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 7 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 10 (“Sansa”) and Chapter 11 (“The Kraken’s Daughter”).
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 10: Sansa
Sansa begs Petyr to make Marillion stop singing constantly from his prison cell, as it is audible everywhere in the Eyrie and haunts her even though she knows he was a bad person, but Petyr says he promised to allow it, and reminds her that it will not be much longer, as Lord Nestor Royce, High Steward of the Vale and Keeper of the Gates of the Moon, is coming up the next day. Sansa is terrified at the prospect of his visit, but Petyr assures her that if Marillion tries to tell Nestor anything they can just say he is lying. He promises he will not let harm come to his daughter. Sansa thinks to herself that she is a Stark, not his daughter, but doesn’t say so aloud.
Petyr tells her to just tell Nestor the same tale she told Robert, but Sansa thinks that unlike Lord Robert, Nestor is not a sickly, grieving little boy. Petyr says they lie for the greater good, and Sansa know he is lying to her as well, but thinks that at least they are comforting lies. He assures her that Lysa’s ravings before she “fell” were just that, mad ravings. Sansa thinks that he is really two people—Petyr and Littlefinger—and has difficulty telling one from the other. But she knows she has no one else to turn to by now; everyone else is either dead, or betrayed her. She reflects, as well, that lies are all that has kept her alive thus far. Marillion continues singing sad, poignant songs through the night.
Lord Nestor arrives the next afternoon, along with his son Ser Albar, a dozen knights, and a score of men-at-arms. Petyr introduces her as Alayne, his natural-born daughter, and sends her to fetch Lord Robert. Robert has been crying, and says that someone locked him in his room the night before when he had wanted to come sleep with Sansa. Sansa knew he wanted to, which is why she’d had him locked in. Robert is afraid of Lord Nestor and doesn’t want to see him. Sansa comforts him about his mother and lies that Lord Petyr had loved her very much, and takes him down to the High Hall, which she has not been in since Lysa’s death.
Robert announces to Nestor and his party that Marillion threw his mother out of the Moon Door, and that Alayne and Petyr saw it. Sansa is shaking, and Petyr tells Nestor that Alayne still has nightmares about it, and gently encourages her to tell the story. Crying, Sansa confirms that Marillion pushed Lysa, and Robert screams that he wants the singer to “fly,” sending himself into a fit. They all wait out the spell silently, and Petyr sends him back to bed to be bled.
Nestor then grumbles that he never liked that singer, and that Lysa wouldn’t listen when he told her to send him away. Ser Albar and the other knights chime in with tales of how Marillion had made fun of them. Petyr sighs and says that’s why it happened, because he had convinced Lysa to send Marillion away at last. Nestor agrees and decides to carry out the singer’s sentence.
Marillion is brought out, wearing gloves and a silk bandage to cover where his eyes and three of his fingers have been removed. He begs forgiveness and tearfully confesses to the crime, and Nestor sends him back to his cell. Nestor and Albar agree Marillion must die. Petyr invites Nestor for a drink in the solar and has Sansa come pour for them.
Nestor warns Petyr that all the Arryns’ bannermen will come to confirm the story as well, and that his cousin Bronze Yohn will try to have Petyr removed as Lord Protector. Petyr says he cannot stop Bronze Yohn if he does so. He shows Nestor a parchment which makes Nestor’s appointment as the Keeper of the Moon Gates permanent and hereditary, even though before the post had always gone to an Arryn. He says it is proof of Lysa’s “high regard” for him, though she was sadly murdered before she could sign it, so Petyr signed it in her stead. Nestor declares he deserves this for his faithful service, and they drink a toast.
After he leaves, Petyr points out again to Sansa the wonders to be worked “with lies and Arbor gold.” He explains how Royce’s pride would have flared up in anger if Petyr had asked his price outright, but this way Petyr gives him lies that Nestor wants to believe. He adds that men of honor will also do things for their sons that they would never do for themselves. Sansa also realizes that by signing the order himself, instead of having Lord Robert do it, Petyr has given Nestor a vested interest in having Petyr remain Lord Protector, lest his removal call his own appointment into question.
