Welcome, one and all, to the brand-spankingest new blog series on Tor.com, 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 inaugural entry is Part 1 of A Game of Thrones, in which we cover the Prologue and “Bran,” because it turns out Mr. Martin is not into chapter numbers. Or non-repetitive titles, either. I’m a bit nonplussed by this, but I imagine you guys are all smart enough to figure it out as we go, and we’ll all survive somehow.
For what it’s worth, I highly recommend you follow this by reading the actual chapters, since my summaries for the chapters are not going to be as detailed as the ones for the Wheel of Time Re-read tend to be. Just a heads-up.
Previous entries are located in the Index, or rather they will be once there’s, you know, more than one entry.
And that’s about the size of it, so please click on for the post!
Before we start, a note on spoilers: There are no spoilers for the series in the post itself except for the actual chapters covered, for the very good reason that I am reading the series for the first time in this endeavor, and thus have no spoilers to spoil you with.
As far as spoiler policy in the comments goes, here’s the deal: The Powers That Be at Tor.com have very kindly set up a forum thread for spoilery comments. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
I ask that everyone be decent human beings and honor this spoiler policy so I don’t have to stop reading comments altogether, because I like hearing what you have to say. Okay? Okay!
So there’s all that. And now, off we go!
Two men of the Night’s Watch, Will and Gared, ride through the woods with their new commanding officer, Ser Waymar Royce. Will is a former poacher, Gared a grizzled veteran; neither of them have much respect for Royce, an arrogant eighteen-year-old lordling. They have been tracking a group of wildling raiders beyond the Wall. Will and Gared are both uneasy, sensing something wrong in the woods, but Royce only makes fun of them for it. Will tells Royce again of how he had found the wildlings’ camp, with its inhabitants dead, sitting or lying where they had fallen, but Royce doesn’t believe him, and insists on seeing the campsite for himself.
Will leads him there, leaving Gared behind to guard the horses, but when Will and Royce reach the site, the bodies are all gone. Royce sends Will up into a tree to look for a fire, and once there Will sees shapes moving in the trees; it suddenly grows much colder. Then, Royce is confronted by one of what Will calls “The Others”; five more emerge to watch as Royce duels with the first. Royce holds his own for a bit, but then is wounded by the Other’s strange crystalline sword, and on the next pass Royce’s sword shatters. The rest converge on him and slaughter him as Will watches from the tree, and then disappear. Will climbs down and picks up Royce’s shattered sword, thinking to take it back as evidence, and turns to find Royce’s mutilated corpse standing over him. Royce begins choking Will to death.
Frozen zombies, by George!
Er. Literally, in this case, eh?
Well, that’s certainly starting off your epic fantasy series with an extremely creepy bang, I’ll say. This whole scene was straight out of a horror movie.
A good horror movie, mind you. The writing did a superb job of immediately putting the reader in the moment, and conveying the eerie, ominous atmosphere of… um, wherever they are.
Okay, I looked it up on the map, and it turns out they are in… The North.
But at least that explains the cold:
“I saw men freeze last winter, and the one before, when I was half a boy. Everyone talks about snows forty foot deep, and how the ice wind comes howling out of the north, but the real enemy is the cold. It steals up on you quieter than Will, and at first you shiver and your teeth chatter and you stamp your feet and dream of mulled wine and nice hot fires. It burns, it does. Nothing burns like the cold. But only for a while. Then it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after a while you don’t have the strength to fight it. It’s easier just to sit down or go to sleep. They say you don’t feel any pain toward the end. First you go weak and drowsy, and everything starts to fade, and then it’s like sinking into a sea of warm milk. Peaceful, like.”
Brr. I felt cold reading it, and my apartment is overheated at the moment.
So I’m guessing from this introduction that we are not in for a whole lot of happy fun times in this series. Of course, I’d pretty much known that already. I’ve managed to avoid spoilers on the specifics of ASOIAF, but I’ve caught more than enough in general about the dark grittiness and the wanton character-killin’ and so forth. Which is fine, as long as I don’t know ahead of time who gets killed. Or maybe the more relevant question is who stays dead, eh?
Overall, nicely done, with just enough worldbuilding tidbits to pique the interest without drowning you in exposition. Little bits like this one:
[Will] was a veteran of a hundred rangings by now, and the endless dark wilderness that the southron called the haunted forest had no more terrors for him.
