Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 23

A Feast for Crows: Prologue to the end of Samwell I (p. 123)

0. Prologue

We begin the book in Oldtown, amongst a group of young men training to be maesters. For reasons that are not explained, a man called ‘The Alchemist’ has asked young Pate to steal a key that can open all the doors of the Citadel. After handing over the key Pate dies.

I was rather surprised by this chapter, as it does not seem to progress the story in any way. However, the description of ‘The Alchemist” does match that of Jaqen H’ghar’s new face, as described in A Clash of Kings, 47. Arya IX. This suggests that Jaqen needs to infiltrate the Citadel for some purpose, but we are given no hint of who is target might be.

1. The Prophet

‘The Prophet’ is Aeron Greyjoy, Theon’s very religious and humorless uncle. We join him as he is busy drowning, and then resuscitating, the faithful. He is unmoved at the news of Balon’s death, but shocked to learn that his brother Euron has returned and claimed the Seastone Chair. Aemon knows that Balon had intended Asha to follow him as King, but he also knows that a woman cannot lead the Ironmen and advises that a Kingsmoot be called to select a new king.

I know that life is hard on the Iron Isles, but their culture is remarkably offensive in so many ways. However, with the harshness of the men, I can understand why Aeron does not think that they will bow to a woman or even a ‘weak’ man like Theon. Aeron is yet another religious figure to add to the mix, totally convinced that he has the truth and yet wielding considerable power simply because he says that he speaks his god’s wishes.

2. The Captain Of Guards

Again we have a new POV character, this time it is Areo Hotah, Captain of the Guards to Prince Doran Martell. Areo is from Norvos, one of the nine Free Cities and was trained as a bodyguard by the Bearded Priests. He is a simple, loyal man who is very compassionate in his treatment of the Prince who suffers terribly from gout. Doran himself comes across as a thoughtful stoic character who suffers intense pain with quiet dignity whilst trying to maintain an air of strength.

We are also introduced to three of the Sand Snakes, Oberyn’s bastard daughters. The eldest, Obara, is very similar to Brienne in her mannishness while Nymeria and Tyene are much more feminine though no less deadly. I was amazed at Obara’s age because she is supposed to be nearly thirty, even though Oberyn was only forty-two when he died . . . so he fathered her shortly after turning twelve . . . kudos to Oberyn! Of the three, Tyene seems to be the most dangerous because she is an expert with poisons but looks sweet and innocent: you know she has a bad reputation when Doran’s Maester is so distraught when she has physical contact with the Prince. All three of the sisters want revenge for their father’s death, which they view as murder, and are unimpressed by assurances that they will receive Gregor Clegane’s head. Tyene suggests marrying Myrcella to Prince Trystane straight away and then claiming her right to be Queen in place of her younger brother Tommen.

I feel very sorry for Doran as the Sand Snakes are going to be a political liability for him. I agree with his decision to hold them all in cells in the Spear Tower.

3. Cersei I

There is something faintly unpleasant about Cersei being a POV character. I dislike the woman a great deal and I am not sure that I want her to be redeemed in the same way as Jaime was in A Storm of Swords.

There seems to be a very prophetic air to the dream that Cersei wakes from at the beginning of this chapter, where she is naked and torn apart by the Iron Throne while Tyrion laughs at her. It would seem that her aversion to her younger brother is bound up with a prophecy involving both of them that she received as a child. There is no doubt that Tyrion will not miss her when she dies, especially after the ‘evidence’ she compiled against him for his trial. It is interesting that she immediately suspects Tyrion’s involvement in Tywin’s death, which shows that she was not unaware of the animosity between them.

It is very difficult to imagine anyone being truly sad that Tywin Lannister has died, but I can understand the shock of his murder, especially to his children. As usual, Cersei sees the event in terms of how it affects her and her position. She fears for Tommen’s safety, although I expect that is more to the fact that he is her key to power than from a mother’s worry. She is happy to think that she will now have all the power as Queen Regent, but is then infuriated when she discovers that she was the last person to be notified of his death. She is angry with the number of people who already know some of the details of his death, and is furious that he is still in the privy, half naked and has not been cleaned or even had the quarrel removed. She is confused by Shea’s presence in his bed: I wonder if we will ever find out if he regularly indulged in whores or if this was an unusual occurrence.

Cersei’s detachment from reality is in full force. She orders that all the walls be knocked in to look for hidden passages: a very sensible suggestion! She becomes furious with Jaime because he had not found the murderer. She also remembers laughing at Shea’s request to receive the rewards that she was promised in exchange for her testimony against Tyrion. Shea might have been a whore, but if you promise a reward then you pay it: whatever happened to “A Lannister always pays his debts”?

I wonder what has happened to Varys?

4. Brienne I

Yet another new POV, but here it is one of my more favorite characters: Brienne of Tarth.

I find Brienne a very touching character because she is so honest and earnest about fulfilling her duties and oaths. She is also brave enough to pursue her passion of being a soldier in a world where she is constantly mistaken for a man or ridiculed because of her dress. She is also a deeply unhappy person who never seems to catch a break or have any good luck. She falls in love with an unattainable man, Renly, and then is accused of his murder; she delivers Jaime to King’s Landing, but he is maimed and she cannot fulfill her promise to Catelyn to return her daughters North because nobody knows where they are. Nothing ever works to her advantage, but she keeps on regardless.

We follow her as she travels towards Duskendale in the hopes of tracking down Sansa, although nobody has seen a girl answering her description. Of course, it does not occur to Brienne that Sansa might be travelling in disguise or in a closed carriage so that she is not seen. She is also shocked to find that Varys has offered a generous reward to anyone who can find the girl, even though that seems like a very obvious move by the King and his advisors.

I am intrigued by the group of ‘sparrows’ that she encounters on the road. These poor people are pulling a cart piled with the bones of holy men and women that have been murdered, raped and tortured by the war bands afflicting the realm. They are headed to King’s Landing in order to call for a defense of the Faith in the Seven. Does this mean that we will have a Holy War on our hands as well?

5. Samwell I

Why do I often find myself smiling whilst I read Sam’s chapters? I guess that it is because he has such a self-aware character who is constantly berating himself and getting flustered. I can sympathize with his love for learning and old books and for his ability to lose track of time as he is reading. He is also generous, loyal and kind. Plus, Ghost likes him instinctively, which says a lot about him to me.

Anyway, it is certainly nice to be back inside the head of a familiar POV character after so many new ones.

I love Sam’s dilemma over the mouse in the library vaults: he feels sorry for it, but it is probably eating the books so he should kill it. Of course, he cannot even lift up a heavy book to squash it without making a mistake, so the mouse gets away and Sam can be relieved that he has been saved from bad dreams haunted by squished mice. His list of ‘useful’ information about the Others is enough to make someone tear their hair out, but Jon is always very patient with his friend and willing to give him time enough to get his thoughts straight.

Our view of Jon here is of someone more than capable of running the Knight’s watch. He has imposed sensible training on all able-boded Brothers, but is also aware of his precarious position with King Stannis. His decision to send Maester Aemon south with Sam and Gilly so that Melisandre cannot use his royal blood to raise a dragon is a dangerous ploy, because it could anger Stannis, but it shows that he is willing to take risks to do the right thing and to protect a very wise old man. Sam will certainly do well in the Citadel, and I would imagine that he would enjoy the ability to learn and study. However, I am concerned that Jon will now lack both Aemon and Sam as advisors for a prolonged period.

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