Monday, June 26, 2006

You're a Fickle Little Twister

(are you sweet on your sister?)

Quick: the master of modern epic fantasy. Robert Jordan? Not anymore. Maybe back when his books were still interesting. David Farland? An excellent author, who tells a great story, but who still needs to prove he can write something beyond a fairy tale. Terry Goodkind? Hovers between amazement and tedium.

George R.R. Martin? Ah, yes, of course. A Song of Ice and Fire is a brilliant work. (A note here: I will avoid using names to attempt to avoid spoilers, at least for the time being.)

Other fantasy authors try to convey some sort of superficial disbelief in and disapproval of magic among the inhabitants of the world, while the reader has already seen magic raze cities and restore the dead to life. In A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin actually makes the reader think about what's magic and what's not. A character who claims to practice magic, then is revealed merely to be practicing medicine. A character who really should have no supernatural significance or powers who gives his breath of life to a dying woman. The same woman, who probably should be dead, returns as a vengeful wraith--or is she simply a living shell of what she once was? A red priestess who sends an assassin to kill a usurper king--or was that "assassin" really a spirit; a shade?

Take this, and add the most complex but consistent feudal political system ever written of. A powerful noble raises in the North and is murdered at his own wedding by his presumedly loyal sworn house, who had conspired with a slighted family because the noble refused an offer of marriage. An ambitious queen mother who supplants her son's entire council to win the realm for herself--and to hide the shameful secret of that son's birth. A scheming lord, removed from his station on that same royal council, installs himself at his lord son's protector, and arranges a marriage for his ward, a young girl who through a system of ancient birthrights and alliances will eventually claim that fortress. This girl happens to be the sister of that same murdered noble from the north, anxious to reclaim her birthright. Martin does all of this and more, flawlessly.

Having just finished the fourth book in A Song of Ice and Fire, A Feast for Crows, I feel the need to comment on it. Spoiler warning, in full force. If you haven't read A Feast for Crows but someday plan to, do not read ahead. (Samantha, this means you.)

The action in this book was a little slower than in A Storm of Swords. Then again, I can't name a book with faster events than A Storm of Swords. Some fair-weather fans are criticizing the book, saying that Martin had "Robert Jordan" syndrome. At least plotlines were advanced in Martin's "necessary-plot-advancement" book, in contrast to Jordan's Crossroads of Twilight, in which nothing at all happened. And most of Martin's characters are so darn good that I can't really begrudge an occasional "get all the characters up to speed, so a future book will be really amazing" episode.

Now, about those characters. The book was awfully Jaime and Cersei heavy, so we'll start with them.

Cersei got what she had coming to her all along. She's going to kick the bucket, but I think not until the very last book. She's evil, villainous, and hated by practically every fan of the series. Martin can't dispose of her too quickly; where would we be for antagonists if she were to die too soon? Her arrest for treason, etc. at the end of the book was a way of placating fans who desperately wanted to see something bad happen to her. And we got that. We got even more when we saw Jaime's reaction to her desperate plea for help...

Tommen Baratheon, King on the Iron Throne, is probably doomed. Grand Maester Pycelle is too old to run the kingdom, and Tommen is too young. We can assume that Margaery Tyrell has some designs on the throne, but as of now she's got the same trial to look forward to that Cersei does.

Jaime has become my favorite character in the series (as well as the inspiration for this otherwise-cryptic Decemberists reference as a title). He's certainly the best-developed. We've seen him go from traitorous to nasty and self-centered to actually having a soul. Jaime's denial of Cersei's "please help me! I love you!" was, without a doubt, the best moment of the book. I enjoyed following his storyline a great deal.

Brienne may or may not be dead. Kind of like how a lot of characters end up. I kind of like the theory that she's going to end up in Catelyn Stark "I'm not quite dead yet" mode, even though there's not much to support that. And of course there's the matter of what that word she yelled before she may of may not have died. I suspect we'll find that out, but not until book 6.

Sansa now looks poised to gain a whole lot of political power in not too much time. I think she underwent some pretty interesting changes in this book as well, a whole lot more subtle than Jaime. I only wonder how her interactions with her husband Tyrion are going to change if and when she reclaims her birthright.

I don't really care what happens to any of the Greyjoys, to tell the truth. They're far from compelling characters. Asha is especially annoying (proclaiming "my queensmoot" and then not being able to back up her boasts). Really, I haven't gotten past seeing any of them as minor annoyances, just there for their own weird goals and to screw over the rest of Westeros. These guys are the only weak link in A Song of Ice and Fire and the only set of characters who I don't especially want to hear a PoV from ever again in the future.