Petyr praises her cleverness in seeing that, saying he would expect no less from his daughter. Sansa starts to point out that she is not really his daughter, but Petyr warns her to stick to their story even in private, for you never know who may walk in at exactly the wrong moment, and surely she does not want any more blood on her hands. She promises him to be Alayne all the time, then, and he promises her that “with my wits and Cat’s beauty, the world will be yours.” That night she forgets to have Robert locked in, and so he climbs in bed with her. He asks if she is his mother now.
“I suppose I am,” she said. If a lie was kindly meant, there was no harm in it.
Hrm. Otherwise entitled The Miseducation of Sansa Stark.
It’s extremely tempting to be greatly impressed by Petyr’s sheer facility with deception and intrigue—and on a lot of levels it is greatly impressive. It requires near-savant level feats of memory and observation, as well as the ability for both meticulous fore planning and spur-of-the-moment improvisation, which are rarely traits that go together. Not to mention a frighteningly thorough understanding of human psychology.
So yeah, it’s impressive. But the problem with building everything on lies is that it literally is a house of cards, and even the most skilled house-card-builder in the world cannot possibly account for every last external factor. And even if he can account for all of them, even if he is just that good, he cannot possibly control all of them. And all it takes is one errant metaphorical breeze at just the wrong time, and the whole thing comes crashing down.
Which is a thing that Littlefinger himself obviously knows very well, as is made clear by his warning to Sansa to maintain their cover story even in private. But again, he can’t account for or control everything, and the bigger the web of lies grows, the shakier the whole thing becomes. Personally, even if I had the skills for Petyr’s shtick I still don’t think I could do it just owing to the sheer stress factor. I would have no stomach lining at all if I were living his life.
Of course, my ulcer potential wouldn’t exactly be much less astronomical if I were living Sansa’s life either. (Or hell, anyone’s life in this series, but we’re talking about Sansa for the moment.)
Sansa thinks (and learns) a lot about lies in this chapter, and it worries me and pleases me both. I am pleased, because learning how and why people lie is Survival Skills 101 in this world, and that is a skill set Sansa needs plenty of, stat, but I am worried that with Petyr as a teacher, Sansa will never learn to recognize the dividing line between “lies that keep you alive” and “lies that get you ahead.”
Granted, the line between those two categories is sometimes extremely blurry, and the former is not actually all that much less dangerous than the latter, but at least lies told for purposes of survival have some moral integrity compared to lies told solely for purposes of advancement.
I am never (or almost never) going to censure somebody for lying to survive; if someone’s holding a gun on you, honey, metaphorical or otherwise, you say whatever the hell you need to say to get out with your skin intact, and that is that.
But then again:
“I am tempted to say this is no game we play, daughter, but of course it is. The game of thrones.”
I never asked to play.
And yet she doesn’t have much choice but to play it, does she? Like I said, the line between doing what you have to do to survive and doing what you have to do to win is… blurry. Maybe even nonexistent, for Sansa. But I still want her to know the difference between the two. I feel like that’s really important. And I feel like that’s something Petyr is unlikely to teach her.
However, I do have hope that maybe she will come to learn it on her own, based on her thoughts in this chapter about “kindly lies”. Not that that isn’t its own kind of potentially deadly slippery slope, but at least Sansa is still thinking of ways to lie that benefit others as well as herself. Compassion may be a liability in the game of thrones, but some prices are worth paying, in my opinion. It may be a long shot, but I’m still going to hope for Sansa to still have a soul by the time this thing is over.
Littlefinger never lifted so much as his little finger for her.
Sansa’s thoughts about Petyr and Littlefinger being two different people are interesting, but I am skeptical of their veracity. Petyr’s always seemed pretty well integrated with himself as far as I can tell.
Lastly, whatever, y’all: Petyr can be as nurture-y and fatherly-affection-y towards Sansa as he wants, and he might even be buying his own line on that, but I am still waiting for that other skeevy pseudo-incest shoe to drop, and that’s the truth. Ugh.
