Jan 30 2014 2:00pm

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Feast for Crows, Part 1

A Feast for Crows Song of Ice and FireWelcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.

Today’s entry is Part 1 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover the Prologue.

Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.

And now, the post!


What Happens
Outside the Quill and Tankard, a tavern in Oldtown, a maester novice named Pate drinks with several other novices and acolytes while he daydreams about running away with Rosey, the daughter of one of the tavern wenches, whose maidenhead price is a golden dragon. He had wanted to be a maester, but he’s been studying at the Citadel for five years now without earning a single link for his chain. Rosey had introduced him to a stranger claiming to be an alchemist who could turn iron into gold, and who’d said he would come back that night. Pate was here to meet him, but had been unable to avoid socializing with the others.

Mollander is arguing with Armen, Roone, and Alleras the Sphinx over whether dragons exist. He insists that they might be extinct in Westeros, but there are tales of a dragon overseas, accompanied by a “beautiful young queen.” Alleras announces that the dragon has three heads, and the queen Mollander refers to is Daenerys Stormborn, the last of the Targaryens. Mollander drunkenly proposes a toast to “their rightful queen,” and Armen hisses at him to shut up. They are joined by Lazy Leo, who invites them to buy him a round to keep him quiet about their treasonous talk, and manages to insult all of them in turn.

The others react with contempt, but Leo doesn’t care, and tells them Daenerys is indeed alive, and has three dragons, not one, a fact confirmed by Maester Marwyn, “the Mage.” Pate thinks of Marwyn’s long history abroad, consorting with all types, including warlocks and shadowbinders. Armen declares that Marwyn is “unsound,” and has no proof.

“You’re wrong,” said Leo. “There is a glass candle burning in the Mage’s chambers.”

Armen says that is not possible, as glass candles (made from dragonglass) are meant to be unlightable, but Leo says he saw it himself. Alleras muses on dragons being back in the world again, and Leo says there are “darker things” as well.

“Old powers waken. Shadows stir. An age of wonder and terror will soon be upon us, an age for gods and heroes.”

The others decide to leave, but Pate says he will stay. Leo taunts him about Rosey. Pate wants to kill him, but Leo is the son of Ser Moryn Tyrell, commander of Oldtown’s City Watch, and cousin to Lord Mace Tyrell, and Pate doesn’t dare. He realizes dawn has arrived with no sign of the alchemist, and wonders if he, Pate, is still a thief if he just puts back what he has stolen. He goes to leave, very drunk, and contemplates taking off on his own, but ends up heading back to the Citadel.

Then the alchemist finds him on the street, and asks him what he is. Pate replies that he supposes he is a thief, for stealing the key he had taken which opens every door in the Citadel. The alchemist takes him to a back alley and gives him a golden dragon, but Pate demands to see his face before giving him the key. The alchemist is young, with black hair and a faint scar on his right cheek; Pate does not recognize him. He gives the alchemist the key.

He was halfway down the alley when the cobblestones began to move beneath his feet. The stones are slick and wet, he thought, but that was not it. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest. “What’s happening?” he said. His legs had turned to water. “I don’t understand.”

“And never will,” a voice said sadly.

The cobblestones rushed up to kiss him. Pate tried to cry for help, but his voice was failing too.

His last thought was of Rosey.

Well, that was both totally unsurprising and very cryptic.

This is kind of random, perhaps, but I’ve been watching the TV show Justified a lot lately, and the parallels I’ve been finding between it and ASOIAF are rather startling. On the surface the two things have just about nothing in common, considering that ASOIAF is an epic fantasy book series about (basically) pseudo-medieval European war and politics amid an impending wintry apocalypse, and Justified is (basically) an modern-day American cops and robbers show set in the backwoods of Kentucky, but once you go beyond the surface, the underlying perspective on human nature in each story is eerily similar, and it’s a perspective that’s given me much food for thought lately.

Both ASOIAF and Justified have a view of humanity that is both profoundly cynical and yet oddly lyrical at the same time. Along with a refreshingly clear-eyed (if often depressing, therefore) acknowledgement of their respective societies’ biases with regard to class, race, gender, etc., they both observe, with brutal honesty, how cruelly their worlds prey on the weak and stupid (like, for instance, our POV character Pate here), and yet they simultaneously manage to convey a certain wry compassion for those who fall victim to that cruelty. They make us shake our heads at how dumb these poor saps are, and also to feel sorry for them at the same time, even when their actions are less than pure themselves, because we are made to recognize just how deep and treacherous are the waters in which they swim, often through no choice or fault of their own, and how woefully unprepared most of these characters could ever be to navigate the currents and undertows in which they are caught.

(The concurrent “less-than-pure poor sap” character on Justified, if you’re curious, is Dewey Crowe, and let me take a moment to assure you that if you like ASOIAF or anything similar to it you should absolutely be watching Justified, because it is amazing, and tragically underrated as a TV show, mostly because Hollywood is prejudiced against the South, so fuck them.)

Anyway, back to ASOIAF, and my long-enough familiarity with the way things go in this series that I was able to predict with confidence that Pate was doomed nearly from the moment we met him. This prediction was helped, of course, by the dismal track record thus far of once-off POV characters in ASOIAF surviving their moment in the spotlight, particularly when they occur in Prologues, but even without the precedent I’m pretty sure I would have assumed Pate was going to bite it the moment I read that he had been duped into stealing something for some stranger claiming to be an “alchemist,” which might as well have been a synonym for “I’M GOING TO FLEECE YOU BLIND AND PROBABLY ALSO MURDER YOU” as far as I am concerned.

And look, I was right. SHOCKING.

Because, Jesus, dude, you think there’s no significance to a guy asking you to steal a skeleton key to the entire Citadel? That doesn’t scream “imminent military invasion” or “coup d’état” to you in letters of fire?? Ugh. It’s terrible of me to say, perhaps, but dude, you kind of deserved to get whacked in an alley for being that blitheringly idiotic. Sheesh.

