Archive | 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.

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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?

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 When I originally made my list, I thought I might talk about health, about whether your health is good, bad or variable and what impact that has on your writing.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?

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.

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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.

Things I have liked this week

Economics

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.

Writing

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.

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.”

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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.

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.

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.

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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.