2 months Ago

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Read in 2015)

Published by marco on in Art, Film & Literature

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

This is book five of the Song of Ice and Fire. Bran ends up in the lair of the Children of the Forest, far North of the Wall, with the three-eyed raven. Jon’s fate is unknown, but things don’t look too good. Arya’s training continues. Tyrion is captured by Mormont and both of them near Meerreen. Quentyn’s mission fails horribly, Victarion approaches Meereen, possessed of powers. Daenerys accepts her destiny and mounts Drogon. Stannis marches on the marshes first, rousts the Ironborn, captures Asha and then sinks into the snows before he can arrive at Winterfell, where he wants to roust the Boltons. Young Aegon Targaryen and John Connington land in Dorne and make their way north to attempt recapture of the Iron Throne. Cersei takes the walk of shame.


Some of the characters are almost shockingly small-minded. Daenarys bears unhealable grudges against traitors who betrayed her family decades or even centuries ago. And in the next passage, Davos’s fealty to Stannis is so strong that he thinks the following of his old friend Salladhor Saan,

“I knew the day would come, Davos told himself. I was fond of the old rogue, but never so great a fool as to trust him.”
Page 138

He should just as well think this of Stannis, who is at least as deluded, terrifying and cruel as anyone else in the book. He does nothing for himself, but for what he calls justice.

This next passage serves to illustrate just how good a writer Martin is, how deliciously he brings you into the moment. Here we see Reek in his dark cell, snacking at long last.

“The rat squealed as he bit into it, squirming wildly in his hands, frantic to escape. The belly was the softest part. He tore at the sweet meat, the warm blood running over his lips. It was so good that it brought tears to his eyes. His belly rumbled and he swallowed. By the third bite the rat had ceased to struggle, and he was feeling almost content.


“He crouched down in a corner of his cell, clutching his prize under his chin. Blood ran from the corners of his mouth as he nibbled at the rat with what remained of his teeth, trying to bolt down as much of the warm flesh as he could before the cell was opened. The meat was stringy, but so rich he thought he might be sick. He chewed and swallowed, picking small bones from the holes in his gums where teeth had been yanked out. It hurt to chew, but he was so hungry he could not stop.”

Page 176

As good as some of the descriptions are, he is equally adept at dialogue. Here he mixes thoughts (in italics) with spoken words to create a full picture of the conversation from the point of view of Daenerys.

“She was no stranger to the overblown courtesies of Qarth. “If you are drunk, blame the wine.”

““No wine is half so intoxicating as your beauty. My manse has seemed as empty as a tomb since Daenerys departed, and all the pleasures of the Queen of Cities have been as ashes in my mouth. Why did you abandon me?”

I was hounded from your city in fear for my life. “It was time. Qarth wished me gone.”

““Who? The Pureborn? They have water in their veins. The Spicers? There are curds between their ears. And the Undying are all dead. You should have taken me to husband. I am almost certain that I asked you for your hand. Begged you, even.”

““Only half a hundred times,” Dany teased. “You gave up too easily, my lord. For I must marry, all agree.”

““A khaleesi must have a khal,” said Irri, as she filled the queen’s cup once again. “This is known.”

““Shall I ask again?” wondered Xaro. “No, I know that smile. It is a cruel queen who dices with men’s hearts. Humble merchants like myself are no more than stones beneath your jeweled sandals.” A single tear ran slowly down his pale white cheek.”

Page 225

“"[…]Do you know how Unsullied are made and trained?”

““Cruelly, I have no doubt. When a smith makes a sword, he thrusts the blade into the fire, beats on it with a hammer, then plunges it into iced water to temper the steel. If you would savor the sweet taste of the fruit, you must water the tree.”

““This tree has been watered with blood.”

““How else, to grow a soldier? Your Radiance enjoyed my dancers. Would it surprise you to know that they are slaves, bred and trained in Yunkai? They have been dancing since they were old enough to walk. How else to achieve such perfection?” He took a swallow of his wine. “They are expert in all the erotic arts as well. I had thought to make Your Grace a gift of them.”

““By all means.” Dany was unsurprised. “I shall free them.”