Probably the most interesting part, really, is that Rosey, Tavern Wench Jr., was in on it. Huh. Or, maybe she was just a patsy. It’s more fun to think she wasn’t, though, especially since I can’t imagine she could be all that eager to have someone like Pate earn his way into her pants. Although it’s perfectly possible I’m giving her too much credit—or too little, depending on how you look at it.

So, obviously I have no idea who the alchemist is—although if his name turns out to be Edward Elric I’m going to laugh a lot. (I kind of doubt it, though.) His (fairly vague) physical description didn’t ring any bells for me, even if it was supposed to. I’m perfectly positive, however, that whoever he is, he’s going to show up again later at some point.

Interesting, though, that someone is apparently planning an invasion and/or infiltration of the maesters’ university. That speaks of a lot more subtlety than most of the much more overt conquests we’ve been seeing previously. I’m not entirely sure of what the purpose would be of such a thing yet, but I’m sure that there is one. Though I will note that the maesters, by and large, seem to be in control of most or all of the long-distance communication of Westeros (i.e. ravens), not to mention the history, lore, and medical knowledge, so having control of that institution would by no means be a small consideration. Knowledge being power, and alla that.

I mostly left it out of the summary, but I was also amused at Pate’s description of (and frustration with) his maester “professors” and the manner in which they (inadvertently or otherwise) screwed him over, which read to me like someone (whose initials may or may not be GRRM) has some fairly scathing opinions of the concept of tenure in higher education and the grievous abuses it can sometimes engender. Let’s just say, I know a few people who can vociferously sympathize. Heh.

“The glass candle is meant to represent truth and learning, rare and beautiful and fragile things. It is made in the shape of a candle to remind us that a maester must cast light wherever he serves, and it is sharp to remind us that knowledge can be dangerous. Wise men may grow arrogant in their wisdom, but a maester must always remain humble. The glass candle reminds us of that as well. Even after he has said his vow and donned his chain and gone forth to serve, a maester will think back on the darkness of his vigil and remember how nothing that he did could make the candle burn… for even with knowledge, some things are not possible.”

A very nice sentiment, and well worth quoting, but I wonder how many maesters ever bothered to take that lesson to heart. Especially since it seems that at least one of them can cheat the test. So does this make Marwyn the Mage the ASOIAF equivalent of the Reboot Kirk with the Kobayashi Maru?

Eh, probably not. However, given that obsidian (i.e. dragonglass) is volcanic glass and therefore has a kind of obscenely high melting point, I would speculate that there’s no way Marwyn the Mage could make a candle of it burn without employing—you guessed it—MAGIC!! *jazz hands*

Or, as the dialogue here suggests, it could also be a contagion kind of thing—dragons are back in the world, thanks to our Dany, and therefore dragonglass is… burnable again? Er, or something. It’s probably all Symbolic And Shit.

Either way, I suspect that, given the prominence with which he was mentioned, we have also not seen the last of Marwyn the Mage (whose name I keep mentally rendering as “Mervyn”, and which keeps cracking me up because “Mervyn the Mage” is hilarious, I’m sorry).

One other thing that jumped out at me here was Pate’s thought about the stories of Mervyn Marwyn hanging out with “shadowbinders,” which… okay, is that a reference to what Melisandre does with her Magical Assassin Shadow Babies™? Because, if so, I’m a little boggled, because if that kind of thing is even a little bit commonplace, even if only overseas, then why hasn’t anyone brought it up as a thing before now in reference to various assassinations? Especially Renly’s, given how very wonky his death scene was?

I dunno, I’d assumed that Melisandre’s little trick was unique to her, but this passage possibly implies that it isn’t, and that rather threw me. That is way freaky, if so. Imagine a whole group of people able to squeeze out murder shadows on command for a price! And how would male warlocks do it?

On second thought, let’s not, shall we?

And… er. I hadn’t quite meant to leave this commentary on that note, but, um.

(That’s because I got CLASS, y’all. CLASS, coming out of my—right, shutting up now.)

And here’s where we stop! A little short, I know, but I’m gearing up here, never fear! New book, whoo! See you next Thursday!

1. superkicker
i think you should re-read the alchemists physical description long and hard... martin doesnt just drop these hints for no reason
2. Tenesmus
Hodor! I enjoy these. you make me remember things I had previously forgotten
Rob Munnelly
4. RobMRobM
Hi Leigh - welcome to AFFC.

Funny in light of your Justified comment, but this is our first scene set in the South of Westeros. And Oldtown is to Kentucky as Dorne is to Louisiana or FLA. (And note that no one has ever seen Elmore Leonard and GRRM together in the same place - at least not before EL allegedly bit the dust last year.)

The people in the tavern are quite cool. In particular, the jerky Tyrell cousin and Alleras the Sphinx with incredibly expert archery skills, both of whom appear to know who Dany is and why she is important.

Yes, nice to have some good Marwyn talk. Just have to see how things play out, assuming you get back to Oldtown (or Marwyn shows up elsewhere).

EDITED - corrected a typo that made less clear my Oldtown/Dorne to Kentucky/FLA comparison.
5. Joshua Bowers
Oh hooray, we have finally arrived at A Feast for Crows. Let the--excitement--begin!

I'm a little let down Leigh didn't mention the couple REALLY BIG character references that are introduced in this chapter--of course, I will not reveal them.

Beyond those, there really isn't much going on in this chapter. It is long like Cressen's prologue in Clash. However, with Cressen's prologue the long shadowed (see what I did there?) Stannis is finally revealed. Where as, there isn't really more to this chapter. Cressen's long prologue answered many of our questions of Stannis. While Pate's prologue only makes us ask more questions about the Citadel and Old Town and answers very few.

