Timeline of Game of Thrones

Game-of-Thrones-WallpaperNot too long ago, I realized just how immersed I was in the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a funny experience, getting into a series, realizing you’ve finally got some understanding of the universe contained within, and you find that you really like it! As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I really haven’t experienced this since reading Lord of the Rings or possibly Dune.

And in the course of my latest bit of research into the ASOIAF universe, I came across a helpful timeline. This, much like the geography of J R.R. Martin’s world, was something I had been pondering by the time I got to the fifth book. As anyone’s who read the series knows, there’s plenty of references to historical events which can be a bit confusing, at least if you’re the kind of person who likes to know how everything fits together.

And much like Tolkien, Martin’s timeline is very inspired, dense, detailed, and draws on a great deal of real history. And knowing it is quite helpful in establishing the deep background of the series and understanding the interplay of characters and events. So here is what I found, condensed and abridged for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!

The Dawn Age:
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This is the prehistoric age of A Song of Ice and Fire, where the important factions know as the “Children of the Forest” and the “First Men” are introduced. The former are a race of magical creatures who feature quite prominently in the later volumes of the story, where Greenseers and prescient dreams start to come up more and more. They inhabited Westeros in the prehistoric period along with giants and other magical creatures that only live in the North anymore. The Children of the Forest are also credited with forging the religion of the “Old Gods” which the Northmen still worship in the story.

ca. 12,000: The First Men invade Westeros across a land-bridge from the east, using bronze weapons to conquer and colonize Westeros. The Children of the Forest fight back and cast a spell to break the land-bridge, giving rise to the island formation known as the Stepstones (Echoes of the Bering Land Bridge here!) However, the First Men rely on ships and complete their conquest after generations.

ca. 10,000: The First Men and Children sign the pact of Isle of Faces, agreeing to coexistence after generations of warfare. This pact gives the First Men dominion over the open lands and lets the Children keep control over the forested areas. In time, the First Men adopt the worship of the Old Gods of the Forest.

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The Age of Heroes
Much like the age of same name in Greek mythology, this age is so named because it encompasses a number of great figures who accomplished noteworthy deeds. These include the founding of many of the Great Houses, who trace their lineage in the story to this period. The include Brandon the Builder, founder of House Stark; Lann the Clever who formed House Lannister; and Garth Greenhand who founded House Gardener of the Reach. Also, this was the time of the Storm Kings who arise in the Stormlands, and the Grey King of the Iron Islands.

ca. 10,000-8,000: The peace between the Children of the Forest and the First Men endures for thousands of years. The houses of Stark, Lannister, Gardener and the Storm Kings are established in the North, Casterly Rock, the Reach and the Stormlands respectively.

Azor-Ahai-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-3437825-905-521ca. 8,000-6,000: Period known as the Long Night in Westeros, a time of the coldest, darkest winter where a single night seems to last a generation. Ice spreads from the North, leading to the advance of the Others. It comes to an end following the Battle of the Dawn, where the First Men united under Azor Ahai (referenced in the text by Melissandre and the Red Priests) to repel the Others back to the north dragonglass weapons. Ahai also wields of a sword of fire known as Lightbringer.

After the defeat of the Others, Bran the Builder leads the raising of the Wall, a massive fortification of ice and ancient magic to shelter realms of Men. The Night’s Watch is formed to man and guard it against Others, Wights and Wildlings who live to the north. Bran then goes on to build Winterfell and becomes first King In The North. Not long after, a Black Brother betrays his oath and tries to install himself as king. The Starks of Winterfell and King Beyond the Wall Joramun join forces to destroy him. Joramun uses the Horn of Winter to summon giants from the earth to help him fight (the horn is buried, not to be found again until Mance Rayder uncovers it in A Storm of Swords)

The Andal Invasion:
The second of three major invasions of Westeros happens in this time period, leading to the Faith of the Seven and the tradition of chivalry being adopted. The divide between North and South is also rooted thanks to the failure of the Andals to conquer north of Moat Cailin.The Children of the Forest also begin their slow withdraw further from the lands of men in this period, retreating deeper into their forests and North of the Wall.

Andal_Invasionca.6,000-5,000: In the Hills of Andalos on the eastern continent of Essos, a new religion called the Faith of the Seven emerges. Supposedly, the supreme deity of the Andals appears to them and instructs them to cross the Narrow Sea and invade Westeros. They come under the banner of the Faith of the Seven, with seven-pointed stars carved into their chests, wielding weapons of steel.

The war endures for centuries and leads to the fall of the six southron kingdoms fall and the destruction of their weirwoods. The kingdoms of the North remain under First Men rule, thanks to the strategically placed fortification of Moat Cailin which resists multiple attacks, thereafter serving as the door between North and South.

Age of Valyria:
GOT_DanyThis period is characterized by the rise of the Valyrians as the dominant power in Essos and the many wars of expansion in Essos. These wars lead to the fall of the Ghiscari Empire, the Rhoynish cities, and the conquest of the Free Cities and the cities of Slaver’s Bay. Other Noble Houses are created during this time, most notably, House Martell of Dorne. It ends with the third and final invasion of Westeros, this time by House Targaryan, and the establishment of the Iron Throne.

ca. 5,000 – 700: On the eastern continent, the sheep-herding folk of the Valyrian peninsula find dragons lairing in the volcanoes that extend across the neck of the peninsula. The Valyrians tame the dragons with magic and gain influence over the area. The Valyrian Freehold is established and Valyrian steel, a magical metal renowned for its sharpness, light-weight and flaming properties, is forged. The Freehold goes to war with the Ghiscari Empire, the greatest power on the eastern peninsula. Valyria wins with the help of its dragons, destroys Old Ghis, and exerts influence over the cities of Slaver’s Bay.

north_GOTca. 3000: The Wildlings Invasion takes place as the northern men unite under the brother Kings-beyond-the-Wall Gendel and Gorne, manage to evade the Night’s Watch and bypass the Wall in great numbers using a network of tunnels that extend under the Wall. However, they are met by the Stark King on the other side and are eventually thrown back.

ca. 700: In the North, House Stark finally subdues House Bolton, their primary antagonists for dominance in the North. Karlon Stark defeats sea raiders from the east and founds the cadet branch of House Karstark. In the West, the Ironborn of the Iron Islands rise to power. At their peak, they control most of the western coast from Oldtown and the Arbor in the south to Bear Island in the North.

ca. 700-500: Valyria’s expansion beyond Old Ghis brings it into conflict with the great cities along the Rhoyne and manages to subdue them, again because of their dragons. Nymeria, a Rhoynish queen, evacuates the survivors and takes them to Dorne where she forms an alliance with Lord Mars Martell and form the ruling house of Dorne.

House-Targaryen-game-of-thrones-20596041-1600-1200ca. 500-200: Valyria expands once again and conquers much of the southern Free Cities. A religous sect known as the Moonsingers leads refugees to a remote lagoon concealed by mountains and mist to found the secret city of Braavos. They build the Titan of Braavos to serve as a defensive fortification. The Valyrian Freehold, under the Targaryens, annex a small island at the mouth of Blackwater Bay, and build a castle whose tower is shaped to look like Dragons, giving its name: Dragonstone.

ca. 350: The Storm Kings expand their control of the Westerlands north to include the territory of the Riverlands up to the Neck. Over time the Ironborn lose many of their possessions but, some three generations before Aegon’s Landing, conquer the territory of the Riverlands from the Stormlands. The Ironborn king, Harren Hoare builds Harrenhal.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-harrenhalca. 100: The Doom of Valryria begins. The volcanoes known as the Fourteen Fires erupt and shatter the Valyrian Peninsula and laying waste to the city of Valyria. The dragons of Valyria are virtually wiped out and the Valyrian Freehold crumbled apart, its various cities becoming independent city states. Braavos reveals itself to the other Free Cities and eventually becomes the most powerful due to its vast fleet and economic power.

The cities of Slaver’s Bay become independent again and Ghiscari power begins building again in the south. The warrior-nomads of the vast eastern plains arise thanks to the fall of Valyria and their dominant tribe, the Dothraki, begins raiding the surrounding lands. The Targaryens remain safe on Dragonstone, the guardians of possibly the last three dragons in the western world.

