(Index to previous A Dance with Dragons posts, here.)
Chapter 25: The Windblown
OK, I’m officially bored with the names that aren’t actually the names of the people whose point of view the chapter is from. Yes, it reflects the shifting identities they’re adopting, and there’s something kind of interesting about that. Also, ‘The Windblown’ is sort of appropriate, from that perspective, but ‘The Windblown’ isn’t even the new name of the person whose point of view the chapter is from, it’s the name of the company he’s joined. His new name is ‘Frog’, so, if we’re following the more interesting name-shift adopted for Theon Greyjoy, ‘Frog’ should be the new chapter title, as ‘Reek’ is for Theon.
It’s just messy, is all I’m saying. I’m used to looking at a chapter title and going ‘Oh, hurrah! A Tyrion chapter!’ or ‘Oh, A Daenerys chapter – is this going to be good or bad?’. Maybe that’s something Martin wants to undermine, but I rather like how my expectations for a chapter are sometimes formed by the name and then upset if the chapter goes in a different direction to what I expected.
Anyway, in case you were wondering (because it is a bit frustrating, isn’t it, when you’re trying to work out who exactly is being talked about whilst you’re trying to get into a piece of writing) this chapter is actually from Quentyn Martell’s perspective. Now he’s travelling with a company of mercenaries called ‘The Windblown’. They solved their dilemma about how to reach Daenerys without getting greyscale or dying on the Demon Road by signing up to fight in an army… that’s going to fight Daenerys. And that’s most of the dramatic tension for this chapter. Quentyn’s all worried because he’s off to fight the woman he’s meant to marry, but if they have to break their oaths and run away from the Windblown they’ll not only be oath-breakers, they’ll have a bunch of deadly mercenaries who know the land on their tails.
There’s something rather sweet and naive in the way they’re worried about breaking their oaths. Just about everyone else in these books has broken at least a dozen oaths or turned their cloak or something similar along the way. Usually they’ve decided to square it by adopting a new, slightly grimmer code of honour. These guys are all new and shiny.
Well, not quite so shiny anymore. The other purpose of this chapter is to let us know that sweet Quentyn has been exposed to the horrors of war at Astapor, which is a city that’s really, really gone to Hell. He’s levelled a bit in fighting, and also bit in War-Is-Hell. Bless.
Here be my new pet theory: whilst Young Griff is swanning off in the wrong direction making initially plausible but ultimately stupid tactical decisions in the game to win Daenerys’s hand, Quentyn is going to have seen the rougher side of the world, fought bloody and dirty and been thoroughly disabused of the idea that Daenerys is some pretty little princess waiting to be claimed. We see a little bit of that in this chapter, as he starts to hear the rumours that have been spread about her. He’ll arrive at Meereen having served time as the lowest of the low, changing himself to suit the needs of his situation, just like Daenerys. He’ll still be a little bit green, because he couldn’t possibly go through all the things she has, and I suspect he doesn’t have quite the inner command that she does, but that’s OK. She’s attracted to powerful, domineering men (I may not like it, but I can’t deny it), but we’ve already seen that she’s more prepared to make deals on marriage with men who are less imposing. She sends Daario away from her because she knows he’s a distraction and not good for her rule. She accepts Hizdahr’s offer as a business deal that has nothing to do with lust and all to do with striking the right deal. I’m also sure that part of what she responds to is his thoughtful and unpresumptuous manner. Whatever her desires are, she’s agreed to marry a man without half as forceful a personality as herself, and conscious or not I suspect that is a part of her choice.
Quentyn also isn’t so unfortunate as to have a better claim to the throne. Instead he offers money. Daenerys makes the deals that take her to her goals. She needs money. She has armies, but cannot feed them. She has cities, but she cannot keep the peace. She’s made one deal in favour of peace, I think she’d make another in favour of money. I don’t think Quentyn will win her with physical prowess or charisma, but if he’s shown himself competent and flexible – adaptable – and learnt a thing or two about fighting along the way without becoming arrogant… yeah, he might be in with a chance.
I’m Team Quentyn again. Yes, I changed my mind – these books do that to you, that’s why I like them.
Anyway, Quentyn also has good luck, which, as Machiavelli said, is an important part of being a good leader. The company he’s in has chosen to take both sides in the upcoming battle and sends all its Westerosi members out as defectors to greet Daenerys. Which actually means that Quentyn et al don’t have to defect at all! Hussar! Honour intact.
I enjoyed this chapter, but it’s not without flaws. The many and varied mercenary companies are interesting and colourful, but not always convincing. One is led by a girl, younger than Daenerys, who apparently bred and raised her slave-warriors. Something doesn’t scan, there. Might it be plausible that some enterprising young maid would set up her own company in mirror of Daenerys’s triumph? I don’t know. Maybe. She might try, I’d be surprised if she succeeded. But I’m pretty sure she couldn’t breed up men older than herself to fight for her.
Similarly, the stilt-walking Herons are completely implausible. That someone might breed up a company of abnormally tall slaves, even display them sometimes on stilts? Yeah, I buy that. I also understand the idea that these other companies are supposed to be representing the follies of people playing at war. But I can’t see them lasting a day being asked to march on stilts, let alone fight. Maybe someone will pitch up with links to examples of something like this from history, but right now it’s stretching my credulity.
Oh well, can’t have everything.
Chapter 26: The Wayward Bride
See, at least Quentyn has a reason to not go by his name if he’s being presented as a chamelion, but can’t we just call her ‘Asha’? No? Bah.
Asha Greyjoy is holed up in Deepwood and has just heard word of the fall of Moat Cailin. This leaves her very vulnerable. She can’t go back to the Iron Islands because her uncle has usurped her claim to the throne and married her in absentia to some old guy she has no interest in wedding. She’ll be disowned by everyone if she kneels to Stannis, and now she’s wide open to both Stannis and the Boltons. As she waits for attack and fails to decide what to do she has sex with some guy called Qarl after she repeatedly refuses him because she’s too tired and is not in the mood. But apparently she likes being taken by force after she’s clearly and firmly said ‘no’. I’ve already talked about the problems I had with this scene, so I won’t go into it again – I’m as bored with discussing this sort of thing as I’m sure you are.
After the sex, Stannis attacks, with the clansmen one assumes he won over, following Jon’s plan. They’ve dressed themselves in trees to hide their approach. Part of me likes the Shakespearean call-back to Birnam wood coming to Dunsinane – it’s a good idea, why not re-use it? But, on the other hand, I knew exactly what was going to happen the moment she noticed that the trees were making a lot more noise than they should have been. It felt a little obvious.
Asha makes the decision to flee into the woods rather than surrender or get slaughtered in the castle. She plans to make for her boats, but is attacked by the clansmen in the night. We’re left on a cliffhanger, with things looking very bad for Asha.
I hope she survives. Asha is a good character, and I enjoy her arse-kicking adventures. I suspect she will. Shortly before the attack Tris Botley tells her a tale of someone who challenged a kingsmoot because he could not be there to make a claim. This apparently tips off something in Asha’s brain that can better her situation, but we aren’t told what – only that it doesn’t apply to her claim to rule the Iron Islands. I’m kind of hoping it’s that she’s realised that you can’t be married to someone in absentia, which seems blindingly obvious, to me, but maybe they do things differently in the Iron Islands. In any case, the very fact that we don’t get to see what it was she realised suggests to me that she’s not dead yet. She better not be. That would be very annoying.
All in all, a solid couple of chapters, and I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed the chapter that followed them very much indeed! But, alas, I have not the time to review it now – you’ll just have to tune in for the next Read Along with Rhube to find out why!