“That made him wince. “And what would they do with freedom? As well give a fish a suit of mail. They were made to dance.”

““Made by who? Their masters? Perhaps your dancers would sooner build or bake or farm. Have you asked them?”

““Perhaps your elephants would sooner be nightingales. Instead of sweet song, Meereen’s nights would be filled with thunderous trumpetings, and your trees would shatter beneath the weight of great grey birds.” Xaro sighed. “Daenerys, my delight, beneath that sweet young breast beats a tender heart … but take counsel from an older, wiser head. Things are not always as they seem. Much that may seem evil can be good. […]”

“[…] the Queen of Cities rests upon the backs of slaves. Ask yourself, if all men must grub in the dirt for food, how shall any man lift his eyes to contemplate the stars? If each of us must break his back to build a hovel, who shall raise the temples to glorify the gods? For some men to be great, others must be enslaved.””

Page 226–227
“A wooden keep could be seen beside the water, rotted and overgrown. Slender spires took form above it, some of them snapped off like broken spears. Roofless towers appeared and disappeared, thrusting blindly upward. Halls and galleries drifted past: graceful buttresses, delicate arches, fluted columns, terraces and bowers. All ruined, all desolate, all fallen. The grey moss grew thickly here, covering the fallen stones in great mounds and bearding all the towers. Black vines crept in and out of windows, through doors and over archways, up the sides of high stone walls.”
Page 258


“From time to time some wench escapes and lives to tell the tale. Most are less fortunate. When Ramsay catches them he rapes them, flays them, feeds their corpses to his dogs, and brings their skins back to the Dreadfort as trophies. If they have given him good sport, he slits their throats before he skins them. Elsewise, t’other way around.””
Page 430

Is this a deliberate pun?

“Brown Ben Plumm was puzzled. “Who is Eroeh?” “A girl I thought I’d saved from rape and torment. All I did was make it worse for her in the end. And all I did in Astapor was make ten thousand Eroehs.””
Page 442
“Tyrion had never seen a bigger moon. Monstrous, swollen, it looked as if it had swallowed the sun and woken with a fever. Its twin, floating on the sea beyond the ship, shimmered red with every wave.”
Page 489

This is exactly how people accustomed to snow talk to those unaccustomed. The following was uttered after it had only been snowing for a week and a half straight and a mere six or seven feet of snow lay on the ground.

“Ned’s girl,” echoed Big Bucket Wull. “And we should have had her and the castle both if you prancing southron jackanapes didn’t piss your satin breeches at a little snow.”
Page 615

More northern bravado:

“That seemed to amuse the northman. “I want to live forever in a land where summer lasts a thousand years. I want a castle in the clouds where I can look down over the world. I want to be six-and-twenty again. When I was six-and-twenty I could fight all day and fuck all night. What men want does not matter. “Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned’s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks. No one sings songs of men who die like that. As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in Bolton blood before I die. I want to feel it spatter across my face when my axe bites deep into a Bolton skull. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.””

And, then, from even farther north, is Tormund Giantsbane, another wonderful talker.

“Half-brothers, born o’ different mothers. Alfyn’s member was a wee thing, even smaller than yours, but he was never shy with where he stuck it. Had a son in every village, that one. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 847

And then,

“The wildling gave him a shrewd look. “Aye, I might have. And you crows might decide to close that gate. A few fighters on t’other side, well, that way the gate stays open, don’t it?” He grinned. “I bought your bloody horse, Jon Snow. Don’t mean that we can’t count his teeth. Now don’t you go thinking me and mine don’t trust you. We trust you just as much as you trust us.” He snorted. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 849

And finally,

“I know,” said Jon Snow. Tormund turned back. “You know nothing. You killed a dead man, aye, I heard. Mance killed a hundred. A man can fight the dead, but when their masters come, when the white mists rise up … how do you fight a mist, crow? Shadows with teeth … air so cold it hurts to breathe, like a knife inside your chest … you do not know, you cannot know … can your sword cut cold?”

