his stupidity. Cersei almost has a Crowning Moment of Not Really Awesome But Pretty Good Given Her Circumstances . . . but nope, she breaks before the end, and then we get to reflect on her pathetic-ness. Jaime reminds us he exists, then vanishes with Brienne. Barristan pulls off a coup; I guess that's pretty good. Victarion randomly joins the "everybody is now going to go help Dany!" brigade, but doesn't actually get there and help her.

Going into this book, I expected that it (in combination with Feast) would bridge that five-year gap and leave the various pieces in their starting configuration for the second half of the series. That is patently not the case, because even when Martin had a chance to do something relatively big here, he postponed it. Tyrion does not meet Dany. Victarion does not arrive with his fleet. Jaime does not do anything with Brienne. Stannis and Bolton maybe have their battle, but if they do we don't get to see it, and maybe Bolton was just lying with that letter in the first place. Boom tomorrow; never boom today.

And instead of boom, we get . . . what? A guided tour of the sewers, both literally and metaphorically. I joked to friends that if I had live-blogged this book like I did A Memory of Light, it would have contained entries like "New drinking game. Take a shot whenever Martin describes someone pissing. Take two shots if he remembers to specify that the guy shakes the last drops off." That was in the early parts of the book; later I would have gladly gone back to all the people pissing if it meant we could stop with all the shitting. Yes, okay, there's an outbreak of dysentery or whatever; I got that pretty quickly, and did not need repeated descriptions. Then we have Stannis' Donner Party hijinks near Winterfell, and an entire chapter devoted to nothing more than "Ramsay Bolton is a terrible horrible no-good very bad person here come revel in Theon's suffering isn't it nifty."

You know what we don't see? We don't see Dany imprisoning her dragons. That gets ignored for about three-quarters of the chapter after it takes place, then gets summarized in flashback narration -- even though it should be a fucking important scene. We don't see Tyrion, Penny, and Jorah taken prisoner by slavers, either. In fact, we don't see a lot of the turning points in this story; we just wander through the in-between stuff, while Martin falls victim of the stereotypical vice of the epic fantasy writer, the Interminable Journey (With Bonus Infodumps). We learn a lot about the history and culture of Pentos and Andoral and Volantis and Yunkai and Astapor and Meereen and even a random little grudge-match somewhere in the riverlands of Westeros, and all this stuff fills up words without giving the characters a chance to do anything of substance.

And maybe this is a random thing, but . . . what is with Martin avoiding people's names in the chapter titles? It feels symptomatic of the problem somehow. Okay, for Arya and Theon it makes sense, given that part of what's going on with them is the loss of their original identities (though that doesn't explain why Theon is "Reek" for two or three chapters, then "The Prince of Winterfell," then "The Ghost of Winterfell," before finally being "Theon" again). But what possible excuse is there for titling Quentyn Martell's chapters "The Merchant's Man," "The Windblown," and "The Dragontamer"? Or for Asha, "The Wayward Bride" and "The King's Prize"? Or how about Ser Barristan Selmy being "The Queensguard," "The Discarded Knight," and "The Kingbreaker"? (One of those goes several paragraphs without identifying whose thoughts we're hearing, which is simply bad writing.) I considered that Martin might be trying to avoid spoilers for the people who flip through the books, but . . . I don't see how it's a spoiler to just title those chapters Quentyn, Asha, and Barristan. He's been doing this on a regular basis since Feast, and it feels like this coy, artificial attempt to inject some kind of mystery into the tale. Like he's worried that if he uses Quentyn's name, readers will say "Quentyn? Who? I don't know this guy. Why should I care about him?"

If so, that's kind of a clue.