The Martells are an interesting addition to the series. I'm a bit surprised that Myrcella didn't die in Arianne's little coup, and the fact that she's still alive when she could just as easily and reasonably be dead suggests that she's going to have a bigger part to play in the future. Also, there are some possibly intriguing ramifications of Prince Doran's desire to unite Martell and Targaryen. I think Arianne's a dangerous character, and should some disaster (or just the gout) befall Doran, she's not going to be content merely to sit in the desert and let someone else take over Westeros.

Arya of House Stark, or should I say Cat, continues to develop into someone truly dangerous. Cersei and the rest of Arya's list had better look out. When she comes back from Braavos with her secret ninja moves from the government, it's going down. Then again, suspicious temple dude didn't seem too happy with her murder of Dareon, evidently blinding her for retaining some of her identity... so maybe getting back from Braavos won't be so easy after all.

I don't really think that the Samwell chapters were necessary in the book, but the plot point that now he's going to be a maester is important. While he's down in Oldtown, he's probably going to find out some archaic piece of information that will help whoever's left defend the kingdom from winter when it comes.

And now, as I've seen on some discussion websites, my Sacred Cows/Marked for Death list.

Sacred Cows:
--Daenerys. It seems intuitive, even obvious, that once everyone in Westeros is done killing each other, Daenerys and her dragons are going to show up and save everyone's ass from whatever in the hell is lurking beyond the wall. Then she reclaims her dynasty's Iron Throne, and everyone lives happily (?) ever after.
--Jon Snow. He will be just as instrumental as Dany in defeating the threat from beyond the wall. Ice and Fire, right? He'll end up marrying Dany; if the speculation that Jon is actually half Targaryen, and seeing as how the Targaryens often marry each other, this prediction makes even more sense.
--Tyrion Lannister. The Imp is one of Martin's favorite characters, which Martin admitted himself. Tyrion is going to continue bouncing around the kingdom, making and foiling plots for quite a while.
--Arya, at least for a little while. She's not going to die before she comes back to Westeros and exacts some revenge on her hit list.
--Sam Tarly. He's got an importance to the final epic struggle, even though we don't know what it is yet.
--Davos Seaworth, at least for now. He's not really dead. I don't think a confirmed PoV character would die that far removed from the action.
--Bran Stark. He still has to become the fated creepy mystical little kid!

Marked for Death
--Stannis Baratheon. We've already seen Robert and Renly die, and I think that Stannis is not far behind. House Baratheon started this war by rebelling against the Targaryens, and I think that the war won't end until the house is completely broken. Besides, by following Melisandre, what does he expect? Symbolically, relating to the overall theme of the series, his "fire" is not going to be the right one to save the kingdom; Dany's will.
--Cersei Lannister. But not for a while, as mentioned earlier. The little brother that kills her is going to be Jaime (who, if I remember correctly, is a few minutes younger than Cersei?), not Tyrion. The irony of Cersei, the most false and money-hungry character in the series, being killed with a fake golden hand that her former incestuous lover wears? Too much to pass up.
--Jaime Lannister. But not before he kills his sister. Just when he gets dangerously close to becoming good, he's going down. Maybe at the hands of Catelyn's little zombie band?
--Walder Frey. So much attention was paid to his line of succession in A Feast for Crows that would be completely irrelevant if the Lord of the Crossing stayed alive the whole time.
--Robert Arryn. Being sickly and weak in this series does not lend itself to living a long time (see Hoster Tully and Maester Aemon). The question is, will it really by his weakness that kills him, or an unfortunate "accident" brought on by Littlefinger?
--Roose Bolton. This guy already made enemies of the Starks and the Greyjoys; no telling when he's going to turn on the Lannisters too.
--Euron Greyjoy. He doesn't even have his entire house behind him, not to mention making enemies of the Lannisters and Tyrells and Hightowers.

So there. Can't wait to find out how much of this ends up being true... A Dance with Dragons, early 2007.

EDIT: Jon Snow's parentage consipracy theory. After talking to my friend Patrick about the matter, I have even stronger evidence to that theory. The general theory, which I cannot take credit for, is that Jon is not Eddard Stark's bastard at all, but the product of a union between Lyanna Stark (Ned's sister) and Rhaegar Targaryen. I can only claim credit for some of the following supportive details.

First, parentage matters. People in Westeros are willing to go to great lengths when it comes to the parentage of a child. Take Roose Bolton's betrayal of Robb Stark, which was (at least partially) motivated by wanting to legitimize his bastard son and get an heir. Additionally, even though it's "metagaming," Martin himself has said that it matters who Jon Snow's parents are. So we're not wasting time by theorizing. "It matters" in A Song of Ice and Fire talk means we're not dealing with a commoner; it has to be someone of noble blood.

