Sunday, 31 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 11

Chapter 10 - Jon

Melisandre puts Mance Rayer in a cage of weirwood and burns him. The burning is on the north of the Wall, in front of the stockade of captured wildlings. The weirwood is an offering of the old gods to her new god. Mance screams and pleads and denies his kingship. She also burns the Horn of Joramun. After a few minutes of burning, Jon has the Night's Watch archers kill Mance.

The wildlings are offered the chance to go South, through the Wall and settle in the Gift. The price is that they have to kneel to King Stannis and commit a piece of weirwood to the flames. Melisandre proclaims Stannis Azor Ahai and he draws Lightbringer, which seems to Jon to be brighter than before. Most of the wildlings accept the offer but some go north into the trees.

Bowen Marsh tells Jon he should seal the three gates in the Wall so that no one can get through. He says ranging is a waste of men they can't afford. He also says that men think he is too close to Stannis. Jon says he is trying not to take sides and points out that Stannis still has three times the men the Watch has.

Jon wants company but he has sent Aemon and Sam away. He thinks he can eat dinner with Pyp and Grenn and his other friends, but when he finds them he realises he can't. He remembers that Mormont tells him that a Lord Commander can love his men, but can't be their friend. He goes to speak with Maester Clydas and says that he has read the passage Aemon left for him. It was about Azor Ahai and Lightbringer, which was hot. It indicates that Aemon doubts Stannis is Azor Ahai reborn.

Jon goes to his chambers and writes orders despatching his friends to other castles along the Wall.


Oh Jon. Sending your friends away won't make your loneliness easier to bear.

I can't believe Melisandre burnt the Horn of Joramun. That's like an archaeological treasure! The woman is evil. And I didn't mind when she burnt effigies of the Seven, but burning the weirwood is wrong. The old gods are definitely the best ones. She burnt Mance. I thought that would get dragged out a bit more, but it seems Jon sent Sam away just in time.

I don't think the gates should be sealed up. What about keeping the treeline back? What about when things go back to normal and the Watch can go ranging again? It seems like it would be irrevocable and a big mistake. 

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 10

Chapter 10 - Davos

Davos is in chains. He has been captured on Sweetsister, a tiny island north of the Vale of Arryn. He is brought before its Lord who is wondering what to do with him.

Davos left the Wall with Salladhor Saan's Lysene fleet to go to White Harbour and get Lord Manderly to swear allegiance to Stannis. Most of the fleet was smashed on the journey south and Saan feels that Stannis has beggared him. He was promised gold and never been paid. It appears that he has landed Davos on Sweetsister and gone on somewhere else.

The Lord of Sweetsister is Godric Borrell, technically sworn to Lord Sunderland, a bannerman of the Arryns.  He suggests Borrell gives him over to Lysa Arryn and learns she is dead and Littlefinger rules the Vale now. He offers Davos a seat and some food. Davos knows he is safe for the night. He learns that Tywin Lannister is dead. Borrell asks why he should help Stannis and Davos doesn't know what to say, despite being able to see that Borrell has doubts about who to support. With Tywin dead and Tyrion fled, who will fight the Lannister cause now?

Davos explains he wants to go to White Harbour and learns that Manderly has made peace with the Freys by way of a marriage. Then Godric tells him that Eddard Stark was on Sweetsister at the start of Robert's rebellion. He was brought their by a fisherman's daughter and left her with a bastard that she named Jon Snow.


Hmmm. I don't believe that for a second. A fisherman's daughter in the Three Sisters, a maid in Dorne? Just doesn't sound much like Eddard Stark. Personally, I'm liking the Lyanna-Rhaegar theory of Jon Snow's parentage. It fits Eddard's character better.

Frankly, I'm surprised Salladhor Saan stuck with Stannis as long as he did. It's not stated explicitly that Saan has abandoned Stannis' cause, but the implication is there. Although, maybe it's a fake out. It's not like that never happens in these books. But, taking it at face value, that's what happens when you buy someone's loyalty instead of winning it. Doesn't look good for Stannis right now. His fleet is good and White Harbour has declared for King's Landing. All these little lords are looking for their advantage and what does Stannis have except personal strength and justice? How far's that going to get you when even the Lord of the island eats plain fish stew and bread without butter?

