Black Ships by Jo Graham

In a time of war and doubt, Gull is an oracle. Daughter of a slave taken from fallen Troy, chosen at the age of seven to be the voice of the Lady of the Dead, she is destined to counsel kings.

When nine black ships appear, captained by an exiled Trojan prince, Gull must decide between the life she was born for and a most perilous adventure – to join the remnant of her mother’s people in their desperate flight. From the doomed bastions of the City of Pirates to the temples of Byblos, from the intrigues of the Egyptian court to the haunted caves beneath Mount Vesuvius, only Gull can guide Prince Aeneas on his quest, and only she can dare the gate of the Underworld to lead him to his destiny.

In the last shadowed days of the Age of Bronze, one woman dreams of the world beginning anew. This is her story.

Just as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon breathed new life into Arthurian legend, BLACK SHIPS evokes the world of ancient Greece with beautiful, haunting prose, extraordinary imagination, and a profoundly moving story.

Going into this book, I wasn’t aware that this was a retelling of the Aneid, told from the viewpoint of the Sybil who accompanied Aeneus on his journey. Once I realized this, I was intrigued, having only just read the Aneid two years ago. For a number of reasons though, the book never managed to truly click with me. On the plus side, this is an ambitious, detailed retelling of the Aeneid and the amount of research the author put into making this book shows. Each location has its own identity and character, be it in the religion, social customs, or government. In terms of creating a sense of place and history, Jo Graham definitely succeeds.

My main problem was with Gull herself. After losing almost all mobility in one of her feet due to an accident, her mother gives her over to the current Pythia to serve as an acolyte and eventually take over as priestess. Quite early on, Gull swears that she will forsake anything to do with life (since Pythia’s realm is that of death) and won’t take any lover (even though she’s allowed to, it’s only marriage that’s forbidden). Unfortunately, from a narrative perspective it meant that she felt so removed and withdrawn to the point that she almost didn’t feel human. I never really understood why she felt she needed to do this, which made me less than sympathetic towards her when she was angsting over whether to sleep with Xandros. It was entirely her choice to take her vows to the extreme and I didn’t get why she even did that in the first place. I know that Gull’s struggle in the book is to balance her affinity and devotion to the Lady of Death with her own humanity and desire to live amongst people and love them, but I never cared. It was almost as though she was so ensconsed in her role as Pythia that whenever she acted more human, it rang false.

Overall, there was a definite lack of urgency from Gull’s POV. In writing this, I’m trying to decide whether Gull’s story was even necessary when the true story is about Aenaeus and it’s through her eyes that we see Aeneus’ journey, his duty to his people, his fear of the fate of his people, and growing to be the ruler his people need him to be now rather than the ones of the past. Gull does have her own story, sort of, what with falling in love with Xandros and searching for the answer of how to save the cities from the dark age that’s falling over them due to the curse from Agamemnon’s blasphemy. However, those concerns always feel ancillary to Aeneus’ story and those struggles never gave me a real sense of who she was as a person. Again, she was far too removed for me to care about her.

The last problem I have is of a different nature and is related more to the Aeneid than the others. In Virgil’s version, Aeneus and his people reside in Carthage for a number of months where he falls in love with Queen Dido, who asks him to be her consort. He refuses and leaves, and Dido commits suicide. When I read the Aeneid in my freshman humanities class, we talked about how Dido was a stand-in for Cleopatra VII, the last ruler of Egypt before the Romans conquered the country and added it to the empire, and as such, Dido resembled the typical Roman depiction of Cleopatra as a sexual, unnaturally powerful woman who would bring men to their ruin. In Black Ships, Aeneus and his people travel to Egypt (since Carthage didn’t actually exist at the time of the fall of Troy) and Aeneus gets into a relationship with Bastemon, one of Pharaoh’s sisters who acts as his voice when he’s unavailable. I was disappointed that Bastemon’s portrayal remained similar to Dido’s – her sexuality and emotions are demonstrated as dangerous and out of control and her character was coded as an enemy to be subjugated for daring to ensnare and steal Aeneus from his people.