Can we take a moment to talk about Aegon? Becaues for the love of little fishes, whut. Surprise Targaryen heir! I find myself really hoping he gets squished like a bug, because right now, he's Mr. Gary Stu. He's got as good of a claim as Daenerys', plus all the skills and education and so on that she so patently lacks. Minus the dragons, true, but since Dany's reaction to those was "let me lock them up and not think about them because that'll solve things I'm sure," Aegon kind of comes out ahead. But where the hell did he come from? Varys knew about him all this time? Sure hasn't been acting like it; the assassination of Pycelle and Kevan Lannister at the end of the book felt massively out of character for the Varys I've been seeing before. This was not foreshadowed enough, or possibly at all. Yes, it's been clear for some time now that Dany would need two other people with Targaryen blood to ride the dragons, and everybody's assuming Jon will turn out to be one of them. But that's okay, because Jon has his own thing that he's doing, his own brand of cool he can bring to the table. Aegon does not have his own thing; he's basically just stealing Dany's. Couple that with her being a walking disaster this book, and it's massively off-putting.

Which, sadly, is my reaction to most of the story. It actively decreases my fondness for various characters. Tyrion lost a giant whack of sympathy when he killed Shae; this book does nothing to fix that. I kind of don't care about him anymore. I'm annoyed with Dany, I'm annoyed with Jon. The list of characters whose chapters I was looking forward to got shorter and shorter as the book went along. And perhaps most damning: I cannot think of single moment in here that I want to go back and re-read. There is no scene of a character being really awesome in a way that will linger in my memory and make me grin when I think about it. There's just piss and shit and cannibalism and people being flayed and stupidity and bad decisions and the payoff never coming.

Watching the show made me kind of want to re-read the books. Reading A Dance with Dragons made me less interested in watching the show. However much I enjoy what it's doing right now, I know it's headed into this pit. And I find myself actually hoping the show's writers will rewrite things to be better.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/586974.html. Comment here or there.

Comments:

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From:yhlee
Date:April 25th, 2013 07:57 pm (UTC)
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Actually, I'm glad you wrote this--I had mostly given up after Feast and was vaguely curious about Dance, and you've pretty well convinced me I don't need to add Dance to my reading queue.
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 25th, 2013 08:01 pm (UTC)
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Yep. It is possible that the rest of the series will actually turn out pretty well, at which point you can skim through Dance and get to the good stuff . . . but the good stuff is most decidedly not here.
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From:Sensawunda
Date:April 25th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the post. I started reading ASoIaF, getting through book two before finding out about Martin's inability to hit a deadline so I stopped reading, like you, planning to wait till the series finished before diving back in. This post just reaffirmed that decision.
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 25th, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC)
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People gave Robert Jordan crap for his slow pace of publishing, but he was actually faster than Martin has been. If this finishes before 2020, I'll be surprised.
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From:tekalynn
Date:April 25th, 2013 08:38 pm (UTC)
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A slog, I agree, and not one I enjoyed reading, for the most part. The "good stuff" is mostly shoved in at the end, and is patently cliffhangered. AFAIK we were originally supposed to get a bit more resolution, but Martin decided to cut off the end of the manuscript and tag it to the beginning of the NEXT book. This leaves the story even more unsatisfying as it currently stands.

That said, there are parts I definitely appreciated, even if I didn't find them particularly pleasant. "Reek's" character arc is really, IMO, the best thing in the book, with his catch phrase "You have to know your name!" getting a lovely positive twist at its last reiteration. (I do hope it's the last. Please?) I took macabre pleasure in Manderley's feast, although I do realize it's not everyone's slice of pie. My favorite cameo character? The Iron Banker, hands down. Awesome.

Dany, Dany, Dany. You have DREADFUL taste in men. Daario? Really? Bleah. On the other hand, Brown Ben Plum? I'd totally hit that.
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 25th, 2013 08:56 pm (UTC)
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I can't even count the stuff at the end as "good stuff," mostly -- too much of it is "and then the characters do stupid things and it blows up in their faces." It might seem cooler if it weren't all cliffhangers . . . but since it is, all I'm left with is their stupidity, not the part where they redeem themselves from it.

And why was that stuff postponed until the next book, anyway? Because there wasn't room for it in here? Then cut some of the goddamned filler. Seriously.

I think I would have liked Theon/Reek's stuff better if it hadn't begun with a chapter which did nothing but wallow in how horrible his life is and Ramsay Bolton is a monster blah blah blah. We got enough of that later on, so cut that chapter and start with the part where something other than torture is happening. Also -- though I am going to sound like a horrible person for saying this -- one of the payoffs I kept waiting for was the confirmation of what the narration keeps hinting at, i.e. that Theon's been castrated. But nope, we can't even accomplish that much; it has to be saved for later.