Targaryen Dynasty and Roberts Rebellion:
Events of this period direclty precede events in A Song of Ice and Fire. These include the Targaryan conquest of the Seven Kindgoms by Aeon the Conqueror and his three dragons, the death of the last of the worlds dragons, the unification of the Seven Kingdoms under the Iron Throne, and the fall of the Targaryen dynasty during Robert’s Rebellion.

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 ca. 1 AL*: Aegon the Conqueror invades Westeros, conquers and unites six of the seven kingdoms of Westeros under his banner and constructs a new capital city at King’s Landing. He is unable to conquer Dorne and allows it to remain sovereign. Control of Highgarden passes to House Tyrell, House Tully of Riverrun takes control of the Riverlands and House Greyjoy become the rulers of the Iron Islands. Later Targaryans add Dorne and the Seven Kingdoms are united under the Iron Throne.

282-283 AL: Rhaegar Targaryen abducts Lyanna Stark. Lyanna’s brother and father (Ned Starks uncle and father) demand that Aerys discipline his son, but instead the Mad King kills them both. Aerys demands the heads of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark from their ward, Jon Arryn. Instead, Houses Arryn, Stark, and Baratheon raise the standard of rebellion. Robert’s Rebellion, also called the War of the Usurper, begins.

The Hand of the King, Jon Connington, is defeated in the Battle of the Bells and is sent into exile in the Free Cities. The rebel army defeats the royalists at the Battle of the Trident where Prince Rhaegar is killed. The Lannisters apparently march to the aid of King Aerys, but instead turn against him and sack the city. King Aerys is killed by Jaime Lannister.

A-Song-of-Ice-and-Fire-RobertPrincess Elia Martell and her children, Aegon and Rhaenys Targaryen, are brutally murdered by Lannister bannermen, causing a rift between Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon. Robert becomes King of the Seven Kingdoms and marries Cersei Lannister. Ned returns home to Winterfell with his bastard son, Jon Snow. Loyal Targaryen retainers carry Aerys’ two youngest children, Prince Viserys and Princess Daenerys, to safety in the Free Cities.

*After Landing: The year that follows after Aegon lands in Westeros, establishing the “common era” of the Iron Throne.

Yes, its long, detailed and dense, and that’s just the stuff I chose to include. But you gotta admit, it does fill in the blanks and answer a whole lot of nagging questions! And of course, there are all those allegories I mentioned earlier. First there’s the invasion of the First Men across the land bridge calling to mind the migration of human beings across the Bering Land Bridge, giving rise to the First Nations and the establishment of American civilizations.

You also have the successive invasions of Westeros calling to mind the invasion of Britain by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Normans. The Children of the Forest also call to mind the systematic destruction of native populations the world over, and the division between the Old Gods and New is very similar to the conquest of Roman pantheism over the “pagan” religions of the Old World.

And of course, the Red Priests and their dualistic vision of a world divided between the forces of Light and Darkness is not at all dissimilar to Judea-Christian theology, or more likely Zoroastrianism. The fact that the faith comes from the East and is so focused on a war between good and evil that is expected to achieve culmination soon is more in keeping with the Zoroastrian tradition, though the monotheistic aspects of it, forced conversions and burning of “idols” do call to mind Christianity’s conquest of European and the New World.

And on top of that, there’s a very rich history taking place in the East, where Valyria resembles ancient Rome, who’s power base (in this case Dragons) allows them to conquer the Free Cities (similar to the Greek city-states), the Empire of Old Ghis (Persia and other Empires of the East), and whose fall creates a power vacuum that leads to the rise of “Barbarian Hordes” – aka. the Dothraki.

I tell ya, the historical metaphors are thick. THICK!

Source: awoiaf.westeros.org

A Storm of Swords (Song of Fire and Ice, book III)

Back with the third installment in the Song of Fire and Ice series! By the end of book II, A Clash of Kings, a number of interesting developments took place. Stannis Baratheon’s attack on King’s Landing ended in failure, Robb Stark’s campaign south began to suffer some setbacks, and John Snow had taken up with the Wildlings. In addition, Theon Greyjoy was killed, Winterfell was burned to the ground, Arya escaped and began heading north once again, and young Bran began to head for the Wall with his companions, pursuing a prescient dream.

A Storm of Swords:
The third novel picks up where all these strands left off, with the War of the Five Kings, the war beyond the Wall, and with Daenerys Targaryen’s ongoing efforts to secure an army and return to Westeros. Much like book II, Storm contained a sort of climax where a major battle takes place, this time at the Wall. John’s time spent amongst the Wildlings also gives the reader insight into the lives of the Wildlings and what is driving them south.

At the same time, there is a great deal of detail given to the world of the East, where Daenerys is travelling to the ancient slaver cities of Astapor, Yunkai and Mereen. Much like Qarth in book II, these eastern cities are clearly inspired by the ancient cities of Asia Minor and the Middle East (aka. Babylon, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc). However, there were also some rather dire developments as well. Like I said in my previous post, George RR Martin is never one to shy away from killing off main characters or devastating his readers. Whereas he kind of shied away from that in Clash, this book got right into it! But more on that in a bit. First, I’d like to get into the overall plot of the novel…

Plot Synopsis:
Starting at the Riverlands, where Robb Stark and his armies are gathered, we learn that the Wolf has suffered from some serious errors in judgement. For starters, his uncle, contrary to Robb’s orders, threw off his long-term strategy by engaging Tywin Lannister’s armies at the river crossings. Though they were victorious in thwarting them, this move upset Robb’s plans to lure Tywin closer to his home town of Casterly Rock, where Robb hoped to outflank him and end the Lannister’s involvement in the war.

However, Tywin instead deployed the bulk of his forces to attack Riverrun once Bolton began beating him. Tywin failed to take Riverrun, but deploying his forces here instead of further east meant that he was in a better position to redeploy south once he learned that King’s Landing was threatened. Their victory over Stannis also led to an alliance between House Tyrell and the Lannisters, which meant they would be doubly hard to beat.

In addition, while he was campaigning in Lannister country, Robb fell in love with a young woman from a smaller House and married her. This decision was an insult to the honor of House Frey, the Lord that controls the Twins (the river crossing to the north) and one of Robb’s most powerful allies. Now it was necessary for him to travel to the Twins and make amends, promising his uncle’s hand to one of Frey’s oldest daughters in order to salvage their relationship.

And last, but not least, he also has the defiance of his mother to deal with. It seems that while he was away campaigning, she set Jaime Lannister free and told Brienne to escort him to King’s Landing. On his honor, she made Jaime swear that he would return her daughters to her as soon as he arrived at the capitol. A desperate hope, but given what happened to her boys (she believes them both to have perished at Winterfell at his point) she was both desperate and distraught.

Naturally, Jaime has plans of his own and attempts to escape at the first opportunity. Unfortunately for him and Brienne, his escape attempt alerts some marauders to their presence. As soon as he obtains a sword, he attacks Brienne, the two fight for some time and the noise alerts a band of Bloody Mummers. These men are now in the employ of Lord Roose Bolton of Harrenhal, and they are taken captive. To ensure Jaime’s cooperation, Vargo Hoat, the leader of the pack, slices off Jaime’s hand. Without his sword hand, Jaime becomes a depressed shell of his former self, and begins to contemplate his choices and allegiances.

When Robb and his host arrive at the Twins, they are pleasantly surprised. Despite Lord Walder Frey’s reputation for being a bitter and vengeful man, he seems committed to making this new marriage happen. And his uncle is even pleasantly surprised when he sets eyes on the Frey girl, who doesn’t appear to be as hideous as his other offspring! Everything goes well on the wedding night as well. Though the food is not so good, the wine is plentiful and people begin to get soused. However, once the bride and groom are hauled off, Frey has another surprise in store. Crossbowmen emerge from the gallery and begin firing on them! Robb and his banner men are quickly surrounded, and Robb and his mother are killed!

Back at King’s Landing, celebrations are being held! With their victory over Stannis’ forces, the people are jubilant and welcoming House Tyrell as liberators. In addition, Lord Tywin has taken the role as Hand of the King since Tyrion has been bed-ridden with injuries and is suspected of trying to harm Joffrey. Also, it seems that the new hand has made some changes to Joffrey’s wedding arrangements. Instead of marrying Sansa, as was arranged under King Robert, he now wishes to cement the Lannister’s new alliance with the Tyrell’s by marrying Joffrey to Lady Margaery Tyrell. Sansa is relieved, until she is informed that she will be wedding Tyrion instead, who isn’t particularly happy about it either.