I had high hopes for Black Ships largely due to reading a number of good things about Jo Graham’s writing and because ancient Greek history and mythology is fun to read about. The book definitely didn’t live up to my expectations and I’m now thinking twice as to whether I’ll eventually read her other books.

Disclosure – bought

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Karen Lord’s debut novel is an intricately woven tale of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit. Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi— who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord’s world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals is inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale—but Paama’s adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.

spoilers, sorta, about the structure of the ending

This book is smarter than me. Or it might be more accurate to say that the author is smarter than me. Probably both statements are true. I say this because this story is incredibly self-aware and consistently makes a point of showing off its structure, the types of characters and tropes it contains, the style in which it’s being told , and the overall “point” of the story being told in the first place. For example, nearing the end of the story I was thinking, “Ho hum, nice tale, but not a whole lot of compelling characters.” A couple of pages later, the omniscient narrator pops into say, “Duh, have you been paying attention to the type of story I’m telling here? It’s not the characters’ job to please you, nor is it mine!” It similarly castigates those readers (and I’m one of them) that typically groan at stories having obvious morals or lessons one’s supposed to learn at the end. And of course, the narrator says, “I told you in the beginning what the entire story was going to be about! Stop complaining!”

And what is the story about? Choices mostly, and chaos and human agency and how even with the presence of supernatural beings like the djombi, it isn’t entirely correct to blame them for all the bad things that happen, nor are they entirely responsible for saving human lives and pushing events in a direction they’re supposed to go because human choice will more often than not override attempts to have things go differently.

It’s funny, normally I would be really annoyed at a story told like this in which the narration explicitly explains what roles the characters in the story fulfill, what their motives are, and what the entire story is even about. However, the author tells the story in such a way that all of these asides and explanations are part and parcel of the story itself; it’s like a story typically told orally translated into a written version. Additionally, there are parts of the story in which readers is given the answer, but in a vague, roundabout manner, so they still have to do some fancy footwork to figure out what exactly has happened and what implications it will have the for the rest of the story. And I should say right now that the writing is so excellent – every single word feels carefully chosen and the story is told concisely without losing any detail, texture or depth. I am very envious of Karen Lord’s skill right now.

And yeah, in writing all of this, I haven’t said any thing about Paama and the journey she goes on, the chaos stick, and the various djombi sticking their noses into human affairs. This isn’t to say they aren’t integral to the story, but rather than being one of the most important parts, they share equal footing with all the rest of the components that make up this story. It’s one of those rare cases where every story is perfectly balanced. If you love meta in your stories and some seriously competent, assured writing, this book is perfect.

Disclosure – library

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire (InCryptid Series #1)

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity-and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…

SPOILERS

Seanan McGuire is one of those authors I wish I could fall in love with every single book they write. She has imagination. Do you know how many authors there are who have the ability to write crazy, unique stories that don’t look like anything else currently being written? Not many. But her books have been extremely hit-or-miss for me. I couldn’t get behind Rosemary and Rue, I fell in love with Feed (and to a lesser extent Deadline) which she wrote as Mira Grant, and I’m feeling mixed when it comes to Discount Armageddon. As seems to be the case when I have problems with books, I can’t stop focusing on what I *want* the book to be versus what is actually is.