Friday, 29 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 9

Chapter 8 - Tyrion

Tyrion wakes to find the litter stopped and Illyrio missing. Seeing as they've been stopping every half hour for Illyrio to piss, this doesn't seem odd. Tyrion gets out and finds Illyrio talking to two rough-looking horsemen, so he insinuates himself into the conversation and starts shooting his mouth off. There is some banter, then the horsemen load up the chests that Illyrio has brought them and leave, taking Tyrion with them on the next leg of his journey. They are going to Ghoyan Drobe on the Rhoyne to meet Griff and go with him to Volantis.

On the way, they discuss happenings with the Dothraki and that Khal Pono is making his presence felt. One of the horsemen is Ser Rolly Duckfield. He tells Tyrion who he is and how he comes to be there. He is a commoner but Griff is a knight and so was able to knight him in a field of ducks. He reveals that he fought in the bittersteel rebellion. The other is halfmaester Haldon who questions him about dragons.

At Ghoyan Drobe they meet Griff and Young Griff aboard river boats. Young Griff is a charming boy, full of innocence. His father is another matter. Illyrio's letter to Griff makes it clear who Tyrion is and Tyrion is surprised the captain of a sellsword company can read. Griff doesn't appear to think that Illyrio's plan to send Tyrion to Danaerys is a good idea. Tyrion thinks Griff is lying quite a lot about who he is.


So, this would be the Golden Company then? Exiled Westerosi knights looking for a way to come home and throwing in their lot with Danaerys. Tyrion talks far too much and makes a fool of himself. The dwarf is one of my favourites and usually witty. But in this chapter he is indiscreet and doesn't do himself any favours with his quips. It makes him seem stupider than he is. Maybe this is the effect of his grief and lets hope it's temporary. Or maybe it's a double bluff, and he's deliberately making himself look stupid?

Griff is hard-nosed, eh? Although his son appears to have turned out a sweet lad, so there must be some softness in his father. I can't wait until they hook up with Dany. She could use some more help.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Things I have liked this week

Clips from HBO's Game of Thrones set to Johnny Cash 'God's gonna cut you down'. It's brilliant. I haven't seen the TV series yet and I'm really looking forward to the DVD coming out.

Blogging, writing and selling books
This is a thoughtful post from Livia Blackburne on blog writing and selling books and John Locke's approach. At some point I'll get around to reading what John Locke wrote.

Astronomy Picture of the Day
Not only is it a gorgeous picture, but I also learnt about noctilucent clouds.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 8

Chapter 7 - Jon

Jon has some difficult decisions to make. He knows Melisandre will burn Mance and then burn Mance's son because she wants to give king's blood to her fire. He summons Gilly and tells her he is sending her away with Dalla's son and that she will leave her own son at Castle Black in his stead. Jon says that Melisandre won't burn him because there will be no advantage to her in that, and that he will raise Gilly's son.

Next he summons Sam and tells him he will go with Gilly and Aemon. He needs Sam to go to Oldtown and become a maester. Jon thinks Sam will be pleased by this and doesn't understand why he isn't. When Sam explains his father's feelings about that idea, having wanted to be a maester in the past, Jon reminds him that his father doesn't matter, only his vows matter. Jon also knows this voyage will kill Aemon, but thinks this will be better than dying in Melisandre's fires. Jon sleeps that night but wakes feeling unrefreshed. For once, he doesn't dream of being with Ghost.

In the morning, he goes to see the little party off. He tells Dolorous Edd to have Bedwyck and Janos Slynt come to his chambers. Gilly weeps, Aemon tells Jon he has left something for him to read. When he returns to his chambers, Bedwyck is waiting for him. Jon is opening an extra castle and giving Bedwyck the command. The idea is to extend their watch, not for it to be defensible, and it is made possible by Stannis' men.

Janos Slynt keeps him waiting. Jon offers him another castle command, giving him the opportunity to use his abilities and to have some status. Slynt takes it as an insult and refuses. Jon tells him it is a command and not for him to refuse. Slynt refuses again and storms out. He recalls that Aemon had given him some advice - kill the boy and let the man rule - which was the same as his last words to Egg. Jon gives Slynt the night to come around.

