Day 389: A Dance with Dragons

Cover for A Dance with DragonsA Dance with Dragons is the fifth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Sadly, we have now all caught up with the author.

On the Wall, Jon Snow has been elected Lord Commander of the Night Watch, but he is having trouble holding his own against his enemies. He is aided by the only one of the battling kings to come to the Night Watch’s assistance, Stannis. Jon is considering allowing the wildings through the Wall, as they are fleeing from Winter. This idea is not at all popular with the Watch, as they have spent many years fighting the wildings to try to keep them north of the Wall.

Far north of the Wall, Bran Stark and his friends have traveled to a secret cave in search of the three-eyed crow. Bran’s intention is to learn to be a greenseer, and he has traveled there for instruction. He is learning that a greenseer communicates through the weirwoods, the ancient trees worshipped by the oldest religion in the Seven Kingdoms.

Across the Narrow Sea and east at Slaver’s Bay, Daenyrys is ruling the city of Meereen but does not want to lose sight of her goal to return to the Seven Kingdoms with an army. Tyrion Lannister, on the run, is on his way to join her. Also on that side of the Narrow Sea, in Braavos, young Arya Stark is training to be an assassin.

The rapacious Cersei Lannister looks like she is down for the count, as her plot to remove her daughter-in-law has resulted in she herself being imprisoned by the Faith of the Seven. But it is always a mistake to underestimate Cersei.

Jaime Lannister is still traveling the Riverlands and has besieged Raventree Hall, the home of the Blackwoods, the last family supporting Robb Stark that has not surrendered. Brienne is on her way to find him to tell him about Sansa Stark’s peril, as they both promised her mother to keep her safe.

The series continues to be very exciting. The characters are thoroughly developed and it is easy to become engrossed in their fates. The complexity of this imagined world is impressive. I am waiting for the next book to come out, but I understand that won’t be for about another two years.

Day 322: A Feast for Crows

Cover for A Feast for CrowsBest Book of the Week!
It’s been awhile since I reviewed a book in A Song of Ice and Fire, and at the rate I’m going, the next book will be out before I catch up!

At the beginning of this fourth novel in the series, the War of the Five Kings is almost over, and several of the contenders for the crown are dead. Stannis Baratheon is the only king who has responded to the cries for help from The Wall, where Jon Snow is now Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Stannis’ religious beliefs are causing problems at The Wall, however, particularly because he has brought along the witch Melisandre. Jon must send his friend Sam and Maester Aemon away from the wall to save the maester’s life, as his family is an enemy of the Baratheons.

Tyrion Lannister is accused of murdering his father Tywin and has fled the city. Cersei Lannister’s son Tommen is now king, with Cersei acting as Regent. This situation in King’s Landing is a dangerous one, because Cersei is clearly a psychopath. She has complete control over the city and has many megalomaniacal plans, including trying to bring down her son’s wife. However, she soon seems to be working toward her own defeat.

Brienne, having long ago promised Catelyn Stark to save her daughters in exchange for Jaime Lannister’s freedom, is still searching for Sansa Stark, who has been removed to the Eyrie for her safety by the creepy Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger. Littlefinger has been pretending that Sansa is his daughter, but he soon murders his wife and plans to put Sansa in her place.

Cersei has sent her brother Jaime to the Riverlands to establish order. He seems to be getting disillusioned with Cersei, and is appalled she has made him break his promise to Catelyn, among others. After all, “Lannisters always pay their debts.”

Arya Stark has crossed the waters to Braavos, where she has found shelter in the House of Black and White, a temple of assassins. When Arya kills a man who bragged that he deserted the Night’s Watch and then confesses the murder to the Kindly Man, her mentor, he gives her a potion to drink and she wakes up blind.

Characters have died and Daenerys is not featured in this novel, but new characters are being brought to the fore. In Dorne, Arianne Martell, princess of Dorne, tries to force her father, Doran Martell, into war by attempting to have Myrcella Baratheon, his ward, crowned as queen of Westeros. This plot results in tragedy.