The first thing was that I found the humor and snarkiness to be overwhelming to the point that it was no longer amusing and more annoying than anything else. Characters being snarky is sort of a standard thing in Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant books, and for the latter, the snark worked a lot better for me because it was in contrast with the all-too serious situation of a world overrun with zombies and a bunch of bloggers solving a mystery and chasing a conspiracy theory. I could easily have seen the story and the world in this book being written in a more serious manner than it was. You have your Cryptids who are starting to live amongst and coexist with humans more and more these days, there’s the Covenant of St. George who’s sole purpose is to eradicate all Cryptids whether they’re a threat or not, a family descended from members who left the Covenant to devote their lives researching the variety of Cryptid species, protecting the harmless ones, and keeping in control the more problematic one, and a bitter, raging feud between said Covenant and family. I would have preferred for this world to be written in a less comedic manner, particularly with regards to the main storyline. I couldn’t fully get behind the whole “there’s a dragon under New York City” plot and the ending was plain weird. The fact that the dragon princesses are humanoid and the male dragons aren’t and yet they mate with each other and have children… this is speculative fiction, and I could not buy this. I just couldn’t.

Also unfortunately, Seanan McGuire’s info-dumping does not look like it’s going away anytime soon. I was able to deal and not mind too much while reading, but it was frustrating. Granted, I’m not a writer and I’m honestly not sure what would have been a better way to disseminate all the information that needed to be told, but… yeah.

Another problem is that the protagonists in the author’s various books tend to have similar, edgy voices, though there is enough difference between them that it’s not a huge problem. I did like reading about Verity; she definitely has a fascinating life to say the least, what with being a Cryptid protector/ballroom dancer by day and a cocktail waitress by night. And I really liked reading about her family history and how they left the Covenant and have since been involved in the family business of cryptid protection/control/research. I did find it somewhat strange that their study is “cryptozoology” but some of the cryptids have human-levels of sentience, like Sarah, who’s Verity’s cousin. “Cryptozoology” sounds like it should be more insulting when implied to those types of cryptids. But that’s just me. The Aeslin mice were absolutely adorable in that schaedenfreude way where I’m glad they’re not interfering with my life but I’m perfectly happy to watch them get in the way of Verity’s with their daily religious ceremonies and continuous cheering of “HAIL”.

The budding relationship between Verity and Dominic was alright – it was enjoyable reading about Verity knocking him down a couple of pegs and him being all, “WTF this girl is my enemy, what is she doing now, why is she so goddamned infuriating, why does she keep kissing me, gaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.” I would have appreciated a bit more backstory since right now he seems like he’s just a random Covenant dude, but there’ll probably be more development down the line.

Discount Armageddon does possess a number of strengths, including an original premise, solid and imaginative world-building, consciencious attention to detail, a pretty sweet heroine, and Aeslin mice. However, weaknesses include an overload of snark, an overly lighthearted tone, and plot I wasn’t really able to invest in. Again, I really wish this book had worked better for me than it did. Even so, I will probably keep an eye out for the second book, just to see what’s going on in the next story.

Disclosure – library

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.

Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araené, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araené has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araené quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .

Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read.

I really liked the parallel between Trei and Araené’s individual struggles regarding the roles they were intended to fill and the ones they’ve chosen instead. In my eyes, Trei’s struggle is the more difficult one to overcome. Being half Toulounnese and half Islander, raised in Toulounn and having been relocated to the Floating Islands after the destruction of his family, Trei doesn’t know which nation he’s supposed to identify with and whether he should even be allowed to do so with whichever one he chooses. He’s accepted by the wind dragons to train to become a kajurai, but part of him can’t help but sympathize and identify with Toulounn’s attack on the Islands because he had never before questioned the inevitability or rightness of Toulounn as a conquering nation. I appreciated how this never become a cut-and-dry problem and even when Trei takes action against Toulounn on behalf of the Floating Islands, it’s not because he now thinks Toulunn is completely evil, but because the Floating Islands are where he has chosen to call home.

Araené, on the other hand, is caught between being the upper-class daughter she’s expected to be, the chef she wants to become, and the mage she seems to be developing into. The latter two require her to be male, and so she takes on that role to learn how to become that mage. While Trei is more confused and conflicted than anything else, Araené is fully bitter that this is what she was born into and her lot in life won’t change unless she drastically changes it herself.