The next morning, the new garrisons are ready to leave. Bedwyck's goes off but Slynt has not appeared. Jon finds Slynt in the mess room with Alliser Thorne and the knight who challenged him in the last chapter. He gives the man one last chance to follow his command and again Slynt refuses. Jon tells his men to hang him. As they are dragging him up the stairs to the top of the Wall he changes his mind, thinking "This isn't right." Instead, he bedheads him. Stannis has watched this scene play out.


Whew. Jon Snow is made of steel, isn't he? He's been killing boys left, right and centre. I'm glad he did something about Slynt; couldn't have happened to a nicer chap and reduces some of his other problems. He beheads Slynt because that's what Eddard would have done; it forces him to face the consequences of exercising his power. Dany, Tyrion and Cersei, take note.

He's sent a message to Stannis, so what's he going to do now? This Lord Commander Jon Snow will not be easily intimidated.

Also, I'm thinking there's something significant in the fact that Aemon's advice to Jon was the same as his advice to his brother, Aegon. Priming Jon as one of the three heads of the dragon here?

Jon is obviously a bit of a fan favourite, being the least obviously flawed as some of the other characters, but I find liking is turning to admiration a bit in this chapter.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A-Z blogging challenge: I is for Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. In the right mood I can be inspired by everything around me, yet at other times I am stuck for ideas. That suggests that inspiration isn't something external to me, rather a state of mind in which I am able to generate ideas from the input available to me. The input may be the same at any given moment, but the ability to do something with it rests within me.

The Collins English Dictionary has the definition as 'stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings etc, to special or unusual activity or creativity'.

Other definitions tend to run to the circular - inspiration is the state of being inspired. Umm, ok.

Anyway, the question I want to ask is not what inspires you, but how do you become receptive to inspiration? Is there always a time or place when you can be inspired? Do you have a ritual involving particular pieces of music, or particular activities? Is it a person or people displaying certain characteristics?

Meditation can work for me, but not necessarily all the time. If I'm honest, I don't have a great handle on what triggers a state of mind in which I can draw inspiration from the world around me. Maybe if I worked out what was happening at the times when I am inspired, then I could be inspired more often. And perhaps more importantly, I could be open to inspiration at will. I think enthusiasm and passion may play a part. Yay, a project! Would love to hear your thoughts on inspiration.

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 7

Chapter 6 - The Merchant's Man

Quentyn Martell is in Volantis looking for a ship to take him to Meereen so he can marry Danaerys. He and his companions are pretending to be wine merchants looking to establish a trade. It seems most ships won't go to Slaver's Bay at the moment because of the wars, but he and Gerris Drinkwater have found a ship called Adventure which might. The Captain offers to take them at three times the usual price and they agree to come back in the morning. On the way back to their lodgings, Quentyn surmises that they will never make it if they go on the Adventure and that the Captain will kill them as soon as they're on the open seas. They have no intention of going back.

Quentyn started off with six companions, three of whom died in a pirate raid on their way to Volantis. One of his remaining companions, the 'big man' favours going to Meereen via the Valerian road, but it is equally dangerous and will take much longer. He and Gerris ride through Volantis on a wagon pulled by a dwarf elephant and return to the Merchant's House where they have lodgings. Quentyn wonders why Danaerys would want to marry him and what he has to offer, and settles on the idea that she would want Dorne. Outside the Merchant's House there are three sellswords recruiting for their company/ship, the Windblown. The big man is in their rooms and the three of them discuss their options. Gerris has an idea.


So, they're going to join up with the Windblown are they? And pirate their way to Meereen? Quentyn Martell is a very serious young man. I like the twist of his insecurity in terms of what he can offer Danaerys so that she would want to marry him. In this setting, it's a nice piece of gender role reversal.

Volantis is cool. It has dwarf elephants. It's nice to get the other side of the Martell plans and this chapter reveals that Quentyn had met with his father in the Water Gardens. Doran Martell had planned for this to be Arianne going to wed Viserys. Lucky escape for her, then.