Without giving away too much, it is difficult to convey how exciting this series is. One of the most intriguing features is that you never know what is going to happen with a character. Martin has populated this series with a plethora of them—so many that you need the reference at the back of the book to keep track of the minor ones—but your favorite character in one book can be dead in the next, or maybe not. He is skillful at depicting characters who are convincingly human and keeps up the suspense masterfully.

Day 203: A Storm of Swords

Cover for A Storm of SwordsBest Book of the Week!

My notes for A Storm of Swords, the third entry in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice saga, say “This series just keeps getting better and better.” This novel picks up slightly before the end of the last one.

The evil King Joffrey Lannister has set aside his betrothal to Sansa Stark so that he can marry Lady Margaery Tyrell. Sansa is forced to marry Joffrey’s uncle Tyrion, the dwarf. Tyrion treats her gently, but she remains afraid of him. Soon, Joffrey is murdered, and Tyrion and Sansa are accused of the crime.

Jaime Lannister has made a deal with Catelyn Stark for his freedom in return for Catelyn’s daughters. He goes off firmly intending to meet his part of the bargain, escorted by the knight Brienne of Tarth.

Robb Lannister’s army has smashed the Lannister forces in the Westerlands, but Robb has ruined an important alliance with the House Frey by marrying Jeyne Westerling of the Crag instead of his intended Frey bride. He agrees to a Frey marriage for his uncle in an attempt to make amends.

Arya Stark is still wandering, trying to get home to Winterfell. The group she is traveling with encounters Sandor Clegane, The Hound, who kidnaps her.

Up at the Wall, Jon Snow has disappeared on a scouting mission with Qhorin Halfhand. Although Halfhand has commanded Jon to act as an oathbreaker so as to infiltrate the wildings, when he returns, the members of The Watch think he has betrayed them. Bran Stark and his friends Jojen and Meera Reed, having hidden in the crypts during the destruction of Winterfell, arrive at the Wall in Jon’s absence and go on farther north.

In the East, Daenerys Targaryen gives up one of her dragons to buy an army of eunuch slaves called the Unsullied. Her hatred of slavery is such that she orders the Unsullied to sack the slaver cities and frees all the slaves.

Martin shocks you at times by killing off some of your favorite characters. But are they all really dead? If you haven’t read any of these books, you’re missing an exciting series.

Day 107: A Clash of Kings

Cover for A Class of KingsThe second of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga, A Clash of Kings seems to reveal more of the true nature of the various characters, in particular, who is a villain and who is just being loyal to his or her own family. But the characters’ loyalties shift as the series continues.

Robb Stark has been declared King of the North in the rebellion against the Lannisters, his father’s murderers. Robb sends Theon Greyjoy to his father to form an alliance, but Balon Greyjoy has his own ambitions and so does Theon. Theon comes back in Robb’s absence and invades Winterfell.

Young Brandon Stark, who was crippled in the first book by Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime, has been dreaming of running with the wolves. When Winterfell is invaded, he flees for his life with friends and makes for The Wall. His half-brother Jon Snow is marching north of The Wall to try to stop the wildings from invading the South.

Joffrey Baratheon, Queen Cersei’s sadistic son, has gained the throne upon Robert Baratheon’s death. His uncle Tyrion Lannister, who is regent in the absence of his father and Jaime, does his best to rule fairly and counteract the actions of Joffrey, but everyone hates him anyway.

Robert’s brothers, the seemingly virtuous Stannis and charismatic Renly, also have claims to the throne. Stannis, stuck on his island and disliked by all, doesn’t seem to have a ghost of a chance of gaining enough support. But he swears himself to the Red Lord and begins using the dark arts to his advantage.

Daenerys, the only living heir of the former ruling family, is trying to find a way home with her three dragons. She is looking for alliances and money to buy arms and ships and hire soldiers so she can invade.

Eight-year-old Arya Stark is still trapped in enemy territory as is her older sister Sansa, who is quickly losing her infatuation with her fiancé Joffrey.