Second, people in Westeros die. Who would know the truth of Jon's birth? Under this theory, Lyanna Stark certainly would. She's dead. Ned Stark would, too. Dead. Catelyn might know, but in her zombified condition, it's not like she's striking up conversation with passersby about her family secrets. All of the Stark kids would be too young to know anything about what happened. Brandon Stark (Ned's brother) and Rickard Stark (Ned's father), both dead. The only person who would know and be in any condition to tell, at least on the Stark side, would be Benjen.

Benjen Stark is still alive, no doubt about it. He's been listed as "presumed dead" since the prologue of the first book in the series. In A Song of Ice and Fire, you've either got the curly braces around your name, or you're still kicking somewhere. So Benjen Stark is the only one on the Stark side that potentially knows about, and of any main character, Jon Snow is the only one with any chance at all of interacting with him.

So what? So one person on the Stark side might know about Jon's parents. How about the "other" side? If Rhaegar is really Jon's father, he's dead. So is every other Targaryen except Dany, who's too young to know anything. The reason this is evidence is that if Jon's other parent were some random noblewoman, the secret of his birth would be a lot less secret than if it lay with a dead family. Somebody would have come forth with that information, probably to extort money or land out of Ned, if that random noblewoman really existed.

Third, and most importantly, Rhaegar and Lyanna had something going on. After winning the Harrenhal Tourney (year 282), Rhaegar Targaryen takes Lyanna Stark to a tower (year 283). Ned Stark and company go to the tower, kill a few Kingsguard, and find Lyanna in a pool of blood. Lyanna forces Ned to make a promise to her, then she dies. A pool of blood could mean that Rhaegar killed her... but is it possible this was from childbirth? That would explain her death, too, as a lot of people in A Song of Ice and Fire seem to die during childbirth. Looking at the timeline, it's most likely that Lyanna's child by Rhaegar was conceived during or immediately following the Tourney. We know this is when Jon Snow was conceived; Jon is of age with Robb Stark. Robb was 16 at the Red Wedding in 299, meaning he was born in 283 and probably conceived in 282. So Jon Snow's birth coincides almost exactly with the time Lyanna was at the tower.

Robert Baratheon supposed that Rhaegar raped Lyanna (Robert's betrothed) and took her to the tower against her will. Maybe that's true; maybe Jon is the product of Rhaegar's rape of Lyanna. Then, Rhaegar took Lyanna to the tower against her will to protect his own secret. Or, looking at it from another angle, maybe Rhaegar's union with Lyanna was consentual. And Rhaegar took Lyanna to the tower for her protection, not against her will at all. Either way, it would be awfully convenient for nobody to be able to see Lyanna during the months she was pregnant.

And this promise that Lyanna made Ned make? To take care of Jon. Agreeing to raise and care for his sister's baseborn son is exactly the kind of thing that the morally upstanding Ned Stark would do.

While we're at it, fourth, Ned Stark's a really good guy. Does he strike you as the kind of guy who would have a bastard son? Moreover, when Jon was born, Ned and Catelyn were already together (as evidenced by Robb Stark). So not only would Eddard have had to have given birth to a bastard child, it would have had to have been while he was with Catelyn. I just can't see one of the only righteous and honorable people in all of Westeros doing that.

And finally, it would fit the series theme. Ice and fire, right? Jon would have been born from a noble of the north (ice) and a Targaryen (fire). Now, look ahead to when Daenerys comes back to fight the enemy beyond the wall. Jon's going to be right there by her side. Jon (with the Night's Watch; ice) and Dany (with her dragons; fire) are going to defeat that unknown enemy. Then--how's this--they get married. Ice and fire. Under this theory, Dany would be Jon's aunt, and among a family known for marrying brother to sister, that would probably actually be accepted.

If that's not conspiracy theory, what is?

Currently listening: Symphony No. 7, Antonin Dvorak


Gina said...

You know, I was thinking of posting my novel on my xanga, just so I could beat this post out for "longest blog post EVER."

I did read it, but I had no idea what the heck you were talking about. LOL

Matt Pavlovich said...

Yep... sorry about that (for anyone else who's reading this comment too). It was kind of one of those crazy strokes of inspiration that hit me, and I had to get it in writing somewhere.

I promise my next post will not be nearly as esoteric.

And hey, your novel is like hundreds of pages. I checked in Word, and this is only three and a half. So you'd beat me by a long margin :D

Gina said...

Hehehe. 368 at the moment. LOL But only about 358 are actually good. ;-)