Now two weddings must be held. The first, of Sansa and Tyrion, is a sham affair that is rushed through with minimal pomp and ceremony. For the second wedding though, much time and effort are spent and no expense is being spared. In addition, Sansa finds herself being taken into the confidences of the matriarch of House Tyrell. As Joffrey’s previous betrothal, she would like to know just what kind of man her granddaughter is marrying. After learning that the old lady is an honest and gentle person, Sansa tells her the truth: Joffrey is a monster, she says, and her granddaughter should be afraid. The old lady thanks her for her honesty, and begins plotting…

The wedding festivities are lavish and Joffrey appears to be taking well to his new wife, which leaves Sansa fearing for her life. Tyrion is similarly worried, knowing that Joffrey hates him and Cersei and their father both suspect him of treachery. He worries that the boy will try to kill him and his new wife, but they are both saved when something unexpected occurs. In the midst of eating from a massive pigeon pie that was prepared for the event, Joffrey chokes and dies horribly. More to the point, the girl Sansa disappears in the midst of his death. All eyes go to Tyrion, who is promptly arrested for the boy’s death.

After suffering in the dungeons of King’s Landing for a time, Tyrion is brought forth and put on trial. He is forsaken by everyone, including his mistress Shae, who appears to have been threatened into giving him up. All hope appears to be lost for Tyrion, but he then receives an offer from an unlikely source: Lord Oberyn Martell, the Prince of Dorne. It seems that the people of Sunspear still hold the Lannister’s accountable for the deaths of two Martell children who were murdered during Robert’s revolt. The one responsible was Sir Gregor Clegane (“The Mountain”), but they suspect Lord Tywin was the one who gave the order. He agrees to fight for Tyrion if he requests a trial by combat as part of a plot to kill Gregor and eventually put a Martell on the throne.

Without options, Tywin agrees, and as expected, Cersei chooses Gregor as her champion. The fight goes well for Oberyn, who employs cunning and speed to defeat Gregor with a poisoned spear. However, before he can deliver the final blow, Gregor takes Oberyn by the throat and kills him with his bare hands. Tyrion is once again doomed, and Gregor is destined to die a slow and terrible death. However, Tyrion finds help from an unlikely source once again, this time from his brother who has returned.

After hearing of Robb Stark’s death, Harrenhal once again changed hands and Jaime was set free. Having undergone a change of heart, he decided to bring Brienne back with her. Upon his arrival, he and Cersei have a falling out over his brother’s supposed guilt, and he decides to set Tyrion free. This consists of showing him a secret stairway that will take him to the coast, but Tyrion decides to head up instead. Having served as the Hand, he knows the secret stairs lead to the Tower of the Hand, where his father currently resides…

When he enters, he finds Shae warming his bed. She pleads and offers him the usual denials, telling him she was threatened and had no choice. Tyrion, sick of betrayal, decides to strangle her with her own jewelry and then sets out to find his father. After grabbing a crossbow from the bedroom wall, he finds his father in the privy and corners him there. After some harsh words are exchanged, he fires a bolt into Tywin’s stomach and leaves him there for dead.

With both Joffrey and Tywin dead, Cersei takes up the role of Hand and crowns her youngest son, Tommen, as king. In addition, she charges her newly-estranged brother with finding and killing Tyrion. As the new Lord Commander of the Kingsgaurd, it is his duty to track down the assassin, but he is obviously conflicted given the fact that he played a rolein his father’s death. Once the funeral is over, he decides to sets Brienne free and gives her a new sword named Oathkeeper. This was apparently Joffrey’s wedding gift from Tywin, which was reforged from the Valyrian steel of Ned Stark’s old sword. He then tells her to go forth and keep her oath to Catelyn to find Arya and Sansa.

Also, it should be noted, Cersei begins to go nuts as a result of recent events. In addition to losing her son and her father, it is also clear that her incest has become common knowledge. The Tyrells also appear to be positioning themselves to take the throne down the line. It is even intimated that the Tyrell matriarch was the one who poisoned Joffrey because of what Stansa told her about him. Now that Tommen is king, it is he who must marry Lady Margaery Tyrell, but since he’s so young, she believes she must be the power behind the throne.

Sansa is meanwhile ferried away with the help of Lord Donton, a disgraced ex-knight who Joffrey was in the habit of abusing, but whom Sansa was kind to. For some time, they were planning her escape, and when she learned that she would be wed to Tyrion instead of a Tyrell, she agreed to his plans. After helping her escape on the night of the big wedding, she is transferred to a ship waiting for them down by the water. Her rescuer, it seems, is Lord Petyr Baelish, who plans to take her to The Eyrie where he is about to wed her aunt (Catelyn’s sister). After delivering her aboard, Donton is killed to cover their tracks.

She is then brought to the coast of the Vale of Arryn where she meets Petyr and her aunt. While it is clear that Lady Lysa loves Petyr, it is also clear that he doesn’t love her, but instead is carrying a torch for Sansa. After arriving at the Eyrie, he kisses Sansa in the courtyard, sending Lysa into a jealous rage. Later on, she invites Sansa up to the throne room and threatens to throw her out the Moon Door, but Petyr intervenes. After talking Lysa down, he confesses to her that he only ever loved her sister, and then tosses her out the door! He then moves quickly to blame the minstrel and bribes Lysa’s bannermen to ensure their loyalty to his rule.

Meanwhile, Arya’s trip north brings her and her companions into some strange company. Having escaped Harrenhal, she now comes into contact with a group of men known as the Brotherhood without Banners. These were the men whom Ned Stark had sent out to deal with the raids in the Riverlands, but who now are protecting the countryfolk from raiders and Lannisters. Leading them is Lord Beric Dondarrion who has picked up an usual companion, the red priest Thoros of Myr. Here too is another worshiper of R’hllor, who has apparently used his magic to resurrect Beric, a couple of times!

Having been taken in by the company, they soon find Sandore Clegane, who fled King’s Landing during the siege, and put him on trial for his many crimes. Sandore request a trial by combat and narrowly wins when Beric’s sword breaks and he dies. However, Thoros is able to resurrect him yet again, and Sandore is free to go. But before he leaves, he is sure to take a hostage – Arya Stark! The two then travel north together since Sandore is hoping to ransom her to her brother. This journey takes them to the Twins, just in time for Lord Bolton’s supposed wedding. When the pandemonium strikes, Arya is forced to flee and is only saved by the intervention of Sandor himself.

In time, Sandor is critically wounded and Arya leaves him behind. She makes for the Vale of Arryn where she decides to board a ship and head for Braavos. She does this because Jaqen H’ghar, the killer she helped free, gave her a coin before departing which he claimed was from Braavos. The coin contained the inscription “Valar Morghulis”. When she arrives at the port, she speaks these words to a Braavosi Captain, who replies “Valar Dohaeris” and agrees to take her aboard. They set sail for the free city of Braavos and Arya bids farewell to her past life.

To the East, Daenerys and her companions are still busy trying to recruit an army. On the recommendations of Lord Mormont, they set course for Slaver’s Bay believing that they will be able to recruit an army from the Unsullied. These are apparently warrior-slaves who have been raised from birth to fight, feel no pain, and obey any and all orders from their commander. With her new-found friends, Arstan and Strong Belwas, they arrive at Astapor where she agrees to surrender one of her dragons in exchange for a large host. However, she then tricks the slavers by ordering the Unsullied, once they are transferred to her ownership, to kill all the city’s slave masters.

With her new army and a host of freed slaves, Daenerys sets course for the city of Yunkai next. Here, she finds another slave stronghold that is protected by a host of mercenaries. After meeting the enemy’s mercenary brigades, she is aided by the defection of one of their Captains. With his help, they attack the mercenary encampents at night and this city falls shortly thereafter. Finally, she and her host move on to Mereen, the last of the slave cities, but find it walled and heavily defended. They set camp and begin the long process of besieging it.

But first, some revelations are made. On the one hand, she discovers that Arstan is in fact Ser Barristan Selmy, the former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard who Joffrey dismissed. His true purpose, it seems, was to find the heir of the Targaryen line and bring her home. At the same time, she learns that Jorah Mormont was originally sent to spy on her for Robert. However, when the order came that she was to be assassinated, he changed his mind and enlisted with her. Daenerys is outraged. It seems that the prophecy told to her by the Undying of Qarth is coming true. She has been betrayed twice now, which means she will betrayed once more before the end.