And fortunately I don’t have to remember any of these characters, except possibly Gared, because they’re all dead. Although, I’m not sure if it counts when they haven’t stopped moving afterwards. Eeek.
Speaking of which, the description of the frozen zombies were really well-done, but I particularly liked the description of the main Other guy’s voice:
The Other said something in a language that Will did not know; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking.
And his sword:
No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge-on. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost-light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor.
CREEPY. And, awesome. So far, so good.
Seven-year-old Bran Stark rides with his brother, Robb Stark, and his half-brother (and bastard) Jon Snow to watch his first execution. Robb had told Bran he thinks the sentenced man is a wildling sworn to Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall. The beheading is carried out by his father, Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, with the greatsword called Ice, and on Jon’s advice Bran forces himself not to look away. The head rolls to Theon Greyjoy, Eddard’s ward, who kicks it away with a laugh. As they head back to Winterfell, Bran speaks with his father, who tells him the man was actually a deserter from the Night’s Watch, and explains to him why the Starks always carry out their own sentences.
Jon and Robb find the corpse of a direwolf, bigger than Bran’s pony; Theon comments that it has been two hundred years since a direwolf has been seen south of the Wall. It transpires that the direwolf was a bitch, and had whelped a litter before dying of wounds inflicted by an antler lodged in her throat; Bran does not understand why that makes the men in the party afraid. Theon wants to kill the pups as well, but Bran protests fiercely, and Robb agrees. Eddard is unwilling at first, but Jon points out to him that the sigil for the Starks is a direwolf, and there are exactly five pups in the litter, one for each of his living children; Jon excludes himself from this count. Eddard regards him thoughtfully, and tells Bran and Robb they may keep the pups only if they feed and train them themselves. As the party is riding off, Jon hears a noise, and goes back to find a sixth pup, an albino, which he declares belongs to him.
Oops, I guess I don’t have to remember Gared either, since I’m about 97% sure he was the guy who just got his head chopped off here. (The executee is described as missing both ears and a finger, which are the same extremities Gared is described as having lost to frostbite in the Prologue.) Man, that sucks, Gared, sorry. Beats being a frozen zombie? I guess?
Also, I am such a girl sometimes, because: puppies!
Okay, puppies destined to grow up to be giant, scary, probably-slavering monster-wolves, but hey. Puppies! Highly Symbolic Puppies, while we’re at it. Which of course is the best kind.
Anyway. So: Stark, Winterfell, Greyjoy, Snow, Ice…. I am maybe just possibly sensing a theme here, with the names. WHAT CAN IT BE. Also, like fragments like this:
The late summer snows had been heavy this moonturn.
Summer snows? Ye gods. So, what I’m getting out of this is, it is fucking cold in this part of the world. Clear copy, thanks.
I can’t help but think that must have an effect on the people who live there, and all the dialogue in this chapter seems to back that up:
“The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.”
Eddard’s philosophy on carrying out his own sentences is remarkably like his name and his world: cold and harsh, but clean. I’ve certainly come across worse ways to be. Same thing goes for taking a seven-year-old to an execution; that might be cruel in a softer setting, but it’s immediately clear that in this world, no one gets to be a child for very long if they want to survive. Not a place of luxury, or leniency, at all.
Although, even so, I was frankly startled when Jon Snow’s age was mentioned as being fourteen. Fourteen!
Speaking of which, the main effect this chapter had, for me, was to instantly identify Jon Snow as the most interesting character in it. Bran is cute and all, but is too young to have much going on in the character department yet; Robb seemed generic, Theon’s a jerk, and Eddard is Inscrutable Lord Guy, but you can tell even from Bran’s immature perspective that Jon is pretty kickass, especially for a fourteen-year-old. And, of course, the outsider character is almost always automatically the most interesting, if for no other reason than that they tend to have much more baggage than the other characters. But Jon seems cool; I just “met” him, and I’m already rooting for him.
Therefore, I’m very happy he got a puppy. The special, albino/outsider/different puppy, lest we forget. I’m sure that’s not fraught with meaning at all.
Also, there’s this, when Bran is thinking about the stories he’s been told about wildlings:
They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children.
I really really hope that this is all tall tales, but I have a distinct feeling that it isn’t. Not all of it, anyway. Ew.
And that’ll about do it for this entry! I hope you have enjoyed, and I hope that you will join me for the next installment next Friday. Cheers!