Welcome 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 2 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 1 (“The Prophet”) and Chapter 2 (“The Captain of Guards”).
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 Tor.com. 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!
Chapter 1: The Prophet
In Great Wyk, Aeron Greyjoy is sacrificing men to the Drowned God when three horsemen approach: The Sparr (the local lord), his son Steffarion, and Gormond Goodbrother, son of Lord Gorold. Aeron ignores them until the latest drowned man, Emmond, is properly revived and sworn in. Gormond tells Aeron his father summons Aeron to him, but Aeron is not interested. Gormond says Lord Gorold has received a message from Pyke that Aeron’s brother the king is dead.
Aeron is stunned by the news, but declares that Balon’s success leading the Ironborn must have incurred the Storm God’s wrath and cast him down, and it is up to them to continue his great work. He commandeers Gormond’s horse and heads to the Hammerhorn, reflecting on his late brother’s life; Aeron admired him greatly even though Balon had had nothing but scorn for Aeron himself. Aeron is sure Balon’s death heralds “a storm such as these isles have never known.”
Aeron arrives at Gorold’s keep, but almost leaves again when Gorold refuses to send away his maester. Then the maester tells him that Euron Crow’s Eye sailed in the day after Balon’s death and took the Seastone Chair and crown, as Balon’s eldest brother. Aeron declares Euron is not godly enough to have the throne. The maester says that the throne by rights belongs to either Theon or Asha; Aeron knows that Balon had wanted Asha to succeed him. Aeron replies that the ironborn will not be ruled by a woman anymore than a godless man. He tells Gorold not to reply to Euron’s demand for fealty yet, and leaves for Pebbleton with Gorold’s son Greydon as escort. On the way, he reflects on his feckless youth and his time as a prisoner in Casterly Rock during Balon’s first rebellion. He tells himself he is no longer that man, but the god’s own prophet, reborn from the sea, and Euron’s return does not scare him.
Greydon asks Aeron if he thinks it will come to war. Aeron thinks that Euron will most certainly fight to keep the crown, and a mere woman had no chance of beating him, nor Theon, and that Victarion must take the throne. He and Greydon part ways, and Aeron continues alone, stopping to spread the news of Balon’s death in the villages along the way. He gathers a dozen followers, and leads them to where twoscore of his drowned men are waiting for him in Pebbleton. He inducts his new followers and then walks into the sea, to pray to the Drowned God for guidance on who is to be the king in Pyke.
He has always thought of himself as the least of his father’s sons, but now he thinks that he is no longer the weak man he once was. The next morning he meets with the Merlyn, who tells Aeron that he has had summons from Euron and Asha both. Aeron has the Merlyn kneel and blesses him, and then asks who should be the next king. His drowned men begin chanting his name, but Aeron says he was not made to rule. He tells the Merlyn to go to neither Euron nor Asha, but to Old Wyk and the Grey King’s Hall to make a kingsmoot. The Merlyn is stunned, but Aeron says it is time they returned to the Old Way, which will make the ironborn great again.
“Listen! Listen to the waves! Listen to the god! He is speaking to us, and he says, We shall have no king but from the kingsmoot!”
A roar went up at that, and the drowned men beat their cudgels one against the other. “A kingsmoot!” they shouted. “A kingsmoot, a kingsmoot. No king but from the kingsmoot!” And the clamor that they made was so thunderous that surely the Crow’s Eye heard the shouts on Pyke, and the vile Storm God in his cloudy hall. And Aeron Damphair knew he had done well.
Okay, before I even begin reading this: “The Prophet”? Not a name? What is this fresh hell? ALERT, WE ARE BREAKING FORMAT, SHIT IS ABOUT TO GET REAL. Or at least a lot less explanatory. Rrrgh. Okay, back to reading!
…And less than two paragraphs in we find that it’s Aeron. Okay, so it’s not so much being obfuscatory as it is that Aeron is the kind of guy who thinks of himself by his title. Which is somehow even worse than referring to yourself in the third person. Trust Auntie Leigh on this.