To have them make amends, she orders Barristan and Mormont to sneak into the city  through its sewers with a host of Unsullied at night and open the gates. They succeed, and the city is taken shortly thereafter. She forgives Selmy and makes him the Lord Commander of her Queensguard, but decides to banish Lord Mormont. In the meantime, she decides to set up camp at Mereen and contemplate how she will become the ruler that Westeros needs.

Finally, things to the north are also proceeding apace. Having been captured by the Wildlings, John Snow is brought before Mance Rayder. He is asked to explain why he would defect, and wanting to be convincing, John tells him something approximating the truth. He says he defected because he is sick and tired of being “the bastard son” and wants to be free. Rayder believes him, and John is soon reunited with the young Wildling woman he met earlier and spared.

Her name is Ygritte, and she is clearly taken with John. As time goes on, they become close and claim each other, Wildling-style! As a result of all this, John’s feelings of betrayal deepen, but he made an oath to Qorin to learn all he could, so he continues. In time, this bears fruit when he learns that the Others are what is driving the Wildlings south. Hence why they are determined to take the Wall and claim the northern lands of Westeros for themselves.

He also learns that Rayder had been desperately searching for the Horn of Winter which the Wildlings believe is magic. By sounding this horn, he believes he can melt the Wall and take out the Night’s Watch easily. However, in the meantime, he must commit his forces to attacking the Wall conventionally and sends John and Ygritte with an advance party to scale it and do reconnaissance on the other side. Once over, John escapes from the Wildlings once more and rejoins his brothers at Castle Black.

His loyalties are heavily suspect and few believe his story about Qorin orders, but his loyalty is proven when Ygritte and the advance party attack Castle Black. They manage to defeat the Wildling party, and Ygritte is killed by a stray arrow. John is torn by the loss, but there is little time to mourn. On the other side of the Wall, Rayder has over forty-thousand Wildlings, giants, mammoths and seige engines prepared, and begins his assault. John is given leave to command the defense of the Wall against this first assault, and things go relatively well.

Outnumbered but not outclassed, John and his brothers manage to thwart the first wave. John is then invited to parlay with Rayder, who reveals that he has found the horn after all. He tells John that he cold destroy the Wall with a single blast of the instrument, but he would rather capture it intact since it is the only thing that will keep the Others at bay. John considers his offer of a negotiated truce, but their parlay is cut short when Stannis’ surviving armies take to the field and destroy the Wildling encampment.

For months, the Night’s Watch had been pleading for aid and soldiers to be sent north to the Wall, and now it seems that only Stannis has chosen to answer. He tells John what the priestess Melissandre believes, how the return of the Others is just a prelude to the return of her god’s sworn enemy – the dark one. Stannis asks for John’s support and promises him Winterfell in exchange, but John is chosen by the Night’s Watch as their new commander and must refuse.

In the epilogue, we see how the Brothers Without Banners have taken one of the Frey men prisoner. After interrogating him about the massacre that happened at the wedding, the reanimated body of Catelyn Stark arrives and orders his death. It seems that the priest Thoros has used his magic to resurrect her as well, and now she is intent on revenge!

Strengths/Weaknesses:
Book III was, in my opinion, a step down from books I and II. On the one hand, there was plenty of action and plot developments to keep the reader interested, and plenty of surprises besides. However, not all of them were welcome to this humble reader. For starters, when Robb Stark is murdered at the court of Walder Frey, I was incensed! I very nearly put the book and the series down for good! Was it not enough that Martin had to kill off Ned Stark? No, he had to kill his son and Catelyn too? The Starks are supposed to be the heroes of this series, dammit! You can’t just keep killing them off! Yes, I was mad…

But it was not just the fact that sympathetic characters kept getting murdered. It was the confusion it caused. Basically, every story has a set of main characters, people that help drive the story forward. When a character dies off, it naturally falls to another to keep the story going. Now we all know that Martin uses many characters and perspectives in his novels, but most of these are secondary and rarely heard from. It’s the main perspectives that tell things of the greatest importance, and usually there are only a few of them. When these people die, it has the effect of making the reader think that they weren’t so important after all. And if it keeps happening, the reader can become cynical and will not form the usual emotional attachments to characters. When that happens, a story dies, at least from the point of view of the person reading it. It’s all about emotional attachments Martin, you can’t keep traumatizing us!

More than that, I was beginning to feel tedious and depressed by the way Arya and Sansa’s sad stories kept going on and on. For two books now, Arya has been trying to get home, only to be waylayed, taken prisoner, get free, taken prisoner again, get free once again, then only to find out that her family is dead. Thus she decides to go to Braavos because she thinks she’s the only Stark left. And she’s just a kid! How depressing! Sansa, on the other hand, has to endure Joffrey’s constant abuse, the prospect of sex with Tyrion, and then is set free only to find herself a prisoner again, just under different circumstances. As if the rapacious and cruel Lannisters weren’t enough, now she has to deal with the murderous and creepy Lord Baelish!

And even before Robb was murdered, the setbacks he was been forced to endure were beginning to get tedious. In spite of all his early successes, its becoming abundantly clear that he’s going to lose the war. First his strategic plans get interrupted, the Lannisters succeed in the south and make a new alliance, Theon stabs him in the back by seizing Winterfell, his attempts to liberate it fail, Winterfell is then burned to the ground and his brothers killed (presumably). Then, on top of all that, he learns that his alliance is likely to fall apart because he chose to follow his heart. And just when it seems like things are going to be okay on that front, he’s and his mother are betrayed and murdered! It’s like, we get it! War is hell, especially this war, and the bad guys are winning! But can’t you give us some happy news for a change?

But like I said, the book had plenty of things to keep the prospective reader interested. After picking it back up (after about a week or so of stewing), I found plenty of good things to keep me interested in the series. For starters, Joffrey finally got what was coming to him, Lord Tywin also bought it while sitting on the privy, and Catelyn was revealed to be alive (albeit in a somewhat hideous form). This was all nice to read, mainly because I was getting so sick of Joffrey that I was just waiting for someone to give him a “golden crown” as well! His and Tywin’s death also brightened Tyrion’s storyline a lot, seeing as how his constant struggle with his cruel family was also beginning to get Kafka-esque. Given that he is one of the few sympathetic characters from that thread, it was nice to see him get a little payback! Now if someone would just whack Cersei we’d be in business!

And of course there were all the plot developments that kept satisfying my curiosity. Much like in book II, there were plenty of things that I was just waiting to hear about that finally got revealed. For instance, I was dying to know what would become of the Others invasion, of the civil war, of Daenerys’ plans to return to Westeros, and of Bran’s visions. After so much build-up, set-backs and plot twists, I was dying for some resolutions! And as usual, George RR Martin gives it out sparingly, providing clues, some answers, and a few interesting tidbits, all the while ensuring that things keeps rolling into the next book.

All in all, I liked this book. It was a very decent follow-up to A Clash of Kings and maintained the commitment to realism, detail and world-building that the series is famous for. My problems really only stem from the fact that at times, the books are too realistic, too detailed, and contain far too many plot twists. However, it would be unfair to say that any one book fails in this regard when its really a cumulative effect. Anything bad that I can say about this particular novel always begins with “at this point in the series…” Mainly, I was just hoping that things would be close to some kind of resolution. That’s another thing that’s important when writing. When audiences wait too long for a resolution, they’ll also lose interest. I hope Mr. Martin is writing this down 😉

Speaking of which, I am currently nose-deep in A Feast For Crows. See you soon with the review for that one!

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Fire and Ice, book II)

As I’m sure I said in my last post, George R.R. Martin is known to his contemporaries as the “American Tolkien”. This is a fitting comparison for me seeing as how Game of Thrones was something I had no real interest in until after I saw it adapted to screen. It was only after I saw the whole first season, which is book I in the series, that I decided to start reading it and get informed! I’m now on book four in the series and like all GOT geeks, am eagerly awaiting season two which premiers April 1st (This better not be some kind of prank!) But anyway, here is book II in the Song of Fire and Ice series, which is appropriately named:

A Clash of Kings:
As with Lord of the Rings series, I decided to read the second book first, mainly so I could get a head start on all the material that was to come. However, since the series is ongoing, I did not dare wait til I read to the end before going back to cover the original. And I can honestly say that book II improves upon the first, bringing more action, more intrigue, and more fantasy-fiction to the fore. I tell ya, its a rare thing when a sequel actually surpasses the first in a series, but that was to be expected here. Whereas Game Of Thrones set the scene, introducing the major plot threads and building up the action, Clash of Kings incites it all and brings it all to an explosive semi-climax. The most important element of which is the battle at Kings Landing, which I cannot wait to see adapted to the screen!