It looks like there are two levels of the game of thrones being played. Doran Martell, Varys and Illyrio, and Littlefinger are all playing a much longer game than the Five Kings.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 6

Chapter 5 - Tyrion

Illyrio Mopatis is taking Tyrion to Volantis, where he will meet with Griff, and await the arrival of Danaerys. Illyrio believes she must have moved on from Meereen by now but has not had any news for a while. Tyrion questions Illyrio's motives. Danaerys has sacked the cities of Slaver's Bay and freed the slaves; Illyrio must have interests in that trade so why would he support her? Illyrio tells him that Viserys had promised he would be Master of Coin and tells Tyrion about his friendship with Varys.

They eat a lot of food and travel in a litter along the Valerian road to the Rhoyne. Illyrio reveals that it was he who arranged for the Golden Company to break its contract with Myr and to go east to meet with the Dragon Queen. They are travelling through legendary lands that Tyrion read about when he was a child. Tyrion's grief is causing him to re-evaluate everything.


There is quite a lot of backstory in this chapter and Tyrion recalls legends and stories from a long time ago. It's quite useful filling in and world-building. Where is all the food coming from though? Usually when Martin is spending a page describing the many dishes of a feast, the characters are in a castle or mansion, so the food is clearly coming from a kitchen. But in this case, it seems to appear from nowhere. Food is definitely a thing in this series. Martin makes a point of letting us know who's eating well and who isn't. Clearly, it is a reflection of wealth and status.

I'm wondering why Illyrio is so open with Tyrion about his relationship with Varys and their plans. There's a point when Illyrio says "She could make good use of you." which indicates that he is doing this for Dany's sake not Tyrion's. And that makes a bit more sense, actually. Tyrion is another gift Illyrio can give to Danaerys.

Who are Griff and his son, Young Griff?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A-Z blogging challenge: H is for Help

I've been stuck on H for ages. When I originally made my list, I thought I might talk about health, about whether your health is good, bad or variable and what impact that has on your writing. But the more I thought about the content of the post, the more it felt like whining. So, I abandoned that idea and looked for another H word. Turned out to be a bit of a struggle. Heroes? Happiness? Hump? Hurdles? Meh.

And then, help. Help, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to blog about. I don't know how to make what I want to say sound interesting. What do you do when you need help?

When I get stuck in my writing, I have a few places to turn to for help. The first is my extensive collection of books on how to write. Which can always be supplemented by buying more books. This is particularly useful when I know what I need to do, I just don't know how to go about it.

Or I can turn to either of the writing groups I'm involved in. I can get lots of different perspectives on the problem, which helps open up potential solutions. Most useful when I don't think I've fully got to grips with what the problem is and I need help seeing it from other angles.

And of course, there's always the interwebs. Opinions and advice galore! It takes time to filter it and you often have to wade through a load of shit in order to get to what you need, but on the plus side, I'm quite likely to find myself going off a tangent and finding something new. I love following internet trails to find out where they go.

Where do you go for writing help?

Friday, 22 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 5

Chapter 4 - Bran

Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen are travelling north with Coldhands, an ice zombie dressed as a ranger and riding an elk. It's cold. Really, really cold. When Bran slips into Summer's skin he doesn't feel the cold so much and can detect the life in the snowscape that seems lifeless when he's in his own skin. Summer sniffs the elk, trying to work out whether he can kill it and eat it. Bran slips into Hodor's skin for a moment; Hodor doesn't like it but struggles less each time. Coldhands has a murder of ravens that follow them.

They are being tracked by a group of men. Coldhands goes to deal with it and insists Meera stay with the group. The rest go on to try to find a village for some shelter. Jojen is really struggling but says he won't die here and that they must do as Coldhands says. They are freezing and starving and the village is difficult to find. Eventually, Bran slips inside Summer and uses the wolf's superior sense of smell to find it. Summer goes hunting and Bran goes with him. Summer finds three wolves eating Night Watch men and fights the alpa male for the kill. He wins and eats the best bits. One of the men has an amputated arm.

When Bran returns to himself, he finds that Coldhands has brought them a pig and they have a fire. Coldhands says that because they are in a hut under the snow the fire won't be seen and won't attract Others. Bran challenges Coldhands about his black hands and how he won't come near the fire. Coldhands admits he is dead. Jojen and Meera say they have to stick with it.