Speaking of trust, I trust I don’t have to explicate my opinions on a system of faith that involves drowning people for the ritual LOLZ? Even if they (mostly) get revived afterward? I don’t? You can see my lip-curl from over there? Good, we cool then. (Though I was rather amused at the “punch and kiss” welcoming bit, I have to admit. How very… ASOIAF of them.)
Also, I was initially mentally pronouncing Aeron’s nickname (that’s not the right word, but I’m blanking on what to call it) as “Damn-phair” in my head, and thinking it was sort of cool-sounding (if a little Castlevania), and then I looked at it again and realized it was literally “Damp Hair,” and cracked up laughing in the middle of Starbucks. Yeah, you just go back to your overpriced latte, lady, nothing to see here.
I mean, I know that we’re all about revering wet things here, but I can’t take that one with a straight face, sorry. It’s like proudly naming Joe Smith, Hangnail. Like, congrats on the fact that your hair is slightly less than dry? BUT ONLY SLIGHTLY, Y’ALL. HE IS DAMPHAIR, NOT SOPPINGHAIR. HAHAHAHA
This is probably not nearly as funny as I think it is – I’m kind of really caffeinated right now – but nevertheless I’ve been giggling inappropriately about it for at least ten minutes now, so too bad, you get to hear about it.
(And yes, I know I’ve met Aeron before, but it’s been quite a while, so if I had this revelation about his (hilarious) name previously I apologize.)
ANYWAY, I was going to say that Aeron’s kind of a tool, but I will also say that at least he comes by it honestly? By which I mean, he seems to have eaten up every single belief his empirically horrible culture ever served him with the world’s most unquestioning spoon, and swallowed them wholesale. It’s the kind of attitude toward life that I, unsurprisingly, find entirely baffling, but I suppose having that kind of unswervable certainty about everything must be very comforting to the individual in question – if utterly frustrating to everyone around him.
Aeron considers it his god’s blessing that people rarely challenge him, but I’m pretty sure it’s much more that most people don’t bother to stand their ground in front of a 300-pound charging linebacker, metaphorical or otherwise. Funny how that works.
In any case, his obstinate adherence to his own prejudices may end up biting him in the ass, in the end, particularly as regards Asha. I don’t much like Asha (in fact, other than that maester in the Dunk story I don’t know that I’ve met a single Ironborn character on whom I didn’t want to slap a giant DO NOT WANT sticker almost immediately), but I feel safe in saying that you underestimate her at your peril. I would also say that it would do these sexist assholes good to end up ruled by a woman, but then I’m not entirely sure I would pick Asha as my poster child for feminist advancement on that particular front, so I’ll just raise my eyebrows judgmentally at everyone and wait and see what happens.
One thing’s for sure, Asha and Euron (and Victarion, maybe) are going to go up in FLAMES when they find out about Aeron’s kingsmoot scheme. I bet they’re going to have to go along with it, though. Like I said, the Morality Linebacker over there is far too used to getting his way for him not to at least cause them some major problems.
(Oh, and Theon too, I guess, but are we even counting him? Is he actually still alive? And would it matter if he was?)
Obviously the tension up till the end of this chapter was the expectation that Aeron would decide to claim the throne for himself, but I honestly never expected it to go that way, mostly because it was too obvious. As for the actual contenders, I’m sort of having a hard time caring who wins, because they all seem to suck equally.
Well, okay, that’s not true. From the point of view of the rest of the continent (which I certainly care more about in general than I do these people), either Euron or Asha would be a disastrous victor, in that both of them would be strong and aggressive leaders who will promptly begin (or continue, rather) to raid the shit out of everyone. Victarion is (to me) mostly an unknown quantity, and Theon is (comparatively) a giant wuss who as far as I can tell doesn’t stand a chance of getting the throne anyway, unless he murders his entire family first.
So, hey, let’s root for that!
(I am a terrible person sometimes.)
“Meet with me at Pebbleton beneath Lord Merlyn’s tower,” [Aeron] told his drowned men, as he turned the horse’s head.
*raises eyebrow* “Merlyn”? Ookay.