The author’s writing was so. pretty. During the week that I was reading this, I hadn’t been in the mood to read any text for fun that required me to read slowly and pay attention (which meant I put the book aside more often than I meant to), but really, once I stopped trying to speed through and started lying back and appreciating the words she used and the descriptions she came up with, I fell in love. The language isn’t obviously obtuse or flowery, but the author has a way of stringing words together to describe flying, magic, dragons, and even the tastes Araené experiences in a uniquely evocative way. Just… gah. I almost want to apologize to the author for not reading this at a more optimal time when I would have taken all the time I needed to fully absorb how beautifully crafted her writing is.

I will say that the world in this book felt strange in some aspects, largely in that it was clear the author had come up with a very detailed plan for how this world works, what the different countries are like, cultures, outlooks on life, etc, but decided to only reveal a little bit of that information in the book. For example, Toulounn prides itself on its military strength, sees war as a game, and views conquering other countries as the natural order of things. “Toulounn soldiers are the best in the world,” goes the saying. But the way these facts were applied felt reductive, like any ambiguity or complexity was erased. Maybe I just can’t buy the existence of a conquering nation that has no sign of court or military intrigue whatsoever and that all of the military personnel and even the Little Emperor himself, would be fully honest and forthright to the point of fully disclosing future plans on conquering the Floating Islands a second time after being defeated.

Similarly, barely anything is mentioned about the difference in male and female roles in the Floating Islands, beyond the fact that women of good family learn to keep house, get married, aren’t schooled in any way, and supposedly aren’t mages. But when Araené learns she has the ability to become a mage, she doesn’t ask why she has the power in the first place. Obviously, the fact that she’s female is a huge impediment and something she’s very keen to hide, but it felt odd that she never stopped and questioned why on earth she was a mage when presumably she would have learned that all mages are male and no female mages exist or have existed. And then when all of her (male) compatriots and teachers find out she’s female, none of them go, “WTF, women aren’t mages!” and one of them even says, “Oh yeah, female mages actually existed a long time ago.” So… why was the gender divide even important in the first place?

This also extended to events such as the volcano that wiped out Trei’s family, the sickness that killed off Araené’s, the politics of the Floating Islands, and even the religion that seems to be shared by both them and Toulounn. I can understand not going into huge detail behind the first two things – they happened immediately and inexplicably and major, catastrophic events like that happen. But with everything else, it kept feeling like the author was doling out only as much detail as she needed to and not a drop more. By the end of the book, this was aggravating; the story ended up being simultaneously complex and simplistic.

All that being said, I do think Rachel Neumeier is a lovely writer and I do want to read more of her books. Trei and Araené were well-drawn characters and when she actually described and fleshed out the world she created, it was solid, detailed, and magical. I will probably read her other books during times when I am not drowning in work (which means I shouldn’t read them when the school year starts up again because Thesis!)

Disclosure – library

GoT Season 2, Episode 7: A Man Without Honor

DISCLAIMERS

I am so late on putting this up that it is not even funny. But I did it! This will be long because I still haven’t yet fully absorbed the concept of brevity.

Theon, you horrible bastard of a person. This storyline is unfolding beautifully, in the sense that it is horrifying to watch Theon unravel and lose control to the point that the only way he can get anything done is through violence. That ending scene was brilliantly done and so visceral. Maester Luwin’s reactions to the bodies? Heartbreaking. I will say that I am *so glad* I know how it all works out, otherwise I would have been throwing things at my laptop.

Sansa actually gets significant scene time! And plot development, kind of. Sansa and Shae’s relationship has actually started to grow on me, which is definitely a 180 from my opinion on it in the last episode. Just overall, I’ve really grown to like the Shae in the show as opposed to the Shae in the book. She actually feels like a character with thoughts and motivations outside those of Tyrion and other people, and it’s touching to see how much she’s come to care for Sansa that she’d willingly fight or kill to protect her. On the other hand, Shae and Tyrion’s storylines seem largely divorced from each other, and I wonder what implications that’ll have later on, given certain developments in A Storm of Swords.