I understand why some of my friends had a tough time continuing the series at this point. It's a momentum killer.
Rob Munnelly
6. RobMRobM
Darn it - spoiled in post 3. I had bet on no. 7 in the betting pool we had in the spoiler thread. *gumbles*
7. av willis
Incidentally, if you enjoy Justified, I'd recommend looking up Acting School with Nick Searcy, on Youtube. The actor who plays the chief on the show does a bang up job satirizing the hollywood mentality, it's pretty hilarious
Adam S.
Great. First post in forever on the series proper, and I can't make one single damned non-spoilery comment. I'll just say that the most interesting aspect of this chapter is the alchemist, followed by the dragonglass candle burning, but lots of little details in this prologue relate to things both earlier and later in this series (like the appearance of the alchemist).
9. boredme
There's this show on HBO that has a startling amount of common ground with ASOIAF too...

...I'll show myself out.
10. Joshua Bowers
I'm surprised all the fuss is about the alchemist. Like, oh the appearance of the alchemist. The alchemist is not the most fascinating character appearing or mentioned in this chapter. It's all about the call back to A Game of Thrones.
11. yahskar
I highly recommend looking at the Alchemist's physical description more closely...your instinct that it was supposed to ring some bells for you is correct.
12. Joshua Bowers
boredme: There's a show on HBO, that is becoming a startling amount less like ASOIAF every season. The two have very little common ground at this point.
Katharine Duckett
13. Katharine
@3 Let's keep all possible spoilers in the spoiler thread, please. Thanks!
Sasha P
14. AeronaGreenjoy
Interesting. My first-read response to this chapter was basically "WTF just happened to Pate?? Good grief, Leo's obnoxious. And what kind of mother literally sells her daughter's virginity to whatever jerk is first to pay?!" If tavern wench = prostitute here, the last would make somewhat more sense, but still..." *grumblegrumblegrumble*

On the flip side, Alleras and the rumored Marwyn and everything else in Maester World are highly interesting and a great change of scene.
Chris Nelly
15. Aeryl
It was mentioned WAY BACK in GoT that Stannis Baratheon had suddenly taken to hanging out with all kinds of shady types, including a shadowbinder from Asshai.

So that piece of knowledge sat there, waiting for you to forget it by COK, then when you start AFFC, you go, AHA! Much like other information that's been revealed, in passing, offhand, only to return later and upset the whole plot. I tell you, it's like he PLANNED THAT or something. ;^D
Rob Munnelly
16. RobMRobM
Also, Alleras is a person of color - diversity FTW!
George Jong
17. IndependentGeorge
Of all the prologues, this is the one that sticks with me the most, and is the most subtly tied in with the rest of the series.

Poor Dewey... and poor Wade, too. Graham Yost has already confirmed that season 6 will be the final season. I still hold out hope that Ian McShane will make a cameo at some point.

@4 - Oldtown is in the Reach, not Dorne. It's the oldest (hence the name) city in westeros, and the 2nd largest/wealthiest after King's Landing.
Rob Munnelly
18. RobMRobM
@17. Yes. That's why I said it was north of Dorne (akin to KY being north of LA or FLA). I'd consider Dorne and the Reach to be "the South" in Westeros.
Iris Creemers
19. SamarDev
@ Katherine
the link to the spoiler thread goes to the 4th thread in stead of the 5th...
Deana Whitney
20. Braid_Tug
@14, Rosy's mom is the Tavern owner, who's other "wenches" imply they are prostitutes. Since many of them go for a few silver pennies for a tumble (or less), a golden dragon is actually a large sum. Could even be the start of a dowry, if she ever gets to marry. Or security for the inn.
Not right, in our view, but worth a lot more than some parents sale their children (or their maidenheads) for in ASoIaF. A type of love even. So glad I don’t live in that world.

@6, Once again, wish there was a like button.

So, Leo would drive Cerise mad. A Rose with a Lion’s name.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
21. Lisamarie
I'm going to have to check the spoiler thread because I don't even remember who the alchemist is.

Anyway, super excited!!!! I have only read the first Dunk and Egg story, so I haven't been following the read thread for the past few weeks. But now it's back, yay!
Sasha P
24. AeronaGreenjoy
A Wiki of Ice and Fire says there are 12 Pates in ASOIAF (including D&E). Tower of the Hand says 9. Roll over for possible spoilers: Most of them do meet ignoble and untimely ends.
Vincent Lane
25. Aegnor

I'm currently reading the Malazan series and one thing I've found invaluable while reading the ebooks, is the ability to take a character's name that sounds familiar, and do a search in a previous book(s) or earlier in the current book.

Such a task might prove useful regarding Marwyn.

And as far as the alchemist, I have no idea why people are trying to get Leigh to figure out who that is based off this description. I find it very unlikely that many people figured it out from this description on their first reading. I only figured it out...later. The description is something to keep in mind, but trying to figure it out now is pointless. It's useful to confirm a suspicion that you would only get with later clues.
26. Syrio
The name Marwyn has come up before (all the way back to book 1), see if you can go back and find it.
Sasha P
27. AeronaGreenjoy
Whoops, sorry if my previous comment was spoilery. Is it OK to just say that this series contains 9-12 Pates?
28. Syrio
The name Marwyn has come up before (all the way back to book 1), see if you can go back and find it.
29. CT12
You've met the Alchemist before. I didn't catch it either and had to have it pointed out to me, but if you search your past character descriptions you'll find him. Not called the Alchemist for sure.

Alleras is also very interesting, but Martin doesn't fill in the necessary blanks until later in this book.
George Jong
30. IndependentGeorge
(That’s because I got CLASS, y’all. CLASS, coming out of my—right, shutting up now.)
Well, as they say in Ankh-Morpork, wizard's staff has a knob on its end...

And speaking of TV crossover references, that reminds me of a classic forum comment regarding Deadwood:
On a personal note, having immersed myself in the world of Deadwood, I have found my own manner of speech and written communication (though perhaps not in this instance) improving and, what is more, proving to be most intellectually refreshing, as I now spend a little longer searching for the right word or the right turn of phrase instead of just spitting up the first fucking thing that springs to mind.
31. CapnAndy
The first mention of Melisandre is actually an oblique reference in Game of Thrones that Stannis had hired a shadowbinder from Asshai.