[The Merlyn:] “One raven summons me to Pyke, another to Ten Towers. You krakens have too many arms, you pull a man to pieces.”
Nice. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Martin’s writing (which I’ve probably mentioned before, but whatever) is how cleverly he manages to suggest that his characters embody the traits of their own sigils and symbols, without actually committing to the literal truth of it, as so many other fantasy stories would have. He rather expertly rides the line between (for lack of a better way to put it) the sometimes overly coy symbolism of so-called “literary fiction” and the sometimes unsubtle literalness of genre fantasy. In doing so he risks alienating aficionados of either group, but he also courts the possibility of pleasing them both as well, something not a lot of authors have historically been able to pull off. Judging by the series’ financial success (and even more significantly, the apparent success of the TV show based on it), Martin is one of those who has managed it.
Chapter 2: The Captain of Guards
In the Water Gardens of Dorne, Captain Areo Hotah guards Prince Doran Martell as he sits in his rolling chair on the terrace, watching the children play in the gardens. The prince has such bad gout in his legs that he can no longer stand. Lady Obara Sand, one of Oberyn’s bastard daughters (called the Sand Snakes), storms up with Maester Caleotte in tow, but Hotah blocks her way. She demands to know if Doran knows Oberyn is dead, and Hotah says he does. Obara says the entire nation wants to know what Doran will do to avenge his murdered brother, but Hotah will still not let her pass. It is about to get violent when Doran calls out to Hotah to let her by.
Doran points out to Obara that Oberyn was slain in lawful single combat, not murdered, but Obara is having none of it, and demands that Doran let her and Lady Nym each take a host to march north to obtain vengeance, for Elia as well as Oberyn. Doran says that Lord Tywin has promised to deliver them Gregor Clegane’s head, but Obara wants Tywin’s head as well. Doran tries to talk her down, but she is uninterested. Finally he tells her he will think on it, and she leaves. Maester Caleotte points out that she is sure to inflame the people once she gets back to Sunspear, and Doran tiredly agrees that he must go back as well, despite that meaning his infirmity will be revealed to the public, and to the Lannisters, since Princess Myrcella’s guard, Ser Arys Oakheart, will certainly write of it.
Caleotte leaves, and Doran speaks to Hotah of his siblings Elia and Oberyn, of how he was the oldest of them all, and yet is now the only one still alive. That night, Hotah thinks of his own childhood in Norvos and the vow he had taken to protect. The next day they eventually get underway to the capital, and halfway there are joined by another Sand Snake, Lady Nymeria Sand, who is beautiful and nobleborn in contrast to the ugly Obara, whose mother was a whore. She also wants vengeance for Elia and Oberyn, and like Obara does not consider Clegane’s head to be enough. Unlike Obara, she does not favor war, but instead to take herself and her sister Tyene to assassinate Lord Tywin, Cersei, Jaime, and King Tommen. Doran again points out that Oberyn was not murdered, and that he in fact disobeyed Doran’s instructions to him about staying uninvolved, but Nym is not interested in this nuance any more than Obara was, and warns Doran that she and her sisters will not wait long.
She gallops ahead, and Doran’s party arrives at Sunspear by sunset, where they find the people stirred up and volatile, shouting for war and throwing fruit at the prince’s litter until they make it to the Martell stronghold. Princess Arianne greets them and says Tyene wishes a private word. Hotah carries Doran to a private chamber where Tyene Sand waits, looking innocent and harmless, but Hotah notes that all of the Sand Snakes have their father’s “viper eyes”. Tyene doesn’t want Clegane executed by headsman, but rather to be brought back to Sunspear and be tortured to death slowly. She also wants war, but unlike Obara, she wants to make the Seven Kingdoms come to them.
She proposes to induce them to attack by wedding Myrcella and Trystane, and then declaring Myrcella the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Doran points out that Myrcella is rightful heir only by Dornish law, and Tyene replies that Myrcella is in Dorne at the moment, so it counts. Doran promises her to think on it. Hotah intervenes when Tyene gets too close to the prince, but Doran allows it and gives her his blessing. As soon as she leaves Caleotte hurries to check Doran for any signs of poison. Doran sends Caleotte away, and asks Hotah to find his most loyal men and imprison all eight of Oberyn’s daughters, legitimate and illegitimate alike, except for Sarella, who is not in Dorne; Doran will leave her to “her game”.