Okay, so lots of questions here. The three wolves that Summer sees off are Varamyr's wolves and the alpha is carrying Varamyr. This is obviously not a coincidence - are they going to follow? Will Varamyr try to take Hodor? Bran slipping into Hodor's skin is much creepier after the prologue. Hodor doesn't fight as much; is it because he's mentally sub-normal, does that make him an easier target? Maybe Bran is being really abusive by doing that and he doesn't realise it. What if Varamyr tries to take Hodor? Oh no!

And Coldhands is obviously an ice zombie - but it's taken ages for Bran to work that out? But how does he get to have agency and why isn't he trying to kill them? A special kind of ice zombie then. There are hints that Coldhands in Benjen Stark. Maybe it's his Stark-ness that makes him special.

Then there's the one-armed Night Watch corpse. Is it Donal Noye? Didn't he die at Castle Black? If it's not Donal Noye, then who? I don't recall any other one-armed characters. And were they zombies or alive when the wolves got them? If they were alive, where did they come from? Maybe they were still stragglers from Mormont's expedition trying to get back to the Wall.

It feels like this is the first chapter in which things are moving forward. The previous chapters, even Tyrion's, have felt a little like catching up on where everyone is and what they've been doing since the end of ASOS, so this is exciting.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Things I have liked this week

Deficits are a girl's best friend. Or, running a country is not the same as balancing a household budget. Take that, free marketeers! Via Ms Magazine.

The picture at this blog shows exactly why reading is important. I'm also going to take on her comments about identifying my writing strengths.  

Astronomy Picture of the Day!
A starry night over Dubai. Or not, because of the light pollution. But the photographic effect is still pretty cool.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 4

Chapter 3 - Jon

Jon is dreaming that he is Ghost. As Ghost he knows where the other direwolves of the pack that are still alive are. He can sense Nymeria and ShaggyDog. He knows Summer is still alive but can't sense him. When Jon wakes up, we see his side of the story about why he sends Aemon and Mance's son away with Sam.

Stannis wants something from Jon. Melisandre has been questioning the wildlings. Jon has a tricky decision to make. As he crosses the courtyard of Castle Black, he is accosted by one of Stannis' knights who wants to challenge him. The knight calls him a coward when he declines. Stannis has sent ravens to the Northern Lords but only Karstark has declared for him. Stannis wants all the castles along the wall so that he settle them on his lords and followers. Jon won't give them up so he threatens him.

Jon returns to his chambers and Melisandre accompanies him. She seems to generate her own heat. Melisandre tells Jon she can help him, tells him to beware the enemies that pretend to be friends. She closes with Ygritte's words, "You know nothing, Jon Snow."


I was surprised to see Sam still at the Wall but, of course, ADWD runs in parallel with AFOC (sort of) and Sam hasn't left yet. Silly me. And Stannis, once you start threatening people, you've lost the argument.

Jon really is Eddard's son (even if not biologically). He has the bent to do the right thing and an appreciation that it will often be very hard to work out what that might be. He wants to be just but he doesn't want to be harsh like Stannis. And he's not afraid to speak truth to power. So how will he keep and hold what he's got when everyone wants to take it away from him?

I think Jon's experiences of ruling the Wall are in parallel with Dany, Tyrion and Cersei. He seems to be handling things well, like Dany.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

100 Books in 2011 Challenge: The Auschwitz Violin

This one raises an interesting question: is it ok to not like a book on this subject? The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Àngels Anglada, trans. Martha Tennent, is the story of a violin maker interned in Auschwitz who is ordered to make a violin for the camp Commander. He does this amid the starvation and terror of life in the concentration camps.

This is a novella, or at around 25,000 words, a long short story. Looking at it as a short story makes the structure make a bit more sense. What I missed in this book was depth. Life in the concentration camps was horrific and I've read a few thing dealing with that subject. Yet it doesn't come across here. I get the sense that the horror is being skated over. Maybe that's a matter of taste - I do, after all, like visceral writing. Or maybe it's an issue of courage. Perhaps the author didn't want to commit to describing the conditions in Auschwitz in gory detail. I can see how that can seem gratuitous. Unfortunately, for me, that made it hard to connect to the fortitude of the protagonist. It didn't seem like that much of an heroic struggle because the impact of the environment wasn't fully brought out.

