The eggs hatched dragons,
but Eggs can hatch conquerors.
Winter is Coming.
I read the rest of the Song of Ice & Fire series in the last two months, sandwiched between the debut of the Game of Thrones television show & the release of this book. A heck of a roller coaster, as the books are a torrent of unceasing epic drama-- not melodrama but high drama none the less-- & that was paired with watching one of those true rarities: a cinematic adaptation that stays faithful to the text. & here is where we end up-- now I'm in the same boat as the rest of the GRRM fans, stuck waiting for the next one. I've got the "Dunk & Egg" short stories to read in the meantime, & the second season of Game of Thrones-- or whatever they end up calling it-- to look forward to next year, but I'm still ultimately in a holding pattern. John Scalzi had something to say about the flak Martin has gotten for "taking so long" to get out A Dance With Dragons-- which boils down to the fact writing that a thousand some odd pages (416,000 words) over the course of six years is a pretty respectable pace. Beside that math, of course, there is the fact that I'd rather have quality than quantity, rather have quality than celerity. I think the fear is there that George R. R. Martin might die without being finished-- a fear that found expression in the death of Robert Jordan-- especially as the commonly accepted wisdom is that GRRM's contract expressly forbids someone else from finishing them, if he does bite it. I say: bah. George R. R. Martin is in his early sixties; plenty of time for him to turn out the last two or three. & if he doesn't? A looming unfinished epic? Ha! That would be wonderful, fantastic. Think of how many saloon arguments & late night conversations that will start! Ultimately, the fact is that readers aren't entitled to anything. What was it Neil Gaiman said? "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch." Maybe not the way I would have phrased it-- "bitch" has a troubling history as a misogynist slur-- but there is it. I'm happy George R. R. Martin is writing, but he doesn't owe me anything. That being said-- I am already anxious for The Winds of Winter. Thinking about Westeros has been keeping me up at night, even!
About this one in particular? Well, lets just say that I tended to read it in bunches-- a chapter, then a break, then another chapter-- because George R. R. Martin has successful made me fear him. That is-- when there is dramatic tension in the novel, it is tense, because you know George R. R. Martin is not fooling around. He is playing for keeps. It doesn't matter how untouchable you might think your favorite character is-- I think we can all name two or three characters we think will make it to the end, if not beyond the end. As much as you might think someone is crucial to the overall arc...you might be wrong, & George R. R. Martin might just kill them. A rising star might just clatter to the ground, Icarus-like. An old stalwart might just wind up hung from the rafters. George R. R. Martin doesn't even care. He's got ice water in his veins, & the last tenth of the book was nerve wracking. It doesn't matter what you think should happen, because Martin defies narrative conventions. Oh, he'll tie up loose ends, but not in the way you think. Sure, Chekov's Gun will fire, but it might just be the protagonist committing suicide. All bets are off, & that really frees the text. I could say-- "if you've read the rest of the books, you know what you're getting into"-- & that would be true. This isn't a departure, by any means. Still, saying "more of the same" makes it sound like there is a same, a safe baseline. There isn't. There is tectonic upheaval. You can think "oh, something will interrupt this scene before it's conclusion," but you might be wrong. "There are some outcomes that are inevitable" is a thought that I doubt crosses any reader's mind, when it comes to A Dance With Dragons. One thing I thought was interesting-- Stannis' motto of "One Realm, One God, One King" seems to be a capitulation of my old clan's motto: "Ung Roy, Ung Foy, Ung Loy," which is roughly "One King, One Faith, One Law," or as I was always taught it "One God, One King, One Country." Just a funny little piece of ancient history.
Plot-wise, half of this book is parallel A Feast for Crows, but then it out-paces Feast & moves into new territory. I'm going to spill some theories out, here, so be forewarned that spoilers are to follow. First, I'm really surprised that Arya didn't leave the Black & White House in this book. I thought that was due, & I really don't have much idea where her story is going to go, actually-- is she meant to be someone's doom? Griff & Egg clearly have the right idea-- they were wise to take the Imp's advice-- but does that mean they are doomed? I'm not sure. They'll take Storm's End, at least, & I think ultimately ally with Daenerys. Aegon gives the Targaryen line some home-- if Daenerys is in fact infertile, putting her on the throne dooms Westeros to civil war when she dies...but if Aegon is a viable heir when it all shakes out, well, then we'll see. Victarion's horn will fall into Daenerys' hands, yes? Kind of has to-- & speaking of horns the broken horn Jon found with all the dragonglass is obviously the Horn of Winter. Jon? Alive, I figure-- I see him on dragonback, him & Dany & Egg. This wasn't a good book for Daenerys-- she made a lot of bad choices, & was in a bad stew to start with-- but I figure that sets her up for some blood & fire in the next one. Theon is still alive, Cersi is still alive-- somehow, for both of them, though at least Theon is well & truly wrecked. Asha is tricky; I can't see her ultimate fate. It is tricky business, this book. Tyrion is so close to joining up with Daenerys; if that happens, then watch out Westeros. & of course, the Others are coming. Jon was smart to pull all the living onto this side of the way; each mouth is one less zombie, after all. I figure it Jon is Ramsey's bane-- Battle of the Bastards, they'll call it. So yeah; no big theories, but plenty of little ones. The plot advances ever onward, & at least we know what Varys & Illyrio are playing at. & as a bonus-- this is my first Song of Ice & Fire hardcover, & I really like having both the North & the South on the same flyleaf.