“It will be done.” The captain hesitated. “When this is known in the streets, the common folk will howl.”
“All Dorne will howl,” said Doran Martell in a tired voice. “I only pray Lord Tywin hears them in King’s Landing, so he might know what a loyal friend he has in Sunspear.”
…So we’re doing this as a thing now, I guess? Titles instead of names? Okay…
Actually, it’s not okay. Now that I’ve read both of these chapters, my sense of their strangeness is confirmed. Both of these chapters read oddly to me, specifically in terms of the point of view, and it’s kind of offputting. I don’t recall that Martin has had a character before this who habitually mentally referred to him- or herself more by their title than by their own name, and now here he has two in a row. Which is strangely – distancing, in what is supposed to be a tight 3rd person POV (the viewpoint style Martin has used without exception throughout the series thus far).
Hotah’s POV, in fact, has a couple of lines which only seem appropriate coming from an outside POV. Like this, for example:
When she appeared beneath the triple arch, Areo Hotah swung his longaxe sideways to block the way. The head was on a shaft of mountain ash six feet long, so she could not go around. “My lady, no farther.” His voice was a bass grumble thick with the accents of Norvos. “The prince does not wish to be disturbed.”
The bold emphasis is mine, of course.
And, look, that’s weird. I just don’t think that anyone would describe their own voice like that. Someone else would probably do so, but Hotah himself? No. It was weird enough that for a second I thought we had jumped into someone else’s head, but we hadn’t.
It’s wonky, just as Aeron’s POV was. Aeron’s POV didn’t quite commit the above narrative sin, but it did have Aeron refer to himself as both “the prophet” and “the priest” in his POV, multiple times, which is, again, weirdly distant for a person who is thinking about himself, and it was actively confusing to the reader to boot.
This may seem like a fairly small thing to harp on, but look, I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a while, and maybe most people wouldn’t notice this (or care if they did) but it jumped out at me with jarring obviousness, enough that it took me out of the story, and that’s a problem. It’s even more startling because I don’t remember Martin ever making such a basic error like this before. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I really hope it’s not a thing that’s going to continue for the rest of the book, because I don’t like it.
[Obara:] “I’d get more pleasure from driving my spear into Lord Tywin’s belly. I’ll make him sing ‘The Rains of Castamere’ as I pull his bowels out and look for gold.”
HAHAHA TOO LATE. But wow, it’s like she was there when it happened!
I am intrigued by the (adult) Sand Snakes, and the evidence they present that Dorne is not remotely as patriarchal as many of the other cultures in ASOIAF (also confirmed by their non-gender-based inheritance laws). Although I wasn’t particularly loving the “nobleborn = beautiful / commonborn = ugly” dichotomy drawn between Obara and Nym, I must say, but okay.
For certain sure, all three of ones we’ve met so far are scary customers, but if you ask me Tyene beats both her sisters easily for sheer EEK factor. At least with Obara and (to a lesser degree) Nym, what you see is what you get (or at least so it seems), but Tyene’s whole wide-eyed “poison peach” persona is super creepy. On a scale of one to Crispin Glover she gets at least a clip from Charlie’s Angels. Of course, it’s possible that Sarella is the scariest of them all (and don’t think I don’t know that this “game” thing is going to come up again), but we haven’t met her yet, so for now Tyene wins.
Poor Doran, man. Objectively, I love that Oberyn’s daughters exist, because my hunger for interesting female characters with actual agency and distinct personality knows no bounds, but boy would I not like to be the person who has to be the boss of them. A literal pit of vipers, you might say. I See What You Did There, Martin.
In any case, I foresee this idea to lock up the Sand Snakes going… poorly. And thus we learn that Dorne is just as firmly on its way to FUBAR Land as every other nation on this sorry fictional rock. Huzzah!
And that’s it for now, kids! See you next Friday!