However, it did feel like Sansa’s big scene with Cersei felt more about the former than the latter because in Cersei giving her the advice about how loving people makes you weak so you should only love your children, it felt like it was more revealing about Cersei’s character and Sansa was just the convenient person to tell this information to. That being said, I am really liking Cersei’s character development and think that so far, this season has done a good job showing the many sides that make up Cersei Lannister. She’s conniving, power-hungry, and ruthless, but she also loves her children with all her heart and wants so much to be the son she feels she was meant to be rather than the daughter she is. I *loved* the scene with her and Tyrion where Cersei’s growing fragility is on full display, as well as her growing acceptance of the fact that she’s failed spectacularly by letting Joffrey grow to be the monster that he is. Add her growing doubt over sleeping with Jaime in the first place and her fears of potential madness and divine retribution for doing so, and you get an absolutely brilliant scene where it’s almost as though Tyrion is seeing Cersei for the first time.

I’ve hardly commented on Tyrion throughout this current season and as of now, I think I know why. I was reading this post about the King’s Landing mob scene in A Clash of Kings and was reminded of the fact that Bronn tells Tyrion that the anger of the mob was largely directed not at Joffrey, but at Tyrion because they think that he’s the one pulling the King’s strings and is therefore the source of all the suffering the common people are experiencing. And this made me remember that Tyrion’s main goal in this book, and what it should be in this series, is for him to prove himself capable of assisting his family, leading a kingdom, and showing how powerful and necessary he is despite his stature and lack of physical abilities in a land that prizes strength and military might above all else in men. In the show, that’s not coming through at all. Yeah sure, there’s that one scene where a couple of guys appear to be getting religion and the speaker blames Tyrion for the land’s ills, but compared to everything else that’s happened in King’s Landing since then, it’s hardly noteworthy. This also means that Tyrion is a lot less interesting in the show than he could be because he’s not struggling with those internal demons and doing his job largely out of selfish reasons. Instead, he’s the “good” guy, trying to restore order to King’s Landing, beat Stannis’ fleet, and control Joffrey. All seemingly good things, or at least not egregious, but it definitely makes him more one-note.

I’m starting to understand the Arya/Tywin scenes a bit better now that they’ve had a chance to relax around each other. I love how both of them have now made clear to each other the game they’re playing, and have made clear to each other why they’ll let it continue. More than that, I love how Tywin’s enjoying it as an amusement and Arya’s getting practice for later down the line. I will say I was cringing a bit when Arya responds to Tywin’s inquiry about whether she shouldn’t be more interested in pretty things like most girls with a “Most girls are idiots.” It’s more of a meta problem because its Arya who’s saying this and Arya’s probably the most popular female character *because* she isn’t feminine, so that statement appears more OK coming out of her mouth than another character’s.

Ygritte and Jon, oh my god, those two are incorrigible. I enjoyed Ygritte’s snarky taunting about Jon’s sex life, though I thought it went on longer than was probably necessary. My favorite part was the argument about the difference between the Wildlings and those South of the Wall, just because it establishes her as a member of her own people who should be worth Jon’s consideration and respect instead of his disregard for them as enemies and a threat.

Jaime. Jaime, Jaime, Jaime. His escape attempt was definitely valiant, if completely unsuccessful. I hadn’t realized how much I missed him until he started cutting away at Alton Lannister and then at Catelyn. I will say I am extremely surprised that the show is having her release him now rather than closer to the end. I realize that one likely reason is so they can get a head start on events in A Storm of Swords. However, the placement of it in relation to Cat’s timeline feels off. In the books, she releases him out of one last hope of getting her daughters back. In the show, there’s no forethought to this decision, it just looks like an emotional outburst. And I don’t think she’s even heard about what “happened” to Bran and Rickon yet. I don’t know, I don’t care for the way they’ve ordered this sequence.