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin (Read in 2015)

Published by marco on in Art, Film & Literature

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

This is book four of the Song of Ice and Fire. Cersei descends into paranoid madness, reinstating a religious army, an act she would come to rue as it backfires spectacularly. Jaime and Brienne meet up again in the Riverlands, after Jaime had solved a few issues there. The Iron Islands feature much more prominently, with all of the Greyjoys—Euron, Victarion, Aeron and Asha—getting in on the action. In Dorne, intrigue abounds, with plot built on plot and the Red Viper’s brother machinating to maintain the power balance with King’s Landing and the upper South. Quentyn Martell has traveled East with his friends to try to join Dorne to the Targaryens through Daenerys. Arya arrives in Braavos and apprentices at the House of Black and White. Jon maintains a balance between Stannis’s demands—and those of Melisandre—as well as arming to fight the Others from the North. Samwell travels with Gilly and Aemon around the periphery of the Seven Kingdoms by boat, to get to Old Town and train at the Citadel.


Cersei descends into paranoid madness. Here she encounters the new High Septon.

“Lord Tywin had given him that crown to replace the one that was lost when the mob killed the previous High Septon. They had pulled the fat fool from his litter and torn him apart, the day Myrcella sailed for Dorne. That one was a great glutton, and biddable. This one … This High Septon was of Tyrion’s making, Cersei recalled suddenly. It was a disquieting thought. The old man’s spotted hand looked like a chicken claw as it poked from a sleeve encrusted with golden scrollwork and small crystals. Cersei knelt on the wet marble and kissed his fingers, and bid Tommen to do the same. What does he know of me? How much did the dwarf tell him? The High Septon smiled as he escorted her into the sept. But was it a threatening smile full of unspoken knowledge, or just some vacuous twitch of an old man’s […]”
Page 113
“To both our queens!” he chirruped. “To the young queen and the old!””
Page 201

That’s lovely: he doesn’t refer to the new queen and the old, so the intended mean is to call Cersei old rather than former.

More evocative writing on Martin’s part, an excellent use of metaphor:

“His desire was as deep and boundless as the sea, but when the tide receded, the rocks of shame and guilt thrust up as sharp as ever. Sometimes the waves would cover them, but they remained beneath the waters, hard and black and slimy.”
Page 213

Or here, where the master of the multi-faced God in Braavos tells Arya of the history of his temple:

“The tale of our beginnings. If you would be one of us, you had best know who we are and how we came to be. Men may whisper of the Faceless Men of Braavos, but we are older than the Secret City. Before the Titan rose, before the Unmasking of Uthero, before the Founding, we were. We have flowered in Braavos amongst these northern fogs, but we first took root in Valyria, amongst the wretched slaves who toiled in the deep mines beneath the Fourteen Flames that lit the Freehold’s nights of old.”
Page 360

Or this lovely passage on the futility of war and causes and justice from the view of a simple soldier. This was presented as an explanation for how formerly honorable soldiers and men could sink to such depths.

“They see the lord who led them there cut down, and some other lord shouts that they are his now. They take a wound, and when that’s still half-healed they take another. There is never enough to eat, their shoes fall to pieces from the marching, their clothes are torn and rotting, and half of them are shitting in their breeches from drinking bad water. “If they want new boots or a warmer cloak or maybe a rusted iron halfhelm, they need to take them from a corpse, and before long they are stealing from the living too, from the smallfolk whose lands they’re fighting in, men very like the men they used to be. They slaughter their sheep and steal their chickens, and from there it’s just a short step to carrying off their daughters too. And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner that they hardly recognize. They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they’re fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line with their spears and scythes and sharpened hoes, to stand their ground. And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad all in steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world … “And the man breaks.”
Page 421
“The lady of the castle was a Lannister by marriage, a plump toddler who had been wed to his cousin Tyrek before she was a year old.”
Page 446

We recoil from this notion on instinct, calling arranged marriages barbaric. But are they really worse than the modern singles scene? It’s as if we seize on this issue because it offends our sense of direct freedom but sit back satisfied that we’ve thrown everyone together into a system that is quite probably equally barbaric, but whose barbarity is hidden behind complexity and randomness, and therefore somehow better.