Manderly bothered me mostly because wow, was Martin always this horrible in his depiction of fat people as gross and disgusting, or is that a new development here in this book? I felt like I was being clobbered with it. But his second scene with Davos was one of the few decent parts of the book. Not awesome, but at least a bit where I could say, "okay, I see what you're doing, and it's pretty cool."

Daario . . . as I said to teleidoplex, that felt to me like Martin was trying to do the female gaze thing, to counterbalance the way his male characters are always rating the fuckability of the women around them. Trying, but failing: all it accomplished was contributing to the general sense that Dany's turning into an idiot.
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 26th, 2013 12:43 am (UTC)
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Yeah, it's hard for me to tell (nearly eight years on) whether that was an issue before and I just didn't notice at the time, or whether the focus on it is new. I will grant that Martin has non-awful fat characters (Sam, who gets mocked for it by other characters, but is narratively cool) and also awful characters who aren't fat (the Boltons) or are even beautiful (the Lannisters) -- but there's something about the way his descriptions linger on "ewwww, aren't these people gross" that's seriously off-putting.

The only reason to read on right now is to avoid spoilers. Had I known how much I would not enjoy this book, I would have just told my friends to go ahead and spoil things.
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From:mindstalk
Date:April 26th, 2013 03:21 am (UTC)
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After my friends got me to watch the series and read the first book, I said "f--- it" and plundered wikis for spoilers, so I could get the worldbuilding and find out what happens without trudging through all that or getting attached to doomed people.
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 26th, 2013 05:38 am (UTC)
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After a while, you just stop being attached. Especially when they get progressively more unlikeable. As I commented on the DW version of this post, there are very few characters left where I would be sad if they got eaten by the Others.
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From:mindstalk
Date:April 26th, 2013 12:42 am (UTC)
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Probably won't help the deep issues, but someone came up with a chronological reading order for Crows/Dragons, since they're apparently interleaved.
http://joenotcharles.livejournal.com/119984.html

I've also seen a wacky idea that Varys is a Merling (local Deep One?) though a reply was that it made epileptic trees seem sane.
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 26th, 2013 12:47 am (UTC)
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Yah, doesn't help the deep issues. Mostly useful for guessing at how HBO may approach the situation -- because no way in hell are they going to spend an entire season (or more than one) on Feast without touching the stuff from Dance. Their audience would wander off in boredom.
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From:anghara
Date:April 26th, 2013 05:10 am (UTC)
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I have a confession to make. I never even began the books. I watched the show, well, *cold*, as it were, and if they veered out of canon on TV (which I gather they did at some point, from True Fans of teh books...) it never touched me because I didn't know that canon organically, as it were, myself. And honestly, I never did feel teh urge to read the books. I mean I do like me some epic fantasy but it can get TOO epic, if you like, and if it starts running to THOUSANDS of pages (in which nothing happens) and decades of chronolgical real-time in order for it to resolve, well, I just kind of quit without starting...

...but this...

"Martin falls victim of the stereotypical vice of the epic fantasy writer, the Interminable Journey (With Bonus Infodumps)."

...I so SERIOUSLY love you for writing that sentence. :)
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 26th, 2013 05:35 am (UTC)
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Thing is, for the first three books, it was jam-packed with plot. Maybe a bit less so in the third; I don't remember it well enough to be sure. But I remember that when I first picked it up, I described it as being "so full of plot it would make Robert Jordan cry."

. . . unfortunately, that hasn't lasted. And Martin is part of the dataset that fed into my thoughts on writing long series, because I see him making several of the same mistakes Jordan did.
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From:tekalynn
Date:April 26th, 2013 07:37 am (UTC)
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On Aegon: I believe he's a fraud. Well, "pretender" is a kinder word. My bet is that he's Illyrio's son. And speaking of Illyrio, who the HELL keeps his wife's hands in a jar because he misses her so much? ICK!