So, yeah, the R'hllor fire mages are commonly known as shadowbinders. For what should be obvious reasons.
Vincent Lane
32. Aegnor
I don't know if it is accurate to say that R'hllor fire mages are shadowbinders. Shadowbinding is a skill that some R'hllor priests have is maybe more accurate.
33. Fenric25
Glad to see the re-read make it to AFfC-often considered the weakest book of the series, yet I've always rather liked it. The prologue of this book is probably one of my favorite parts of the series as I enjoy seeing new, oft-mentioned yet never-seen places in established series and Oldtown and the Citadel seem incredibly fascinating and ripe for exploration. Wish we could have had a bit more of Oldtown then the bits we get in AFfC but we'll have to wait and see...

Count me as one of those who didn't get who the Alchemist was the first time around, either, took a random comment online for me to figure it out (but then again, I'll often miss the subtle details the first two or three reads of a series, especially ASoIaF.) Glad to see Leigh make reference to a certain infamous tiny alchemist from anime and manga-Fullmetal Alchemist:Brotherhood's probably my favorite anime of all time and Ed Elric's definitely one of my favorite characters...

As for other aspects of the prologue-I did catch the mention of Marwyn the Mage as having been established in AGoT and hope to see more of him as well, a Maester unlike all the rest, really want to know what he's getting up to. The other shadowbinders as well-I've wondered whether or not Melisdanre was ordered by the greater authorities of the Red Priesthood to help Stannis or if she's on a personal vendetta (and whether her magic is indeed, as Leigh says, unique or if the other shadowbinders are as powerful. If so, eek). Considering what little we see later on (won't say more due to spoilers), I'd say personal but who knows...

Also-did Leigh catch the bit at the beginning of the book where it mentions that the POVS were split between AFfC and ADwD? I'll admit, that it was does throw me off the most about the latter two books as it meant there wasn't much variety of viewpoints and location, felt a bit off-balance. Just a personal opinion, love these two books anyway.
Steven Halter
34. stevenhalter
Prologue: Amused at "Dragons" being the first word of the Crows book.
This was interesting in that it gives us a slice of life in a day of maester apprentices. They have to pass tests of knowledge to get their links and otherwise drink a lot. Not that different than college life everywhere.
Marwyn the Mage seems like someone we'll be hearing more about. Marwyn has an interesting connotation with Merlin for me.
We also see that news of Dany is leaking back into Westros in bits and pieces.
The Alchemist appears and shows himself to Pate. The description:
He was just a man, and his face was just a face. A young man’s face, ordinary, with full cheeks and the shadow of a beard. A scar showed faintly on his right cheek. He had a hooked nose, and a mat of dense black hair that curled tightly around his ears. It was not a face Pate recognized. “I do not know you.”
is obviously important and does niggle at me a bit. A quick search in the eBooks gives me (whited out):

From Chapter 47 of A Clash of Kings:
“I do. My time is done.” Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed. His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before. And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls.

That certainly sounds similar and very interesting. It would seem like things are going to go down in the Citadel.

And, then Pate meets his expected end after giving up the stolen key. That seemed like an obvious end for his story.
35. GarrettC
I realize there are important things that come up in this prologue, like the alchemist and the infiltration of the Citadel, but I found this prologue to be the least engaging of the ones so far because it spends so much time recapping. This was, I'm sure, a useful thing for people reading along with the release schedule, but it doesn't work as well with the other books fresh in my memory. It's just people in a bar talking about a bunch of stuff that I already know has happened without much forward movement that isn't incredibly obscure in the moment. I found it awfully frustrating.
36. Ryamano
My take on shadowbinders is this:

In the past, magic existed. Dragons roamed the earth and shadowbinders from Asshai were able to send their shadow babies to commit assassinations. Alchemists in Westeros were also very proficient in making greek fire dragonfire.

Then dragons disappeared and magic was no more. Or the other way around. Magic was very rare or nonexistant. But the shadowbinders from Asshai remained, much like the alchemists in westeros. Except the shadowbinders didn't have their magic tricks anymore, whereas the alchemists were still capable of making dragonfire (even though it wasn't as easy to make or as potent as before). The shadowbinders still retained the knowledge of how to do those magic trikcs (like alchemists retain the formula for dragonfire) but weren't capable of using them. Shadowbinders basically still remained as priests of Rhlor, but not as scary as they once were.

Once dragons and magic reappeared (in whatever order you prefer), then the shadowbinders are once again able to make their magic.

Thoros of Myr, the guy who ressurrected Beric Dondarrion many times, knew how to give the "kiss of life" or whatever to people who were dead. But he never got it to work. Until he tried it with Beric (after magic returned). So he knew the ritual, which was probably taught to him by an elder priest. The same things probably were passed to Melisandre from her teacher, but she worked out that magic had returned before Thoros (and others) did, and used it to her benefit.
Adam S.
37. MDNY
I'm going to agree with Aegnor @32. Shadowbinders do not equate with followers of R'hillor. While clearly some R'hillor priests are shadowbinders (like Melisandre of Asshai), Quathe also asserted that she was a shadowbinder, and she does not wear red. I think it is more a term for users of a certain kind of magic (shadowbinding), which is apparently practiced mostly in Asshai (or Ass-high as Leigh says it).
Jonas Schmiddunser
38. Jineapple
*Grumble* Chapters like this always make me feel stupid, and the comments here just confirm that. I've read ASOIAF thrice (though one read was not very thorough and cancelled early if I recally correctly), the last read not long gone...but I neither have a clue who the alchemist is nor what these "other character references" are. And sure, I could read the spoiler thread to learn about almost all of that...but it's still feels like a spoiler to me, even if I have technically read it...
Rob Munnelly
39. RobMRobM
Generally - I like the Prologue but beyond the entertaining surface discussion of life at the Citadel, it is very subtle and bears re-reading down the line to gain more insights.

Leigh - by the way, your description of the Pate - Alchemist encounter doesn't explain how Pate is (apparently) killed. Not only who? but how?

Shalter - you got it.