Such is the situation of the main characters at the beginning of the second book. Martin’s series is enthralling and complex, with many plot twists. You can never be sure that even your favorite character won’t be killed (or seem to be killed). This series thrusts you along, and despite the length of the books, you can’t wait to start the next one. Unfortunately for me, I have finished all of the books that are already available and am waiting for the next one to come out.

Day Twenty: Game of Thrones

Cover for Game of ThronesBest Book of Week 4!

Game of Thrones is the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and also the name of a successful TV series based upon the books. I did not at first think this series would appeal to me, because I have not read much in the fantasy genre since my 20’s. However, I have to say that this has been one of the most exciting series of books I have ever read.

I have known a couple of people to turn up their noses when I told them it was a fantasy series, but really, the first few books only fit loosely into this genre. Except for a few scenes, Game of Thrones stays firmly in the historical novel category–except that the world is fictional. OK, the dead are coming back to life, and there used to be dragons. Minor details. Like Gavriel Kay, Martin seems to be using the genre to tell the story of events in an actual medieval country, in this case possibly England or Scotland–I have read reviews that suggested he was telling the story of the Wars of the Roses. In the succeeding books, we slide slowly into the fantasy genre.

The series is set in a world where winters and summers can last decades. It has been summer for a long time, but the Starks of Winterfell know that winter is coming. In fact, that is their family motto, and when they say it, you know they are talking about more than snow. Eddard Stark is summoned to court by his friend Robert Baratheon, the King of the Seven Kingdoms. Eddard helped Robert overthrow the previous king, “Mad King” Aerys Targaryen, years ago to give the kingdom to Robert’s older brother. But Robert’s brother died in the revolt.

Robert wants Eddard to take the position of The Hand, the king’s enforcer, after the death of the previous Hand, Eddard’s brother-in-law Lord Jon Arryn. A hard but honest man, Eddard does not seek or want the honor, but he feels it is his duty to accept. He goes to court, taking along his young daughters, eleven-year-old Sansa and eight-year-old Arya (my personal favorite character). He leaves his wife Catelyn and oldest son Rob to take care of the estate. His bastard son Jon Snow decides to become a protector of The Wall, a huge structure of ice in the north that protects the Seven Kingdoms, but from something more dangerous than Picts. This commitment is for a lifetime, and Eddard is reluctant to have him take it but Jon sees no future for himself in Winterfell. Shortly after Eddard leaves, one of his younger sons, Bran, sees something he shouldn’t have and is thrown off a tower as a result, to awaken paralyzed from the waist down.

Robert has affianced his oldest son Prince Joffrey to Eddard’s daughter Sansa. Back in court, it becomes clear almost immediately to Eddard that Queen Cersei Lannister is running the kingdom while Robert plays and that both Joffrey and his mother Cersei are cruel and vicious. Cersei is also conniving, and Joffrey would be if he wasn’t so stupid. The court is full of secrets and spies, and people are out for what they can get. In the midst of finding all kinds of skullduggery, Eddard discovers a secret about Cersei, much to his peril and that of his family.

In the meantime, Viserys Targaryen, the only remaining heir of the mad king, is across the sea, prepared to sell his little sister Daenerys to the Dothraki war lord Khal Drogo in return for an army and an attempt to restore the Targaryen throne.

And up in the north, bad things seem to be happening beyond The Wall.

These are only a few of the many characters in the first volume, and as the series continues, more are introduced. Martin provides an appendix for you to keep track of them. Even the minor characters seem like real people. You will have your favorites, and you will never know what is going to happen to them next. The complex world—buildings, costumes, scenery—Martin envisages is vividly described, so you can picture exactly what he has imagined.

If this all sounds intimidating, I suggest you get a copy of the book and give it a try. If you’re like me, you’ll be grabbing the next one off the shelf as soon as you finish. Eventually, you will realize the series isn’t finished and you will have to wait for the final book to come out. At least, the sixth book is supposed to be the last one. I have read five, and I can’t imagine how Martin is going to wrap everything up in one book. With any luck, he’ll have to write another one!