If Aegon is actually the True King, I will be highly annoyed. He sounds too much like a Gary Stu as he currently stands; all that, and a game of cyvasse!

There were a lot of WTF? moments in the fourth and fifth books. Martell/Targaryen arranged marriages? Li'l Aegon wasn't murdered? A coup to put Myrcella on the throne that collapses because it, well, collapsed? Everything, but everything, to do with Meereen?

On the other hand, Stannis was pretty awesome in his Stannis fashion.
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From:dr_whom
Date:April 26th, 2013 12:36 pm (UTC)
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who the HELL keeps his wife's hands in a jar because he misses her so much?

Tom Lehrer?
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 26th, 2013 05:43 pm (UTC)
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The problem with Aegon being a complete fraud is, it makes a variety of other characters look like idiots. Which is why I actually favor him being a real Targaryen -- if maybe not Aegon himself -- and then going down like a punk.

But really, I don't see any good way out of that idea. It's dumb no matter which way you slice it.
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From:mojave_wolf
Date:April 26th, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
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Very happy to read your thoughts on aDwD. I thought AFFC was well done, if exceedingly bleak, but I very much disliked Dance, for a lot of the same reasons as you. I started to do a reread to see why I didn't like it and then stopped after two parts. (here is the beginning in the unlikely event anyone cares: http://mojave-wolf.livejournal.com/170510.html )

Among the bits which overlapped with your thinking:

Example of how this book can be well-written and off-putting at the same time- A paragraph about Tyrion pissing followed up by "He pisses well, at least," a voice observed. Then Tyrion shakes off a few drops and replies "Pissing is the least of my talents. You ought to see me shit." Okay, it's witty. But there's a LOT of piss and shit in this book, it seems like. Yeah, I get it, same as with the disease and the bad smells—there's a thematic point. This book is a dungheap--errr, no, wait, that's not quite the thematic point--the world of this book is a dungheap. But excretion is necessary to fertilize growth! And it's a dungheap full of maggots!!! And we all know what comes from maggots!!! Yes, aDwD is full of maggots just *waiting* to hatch into butterflies!!!!
(that last bit in reference to a previously overheard conversation IRL where someone was insisting that maggots turn into butterflies; I don't actually think the book was being that optimistic)

&

Dany is one of my favorite characters, and I sympathize and empathize with her a lot in the first 3 books. I'm also fond of Barristan Selmy. And Grey Worm. But I am not loving this chapter. Partly I'm kinda overdosing on grim and depressing at this point. Partly there seems to be a "good-hearted people are naive, stupid and helpless" theme going down in Mereen, which irritates me. Yes, I know, Dany is just a young girl, etc, but her lack of imaginative problem solving in this book baffles me, and seems to run counter to her past boldness. And Selmy apparently just completely failed to progress beyond the Eddard Stark School of Politics despite living 60 years in two different nests of vipers. So, um, yeah. Sorta over authorial stacking the deck in a way that doesn't work for me,whatever the purpose might be. Also, I'm thinking the dragon is being set up, cause, ummm, why/how did Drogon eat the kid but not the bones? But am not sure. Maybe the father followed the dragon and dug through the excrement. That would be pretty typical of this book, actually. I'm almost surprised we didn't get a detailed scene. Which makes me again think "set up." Anyway, I want the dragons to start eating all the adults, or at least the vast majority of adults that I really don't like. That would make this book a lot better.

And yeah,no way Dany treats her dragons like that. I don't buy it.

And while I did like *some* parts of the book, iirc, which puts me more in its camp than you in some respects, I'm totally with you on this: "There's just piss and shit and cannibalism and people being flayed and stupidity and bad decisions and the payoff never coming."
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 26th, 2013 09:24 pm (UTC)
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My problem with AFFC was that I could see the problems looming on the horizon, or maybe closer than that. When Martin said he had to split the book in two because there was too much material, it sounded like it was action-packed, full of our favorite characters doing things; then I got AFFC and discovered that, no, half the book was about new people I'd never met and didn't care about. Given that I'd seen the same kind of fragmentation and pov drift happen with Jordan, I found AFFC extremely ominous. After reading it, I said I would reserve judgment until ADWD came out, because it wasn't meant to stand on its own -- but when it had to stand on its own for six years, I had no choice but to take it on its own terms, and those weren't very good. Now that I've read ADWD, the previous one looks even worse.