The writing itself is good and the story has great potential. I just found myself questioning the choices of the author about the structure of the story and what she chose to show. All the way through, I was thinking that I might have done it differently.

So, this book didn't really do it for me. I felt distanced from the story by the technique. I'd read this story if it was re-written by someone else. And yet I feel a bit uncomfortable saying that I didn't like the book because of the subject matter. If you like literary fiction, and don't like horror, then this may be for you. It was a bit too sanitised for my taste.

Monday, 18 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 3

Chapter 2 - Daenerys

Daenerys' people are being killed in the streets. Grey Worm brings her the body of an Unsullied killed on the way to a brothel by the Sons of the Harpy. The cities she defeated are turning bad in different ways and the good she has tried to do is all going wrong. Daenerys is trying to learn how to do better.

In Meereen, Daenerys holds an audience of supplicants, a mixture of nobles and former slaves. Everyone wants compensation for something. The nobles want restitution of their property and privileges taken when the slaves rose up. The former slaves want compensation for the things done to them when they were slaves. And some farmers want compensation for the livestock her dragons are eating.

Daenerys tries to be fair, but it is hard to work out what is the right thing to do and her gold is not limitless. Her principles are sorely tried by expediency and the advice she gets is rarely that helpful. Her crown weighs heavily on her head, both literally and metaphorically. She pays for the livestock that the dragons have eaten and all but one of the farmers leave. She asks the one remaining to speak and he spills the bones of a child in front of her.


This is the chapter that was included at the end of AFOC, so nothing new here. What struck me was the parallel between Dany and Tyrion at this point. Both have used their power to try to do good and things turned bad - people are ungrateful and they seem to be making things worse in some ways. The difference is in the way they respond. Dany seems to be trying hard to understand what she can do differently, while Tyrion becomes bitter and disillusioned when he doesn't get the love of the people. There is also an obvious parallel with Cersei, who grasps for tighter and tighter control when things don't go her way, using terror without understanding that it will undo her. Dany wins this competition hands down. People are ungrateful, petty, self-interested and greedy. Dany seems to be dealing with this better than Tyrion, but maybe that's because she didn't have those illusions in the first place. Compared with Cersei, she's better and brighter. On a writing note, it's really interesting to recall from AFOC how Martin manages to convey Cersei's limited intellectual capacity.

So, of course, dragons are not just cute, magical creatures who make everything better and will save the world from ice zombies, they are predators. Perhaps this is why they got stuck in the Dragonpit on Rhaenys' Hill. We've got the point that ice must not win because it will destroy the world, but maybe fire shouldn't win either as it will also consume the world.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 2

Chapter 1 - Tyrion

Tyrion is on a boat bound for the free cities; he's drunk and feeling very sorry for himself. When the ship makes port, Tyrion is stuffed inside a wine cask and delivered to Magister Illyrio Mopatis, the man responsible for selling Danaerys to Khal Drogo. Tyrion feels sorry for himself. Illyrio has to go out on magisterial duties and so Tyrion wanders about the mansion, drinking, and rambling to servants he believes don't understand him. The rambling concerns his future and what he might do with it. He falls down drunk, sees some mushrooms, picks them and puts them in his pocket. He thinks they might be poisonous.

Later he dines with Illyrio and his appetite for food is re-stimulated by the feast laid out before him. Illyrio makes reference to 'the king' but Tyrion doesn't appear to pick up on it. During the feast, mushrooms in garlic butter are served. Tyrion goes to take one but falters when he remembers the mushrooms he picked earlier. He offers the plate to Illyrio who insists that he goes first. Tyrion believes he is being offered poison. Illyrio asks him if that isn't what he wants. The servants understood his rambling better than he thought. Instinctively, Tyrion doesn't want to die, but realises he doesn't know what he will do with the rest of his life. The magister talks about going east so that Tyrion can return to Westeros with the three-headed dragon.


Oh hai, Tyrion, where've you been? You know, in some respects Tyrion is very naive. He is prone to dwelling on the past and now he has more to torment himself with. His experience in King's Landing has revealed the truth about his family and it's a blow. And really, it's not like he thought his family was great. He already thought that his experience was pretty shit, and then to find out that it was worse, well that sucks.