@36 - what he said.
Chris Nelly
41. Aeryl
I don't think @36 is correct, because Thoros has never called himself a shadowbinder. So I think the shadowbinders and R'hllor priests and priestesses are two different things, though there is some overlap.
42. Athreeren

I started ASOIAF just after the latest season of Game of Thrones, because I wasn't able to block the spoilers (I don't know how you managed to do it). It has been a pleasure to read the books and this Read in parallel, and I don't think I would have understood them as well without you (for instance, I hadn't noticed that the weasel soup had only been the occasion to launch the stage break out). In fact, you have been so paranoid from the very beginning that you have been a great help to solve most mysteries, such as the death of Jon Arryn and the identity of Jon's mother (I was surprised that you didn't get right away that it was Olenna Tyrell who had poisoned Joffrey). I don't think I'll be waiting for you for the rest, which means that AFFC probably won't seem as good. Since we're on the same page for once, let's talk about this prologue.

My first instinct for the alchimist was... someone, but the scar threw me off, I didn't remember this character had one. So it is possible to find who it is, as he's acting very much as his usual (again, I haven't read further yet, but I'm quite sure I have the right guy). I have no idea who Marwyn is, though.

We have often heard about shadowbinders, but up until now, it was as charlatans, since magic didn't exist. I wonder how Melisandre was able to guess she would be able to reach such a position in Stannis' court, as she had no idea dragons would be back when she arrived in Dragonstone. But even though wise men could now be aware that magic is back (if they listen to gossip in harbors, that is), Magical Assassin Shadow Babies don't pass Occam's razoras a means of assassination, the same way your first hypothesis for an arson is not that “dragons have returned”. And seriously, apart from Catelyn, Jaime and Loras, who's going to believe that Brienne didn't kill Renly? As Jaime told her, “Your wits are quicker than mine, I confess it. When they found me standing over my dead king, I never thought to say 'No, no, it wasn't me, it was a shadow, a terrible cold shadow.'”
43. Lyanna Mormont
Ah, we're back to the main series!

Poor doomed Pate. You'd think people in Westeros would learn not to audition for roles as prologue POV characters... He's fairly dull himself, but I do enjoy the view he gives us of the other novices. Alleras is intriguing, and Leo is so very offensive that I find myself wondering if it's all a cover so nobody will figure out what he's really up to.

The glass candle bit is also fascinating. It amuses me to think that once upon a time you really were supposed to be able to light that dragonglass through magic in order to be allowed to take your vows - but then magic waned, and they couldn't very well admit that what had once been a requirement to become a maester was now impossible for all of them, so they changed the story to make it about humility...
44. Davyd Snow
I love what you said about "both profoundly cynical and yet oddly lyrical at the same time". That's exactly the feeling I have about GRRM's writing. Some of his critics say that while the story is engaging, the prose is mediocre; but I don't agree.

I'm not denying that to GRRM, the content is more important than the form, and the idiomatic expressions he uses can be a bit repetetive at times (then again, he does have a few thousand pages to fill...), but the ideas, the themes that go beyond mere plot is - well - you hit the nail on the head with that sentence; the mixture of cynicism and lyricism.

That's a feeling I haven't been able to put into words myself, so I love that you did that for me! It's one of the major reasons I love this series (and other writings of GRRM) so much - that, and the fact that it's such a terrific page-turner!

Thank you for writing this blog and analysing this work so much more profoundly than I could!
45. Anonn
Wrong cover image.
George Jong
46. IndependentGeorge
Ever since I started reading Discworld, I can't help but insert Death into scenes from every other fantasy novel. ASOIAF gives us plenty of opportunities.
"What's happening?" he said. His legs had turned to water. "I don't understand."

47. Matthos
Marwyn isn't just mention all the way back in AGOT. He's also mentioned in ASOS. Both are just one line refernces easy to miss on a first read.

I still marvel at GRMM's attention to detail.
48. DougL
Though I will definitely buy the collected works of Leigh as regards the Wheel of Time Reread once that has concluded, I enjoy this Read quite a lot more. Part of the reason I like this more is because I think the series is better written (my opinion, leave me alone), and because of Leigh's ignorance, which I find amusing.

What I really want after it is all said and done is for Leigh to a Reread of the series, but she probably won't, even though it does deserve to be read twice, and deserves to be read at a pace that allows her to remember details she will have seen last week instead of nearly two years ago.

So, Leigh, I am a big fan, hopefully your Read will be available in some digital format down the line as well.
49. MRCHalifax

After the insanity of the last half of ASOS, this book is a massive change of pace. I basically look at the first three books as being one book in a lot of ways, dominos set up and all knocked down by the end of ASOS. Here, we see an old domino or two being reused, far outside the context where it was introduced, and the process of building the chain of dominos has restarted.
Zorila Desufnoc Eht
50. AlirozTheConfused
Ah, Leigh, you come so close to realizing how utterly dreck this series is, how banal and cynical and misandrist and misogynist and racist-against-all-racists and anti-everybody except centagenarians it is.

Seriously, this is one really anti-humanity series.

I don't see why people find it so okay. I mean, is it okay to show race X as scumbags just because you show all races as scumbags and everyone as mostly scumbags? Remember Leigh's quote about if you put the evil characters of ASOIAF on a seesaw, adn the good characters on the other end. How is that a realistic portrayal of the human experience any more than, say, Barbie Fairytopia is?

Why is grim and gritty darkness automatically cool, edgy, brilliant, biting, and amazing?
51. owleyes
When I read "shadowbinders" my first thought was of what Mirri Maaz Duur did with the shadown demon things to "save" Drogo. I hadn't really thought of the shadow babies, but maybe they are the same kind of magic?
52. deBebbler
Leigh, it isn't that Hollywood is prejudiced against the south, so much as the powers that be wouldn't know quality television if it sat on their face and wiggled.