““Plant,” said Jaime, “and pray for one last harvest.” It was not a hopeful answer, but it was the only one he had.”
Page 450

The man who’d asked had been hoping for a better answer than that. It’s not that he’s grasping for handouts from his betters, but that he has invested in their society, accepted his station below them and expected something back. When this arrangement tells him to fuck off, it loses him forever. If society—e.g. the lions of Lannister—cannot protect him from the wolves (in a metaphor, perhaps banks and insurance companies), then what good is it? The citizen is not lazy or ungrateful for turning his back. This part resonated in particular because I was watching Treme at the same time and noticed parallels between how the high and might lords of Westeros treated their smallfolk and how the government of New Orleans treated (treats?) its citizens. They all act as if the hierarchy is God-given and cannot be changed by anything. Those on top are just as fooled as those below, failing to note the precarity of the situation.

Watchmen by Alan Moore (1986–1987) (Read in 2014)

Published by marco on in Art, Film & Literature

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.


“Other bury their heads between the swollen teats of indulgence and gratification, piglets squirming beneath a sow for shelter … but there is no shelter…and the future is bearing down like an express train.”

“Heard joke once:

“Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain.

“Doctor says “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.”

“Man bursts into tears. Says, “but, doctor…I am Pagliacci.””


“For those of us who delight in such things, the twentieth century has, in it’s unfolding, presented mankind with an array of behavioural paradoxes and moral conundrums hitherto unimagined and perhaps unimaginable. Science, traditional enemy of mysticism and religion, has taken on a growing understanding that the model of the universe suggested by quantum physics differs very little from the universe that Taoists and other mystics have existed in for centuries. Large numbers of young people, raised in rigidly structured and industrially oriented cultures, violently reject industrialism and seek instead some modified version of the agricultural lifestyle that their forebears debatedly enjoyed… Children starve while boots costing many thousand dollars leave their mark upon the surface of the moon. We have labored long to build a heaven, only to find it populated with horrors.

“It is the oldest ironies that are still the most satisfying: man, when preparing for bloody war, will orate loudly and most eloquently in the name of peace. This dichotomy is not an invention of the twentieth century, yet it is this century that the most striking examples of the phenomena have appeared. Never before has man pursued global harmony more vocally while amassing stockpiles of weapons so devastating in their effect. The second world war − we were told − was The War To End Wars. The development of the atomic bomb is the Weapon to End Wars.

“And yet the wars continue. Currently, no nation on this planet is not involved in some form of warmed struggle, if not against its neighbors then against internal forces. Furthermore, as ever-escalating amounts of money are poured into the pursuit of the specific weapon or conflict that will bring lasting peace, the drain on our economies creates a run-down urban landscape where crime flourishes and people are concerned less with national securitz than with the simple personal security needed to stop at the store late at night for a quart of milk without getting mugged. The places we struggled so viciously to keep safe are becoming increasingly dangerous.”

Dr. Manhattan
“[…] God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever, and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves; go into oblvion. Existence is random. No pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose.”
“Why do we argue? Life’s fragile, a successful virus clinging to a speck of mud, suspended in endless nothing.”
Dr. Malcolm Long

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (Read in 2014)

Published by marco on in Art, Film & Literature

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.


“"There was no higher honor than to receive your knighthood from the Prince of Dragonstone.“

““Tell me, then—when he touched a man on the shoulder with his sword, what did he say? ‘Go forth and kill the weak’? Or ‘Go forth and defend them’? At the Trident, those brave men Viserys spoke of died beneath dragon banners—did they give their lives because they believed in Rhaegar’s cause, or because they had been bought and paid for?” Dany turned to Mormont, crossed her arms, and waited for an answer.

““My queen,” the big man said slowly, “all you say is true. But Rhaegar lost on the Trident. He lost the battle, he lost the war, he lost the kingdom, and he lost his life. His blood swirled downriver with the rubies from his breastplate, and Robert the Usurper rode over his corpse to steal the Iron Throne. Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died.””