Plot Synopsis:
The book opens with a celestial event. A red comet, which goes by various names, has entered the heavens and seems to mean different things to different people. To some, its a portent of evil, but to others, its a sign of impending victory. Picking up where the first book left off, the realm of Westeros finds itself divided between five powers who are now in a state of civil war. In the south, power is divided between Kings Landing, where the Lannisters rule through Joffrey, and Robert Baratheons two brothers – Renly and Stannis. The former now controls the southern area of Highgarden while the latter controls the island Dragonstone. While a Baratheon alliance would surely defeat the Lannisters, the brothers are divided because both are determined to sit the Iron Throne.

While Stannis, the elder, has the better claim to the throne, Renly is the more charismatic of the two. He is just as determined and has a much larger army, but Stannis has a secret weapon which he has yet to unveil: a sorceress named Melisandre, a priestess of Asshai who worships the fire god R’hllor. The cult of R’hllor, which is monotheistic in focus, is quite popular in the East but relatively unheard of in Westeros. To many, her backing of Stannis, whom she sees as the Azor Ahai (prophet of R’hllor) reborn, is merely a power play, a means to introduce her religion to the Seven Kingdom should be triumph in the war. But according to Melisandre, the civil war is merely a prelude to a much greater war against a dark force that has been coming for some time…

Meanwhile, to the north Robb Stark has been crowned King of the North by his bannermen and continues in his long campaign south. Though they are outnumbered by the Lannisters, they win victory after victory, and soon even Tywin Lannister is forced to move the bulk of his forces south when they hear that King’s Landing is threatened. For the wolf, victory seems possible, but a there are a few complications to his plans. For one, King Joffrey and the Lannisters are still holding Sansa Stark hostage and Arya Stark is still missing (in truth, she and the Night’s Watch recruiter who saved her are moving north with a band of convicts and recruits). The only thing keeping Sansa safe is the fact that Jaime Lannister is in their custody, but he’s proving to be a tricky hostage…

What’s more, the Iron Isles, where Theon Greyjoy hails from, are up in arms. With the wolf marching south and civil war dividing the realm, his father seems intent on carving out his own kingdom in north as well. His daughter is chief amongst his Captains, a fact which annoys Theon to no end. Determined to upstage her, he leads an attack on Winterfell and takes it. In time, Bran Stark and his newfound friends from the Riverlands, who’ve convinced him he’s having prescient dreams, decide to escape to The Wall. Something is up there, it seems, that is calling to Bran. When he flees, Theon decides to stage their murder to avoid the inevitable embarrassment of having lost them.

To the far north, Jon Snow has taken up with the Nights Watch and is with them as they begin a large-scale reconnaissance north of The Wall. Apparently, the Wildlings have been abandoning their villages in droves, moving to a large encampment where a man named Mance Rayder. Apparently, he has declared himself “King-beyond-the-Wall” and plans to lead a united army of Wildlings south to take the lands they have been historically cut off from. In time, it becomes clear that he himself is fleeing something, they very thing that Jon Snow and the Watch have been worrying about. It seems the White Walkers have been getting around, and just about everyone in their path is looking to flee…

To the east, Dany and her host travel across the desert to the great city of Qarth. Once there, Dany becomes the focus of much attention and fascination, given that she travels with three dragons. Despite this, she is unable to raise an army because the only coin she has to barter with is her dragons, which she refuses to give up. When she goes into the House of the Undying, where the warlocks of Qarth reside, she is told that her life is threatened and that she will be betrayed three times. When the warlocks try to attack her, her dragon burns the House down, sparking emnity between her and the Qartheen. An attempt is made on her life at the city harbor, but she is saved by two men – an old warrior named Arstan Whitebeard and a mercenary named Strong Belwas. They were sent by Illyrio, the man who sheltered her and her brother, and join her host. Together, they begin to plot where to travel to next to find her an army.

After a failed meeting between Renly and Stannis, which Catelyn Stark travelled south to host, Renly was killed by a “shadow”. It becomes clear that Stannis’ priestess was involved, because all those who oppose Stannis have a way of winding up dead. As a result, Renly’s former bannermen declare fealty to Stannis and add to his power, and Catelyn is forced to flee north with one of Renly’s staunchest supporters. A woman named Brienne of Tarth, a formidable fighter whom Renly made a knight. They return to Riverrun, the domain of her brother, where Robb is rallying his forces and her father lies dying. Upon her return, she learns of what happened to Winterfell and her two youngest sons and is heartbroken. Between Ned, her ailing father, and now her two boys, it seems everyone she loves is dying.

Back to King’s Landing, Tyrion has taken up the role as Hand of the King. Before him is the challenge of defending the capitol from Stannish Baratheon, who is quickly approaching by land and sea with his combined armies and navy. At the same time, he must cover his ass seeing as how his sister will stop at nothing to do him in. A game of chess ensues, with both sides employing bribes and whatever blackmail and threats they can to gain leverage over the other. For a time, Tyrion seems to have the upper hand, but soon, battle comes to their doorstep, and he must forgo all that to lead the defense of the city.

Meanwhile, Arya is captured while traveling north by men loyal to the Lannisters. The survivors are taken to Harrenhal, a major castle that is currently in Lannister hands, where she is forced to serve as a peasant girl. Her identity remains a secret, but she is forced to endure all kinds of abuse as a serving girl. However, one of the captives who was part of their caravan comes to her and tells her that he owes her three lives for saving him and the lives of his companions. Instead, she uses him to help free a bunch of Stark men who then seize the castle. However, her fortunes do not change much, as she is then forced to act as cup bearer to Roose Bolton who comes to occupy the castle. She escapes shortly thereafter with her old companions and continues north.

Tyrion’s preparations pay off in the end. At sea, the large chain link he had constructed is used to close off the river once Stannis’ fleet enters it. In addition, their forces use a their vast stores of Wildfire he had prepared to set them ablaze once they are trapped. On land, things go a little more poorly, but Tyrion manages to lead a successful defense of the gates and is eventually saved by his father, Tywin. It seems that he travelled to Highgarden before the conflict and enlisted the help of many of Renly’s former bannermen. At just the right time, they perform a flanking maneuver which routs Stannis’ forces and saves King’s Landing. Sensing that he will not die in battle, one of Cersei’s assassins attacks and nearly kills Tyrion. When he wakes up in bed, he finds that Cersei has gained the upper hand on him by preying on their father’s good graces.

North of the Wall, the Black Brothers find a base amongst a ruined tower and begin sending recon forces further north. Jon is part of a force dispatched to the Skirling Pass, where they find the bulk of Rayner’s army massing. In addition to thousands of Wildlings, they see giants, mammoths, and wargs complimenting their force. In time, the Wildlings fall upon them and they are forced to flee. Before they are captured, Qorin asks Jon to betray him when the time comes so that he may infiltrate the Wildling camp and learn their secrets. Jon reluctantly agrees, and when they are cornered, Qorin fights him and lets him win. Jon is now a prisoner of the Wildlings and is reunited with a young Wildling woman that he met and set free earlier. She convinces Rayner to take Jon in, as he himself was once a Black Brother who defected.

Back in Winterfell, Theon finds himself with his back to the wall when Robb dispatches one of his bannermen and an army to remove the Iron Men from Winterfell. All hope seems lost to him, when a new force enters the field and saves his butt. It seems that one of the sellswords who joined him earlier was in fact the Bastard of Bolton, a usurper who fell into disfavor with Robb’s men and was imprisoned in Winterfell. When Theon set him free, he returned to his home, took up the cities army, and returned to save him. However, he quickly betrays Theon, kills him, and orders Winterfell razed…

Strengths/Weaknesses:
As I said before, this book packs some serious action into its binding! After much build-up in the first, the climactic battle of King’s Landing takes place, and it was quite unclear how things were going to go… In fact, much of the book is unpredictable. One gets the impression that the Lannisters are bound to lose well up until the battle finally takes place. In addition, the fate of House Stark is something which is tenuous at best. As always, one can’t get too emotionally attached where the characters of George R.R. Martin is concerned. They tend to die suddenly and haphazardly. However, unlike in book I, none of the major characters die off, just the supporting cast. This I would consider a strength considering that I tend to get sour when people I like get killed!