What appalls me is that there are more than twelve hundred five-star reviews on Amazon. Seriously? This is one of the best books those people have read, so filled with wonderful moments, so powerfully moving and awesome that they will remember it and revisit it again and again? No, I'm pretty sure that's the fanboy impulse talking: they love the series, therefore they love everything about the series, and cannot bear to think negatively about it.
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From:rysmiel
Date:April 29th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC)
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Aegon kind of comes out ahead. But where the hell did he come from?

There are passing references to Jon Connington seeded in at least as far back as A Storm of Swords.
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 29th, 2013 06:45 pm (UTC)
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Jon Connington, sure. But I don't remember anything hinting at a Surprise Targaryen Heir. (And yes, you can say that it's not a surprise if we know about it -- but book five seems like an awfully late time to be pulling out such a thing, unless the point is that Aegon is a complete fraud. In which case I'm annoyed that we're wasting time on a fraud.)
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 29th, 2013 07:40 pm (UTC)

totally agree!!

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It's like you read my.mind.!! the only thing I would have added was Tyrion now wanting to rape Cersei - Wtf. That did not need to be added. - Kathleen
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 29th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)

Re: totally agree!!

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Yeah, that was a gratuitous bit of anti-sympathy for Tyrion. I mean, really.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 29th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, Martin's definitely fully fallen into the Jordan Trap at this point. Which, while I still liked DwD okay (more than you did, less than loved it), is sad.

I don't think Aegon's a fraud, exactly. I do think he's a "False Messiah." He looks like he's going to come in and save everyone... and then he can't and doesn't. He's been educated well, but his is all theoretical knowledge of rulership. Dany's plotline is maddening, and I want Ghis to fall into a pit, each and every city, but she's being forged by fire (see what I did there?!) to be a great ruler, which, sadly, involves being an idiot for long stretches. Jon is being tempered the same way, with ice. (Gee, do you think that may have something to do with the title?!) If, as everyone expects, but I almost expect Martin to swerve on just to mess with people, Jon is a Targaeryan, the logical thing would be them ending up married as King and Queen of Westeros at the end. After a good spanking, Aegon will be their heir, since, between Jon being dead and/or still a Brother, and Dany being barren (or at least she thinks she is), SOMEONE is going to have to be, or this whole thing will just repeat again in fifty years.

BTW, that septa who's Aegon's governess or whatever? She's totally that Dayne woman who everyone thought Ned was in love with, right, and one of the candidates for Jon's mother? The one who "mysteriously" committed suicide?
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From:swan_tower
Date:April 29th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC)
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He looks like he's going to come in and save everyone... and then he can't and doesn't.

Sounds like you're describing Dany. :-P

but she's being forged by fire (see what I did there?!) to be a great ruler, which, sadly, involves being an idiot for long stretches.

What bothers me is that she's repeating past idiocy, in a way that makes it seem like she hasn't learned from her mistakes. I don't see her being turned into a great ruler; I see her being repetitively dumb. And I see Jon being willfully blind in some unfounded ways, too. He was okay when he was trying to force the Night's Watch to change their thinking for good reasons, but his justification for going to help Stannis was profoundly stupid, in ways that, again, make it seem like he hasn't learned from his mistakes.

and Dany being barren (or at least she thinks she is)

The phrasing for that one is too rampagingly folkloric for me to believe she'll remain barren.

BTW, that septa who's Aegon's governess or whatever? She's totally that Dayne woman who everyone thought Ned was in love with, right, and one of the candidates for Jon's mother? The one who "mysteriously" committed suicide?

At this point, I have zero recollection of the Dayne woman in question, so I can't say.
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From:sovay
Date:October 4th, 2014 01:03 am (UTC)
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Tyrion lost a giant whack of sympathy when he killed Shae; this book does nothing to fix that.