I think that Tyrion has had a lot of his sense of identity stripped away from him and the worst of his character is at the surface at the moment. He's soft-hearted and protecting himself behind bitterness. A lot of the commenters on the fan blogs seem to be willing Tyrion to hook up with Dany - I guess on the basis that you always want your favourite characters to get together - but I'm not sure that's how this is going to pan out. And why does Illyrio want to help Tyrion? What's he getting out of this?

I think I should say at this point that there are no characters I dislike in this series. Obviously I have my favourites, but all the characters are sympathetic to some degree. Yes, even Cersei.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

100 Books in 2011 Challenge: The Prodigal Daughter

Jeffrey Archer is an easy target. He's a best-selling author that a lot of people think is a dreadful writer. So, given that I read in order to improve my writing skills, it seems to make sense that I should read some of those novels and authors that are widely considered to be bad. I can see why they are bad and learn from that. In some cases, they actually aren't bad, they're just popular and successful.

In the case of The Prodigal Daughter by Jeffrey Archer, it was bad. It was bad enough to make me angry. It spans about sixty years and is the story of a woman who inherits a massive hotel chain and then becomes president of the USA (whoops, spoilers).

Archer starts with her birth, then shows selected highlights from her childhood, educational career, she runs away to marry the son of her father's sworn enemy and builds up her own really successful chain of high-end designer clothes stores, her father dies and she inherits his hotel chain, she runs that for a while until she gets bored and then goes into politics.

For the first two thirds of the book my problem was the style of telling the story. Given that there is so much time to cover there has to be a lot of narrative, interspersed with scenes of pivotal events. The narrative is often clumsy and expository. There's an awful lot of telling and it's not handled well. The scenes don't really show the protagonist's character (which is what they are meant to do) rather Archer tells us and doesn't match his action with what he's trying to get across. The dialogue is clunky. The protagonist is not very likable, mainly because she's perfect and everything just falls into her lap. She has a couple of 'set-backs' but they're not real reversals or challenges, just opportunities for Archer to show that she's even more perfect than he'd already told us.

I had mixed reactions to the last part of the book. To start with, I felt more positive about it. This is the part of the book where she's entered politics and is trying to get a seat in Congress, then campaigns for the Senate and then to be the Democratic party nomination for President. It also covers her transformation from dove to hawk which is irritating and feels like polemic. However, it is a detailed and interesting look at the American electoral process and is more action-orientated than much of the rest of the book. There are moments of tension, even though you know the protagonist is going to win everything eventually because she always does. Then as she campaigns for the Democratic Party nomination, she gets well and truly screwed over by her opponent. It's probably the best bit of the book. She becomes the Vice-President, with a promise that he will step down after one term and support her. Once he has the presidency he sidelines her in favour of his former running mate, now Secretary of State. Then there is a nuclear missile crisis. The President is visiting his mistress and is uncontactable and the Secretary of State crumbles under the pressure. Our protagonist saves the day and is a big hero. Then the President announces he is stepping down and publicly gives his support to the Secretary of State.

That's not quite the end and I wouldn't normally describe the plot in such detail, but it brings me to the point that offended me most about this book. At this point, I thought, wow, she's really going to have to fight for this, that'll be good. But wait, there's only a few pages left. What's going to happen? What happens is a deus ex machina. The President dies of a heart attack and our protagonist automatically becomes President. The End. What, Archer, you couldn't be bothered to write any more? You'd made your word count so you decided just to leave it there? Rubbish.

This, I think, is a perfect example of a writing breaking their promise to a reader. Not only was the book badly written and quite boring for most of it, but at the end, Archer cheats. He cheats the reader and he cheats his main character. Avoid like the plague. And I still don't understand how he's managed to sell so many books.

Friday, 15 July 2011

A Read of A Dance with Dragons - Part 1


A warg is hunting in the snow beyond the Wall with two other wolves. They find a small group of people; two men and a woman with a baby. The wolves attack, kill and eat the people.