That being said, there were a number of inexplicable plot twists in this book, so many that it began to feel a little contrived after awhile. For starters, the battle of King’s Landing suddenly turns when all hope seems lost. In itself, that was a pretty good twist, but there were many like it. When it came to the rivalry between Renly and Stannis, it seemed apparent that Renly was destined to win, but then he’s suddenly killed by Melisandre’s shadow, thus completely turning the tide. And then there’s the part where Theon Greyjoy is defending Winterfell. Everything seems said and done when at the last moment, he is saved by the intervention of the Bastard of Bolton, only to then be killed! That’s three major plot twists in one book, and the last one was like a… a compound twist! Kind of grows thin after awhile.

In addition, like all the books in the series, the story can become drawn out and emotionally taxing. It seems that despite whatever hopes the reader might have for a satisfactory resolution, the plot threads just seem destined to go on and on. Whether its Tyrion, Arya, Sansa, Robb, Catelyn, or John, it seems that they are just destined to suffer and endure more and more in the way of bad news. Unless of course the character dies suddenly, but that too is emotionally taxing for the reader! Just once, I would have liked for a character who I sympathize with to be able to put their feet up and say, “Whew! That was tough, but we got through it! Time to relax…”

However, this makes for a more respectable and realistic read all around. More than anything, the book conveys a genuine sense of desperation and discomfort, which is fitting since its about a civil war. These things are not comfortable, especially in a medieval setting! They are dirty, painful, bloody and festering, and the innocent constantly suffer. In all fairness, my feelings on this last note could be the result of the fact that I’m still reading the series, and after four books, all the war and death can get exhausting. However, this does not take away from this particular novel. It’s still awesome, and a very good follow-up to the first. My advice, check it out and then catch the miniseries. That way, you’ll have a frame of reference!

Check out the trailer:
GOT Season 2 Teaser Trailer (Youtube)

Game of Thrones

Or as its known by its literary name, A Song of Fire and Ice. This is the series which inspired the recent HBO series, named after the first novel in the series, and which is apparently destined to keep that name for the duration of the show. After watching the first season, I was inspired to pick up the second book, then I was inspired to buy the Kindle set of all four books. And then the author George RR Martin released the fifth book in the series and two more are planned… Wow. I tell ya, this series could go on forever! But apparently, that’s the thing about these books. As many fans have told me, his work is expected to take the same route as Wheel of Time. Aptly named, because it just keeps rolling on and on and on…

But I digress. A while back I decided I would tackle this series and give it a full review. Having loved the miniseries, I sought to delve into the source material and get a sense of what it was all about. And of course, I wanted to see where the story was going and what would come of all the characters, and I was quite pleased. While Martin’s notorious characteristics as a writer – his level of detail, his willingness to kill of main characters, his ability to really flesh out a storyline – were all abundantly apparent in later installments, I also found examples of his strengths in abundance. These included, but were not limited to, his ability to create rich, engrossing worlds, his drawing on historical sources, his ability to make readers emphasize and identify with characters, and his ability to keep people guessing. I tell ya, nothing about these stories seems predictable! The downside of that last aspect is, people keep dying, and not always the ones you hope will! But in the plus column, it keeps the reader on their toes!

Down to specifics: George RR Martin was already famous before writing A Song of Fire and Ice. During the 1980’s, he worked in Hollywood as a writer for such shows as The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. His early fantasy novel, The Ice Dragon, became a best-selling children’s novel. However, it was with A Game of Thrones and subsequent novels that his fame as a fantasy author was cemented, earning him the nickname, “The American Tolkien”. This is an appropriate description, given the fact that the depth and breadth of his fantasy novels are rivaled by only The Lord of the Rings. Several differences have been noted, however. For starters, his stories are much more gritty and realistic. Fantasy elements – that is to say, supernatural things like magic, dragons and mythical creatures – appear sparingly and only as the story progresses. And, as I’ve already mentioned twice, he kills his main characters! In short, Martin’s books revolve around realistic human characters and their goings on, with all the sex, violence, betrayal and intrigue that that entails!

The world of George RR Martin is a fictitious world set in a medieval period, hence why it falls into the genre of medieval fantasy. In this world, something transpired long ago known as “The Doom”, which has had the effect of making the seasons longer. Summer and Winter, for reasons no one can explain, last years instead of months. The coming of winter is a time of fear since it means that the White Walkers, a supernatural force from the frozen north, will be returning to threaten the Seven Kingdoms. As the story opens, a particularly long summer is coming to an end, and in the north, dark forces appear to be on the move. Further south, throughout the land known as Westeros, King Robert “the Usurper” is facing a conspiracy within his own Kingdom which could lead to another civil war (the last one is what made him king). Meanwhile, on the nearby continent of Essos, the exiled Targaryens are plotting their return to Westeros. The deposed heir, Viserys Targaryen, is planning on marrying his sister, Daenerys, to a Dothraki warlord named Khal Drogo. This marriage, he hopes, will provide him with the army he needs to return to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne.

The first novel thusly opens with these three story lines and ends with all three being poised on a cliffhanger note. At the Wall in the north, the giant ice-barrier that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the north, the Wildlings are apparently fleeing their villages, prompting the Night’s Watch to go and investigate. When only one man returns, he claims to have witness White Walkers, but is executed for desertion. Meanwhile, Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and head of House Stark, is visited by King Robert, the man he helped become king. Robert needs a new Hand of the King, seeing as how his old one, Lord John Arryn, has died suddenly. Ned agrees and travels to King’s Landing to take up the role, and quickly become privy to the conspiracy that took his predecessor. Meanwhile, on the continent, Viserys succeeds in wedding his sister to Khal Drogo, an arrangement which begins to backfire on him when he realizes that Drogo and Daenerys are actually falling in love with each other, and are perhaps planning on cutting him out of the deal.

(Spoiler alert!): Things come together as John Snow, Lord Eddard’s bastard son, joins the Night’s Watch and begins to witness for himself what is happening the North. An attack by wights, the resurrected bodies of people killed by White Walkers, begin attacking the Wall itself. After his own uncle fails to return from a patrol beyond the Wall, Lord Mormont prepares a campaign to go north in force and meet the threat head on. For John, this means turning his back on the troubles of his family to the south. When news reaches him that his father might be in danger and his half-brothers riding to war, he is tempted to desert and ride to their aide. But as a sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch, he is bound by honor to serve until death, even at the expense of his true family.

At King’s Landing, Eddard soon uncovers the conspiracy that claimed the life of John Arryn and even involves an assassination attempted on his own son. It seems that the Queen, Cersei Lannister, is engaged in an incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime, who is one of Robert’s Kingsgaurd. Before he can inform King Robert, Robert is crippled during a hunting expedition and dies shortly thereafter. Eddard is forced to move quickly to ensure that Joffrey, Cersei’s eldest son, does not take the throne. However, his attempts are thwarted when Lord Petyr Baelish, the Master of Coin, betrays him to the Queen. Eddard is executed by the brutal and stupid Joffrey, and his daughter – Sansa, who was betrothed to him – is now his hostage. Ned’s youngest daughter, Arya, escapes with the help of a Night’s Watch brother who disguises her as a boy recruit, and they travel north together. In response to his father’s death Ned’s oldest son, Robb Stark, declares war on the king and mobilizes every house in the north to march on King’s Landing. They are joined from forces to the far south, led by Robert’s brothers, Renly and Stannis who were next in line to the throne. However, rather than declare their fealty to either of Robert’s brothers, Robb’s bannerman declare him “King in the North”, using this war as a pretext to declare independence from the south.