And then there’s Dany’s storyline. Which has been completely upturned and revised in a way I can’t comprehend. I mean, I’m ok with Xaro Xoan Dhaxos wanting to stick it to the other Qarthians and take over, especially if he as the resources and ambition to do so. But… it all feels forced. I mean, slaying almost the entire ruling body of Qarth and completely altering the political landscape is a huge deal! I give up even trying to understand the way this storyline is playing out, I just… gah. Do. Not. Get.

Things! They are happening! And so we inch ever closer to the end of this season.

GoT Season 2, Episode 6: The Old Gods and the New

DISCLAIMERS

My post about this episode will largely consist of me flailing about going “WHY WHY WHY?” at certain scenes. Yeah, there was some good stuff, but I largely spent the hour staring at my laptop thinking “WTF, why is this happening!?”

I was not entirely comfortable with Osha’s role in this episode being relegated to that of engaging in sexytimes with Theon so that Bran and Rickon can escape. It just feels really lazy. Sexy servant girl whom Theon had made creepy overtures to previously being a femme fatale? Not my thing. Also, were Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and Osha heading for the Godswood? I hope they double back and hide in the crypt because that was such a powerful image, them emerging from underground at the end of ACoK once Theon had been defeated and Winterfell was in ruins. I will say Rodrick’s beheading was really well done and was definitely a heartbreaking moment, especially with Bran sobbing and pleading in the background. And Theon being unable to do it with one stroke and reduced to hacking his head off… gah. I was questioning the logic behind putting Theon’s takeover of Winterfell at the beginning of this episode (I thought it would have made a good ending for the previous one), but it makes more sense now that they framed it around Rodrick’s beheading. But it does mean he won’t be returning to save Winterfell with an army later on, and this makes me sad. I will say I was disappointed that Rodrick didn’t call him Theon Turncloak – it’s a great name.

Something I was really unhappy with – Sansa’s near-rape. Yes, she got lost in the crowd and was in danger of her life. THAT DID NOT MEAN THAT SHE HAD TO BE ALMOST RAPED. What makes it even more infuriating is that once again, no sign of a storyline whatsoever. Where the fuck is Ser Dontos? Are the show runners going to allow her to do anything this season besides get verbally and physically beaten up? Also, I was a little iffy on Sansa trusting Shae. Sansa should know better than to trust anyone in King’s Landing, especially the Red Keep. She should know servants gossip and that many also serve as spies in addition to being servants. In the books, I am pretty sure Sansa is realizes this, especially after having lived in the palace for so long. Or this could just all be me grumbling because I can.

OK, what where some good things? Ygritte’s here! So far I like what we’ve seen so far of her character and I really like that Rose Leslie is playing her, I loved watching her in Downton Abbey). John Snow continues to be the emo-est of emos and make emo faces, especially when he was trying to screw up the willpower to kill Ygritte. Also he’s making a right fool of himself dragging her along as a prisoner when he doesn’t even know where he is or where he’s going, though I’m assuming he captured her rather than let her go so she wouldn’t give word to Mance. But he’s going to have let her go eventually, so… bonding time, perhaps? Set for the inevitable romance? Their interactions are great though, what with her going, “What the hell is this idiot boy doing? Fine, I’ll be a prisoner, Gods is he uptight!” Yeah.

Speaking of romance, more sparks are beginning to fly between Robb and Jeyne/Talisia? I still cannot tell if she is lying through her teeth about her name and being from Volantis or if she really is who she claims to be. Still, I’m liking their interactions. Robb fares a bit better at talking to his love interest than Jon does, though he’s still pretty unsure and fumbling around a bit.