Varamyr Sixskins, one of Mance Rayder's chiefs, and a big noise in the army of the King Beyond the Wall, lies dying alone in the snow. The wolves are what remains of the six animals he was previously linked with. We learn what happened to the wildling army after their defeat by Stannis. Some have gone on to Eastwatch to try to breach the Wall there. Others have gone to the sea to look for boats to take them away. Others are heading north again to the land of the Thenns, even though the Thenns joined Mance's army to escape the ice zombie invasion of their lands. Many have scattered in small bands. Varamyr was with one such group which has been whittled down to him and one woman, who has gone hunting, leaving him dying of a knife wound to the side which he got while trying to steal a cloak.

Varamyr's thoughts turn to his childhood and how he became a shape shifter, which conveys more information about the link between the Starks and their wolves. He remembers his mentor telling him about the times he shouldn't link with animals, the types of animals not to join with and that it is an abomination to join with another person. Varamyr has done all these things. He goes out looking for the woman he was travelling with. As he finds her, he slips, causing his wound to rip open and he bleeds out. At this point, Varamyr tries to transfer his soul to the woman. She fights him and the fight causes her to kill herself, biting out her own tongue and clawing out her eyes. Varamyr's soul finds his alpha wolf, from whose eyes he watches hundreds of ice zombies slowly marching south.


Good start. Initially, I thought we were with Bran and that it was Summer eating the baby. So, the whole baby-eating scene was quite shocking. A paragraph later, I learn that the warg is Varamyr Sixskins. Who is awful. And I find myself quite relieved that it wasn't Bran.

This chapter goes a long way to explaining the gift of shape shifting that the Starks seem to have with their direwolves. It's something more accepted north of the Wall than in the South, where these talents have been stamped out. It also conveys that there are times when it's just not right to do it. Wolves are somewhat accepting, but Varamyr also had a shadowcat, a bear and an eagle. The cat and the bear hated it and tried to fight him.

And just so we don't forget, the Prologue rams home the theme of Winter is Coming. There are ice zombies and we should be scared. The writing is as good as ever, particularly as this chapter is essentially exposition told through a character study, and I'm totally gripped.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Things I've liked this week

Astronomy Picture of the Day
Atlantis' last approach to the International Space Station. A view from the space station of the shuttle with the Bahamas in the background.

Pagan stuff
A silly little story that amused me - a Christian group opposed a meeting of Pagans and threatened a protest, but while loads of Pagans turned up, no Christians did. Via A Bad Witch's Blog.

Writing stuff
A useful post on making the most of the feedback you get from critique groups and editors from the Blog.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

100 Books in 2011 Challenge: The Captive Queen

I was so looking forward to The Captive Queen by Alison Weir. Although I haven't read any of her novels before, I have read several of her historical biographies. I think Alison Weir writes non-fiction really well and I especially enjoyed her biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. That book was one I found particularly influential and I loved the character of Eleanor that she created from the patchy historical sources. So, a novel about that woman and informed by extensive research? Should be great, right?

Something went wrong. Partly it was in my expectations. Weir says in a note at the end of the book that what she was trying to do was portray the marriage of Eleanor and Henry II, one that was supposed to be an intense, passionate relationship and was very eventful. That's not really the book I wanted to read. I wanted to read about Eleanor in full. Her marriage is important in her story but she spent a lot of time apart from Henry and there were many other significant relationships in her life. I wanted to see her as a stateswoman and those parts were glossed over. Frustrating, but not what it was intended to be about, so it's not fair to criticise the lack of it.

The question thus becomes, did Weir do what she says she set out to do? I think that the writing is quite flawed. The balance of interior monologue to dialogue and action is tipped too far in favour of monologue. The interior voice isn't that compelling and there were a number of times when I wondered if I was reading a Mills & Boon. Characterization is light and the relationships are not convincing. Dialogue is lacking and not that well done.

I have always held that a good non-fiction writer can write good fiction but this book proves it is not always true. It is a shame, because Weir is a great writer. I'd recommend you read all her non-fiction, but steer clear of the novels.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Things I've liked this week

Writing stuff
A poem taking apart V.S. Naipal and his isms via Ms Magazine

Politics and social stuff
Responding to homophobia in the Daily Mail (shocker, I know), Spark in Darkness is both angry, right, and funny.

Oooh pretty
Astronomy picture of the day showing a volcano with a perfectly triangular shadow.