Chapter 11: The Kraken’s Daughter
Asha arrives at Ten Towers, the castle of her uncle, Lord Rodrik Harlaw, and contemplates how few allies are gathered here with her. She finds out that Lord Rodrik is in the Book Tower, and also that Lord Tristifer Botley is here, and reflects that meeting Tris again will be awkward. She thinks of her mother Alannys, broken and grieving elsewhere in the castle, and decides to put off giving her the news that Theon is dead as well. She instructs the steward to take good care of her crew, and of the captives, especially Lady Glover and the children. She warns that it would be a very bad idea to let the baby in particular die.
She goes to her uncle in his reading room, reflecting that his love of books is considered “unmanly and perverse” by many of the ironborn. They exchange family news for a bit, and then Asha asks him if her father was murdered. Rodrik replies that Alannys believes so, but is noncommittal himself. Asha points out the convenient timing of the Crow’s Eye’s return the very day Balon died, and demands to know where her ships are. Rodrik says he sent the summons, but only twoscore longships answered. Then he tells her that Baelor Blacktyde came to consult with him, but left again to go to Old Wyk. Asha asks why he went there.
“I thought you would have heard. Aeron Damphair has called a kingsmoot.”
Asha finds this hilarious, but Rodrik tells her that other priests have taken up the call, and the captains are gathering in Old Wyk. Asha asks if the Crow’s Eye or Victarion have agreed to this “holy farce,” but Rodrik doesn’t know. Asha thinks “better a kingsmoot than a war,” but Rodrik observes that he read that the last kingsmoot, thousands of years earlier, ended in bloodshed. He opines that Asha should not go, and urges her instead to throw her support to either Stannis Baratheon or Tywin Lannister, help them win the Iron Throne, and then claim new land for the ironborn as a reward.
Asha says that is a plan to be considered after she sits in the Seastone Chair, but Rodrik is certain she will not be chosen, for no woman has ever ruled the ironborn. Asha insists she has the best claim, and entreats him to come to the moot, but Rodrik is not interested. He tells her that Lady Alannys is doing better, and she asks if Alannys knows about Theon. Rodrik says no, and asks if she is sure Theon is dead. Asha is not, as the carnage at Winterfell made it impossible to identify most of the bodies.
He entreats her again not to go to Old Wyk, and offers to name her heir of Ten Towers instead, though not Lord of Harlaw. Asha tells him she is a kraken, of House Greyjoy, and it is her father’s seat she wants, not his. He tells her she is “just another crow [then], screaming for carrion”, and bids her leave him. Asha thinks that he will go to Old Wyk no matter what he says, and leaves.
In the courtyard, she meets Tristifer Botley, who she thinks has grown a lot but still looks “too sweet” for the Iron Islands. He tells her about how the Crow’s Eye drowned his father for denying his claim to the Seastone Chair and gave half his lands to Iron Holt, and has been buying friends left and right. She assures him that she will restore the Botley lands to him once she has the throne, but Tris is more interested in complimenting her beauty. Asha thinks back to their adolescent fumblings, and how she’d thought she was in love with him until he started going on about how many children she would have, and was relieved when he was sent away.
She asks if he will speak for her at the kingsmoot, but Tris says Lord Blacktyde thinks it “a dangerous folly”, and her uncle is sure to end it in bloodshed. Asha says he hasn’t the strength, but Tris disagrees, and claims that the Crow’s Eye brought back “monsters and wizards” from the east. Asha dismisses this, and asks again if he will come. Tris says he is her man, forever, and asks to marry her.
Asha groans internally and tells him he doesn’t want to marry her, but Tris insists that he does nothing but dream of her, and says he has never touched another woman besides her. She suggests he go touch one (“or two, or ten”), and tells him of her many conquests. Baffled, Tris says he thought she would wait. Asha tells him he is a “sweet boy,” but she is no sweet girl, and if he wed her he would come to hate her. Tristifer doesn’t listen, insisting they are meant to be, and grabs her arm. She puts her dirk to his throat and warns him to let her go if he wants to live. He lets go.
“You want a woman, well and good. I’ll put one in your bed tonight. Pretend she’s me, if that will give you pleasure, but do not presume to grab at me again. I am your queen, not your wife. Remember that.” Asha sheathed her dirk and left him standing there, with a fat drop of blood slowly creeping down his neck, black in the pale light of the moon.