That said, I do see the parallels you make between the stories, and I for one am glad that Harlan County has no equivalent of Tywin Lannister.
53. whitevoodoo
That said, I do see the parallels you make between the stories, and I for one am glad that Harlan County has no equivalent of Tywin Lannister.
54. birgit
It is strange that Melisande is using shadow magic. Would she not think that dark powers come from the evil god that opposes her fire god?
Rob Munnelly
55. RobMRobM
Birgit - if I recall, Mel addresses this in ASOS when she is with Davos birthing a shadow baby. Davos makes the same point you do and she dismisses it, saying that shadows come from light.

Shadowbinders in general - I agree with the comment that some but not all Rhillor priests are shadowbinders and not all shadowbinders are Rhillor priests. I'm fascinated by what Mel's powers were before Dany hatched her dragons. My guess is that shadowbinders (such as Mel) did have powers (otherwise, why would she go to Stannis and offer help) but that they've grown stronger lately. (This is probably a good guess, since Mirri Maz was able to drop some serious blood magic back in AGOT while the dragons were still in the egg.)

AlirozTC- we love ya, but if that's your attitude why are you here?

I have to say I loved the random name drop when Pate complained the Archmaester kept confusedly referring to him as someone named Cressen - who, of course, is the elderly Maester who died trying to kill Mel in the Prologue to ACOK.
56. Ryamano
@54 birgit

As Melisande told Davos before the assassination at Storm's End, shadows are only possible when there's light, according to Rh'llor theology. So shadows = good. True darkness is anathema. The closest she got to using true darkness to her advantage was when shw was being sneaked inside the castle, but she clang to the notion that it was the torches that made the sentries lazy that helped her and Davos.
Deana Whitney
57. Braid_Tug
@46, IG - Thanks for that laugh. Discworld Death has a way of taking the sting out of death, wouldn’t you say? Have you read the book that is totally from his POV yet?

@55, Cressen – thanks! Totally forgot the name of Stannis’ original Maester.
58. Narvi
@50 *snort* Dark? ASOIAF isn't dark. It's about as dark as Tolkien.

If you want dark, read Russian literature. No wonder they're all drunk over there.
Sasha P
59. AeronaGreenjoy
@20: True. This chapter still revolted me with the prospect of Leo "breaking Rosey in." Those who pay more don't necessarily treat nicer.

It does give us some financial perspective. We've spent most of the story with nobles who throw money around more or less casually, and here's a peasant kid for whom one golden dragon is an utterly unattainable fortune.

@46: Haha, on Planetos Death would be too busy for eccentricities and identity crises. Now I want a Discworld/ASOIAF crossover fanfic. Even doesn't appear to have any.
Lauren Hartman
60. naupathia
@50 Because ASOIAF is more realistic than Barbie Fairytopia? You can't seriously argue that there was a time in history closer to rainbows and unicorns living among us in peace and tranquility, vs the medieval crapsack world that is the basis for ASOIAF. "Humans are bastards" is not a new sentiment, or a very far-off one. As far as the misogyny and the rest - well, how recently was it that women were finally started to be seen as equals? And have you noticed that there are still countries that treat them as less-than-human? Yeah. Like I said, much closer to reality.

Beyond that, the whole point of books/stories, if you adhere to the likes of Campbell, is the struggle - the journey to attain that certain MacGuffin. That's why people enjoy ASOIAF - it's likeable, lovable characters, along with some others that you love to hate, being pitted against this ugly world where everything it out to get them. Struggles abound. Who will make it out? How will they change along the way? To continue your analogy, reading a story about Barbie falling in love with her prince might be nice , but was there really ever any conflict? Any growth or development? When the world hands you lemonade, what else is there to do but drink it? (boring)

I completely understand some people won't like the book. It's depressing and all that, and since literature is for entertainment if you don't like it of course don't read it. But to immediately dismiss it as "dreck" just because you don't happen to enjoy it is a bit egotistic.
61. Stalker_II
@58 Yeah, Roadside Picnic is a good example.
62. DougL

Read the Silmarillion lately? It is darker in theme than this series, just because he didn't spend time on each cut of the blade doesn't mean Tolkien's world wasn't dark, literally, there was no sun at the start heh

No, there is kinslaying on a massive scale, betrayals and all sorts of nastiness, along with subversion and entire societies and civilizations being destroyed. I guess because it is from a meta level people don't think of it as dark, but I can imagine the people, so I see it as very dark.
Yuliya Bagriy
63. Aviskase
I found this reRead when I had finished ASoS, and restrained myself to wait till start of AFfC. Hurrah! May I speculate how the Pate died? It can be poisoned dragon coin, poor Pate bit it.
For me the most interesting part was slight comparison of King's Landing and Oldtown. First one - dirty, full of mud, and yet - seat of the king and all "power". Moreover, I cannot recall, was there a place where KL was named beautiful?! The second one - stonemade and solid, place of maesters and the whole kingdome's knowledge. It sounds for me like Moscow vs. St.Petersburg (Russia), Astana vs. Almaty (my native country, Kazakhstan), maybe there are similar situations across other countries. One city is about money power, another - cultural power. And it's strange, why political power prefer to use money part than another. Isn't it because most of the people don't need knowledge - even our poor Pate wanted to be maester not to become cleverer, but to a have ... a horse!
@58, @61 Are you kidding? Yep, "Roadside Picnic" was the first book made me weep, but even such a "dark" authors as Strugatsky brothers had "Monday begins on Saturday"... as for other russian-ukranian-polish-and-so-on literature - it's as diverse as Western. BTW, soviet time si-fi was somewhat TOO Light and Joyful. But it's offtopic)
Zorila Desufnoc Eht
64. AlirozTheConfused
@60: I don't think his series can be called realistic. It's hollywood realistism; where you can be unrealistic so long as you aren't inaccurate to the things that your audience cares about and knows of.

Westeros deciding to mint a bunch of coins so as to pay off all debt and then make everyone rich because everyone has lots of money (and this being presented as viable)? Silly, you guys wouldn't accept that. You guys have too much experience with money to accept that.

Westeros having grapes and wine, even though that requires non-year-length seasons and all that? Totally acceptable, because agriculture is not an interest for most of the readers of this series; and most readers won't have that much experience with agriculture.