Page 314
“The Nightfort had figured in some of Old Nan’s scariest stories. It was here that Night’s King had reigned, before his name was wiped from the memory of man. This was where the Rat Cook had served the Andal king his prince-and-bacon pie, where the seventy-nine sentinels stood their watch, where brave young Danny Flint had been raped and murdered. This was the castle where King Sherrit had called down his curse on the Andals of old, where the ’prentice boys had faced the thing that came in the night, where blind Symeon Star-Eyes had seen the hellhounds fighting. Mad Axe had once walked these yards and climbed these towers, butchering his brothers in the dark.”
“Joffrey brought Widow’s Wail down in a savage two-handed slice, onto the book that Tyrion had given him. The heavy leather cover parted at a stroke. “Sharp! I told you, I am no stranger to Valyrian steel.” It took him half a dozen further cuts to hack the thick tome apart, and the boy was breathless by the time he was done. Sansa could feel her husband struggling with his fury as Ser Osmund Kettleblack shouted, “I pray you never turn that wicked edge on me, sire.” “See that you never give me cause, ser.” Joffrey flicked a chunk of Lives of Four Kings off the table at swordpoint, then slid Widow’s Wail back into its scabbard. “Your Grace,” Ser Garlan Tyrell said. “Perhaps you did not know. In all of Westeros there were but four copies of that book illuminated in Kaeth’s own hand.” “Now there are three.” Joffrey undid his old swordbelt to don his new one. “You and Lady Sansa owe me a better present, Uncle Imp. This one is all chopped to pieces.””
“Maester Aemon his blindness. Noye and his men had been waiting within, behind a gate of heavy iron bars like the two Pyp had just unlocked. The two crossbows had gotten off a dozen quarrels as the giant struggled toward them. Then the spearmen must have come to the fore, stabbing through the bars. Still the giant found the strength to reach through, twist the head off Spotted Pate, seize the iron gate, and wrench the bars apart. Links of broken chain lay strewn across the floor. One giant. All this was the work of one giant. “Are they all dead?” Maester Aemon asked softly. “Yes. Donal was the last.” Noye’s sword was sunk deep in the giant’s throat, halfway to the hilt. The armorer had always seemed such a big man to Jon, but locked in the giant’s massive arms he looked almost like a child. “The giant crushed his spine. I don’t know who died first.” He took the lantern and moved forward for a better look. “Mag.” I am the last of the giants. He could feel the sadness there, but he had no time for sadness. “It was Mag the Mighty. The king of the giants.””
““I am no lord, sire. You came because we sent for you, I hope. Though I could not say why you took so long about it.” Surprisingly, Stannis smiled at that. “You’re bold enough to be a Stark. Yes, I should have come sooner. If not for my Hand, I might not have come at all. Lord Seaworth is a man of humble birth, but he reminded me of my duty, when all I could think of was my rights. I had the cart before the horse, Davos said. I was trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, when I should have been trying to save the kingdom to win the throne.” Stannis pointed north. “There is where I’ll find the foe that I was born to fight.” “His name may not be spoken,” Melisandre added softly. “He is the God of Night and Terror, Jon Snow, and these shapes in the snow are his creatures.””

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (Read in 2014)

Published by marco on in Art, Film & Literature

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.


Apologies if there are transcription errors. I had to type it out all citations longhand.[1]

This is the first in the epic A Song of Ice and Fire. It spans hundreds of characters and dozens of tribes and lands and civilizations. The span and breadth of it are breathtaking as is the execution. Martin’s writing style is perfectly suited to this genre. Though I’d heard that some of his prose was a bit long-winded, focused too much on loving and languorous descriptions of food, I found it to be quite tightly written and easy reading. In fairness, I read this book after having read a lot of nineteenth-century literature, so perhaps I was better prepared than most.

Choice passages:

“'Oh, my sweet summer child,‘ Old Nan said quietly, ‘what do you knows of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods.’”
Page 224

And then there’s Varys, who is wonderfully eloquent and comes at everything sidewise:

“Ned had to know the rest. ‘Who gave him the poison?’