That was upsetting. I assumed at the time that was the point: everybody likes Tyrion, so Martin has him murder a sympathetic character just to keep the reader from getting comfortable with heroizing him. If so, it's a particularly ugly manifestation of the woman in the refrigerator. I can't conclude that we were meant to find his actions justifiable, and he wasn't known for his violence toward women before this, so it was plainly meant to be a moral event horizon and seriously? Killing his father isn't going to haunt him enough in a culture where kinslaying is an enormous taboo?
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From:swan_tower
Date:October 4th, 2014 04:01 am (UTC)
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If that's the actual reasoning behind it (and you may well be right), it is a fantastic example of what I consider to be the failure mode of grimdark: characters do awful things to prove the cynical point that nobody is actually admirable. I can understand Tyrion feeling betrayed by Shae -- because let's face it; he was. But if there is anybody in the series who could be expected to empathize with her position, to understand what it's like to be backed into a corner by Tywin and forced to turn on the person you love, it ought to be him. (I don't buy Tywin sleeping with her, either, but that's a separate matter.)

And in retrospect, the end of book three leaves Tyrion with no story -- or at least no story I want to read. His motivation right now is that girl we've only heard about in backstory and none of us have the faintest reason to care about: Tyrion asked his father where she went, Tywin said "wherever whores go," and so Tyrion wanders around for the entirety of book five asking people "where do whores go?" While meeting a character who is either a fake or an obnoxious Gary Stu, being forced to mock-joust on the back of a pig, and being a misogynistic fuckhead to every woman he encounters. And by "misogynistic fuckhead," I mean this quote, which I take from mojave_wolf's post linked above:

Ilyrio: "Choose from amongst my servingwomen,. None will dare refuse you."
& later, Tyrion, speaking to the poor girl who clearly has no choice in the matter and is offering to sleep with him:
"No, I am done with women." The girl took that disappointment too well for his liking.
"I believe I have changed my mind. Keep your mouth shut and your thighs open and the two of us should get on splendidly."


There is just no goddamned reason for me to care about him anymore. And sadly, that's true of too many of the characters. When my best hope for anybody in this book is that Arya will at least kill some people who need killing, that's not a good sign.

Edited at 2014-10-04 04:01 am (UTC)
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From:sovay
Date:October 4th, 2014 04:15 am (UTC)
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I can understand Tyrion feeling betrayed by Shae -- because let's face it; he was. But if there is anybody in the series who could be expected to empathize with her position, to understand what it's like to be backed into a corner by Tywin and forced to turn on the person you love, it ought to be him.

Yes. Which is why I classify her as a sympathetic character rather than a secretly horrible person (you should have seen it coming) like you get in a grimdark universe. I don't remember a lot about A Storm of Swords, but this particular twist of the plot embedded itself in me with such strong dislike that I appear to have opinions about it.

(I don't buy Tywin sleeping with her, either, but that's a separate matter.)

I can buy Tywin sleeping with people as an exercise of power. I don't have another reason given his previously expressed disdain of Shae. Then again, I agree that sex isn't the first way I imagine Tywin relating to anyone. I suppose that does make him stand out in Westeros.

and so Tyrion wanders around for the entirety of book five asking people "where do whores go?"

Seriously?

The payoff for this intelligently conducted investigation is going to be that she died years ago in horrible circumstances, you know. There generally isn't another one for quests like that.

"I believe I have changed my mind. Keep your mouth shut and your thighs open and the two of us should get on splendidly."

And again, that line has no point beyond underscoring that Tyrion has become a person the reader should not root for and it is a piece of misogyny that other fictional characters before him have expressed better. Like, famously, Al Swearengen on Deadwood. He did use a lot more profanity.

When my best hope for anybody in this book is that Arya will at least kill some people who need killing, that's not a good sign.

Did she?

Edited at 2014-10-04 04:15 am (UTC)
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From:swan_tower
Date:October 4th, 2014 05:17 am (UTC)
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I can buy Tywin sleeping with people as an exercise of power. I don't have another reason given his previously expressed disdain of Shae. Then again, I agree that sex isn't the first way I imagine Tywin relating to anyone. I suppose that does make him stand out in Westeros.