On the continent, Drogo and Daenerys fall in love and she learns that she is pregnant with his heir. This, plus the fact that his sister is able to stand up to him now, leads Viserys to force the issue with Drogo. During a feast, a drunken Viserys threatens Drogo by declaring that he’s taking his sister back and will cut his son to be right out of her belly. Unless of course he gets what he wants, which is the golden crown he covets. Drogo responds by having his men break Viserys’ arm and then hold him down while he prepares a pot of molten gold which he proceeds to pour on Viserys’ head. His promise of “a golden crown” is thus fulfilled! Free of her abusive brother, Daenerys tries to convince Drogo to take the Iron Throne for their son, but Drogo is reluctant, until a would-be assassin sent by Robert’s court tries to poison Daenerys. Enraged, Drogo declares that he will conquer and ravage Westeros, but unfortunately succumbs to a festering wound during combat with one of his own men. Daenerys tries to save him using a slave’s witchcraft, but is betrayed and loses her son as well. Most of the Dothraki move on, and she is left with just a small host, her advisor Jorah Mormont, and the dragon’s eggs he gave her as a wedding gift. When she burns Drogo on a funeral pyre, she walks into the flames with the eggs, and miraculously survives! The Dragonborn, which all Targaryens are said to descend from, are immune to fire, and the eggs hatch to become the first dragons the world has seen in generations. Mormont and her host declare their loyalty to her, the true Dragonborn, and plot to reclaim Westeros with her!

Thus ends book I. And as I said, one can see the influence of real at work almost right away. On the one hand, Westeros is clearly styled on the British Isles, its northern/southern divide clearly an allegory for the divide between the English south, and the Scottish North. The Wall is clearly analogous to Hadrian’s Wall, the barrier that kept the “northern barbarians” at bay during the Roman occupation of Britain, and which serves a similar function in the book. The continent of Essos is also a clear reference to the European mainland, the Dothraki styled on the Huns or Mongols (invading horsemen from the East), whereas the free cities and slave cities are inspired by Asia Minor and its vast, ancient metropolises (more on that in book II). And of course, the royal intrigue, the very concept of the “Game of Thrones” – a reference to the never ending fight to claim the crown – is a fitting rendition of the actual royal intrigues taken from medieval history. Much like real wars of succession, it is loaded with secret alliances, plots, backstabbing, and of course, bloody civil war.

And the miniseries did a very good job of adapting all this to television. Naturally, any adaptation of Martin’s work would be hard pressed to adapt all the interwoven storylines, detail and events that characterize his writing. Still, the HBO miniseries did a pretty good job of getting all the relevant info in, making time for secondary perspectives without moving too far away from the main characters. And of course, there was the shocking scene where Eddard Stark is killed, much to the chagrin of television audiences who don’t expect main characters to die. Yes, that was masterfully done too. I myself was appalled and even angry at first, but respected them all the more for doing it. It’s what’s in the book and you can’t go changing major elements just because the audience might object. I hope they keep this in mind come season two. Rumor has it Jason Momoa is hoping they’ll bring Drogo back from the dead. Clearly he hasn’t read the books!

Furthermore, the casting was SUPERB! Sean Bean, a man who brings a touch of awesomeness to just about everything he does, was perfect as Eddard Stark. Mark Addy was also superb as King Robert, capturing his pudgy, teddy bear exterior and his bitter, angry personality! Lena Headey, of Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles and 300 fame, achieved a sort of perfection in the role of Cersei. I’m telling you, you seriously think she’s an evil bitch after seeing her in this, a tribute to her acting talent! Jason Momoa, who went on to play Conan in the remake of the Schwarzenegger classic, fit the bill perfectly as Khal Drogo. He was brutish, strong, manly and scary, but also endearing and loving at times. A good thing too, since the Conan remake kind of sucked! Emilia Clarke, a relative newcomer to the acting scene, was nevertheless very convincing as Daenarys, capturing both her frailty and quiet strength quite well. And last, but certainly not least, was Peter Dinklage, who played the role of the dwarf Tyrion Lannister to absolute perfection! Seriously, this guy has the best lines of the entire series as the rude, crude, but brilliant and bawdy black sheep of the Lannister clan. You love him, love to hate him, and sympathize with him, even when you’re shaking his head at his antics!

The rest of the cast, which is just too extensive to mention, was similarly awesome. Understandable given the fact that most of them are classically trained actors, people who cut their teeth doing Shakespeare and are therefore accustomed to performing epic roles. I wish I could do them all justice, but like I said, too many to count! I hope its enough just to say they were awesome!

And like most fans of the book and miniseries, I can’t wait for season two. The book was quite spectacular, picking up where book I one left off with war on the horizon and major battle in the works. And word is, cast and crew had a real hard time adapting the damn thing, it was just so epic in scope! But that only ensures that the outcome is likely to be that much more awesome to behold! A Game of Thrones, everybody. Read it, watch it, and then read book II because the series will be back soon! Not soon enough…

Stay tuned for my review of book II, A Clash of Kings, coming up next!

Sickness, more Alternate History, and some coming reviews…

Sickness, more Alternate History, and some coming reviews…

I hate being sick! Whenever the seasons change for me, I tend to come down with one of those colds that comes on hard and takes forever to leave. Well, this Fall season has been a double whammy, seems I’ve gotten sick twice in the last four weeks, which has meant a month of convalescing I could totally do without! But at least its given me time to ponder future writing projects.

For starters, I had an idea for an alternate history novel of my own. Its been something I’ve been interested in of late, as my reviews of Man in the High Castle, Fatherland and Guns of the South will attest. Reviewing Rabbletown by Mr. Attwood also gave me another push; somehow reading other people’s work always inspires me to write more of my own. And if there’s one thing I learned from reading other works of historical fiction, it is that there are two basic trends to every story.

1. History diverges due to key events happening just a little bit differently.
2. Ultimately, things converge again and familiar patterns reassert themselves.

Or, to put it mathematically, H = (Ce + Ha) / Env, where H is history, Ce is the Confluence of Events, Ha is human agency and Env is environmental (i.e. external) mitigating factors. Alteration of one (i.e. human agency) is what allows for divergence, but in the end, the other factors assert themselves and balance is restored. Okay, I totally made that up and it was unbelievably geeky! But also kinda cool, right? Ah whatever, my idea:

Red Sky At Night:

A working title, but one which was suggested to me by the maestra of title work (hi Katrina!) And given the title, one might suspect that Communism and/or Communists are the focus. They would be right! My story deals with a question that I’ve been pondering for a long time and with all the fiction I’ve read of late, stuff that deals with similar questions and “what ifs”, I began to turn it into an idea. In short, my story is based on the question of what would have happened had Leon Trotsky come to be leader of the Soviet Union instead of Stalin?

To be fair, this question has been asked by generations of historians and communists alike, particularly the latter group who wanted to distance themselves from Stalin after the full weight of his crimes and megalomania had been exposed. But for historians, the question is more academic, motivating by genuine interest instead of personal beliefs. Overall, they are simply interested in whether or not Trotsky would have been any gentler, or the course of Soviet history any different, had he been in charge.

But first, a little preamble. You see, it is one of the great questions of history why Trotsky did not disavow Stalin when he had the chance. Before his death, Vladimir Ilyich Ilyanov (aka. Lenin) wrote in his “Final Will and Testament” that Stalin was a rude, ruthless man who should never be allowed to have power. Trotsky was seen as the natural successor, and this Will could have shattered Stalin’s support. Stalin’s allies helped him to prevent the Will from being revealed at the 12th Party Congress; however, at the 13th, Trotsky could have revealed it to the Party and done irreperable harm to Stalin’s reputation. Instead, he made conciliatory speech that was intended to heal the rift between himself and Stalin’s followers.

However, this did not prevent Trotsky from being ejected from the Party, put into exile and murdered some years later. So the question of why – why DIDN’T Trotsky denounce Stalin when he had the chance? – has never been successfully answered. We can assume any number of things, but it is at this point irrelevant. The real question, as far as my idea is concerned, is what would have happened had he gone through with it? And that’s where things get fun… if you’re a history geek anyway!

For one, Trotsky wouldn’t have launched Stalin’s crash industrialization programs (aka. the Five Year Plans) in the later 20’s. In all likelihood, he would have continued Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP, which allowed for a degree of privatization) and when the big economic crisis loomed, have appointed Bukharin to deal with it (as opposed to purging him as Stalin did). This would have led to the slow recovery of the Soviet economy, and when the Great Depression hit in 1929, Russia would have continued to be spared the worst ravages of it while similarly showing signs of growth.