“‘Some dear sweet friend who often shared meat and mead with him, no doubt. Oh but which one? There were may such. Lord Arryn was a kindly, trusting man.’ The eunuch sighed. ‘There was one boy. All he was, he owed to Jon Arryn, but when the widow fled to the Eyrie with her household, he stayed in King’s Landing and prospered. It always gladdens my heart to see the young rise in the world.‘ The whip was in his voice again, every word a stroke. ‘He must have cut a gallant figure in the tourney, him in his bright new armor, with those crescent moons on his cloak. A pity he died so untimely, before you could talk to him …’”

Page 298

Vary is very carefully telling Ned who he thinks poisoned the previous Hand. He is also subtly telling him that whoever put him up to the poisoning also had him taken care of afterward, at the tourney, in order to cover their own tracks. It had already been noted that the knight’s gorget was improperly tied (likely not an accident but again a small favor paid for with Lannister gold) and Sandor Clegane (the Hound) had also already noted that his brother Gregor (the Mountain) had killed the other knight on purpose, him having been unlikely not to notice a loosely tied gorget, especially when his mistress the Queen had likely let him know to look for it.

Here’s another example from later in the book:

“[Ned speaking]’Your own ends. What ends are those, Lord Varys?’

“‘Peace,’ Varys replied without hesitation. ‘If there was one soul in King’s Landing who was truly desperate to keep Robert Baratheon alive, it was me.‘ He signed. ‘For fifteen years I protected him from his enemies, but I could not protect him from his friends. What strange fit of madness led you to tell the queen that you had learned the truth of Joffrey’s birth?;

“‘The madness of mercy,’ Ned admitted.

“‘Ah,’ said Varys. ‘To be sure. You are an honest and honorable man, Lord Eddard. Ofttimes I forget that. I have met so few of them in my life.’ He glanced around the cell. ‘When I see what honesty and honor have won you, I understand why.’”

Page 571

With Ned’s admission, we see him for noble but possibly foolish, possibly stupid, but almost certainly naive person he is. How could he think that Cersei needed mercy? That she wouldn’t use it to her own ends? It is to Varys’s credit that he even kept talking to a man so unschooled in, well, in human nature.

That Ned could so completely misread the queen and underestimate her is what I see as Martin’s way of saying that this is a book about women, rather than men. Though there are many whores and serving wenches in this book, the strong women are very strong—Catlin Stark, Danaerys Targaryan, Cersei Lannister. Ned is strong and just and loyal and noble, but his stupidity and utter failure to be able to read people and his inability to even suspect motives and goals that he himself could never have did untold damage. He was easily manipulated and thrown by the wayside by people ostensibly his inferior in every way—except for the ability to take an opportunity when it presents itself.

And Cersei’s behavior can be interpreted as strength—she knows it’s a man’s world but she basically enslaves her son so that she can rule from behind the throne—or weakness—she babies her son almost as much as Lady Lysa Arryn of the Eyrie, ruining a potentially great man. Melisandre is also quite powerful and holds sway over a king. The classic scrappy and self-reliant character is Arya; the cripple is Bran.

“The Western Market was a great square of beaten earth surrounded by warrens of mud-baked brick, animal pens, whitewashed drinking halls. Hummocks rose from the ground like the backs of great suberranean beasts breaking the surface, yawning black mouths leading down to cool and cavernou storerooms below. The interior of the square was a maze of stalls and crookback aisles, shaded by awnings of woven grass.”
Page 530

This is just a sample passage, but the scenery and locations are all described in this exquisite detail, with quite a light touch and flair for simile and metaphor.

Another one struck me from the end of the book, where a few words sufficed to put you there, in the woods, in the market, on the battlefield. Not to get too hyperbolic, but Martin’s descriptions of troop movements, battles and the sheer confusion of war are easily the equal of Tolstoy’s from War and Peace. I was impressed with Tolstoy’s ability to evoke a scene vividly but am equally impressed by Martin’s similar ability—I never felt lost and only occasionally consulted the map to straighten myself out on a point of geography. To be clear, Tolstoy’s battles were almost universally portrayed as pointless and wasteful of human life and endeavor, whereas Martin allows himself the conceit that war can accomplish worthwhile deeds. One was a historian; the other is a fantasist.