He consistently despises Tyrion for palling around with prostitutes. And while it's true there are certain kinds of moral outrage that spring from exactly the sin in question, I just don't buy it for Tywin. The closest thing I can see to an argument for it is that Tywin made an exception for Shae specifically to hurt Tyrion -- but that just doesn't seem like his modus operandi. He isn't personally cruel; he's impersonally cruel.

Seriously?

Unfortunately, yes.

For a while my friend and I were hoping the TV show would give us a better setup, by having Tyrion send Shae away pre-trial and then wander around looking for her -- but unfortunately you need something really, truly awful to push Tyrion over the edge during the trial, so that he says "fuck you all" instead of trying to stay alive. If he sent Shae away, I don't know what you would use for leverage in her place.

Whether or not show!Tyrion will be trying to find the girl we've heard even less about in this version of the story, I have no idea. One way or another, they're going to be radically restructuring the fourth and fifth books -- they have to -- and I've got my fingers crossed that the result will be an improvement.

(It would pretty much have to be. I'm not sure how they could make it worse.)

The payoff for this intelligently conducted investigation is going to be that she died years ago in horrible circumstances, you know. There generally isn't another one for quests like that.

Very likely.

And again, that line has no point beyond underscoring that Tyrion has become a person the reader should not root for and it is a piece of misogyny that other fictional characters before him have expressed better.

I still wouldn't like it if the narration made it clear that Tyrion is deliberately performing all the behaviors he hates the most because he hates himself now and is trying his best to give up completely. But at least then I'd see a reason for it, other than "Martin has lost his touch." And I might hope that Tyrion would get over himself.

Did she?

It is a hope for the future. In this book she kills somebody that I think is tangentially related to some plot or other -- I honestly can't remember -- but not, like, Roose Bolton or somebody I really want to see go.

Edited at 2014-10-04 05:17 am (UTC)
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From:sovay
Date:October 4th, 2014 05:27 am (UTC)
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but unfortunately you need something really, truly awful to push Tyrion over the edge during the trial, so that he says "fuck you all" instead of trying to stay alive. If he sent Shae away, I don't know what you would use for leverage in her place.

I haven't been watching the television show. Given the overtly romantic rapport between Tyrion and Shae and her greater prominence in the plot, I was also hoping the show would avert her murder, but quite plainly it didn't. I agree that she has to be part of the trial, but I was still hoping she wouldn't get strangled.

[edit] Huh.

"It's also worth mentioning Shae is one of the characters that really has changed significantly from the books to the TV show. I think that [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] wrote Shae very differently, and a symbol to Sibel Kekilli—the incredible girl playing her. Shae is much more sincere in her affections for Tyrion. This is almost contradictory, but with the Shae in the TV series, you can tell she actually has real feelings for Tyrion—she challenges him, she defies him. The Shae in the books is a manipulative camp-follower prostitute who doesn’t give a s–t about Tyrion any more than she would any other john, but she's very compliant, like a little teenage sex kitten, feeding all his fantasies; she's really just in it for the money and the status. She's everything lord Tywin thought Tyrion's first wife was that she actually wasn't. So there are all layers of complexity going on here. They're the same character, but they're also very different characters, and I think that's going to lead to very different resonances playing out in the TV show than in the books."

That's according to Martin. I have to say that my impression of Shae from the books was not just a manipulative sex kitten taking Tyrion for everything she could get; I had the impression she was a more complex and more favored character on the show, but not that Martin viewed them as diametric opposites of one another. (Or that he viewed book-Shae as the mocking negative of Tysha.)

In this book she kills somebody that I think is tangentially related to some plot or other -- I honestly can't remember -- but not, like, Roose Bolton or somebody I really want to see go.

Well, fingers crossed.

Edited at 2014-10-04 05:35 am (UTC)
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From:swan_tower
Date:October 4th, 2014 05:44 am (UTC)
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That . . . is a very eye-opening quote. I agree with you that I didn't read book!Shae as being that manipulative -- and yes, show!Shae is not remotely like that. They had ample opportunity throughout the seasons to wink at the audience and indicate that Tyrion didn't really mean anything to her, but every time that might have happened, they did the opposite. Martin failed to sell me on the idea that Tyrion might have been justified in killing Shae -- and I could call it justified, if she was only using him and then destroyed his life -- but with that rationale removed, her death actually becomes more horrible.