I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, not at all. It's verisimilitude, but I don't really see why being agriculturally silly gets to be realistic if being economically silly does not. Do we define Realism as "being similar to the human condition, portraying an experience relevant to the reader's life" or do we define it as "being accurate to reality, being logical; making sense". People use Realism to refer to both; and that's what bugs me; because I don't think that ASOIAF fits the second form; and, for me, the agricultural inaccuracy takes me out of the story just as an economic inaccuracy would take most people.

I do agree that there is conflict; and that there is drama and change, tension and powerful storytelling. It's a wide banquet, a feast, an elaborate creation; but it doesn't mean I like the food. I mean, the wire had all that and I didn't like it.

I just can't accept the setting any more than you guys could accept an ending of "Westeros abolishes money and makes everything free. People start working for free, and at stores they get things for free.". It's too silly and unbelievable.

Seriously, how is it in this series that Tywin Lannister inspires loyalty in those working for him; but House Stark gets betrayed by Greyjoy, Bolton, Frey, Karstark, Westerling, Tyrell (seriously? Joining the Lannisters?), and all that. Why the heck does the lannister method inspire more loyalty than the Stark?

Whited out for those who don't want to read my rambling.

@RobMRobM: For the same reason people watch campy old eighties' movies like The Core. Leigh is entertaining.

And, no, I'm pretty sure ASOIAF is darker than Tolkein's middle earth works. The unsullied alone place this series in the "dark" category for me.
Michael Duran
65. MRHD
@64: Oh, when it comes to the season thing you definitely do need some suspension of disbelief with this series. If you can't manage that then I can see why it might not be your cup of tea.
66. Narvi
@64 Because it doesn't? Half the point of the next two books is that Tywin's methods DON'T inspire long-term loyalty. (Roll over to read)

And please, Tolkien was pleasant and kept the actual descriptions on the down-low, but the man had some daaaaaark shit in the background, torture and maiming and kinslaying and rape and the emotional suffering and the meaningless death of princes.

Not having paragraphs on the consistency of a character's stool doesn't make it less dark than ASOIAF.

(The seasons are long-term but there are smaller scale winters and springs every year. But no 'true winter'.)
67. Narvi
@66 I really don't understand why that shows up as white in the previews and then does this. Request spoilering those first two sentences?
68. peachy rex
Martin's not the one with a "Battle of Unnumbered Tears"...
69. Narvi
Also, for so-called 'gritty realism', you know how Isildur, the man who stole the white fruit of Nimloth the Fair, who cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand with the hilt-shard of Narsil, died? A bunch of Orcs filled him with arrows as he splashed around in a river.
Rob Munnelly
70. RobMRobM
ATC@64 - I can certainly appreciate Leigh love. That's good enough for me!
71. Ryamano
I always thought of the seasons as actually being little ice ages that come and go with a unpredictable, but somewhat regular, pattern. But much stronger than in our world, with catalysmic consequences if they extend too long, especially winter. Of course I could be wrong and the seasons could be actual seasons, but then I don't know how agricultural people in the north would survive, not being able to plant anything for years.
Zorila Desufnoc Eht
72. AlirozTheConfused
HEck, I've read Children of Hurin, and that got gosh-darn dark in some places.

It's just, I don't know, ASOIAF comes off as more pessimistic and gritty to me.

And it's not the castration of the unsullied that gets me, it's the mental and emotional conditioning from childhood. That's a violation of the soul, the heart, and the very human spirit.
Chris Nelly
73. Aeryl
@Aliroz, I swear people are going to start thinking I'm paid to promote her, but you should check out Jaqueline Carey's Kushiel series. In depth epic fantasy, great worldbuilding, high stakes and high rewards.

Now, forewarned, this is a series where BDSM plays a huge part in the story. It's alternate Earth history, where the death of Christ and the fall of the Roman empire plays out differently.
74. DougL
@72 Yes, well, when you consider that Tolkien's initial, and only finalized plan for where Orcs came from, was for Elves captured by Morgoth to be turned into them, so, that's even worse, at least the kids don't really know any better (both are horrific).
Chris Nelly
75. Aeryl
@74, So that's where Dragonlance'd draconians came from. For a fairly light hearted read, the genocide of the metallic dragons was pretty gruesome.
76. Jaqen Hgharrr
Welcome to the begining of decline of the whole series.

Not to worry, it isnt so apparent here yet. Still enough of the good stuff in this book. The last drips of it. And you didnt and wont have to wait years and years for it either.

Dont listen to others about the alchemist. Youll figure it out later.
When most of us did, actually.

Marwyn eh? Sure we will se him again... sure...
ach, that was a sting to read.
77. a1ay
when you consider that Tolkien's initial, and only finalized plan for
where Orcs came from, was for Elves captured by Morgoth to be turned
into them, so, that's even worse, at least the kids don't really know
any better (both are horrific).

Not to mention the Uruk-hai. We never see (in the books) where those guys come from. All we know is that they're like Orcs, but taller and stronger and more intelligent, and they can stand sunlight, and their kit (swords and armour) is closer to Human patterns than Orc patterns. So, they're like Orcs, but midway between Orcs and Humans. And, in fact, Treebeard speculates that Saruman has produced them by "blending the races of Orcs and Men".

Yeah, think about what that means for a bit.
Rob Munnelly
78. RobMRobM
@76 - I disagree about the decline of the series, but the proof will be in the books as we go forward. For example, I like ADWD better than ACOK, and AFFC is only a bit behind. I prefer to view it (as some others have said) that ASOS was the end of Act I, and both AFFC and ADWD represent a resetting and expansion of the story in Act II. We won't know for sure how they work until we see what GRRM has done with his groundwork in Act III.
79. Josh Luz
I remember that it was the curls and scar that tipped me off about seeing the alchemist's description before and the first person I suspected turned out to be the right one. I hadn't realized that Marwyn had had a previous mention until reading this post, though.
80. Lord Foul's Bane
@64 - Wow... ok, I have to agree with you the the growing seasons are all out of whack and unrealistic (to say the least), but there are glaring inconsistancies all over the physical world in these books (let's save some space by not going into them here) so why wouldn't there be economic issues as well? Why are you looking for realism and / or consistancy from someone who isn't an economist or geologist? That's like looking for great battle scenes from some author who has never been in the military and and at least trained in small-unit tactics...