In addition, the Communists in China would not have been cut off as they had been by Stalin in the 1920’s. Chiang Kai-shek would have continued to fight them, but there would have been no massacre, meaning the Chinese communists would have been stronger and in a better position to dictate terms to Chiang when the Japanese invaded in the late 20’s. As a result, the Japanese army would have encountered stiffer, unified resistance as it fought its way south years later.

Similarly, in Europe, when the Nazi’s come to power in 33, Trotsky would have thrown his country’s support behind the German Social Democrats and would have committed the Comintern (Communist International Organization) to fighting Hitler once he seized power. Over the course of the next few years, during the re-militarizing of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the Spanish Civil War, and the Sudenten crisis, Russia would have been the most outspoken advocate for resistance.

This had the effect of inspiring people from other nations, particularly France, England and Czechoslovakia, into doing the same, often in defiance of their own governments who sought accommodation. Combined with the fact that Russia’s heavily regulated economy had avoided the scourges of the Depression, these acts of support would convince many foreign nationals of the need to stand with Russia. And without Stalin’s own paranoia and megalomania to discredit and embarrass the Soviet Union and its supporters, these efforts were far more successful.

Finally, after years of advocating Collective Security through the United Nations, Trotsky’s Foreign Commissar – Maxim Litvinov – saw his efforts to create an anti-fascist alliance comes together. During the Sudeten Crisis of 38, Hitler found himself being resisted on all sides. France declared that it would mobilize to help the Czechs since Russia was promising the same. Britain, fearing a Communist victory in the next election, mobilized to pressure Poland and Romania to come to a right of passage agreement with Russia, rather than pressuring Czech president Benes to concede the Sudetenland to Germany. As a result, Hitler was overruled by his own commanders and forced to stand down.

Hilter was unable to recover from this political setback, and when Germany similarly suffered an economic recession a year later, his support dwindled further. By the end of 1939, he found himself ousted from power and the SPD was restored. Mussolini and Franco, one-time allies of Hitler’s, were also brought to heal, the Italian dictator going as far as to relinquish his countries control of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and remove all his troops from the Balkans. In Asia, Japan also found itself without a friend and was forced to withdraw from the Chinese mainland. Europe and the world celebrated as it seemed that the aggressors had been contained and another world war had been averted.

But this jubilant mood did not last long. Without World War II and the post-war reconstruction to stimulate the economies of the western nations, the Depression continued for several more years. The post-war population boom similarly did not take place. Instead, Europe and the Anglosphere witnessed slow recovery as nations on the continent resorted to increasingly socialist measures to address their economic woes and closer trade ties were established with Russia. Russia, now enjoying cordial ties to most European nations, similarly began to open its economy and its borders to foreign investment and tourism. By the late 40’s, most economies had pulled out of the Depression through a combination of social programs and regulated trade.

This had the added effect of creating a rift between the Continent and Britain, a country that prided itself on its free markets and traditional liberal approach. As socialism began to take root from Lisbon to Vladivostok, Britain sought new alliances to protect its way of life. They found it in the US, which was once again experiencing a Red Scare and cracking down on communists, labor leaders and protesters. Together, they created a secret alliance to protect their mutual interests and continued to eye the Continent with suspicion.

Relations were further strained when in the 1950’s, India began to demand independence. Without the threat of Hitler, the British government had never come to an agreement with Ghandi for the sake of independence. What’s more, agitation on behalf of Europe’s new socialist organizations became a constant source of irritation. Though France was loath to give up its own Empire, pressure from the League and its own populace was mounting. In time, France gave up trying to work with Britain to find a common solution, began disbanding its own empire and urged Britain to do the same. Britain refused and held on to its possessions, but by the early 60’s, virtually every French speaking colony was free and joined the League of Nations.

Which brings me to the opening of my story. It is the early 60’s, the world is divided between two major blocs – the League of Nations and the Anglo-American Alliance – and in between are dozens of nations that are either neutral or part of one or the others sphere of influence. Relations between the two sides are strained as competition for markets, alliances and weapons have reached a tipping point, and some are beginning to fear the possibility of open war. Within this talk of war are even more frightening rumors that both sides are researching advanced technologies – rockets, jet engines, super computers, and even (God forbid!) atomic weapons…

So as you can see, history unfolded quite differently due to the presence of one man instead of another. However, in time, the familiar patterns reasserted themselves. While World War II did not take place from 39-45, it does appear on the horizon by 1960. While there was no Cold War to speak of after 45′ between two nuclear-armed superpowers, a state of detente exists between two similar global powers by the late 50’s with the prospect of a nuclear war by the early 60’s.

That’s all I got for now. More to follow just as soon as Data Miners is complete and my others ideas have panned out. That’s the fun thing about alternate histories though isn’t it? Since they have to do with past events, no one can ever accuse you of not being “current”, right? Who knows? If its successful, I might even write a sequel, Red Sky At Morning, about the aftermath. Thank you honey (my wife) for THAT title idea!

Coming Reviews:

On top of that, tackling “McDune” franchise in a more comprehensive way inspired me to do a more in-depth review of both the Legends and Hunters/Sandworms of Dune series. I’ve shellacked the latter ones before, but I’d like nothing better than giving them a good, specific thrashing! Fans of the elder Herbert, unite and hear me shellack! So, in the coming weeks, I hope to do a review of Hunters, the Machine Crusade, and possibly the Battle of Corrin and Sandworms as well. And since I’m almost finished with the A Song of Fire and Ice series (i.e. Game of Thrones, etc) I might publish some thoughts on them too. Can’t wait for season two of the miniseries! Go Starks! Screw the Lannisters!

P.S. for those who don’t know, Katrina runs a fun and fascinating website named Were You Wondering? She even lets me contribute for some reason… Here’s the link:
wereyouwondering.com

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Back to reviewing books!

Boy, its been awhile! It seems like so long ago I was reviewing “Virtual Light” and looking forward to doing the rest of the “Bridge Trilogy”. Well, I didn’t forget. In truth I was just about finished reading Idoru – the second book in the trilogy – but then I decided to leave it in Red Deer for some reason. I managed to get a new copy, but then, wouldn’t you know it, I bought the box set of A Song of Fire and Ice and then started reviewing someone else’s book for them too! Somedays, I tell you, I think I might have literary ADHD! So, given my obvious need for structure, I thought I might make a list of all the books I intend to read and review in the coming weeks and try to stick to it for once!

For starters, there’s Idoru, which I’m just finishing but need some time to digest. Not only is this an important book in Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy”, it is apparently what cemented his fame as an author after Neuromancer so I wanna take my time with it. But I will say that as far as first impressions go, I can see what the critics meant when they said this. Whereas Gibson’s earlier books tended to deal with cyberspace and the dark underbelly of society in the information age, this one tackled the vagaries of celebrity and media in said same era.

A follow-up with All Tomorrow’s Parties will then be necessary to complete the trilogy, and because I already bought the book. Thank you Amazon for your slow but reliable delivery system! Then, I shall turn to my pile of Kindle books since I’ve been scooping them up ever since my friend from Red Deer (hey Chi!) bought me this iPad! I tell ya, the thing is not the best typing implement, but man is it good for reading! I actually get more done on it than with a conventional book, may the God of paperbacks forgive me (blessed be his cellulose appendages)!

Speaking of which, that would be where A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin (“the American Tolkien”) comes in. After getting hooked like crack on the HBO miniseries of “A Game of Thrones” which covers the events in the first novel, I got myself the box set for my Kindle app. Well, truth be told, I bought the second book and THEN bought the box set on Kindle. Quite looking at me like I’m drugs, it was a deal I tell ya! And yes, I was hoping to buy them individually, but three books in paperback or all four on Kindle for roughly the same price, before the added cost of shipping and handling? You do the math! Besides, duplicates don’t really count if they’re not taking up space on a shelf, right?

However, all those must wait until I finish reading and reviewing a book by a fellow self-pub ebook author who goes by the name of Randy Attwood. His book Rabbletown: Life in These United Christian States of Holy America is an interesting look at fundamentalism in America and a new dark ages. This authors book came to my attention by way of my writers group, The Herscher Project, a few weeks back and I agreed to take his book on and give it its due. Look for my review in the coming days! I should also take this opportunity to mention that this same group will be putting out an anthology shortly, a collection of the group’s dystopian narratives from over the years. Look for it in ebook format when it comes out, and pay close attention to a little story called “Domicile 4.5”. I’ll give ya a hint, it’s by me 😉