It’s a matter of taste and what for some is lovely, descriptive writing is, for others, boring and superfluous detail. The balance is hard to get right and 5% one way or another can lead to ruinous and embarrassing passages rather than praiseworthy prose. Your mileage may vary, but I quite like it, is what I’m trying to say.

“The woods were full of whispers.

“Moonlight winked on the tumbling waters of the stream below as it wound its rocky way along the floor of the valley. Beneath the trees, warhorses whickered softly and pawed at the moist, leafy ground, while men made nervous jests in hushed voices. Now and again, she heard the chink of spears, the faint metallic slither of chain mail, but even those sounds were muffled.”

Page 625

And Martin’s feel for dialogue and roguish, fun characters is a welcome relief from all of the gallant tedium of the Tolkien books. Don’t get me wrong, I really, really liked reading those. I’ve read them twice, in fact. No one would ever, ever, ever accuse Tolkien of being funny, though. Those books are unbroken tedium, whether fleeing from the shadow, mourning past woes or those to come or sitting through solemn and deep ceremonies. Nobody ever really got blasted or laid.

Here is a conversation between Bronn (a sellsword and one of the best characters) and Tyrion Lannister (another of the great characters). In this passage, Martin fills in more tantalizing detail about how awesome Bronn is while Tyrion questions him about the whore he’d procured for him.

“Bronn was seated cross-legged under a chestnut tree, near where they’d tied the horses. He was honing the edge of his sword, wide awake; the sellsword did not seem to sleep like other men. ‘Where did you find her?’ Tyrion asked him as he pissed.

“‘I took her from a knight. The man was loath to give her up, but your name changed his thinking somewhat…that, and my dirk at his throat.’

“‘Splendid,’ Tyrion said dryly, shaking off the last drops. ‘I seem to recall saying find me a whore, not make me an enemy.’

“‘The pretty ones were all claimed,’ Bronn said. ‘I’ll be pleased to take her back if you’d prefer a toothless drab.‘

“Tyrion limped closer to where he sat. ‘My lord father would call that insolence, and send you to the mines for impertinence.’

“‘Good for me you’re not your father,‘ Bronn repied. ‘I saw one with boils all over her nose. Would you like her?’

“‘What, and break your heart?’ Tyrion shot back. ‘I shall keep Shae. Did you perchance note the name of this knight you took her from? I’d rather not have him beside me in the battle.‘

“Bronn rose, cat-quick and cat-graceful, turnin his sword in his hand. ‘You’ll have me beside you in the battle, dwarf.‘

“Tyrion nodded. The night air was warm on his bare skin. ‘See that I survive this battle, and you can name your reward.’

“Bronn tossed the longsword from his right hand to his left, and tried a cut. ‘Who’d want to kill the likes of you?’

“‘My lord father, for one. He’s put me in the van[guard].‘

“‘I’d do the same. A small man with a big shield. You’ll give the archers fits.‘

“‘I find you oddly cheering,’ Tyrion said. ‘I must be mad.’

“Bronn sheathed his sword. ‘Beyond a doubt.’”

Page 613–614

From this passage alone, you realize what a great job they’ve done with the casting and scripting for the TV show. I read all of Tyrion’s dialogue in Peter Dinklage’s voice. And Jerome Flynn’s Bronn is indelibly burned into my brain.

[1] While the modern age saw fit to allow me to borrow books from a library halfway around the world and whisk them to my electronic book for a period of fourteen days, before the bits once again evaporated into the aether—no small stress that, to be sure, especially with an 800-page tome—it did not see fit to provide the content to me in a format from which I was deemed worthy of being able to copy content that I found interesting. Presumably, this is to prevent wholesale copying of copyrighted good, but this is, quite frankly, a ridiculous situation to in which to find ourselves in the year of 2014. Here we sit, atop a pile of information and accumulated wisdom, culture and knowledge—all potentially available at a moment’s notice—and the paramount purpose is preëmptively assume that all consumers of this content are going to criminally benefit themselves, leaving the true generators of content to starve, despite their glorious contributions to humanity. The gods know our typing and spelling skills have only gotten worse—why make us waste so much time?