Okay, so apparently (I now know), Martin released several chapters of AFFC as advanced teaser material before the book was actually published, which is why some chapters have their POV characters referred to by their titles and/or sobriquets rather than by their names, but I gotta say, it is hella distracting from this end.
Maybe I’m just overly invested in format symmetry, but whatever, it’s a thing and it bothers me. Couldn’t they have changed them back to “Asha”, etc. before publishing the chapters in the actual book, so I wouldn’t have to twitch every time I come to a chapter title that deviates from the established pattern? Bah.
Anyway, as usual the prejudices of the ironborn are severely taxing my eye-rolling muscles. OMG, Rodrik likes books! And knowledge! THE HORRAH. Anti-intellectualism is awesome, not. And of course I note that everyone in the area seems to manage to come by Rodrik’s place and take convenient advantage of his “unmanly and perverse” scholarly bent, don’t they. Because that’s not hypocritical or anything. Whatever, iron people.
This is to say nothing of the sexism, naturally. And I certainly hope no one’s going to decry me talking about that when the entire point of the chapter is about the bullshit Asha has to put up with, for daring to want things women aren’t “supposed” to want—like power—and for daring to not want things women are “supposed” to want—like children.
Don’t get me wrong, Asha is a highly problematic poster child for the cause of Putting Women in Charge of Things, because she is not anything like an ideal ruler in my opinion, but that’s the entire point: she shouldn’t have to be the poster child for Putting Women in Charge of Things. This is the core issue: Asha should be judged on her own merits (or lack thereof) and found wanting on rational grounds, instead of being dismissed out of hand merely because she has a vagina. The entire problem with sexism (and racism, and all the other *isms) is that it means constantly being forced to be representative of an entire group of people, instead of having the privilege of being evaluated as an individual.
As a friend once put it: if a man sucks at math, it’s because he’s bad at math; if a woman sucks at math, it’s because women suck at math. (And if a black man sucks at math, it’s because black people suck at math. And so on.) To map it onto Asha’s situation, she should get to be told she sucks at kinging because she, personally, sucks at kinging, not because women suck at kinging.
Because that’s bullshit.
Plus, I gotta say, it’s not like any of Asha’s competitors seem to be much better on the “being awesome” front. Well, Victarion’s still kind of an unknown quantity, but Crow’s Eye is clearly a thoroughly undelightful human being, and Theon is… well, possibly dead? But even if he isn’t (and I have a sneaking suspicion that’s he’s not), we all already know how sucktastic at kinging he would be, so. It’s perfectly possible that Asha is in fact the dubious best of a very bad lot.
(She so has to go to the kingsmoot, even if Rodrik’s probably totally right that it’s a horrible idea, because now I’m deeply morbidly curious about what’s going to happen there.)
Then there’s Tristifer, and just wow with him. I mean, there you go: Tris’s blithely oblivious disregard of Asha’s own desires and personality, and his utter refusal to see her as anything other than the ridiculous idealized version of her he’s built up in his head, is such a perfectly textbook example of male privilege that I kind of wanted to applaud Martin for coming up with him, because exactly. Shut up, Tris.
Then there’s this:
The crew of her Black Wind took a perverse pride in the deeds of their woman captain. Half of them loved her like a daughter, and other half wanted to spread her legs, but either sort would die for her.
I… yeah. I guess it’s a matter of “whatever works,” at some point? Doesn’t make it any less sad, though.
Slightly tangentially, I had to snort a bit at Asha’s thought while contemplating how she’d lost her virginity:
Afterward, Asha had the sense to find a woods witch, who showed her how to brew moon tea to keep her belly flat.
Martin’s usually pretty good at subverting or inverting fantasy tropes, but I find it amusing that he evidently decided to play the “miraculously effective herbal abortifacient” trope completely straight. It does solve a lot of logistical problems, admittedly. Which is why we all wish it had actually existed in the real world. History might have turned out a lot differently if it had…
Last but definitely not least:
“Archmaester Rigney once wrote that history is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging. What has happened before will perforce happen again, he said.”
Aw. That made me happy.
And that’s our show, kidlets! Have a lovely seven-day unit of time, and I will see you next Thursday!