(Also, none of that explains Tywin.)

BTW, you're getting two versions of these comments because I refuse to employ my bright cheerful Summer Queen icon for a topic that annoys me this much/ :-P

Edited at 2014-10-04 05:45 am (UTC)
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From:sovay
Date:October 4th, 2014 06:12 am (UTC)
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but with that rationale removed, her death actually becomes more horrible.

It's a very different resonance!

(I agree.)

(Also, none of that explains Tywin.)

She is in Tywin's bed because it would hurt Tyrion. I don't think there's more of an explanation than that.

Okay, Sibel Kekilli has an explanation. Which, if you can accept Tywin taking her into his bed, shows a much more nuanced understanding than Shae's author of the positions in which women live when they have no power but the attention of men:

But, again, she didn't have any choice after the trial scene. The people hated Tyrion after the trial, and she had been with him. Who could she be with after that? There was one choice. She had to choose the most powerful man in King's Landing. And who is that? It's Tywin. If she wants to stay alive, she has to take that step . . . She's now at the end, where she was at the beginning before she met Tyrion, you know what I mean? Before she met him, she was a prostitute, and she started to love someone, and Tyrion started to love her. And even though she knows she's not highborn, she was hoping that she could have a family life with him if he would be stronger than he was. All this, it's like a dream which just disappeared, and now she starts again where she was at the beginning. She's again by herself, on her own, trying to stay alive. I guess people hate Shae, but every woman would be jealous and react emotionally without thinking after a man tells you, "You are a whore, you can't bear my children." Even though she is a prostitute, it was like [Tyrion was] spitting in her face, punching her in the face . . . She was low-born. She had a hard life. She had to learn how to stay alive.

Sibel Kekilli thinks very intelligently about her characters. Also, just possibly, there might be something going on here where Martin is a (white) man and Kekilli is a woman (of color). I don't know. I could be reading too much into it.

BTW, you're getting two versions of these comments because I refuse to employ my bright cheerful Summer Queen icon for a topic that annoys me this much/ :-P

No worries. The inability of LJ to fix this glitch is driving me crazy.

Edited at 2014-10-04 06:12 am (UTC)
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From:swan_tower
Date:October 4th, 2014 06:47 am (UTC)
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By "explain Tywin" I mean "explain why Tywin would let Shae into his bed." I don't have a hard time understanding why Shae would go that route; Sibel's comments make perfect sense to me. But I don't buy that hypocrisy from Tywin. It isn't his speed.

As for Martin . . . yeah, he may not see his own creations as clearly as he might.

If you want a novel where the protagonist does that and it works and it isn't rapey, read Tanith Lee's Faces Under Water (1998). It's one of my favorites of her novels, anyway.

I don't know that I want a novel like that. But it's good to know there is an example of that approach working.

Edited at 2014-10-04 06:48 am (UTC)
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From:sovay
Date:October 4th, 2014 07:11 am (UTC)
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But I don't buy that hypocrisy from Tywin. It isn't his speed.

Understood. Then I'm sticking with my original explanation: authorial decision to increase Tyrion's pain. Which is not an in-world explanation at all, but I don't think one is forthcoming.

I don't know that I want a novel like that. But it's good to know there is an example of that approach working.

Well, there are a lot of things I like about the novel that aren't Furian Furiano's dedicated angsting! (Other characters call him on it.)

Edited at 2014-10-04 07:12 am (UTC)
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From:sovay
Date:October 4th, 2014 06:27 am (UTC)
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Tyrion is deliberately performing all the behaviors he hates the most because he hates himself now and is trying his best to give up completely.

If you want a novel where the protagonist does that and it works and it isn't rapey, read Tanith Lee's Faces Under Water (1998). It's one of my favorites of her novels, anyway.

Edited at 2014-10-04 06:27 am (UTC)
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