@74 - Do we know if J.R.R.T. meant "The Simarillion" to be a children's story, or 'just' the background and legends for "The Hobbit"? That would explain (to me) why most of the horrific stuff was handled offscreen...

@78 - I'll be up front; I don't think we'll get an Act III. GRRM seems to me to have too many irons in the fire, esp. with the tv show. I think we'll just have to find a way to enjoy what we got.
81. Jaqen Hgharr

Your opinion is irrelevant. The quality of something isnt dependant on personal opinions. ADWD is one of the worst books of fantasy ever written, let alone a bad Song of Ice and Fire book.

Orcs were originally a sort of simulacrums. The word Orc itself, means something close to undead. An artificial construct. Morgoth failed attempt to create life - in order to show himself as powerful as Illuvatar.
Tolkien later on changed that into the version you mention, but came to consider it bad and wanted to revert back to original.
Steven Halter
82. stevenhalter
@81:"The quality of something isnt dependant on personal opinions."

First, now isn't really the time to talk about ADWD--we aren't there yet and a number of us haven't read it.
Second, the quality of a work of fiction (assuming it passes basic standards of grammar) is very much dependent upon personal opinion. Exactly what may or may not comprise quality itself is an opinion in and of itself. Fiction is a two way street. The author creates the story but the reader experiences the story through the prism of their own personal experience.
Pick any work generally considered a classic and you will find any number of people who think it is terrible.
Rob Munnelly
83. RobMRobM
@81-82. What Steven said. I thought we were entering the paradox zone, where personal opinion of artistic work was invalid but ADWD was confirmed to be defective based on natural law - or something.
84. Jaqen Hgharrr
Yes, it is deffective. Actually.

The whole story devolves, several character devolve backwards and the rest dont do anything at all for the whole lenngth. The plot doesnt move anywhere but is instead extended into meaningless chapters after chapters. The amount of cheap, inconsistent and internally incoherent pieces is also increased by tenfold or more, compared to first three books.
-end spoilerish stuff.

By all possible measures the books is an utter complete failure.
Except by sales and hype amount, which coincided with the tv show premiere.

Not that i want to prolong this but you "asked."

No, what Steven is saiyng is an oxymoron that actually proves my point. There being some people who dislike some work of quality - does not make that piece any less worthy. It only makes those people less worthy.

If you think about most known masterpieces of any works of quality in any field - they are pretty much resistant to personal opinions.

It only proves that personal opinions do not matter when quality is concerned. (which should be clear to kids in kindergarden...)

Only someone drowning in consumerism culture and mass market hype would claim otherwise, ludicrously.
Katharine Duckett
85. Katharine
Moderator stepping in here, as the discussion is getting heated: it's fine to disagree, but please remember to tone down the rhetoric and be respectful of other commenters and their opinions. Thanks.
Steven Halter
86. stevenhalter
@84:Please do provide the objective criteria that define the essentials of quality literature.
Zorila Desufnoc Eht
87. AlirozTheConfused
@73: Sorry, can't read that sort of work.

It does sound amazing, but the BSDM...

I'm sorry.

@Lord Foul's Bane: YESYESYES! Someone who agrees with me about the physical wierdness! Thank you! Let's be friends!

And, well, if Martin went with the "Mint money, make everyone rich" solution; most readers would reject it; even though economics is not supposed to be the focus of this story; and even though they know that mister Martin is not an economist.
Chris Nelly
89. Aeryl
It's consensual BDSM, nothing like that 50 Shades garbage.
90. Ryamano
Seriously, how is it in this series that Tywin Lannister inspires loyalty in those working for him; but House Stark gets betrayed by Greyjoy, Bolton, Frey, Karstark, Westerling, Tyrell (seriously? Joining the Lannisters?), and all that. Why the heck does the lannister method inspire more loyalty than the Stark?

House Tyrell always seemed pragmatic to me, and didn't seem to care one fig about the Starks (except to take Sansa's claim). I mean, they declared for Renly, so what are they to the Starks? Mace Tyrell wants to make his daughter queen and be grandfather of kings, and that's all he cares about. It doesn't matter which king, he seems to declare to the ones that come first to him.

House Greyjoy also always planned to make its own game and the last thing it would have for Stark (the house that defeated them and took one of them hostage) would be loyalty. I don't think Balon even cared the Starks had his son as hostage, since (from the first chapters of AFFC) we see that he wanted to make Asha his heir. Theon just got lucky that he was sent by Robb at that exact time his father was planning to attack. The attack came at that time because Robb had sent most of the soldiers to the south. Balon was just biding his time, waiting for a moment of weakness to strike. Considering he rebelled when Robert took the throne, this is completely in character for him (and for all the mores the Ironborn seem to follow).

I think GRRM was trying to convey Machiavelli's point in his book:

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

And Tywyn Lannister didn't actually get Machiavelli's message right. In the next paragraph:

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated

If Tywyn had abstained from doing so much to anger Tyrion, maybe Tyrion wouldn't have decided to kill him when escaping. Tywyn ended up being hated (by more than one person), and one of the people that hated him killed him.

So I don't know if the setting warrants the criticism you have made. There are good people, there are bad people. Most of the time bad people have some reason for why they do bad deeds (besides "I've been made evil" or "I swore myself to the Dark Lord, so I'm evil now"). Sometimes good deeds are rewarded (Arya saving the criminals from the fire), sometimes they're not. Sometimes bad people do good things, sometimes good people do bad things. And sometimes it's difficult to see which side is the good side (last Dunk and Egg story, for example). To me that seems realistic.
Stephen Richter
91. levellersteve
All I got to say is prologues sure to be read very carefully because they are fill with clues that go back to other pointd & forward to future events. This particular piece had me confused for three years, then poof , more confusion

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