I found Arya and Tywin’s scene to be a bit strange. He seems to be taking an uncommon interest in a seemingly lowly commoner cupbearer. Him interrogating her about her background made sense – that’s his right as Tywin Lannister. What felt off was Arya returning the favor and asking him about his father and him deigning to give a response. Also, when Amory Lorch is threatening to expose Arya’s subterfuge to Tywin, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask Jaqen H’Ghar to kill Tywin rather than Lorch? You know, take out the head of the entire Lannister army and a huge power behind the throne? Granted, she was thinking in the moment, and the most obvious threat at the time was Lorch. I did like the scene with Tywin, Arya, and Littlefinger and how the presence of that one person is what shook her unflappable calm because he’s the one person in Harrenhal who could expose her identity.

I have to say, I was not impressed with Dany in this episode. Previously when she acted all grand and powerful in front of the Spice King, I admired her for sheer guts and bravado. Here, she came off as petulant and naïve – the latter of which she definitely is, but the fact that she thinks all she needs is ships and an army to conquer Westeros and that she already has guaranteed support from within is almost laughable. Expecting the Spice King to give her ships and money for an army solely on good faith is even more so. It’s called diplomacy, Dany. One day you will find it very useful. To be fair, I was exasperated at her for having these assumptions in the books as well. BUT WHAT THE FUCK WAS UP WITH THAT ENDING? Practically the entirety of Dany’s khal is dead? And the dragons are being secreted away by some nefarious evildoer? Just… why? To give Dany’s storyline oomph? Yes, in ACoK her storyline is pretty lean. But what good does it do to kill Dany’s khal? The show effectively killed Dany’s connection to the Dothraki people for the rest of the TV story, rendering their very existence null and void, not to mention wiping out an entire group of PoC in the show. I think the death I’m most upset over is Irri’s because she was really starting to grow on me and I wanted more Dany/Irri time.

Interesting fact – both the fourth episode and this current one were penned by the same person, Vanessa Taylor and both scenes featured gratuitous, sexually violent scenes. And a lot of other violence and killing as well. Right now the thing I’m really mad about is Sansa. And the killing of the Dothraki. I’m tired that the show runners can only seem to conceive of Sansa as a victim. And as of now, I don’t like the direction Dany’s storyline is taking. I really liked the Theon/Bran scenes and Jon/Ygritte scenes, but otherwise, I am a grumpy pile of grump.

GoT Season 2, Episode 5: The Ghost of Harrenhal

DISCLAIMERS

So I guess the producers decided that since the last episode was filled with action and violence and gore that this episode should be more sedate and contain mostly conversations and character interaction. This is something I actually appreciated a good deal because there were some excellent character moments.

I am sad that Arya’s first victim was the Tickler, although it made sense from the show’s perspective. However, it does mean that he won’t be around for Arya herself to kill later in what would probably be the fourth season (if that ever happens). Ah well. But I loved the scene with her and Tywin and she barely misses a beat when he catches her lying once and dives right into another set of lies. This season, I’ve been really into the groundwork the show’s been laying for Arya’s storyline. She’s learned a bit about the power of names from Yoren, she’s now learned a bit more from Jaqen H’Ghar, and she’s probably realizing she needs to get better at lying and obscuring the truth from others. Also, I just love how at times she’s reserved, calm, and aware like when she’s with Lord Tywin and then turns around and snarks at Gendry for his bad fighting form. I should take the opportunity right now to state that I DO NOT ship Arya and Gendry. I just don’t. Arya’s arc is so far removed from romance as possible that it doesn’t even make any sense. Friendship? Yeah, it’s there. But Arya keeps herself to herself and she isn’t going to care about people any more than they deserve to be cared about. Also, Jaqen H’Ghar is amazing and I love him. So creepy and mysterious, so wonderful. His voice. God.

Another awesome moment was between Catelyn and Brienne. I think I really love this scene because it’s these two women who’ve quickly formed an unbreakable bond born out of the suddenness and tragedy that was Renly’s death. And just the fact that this episode makes clear that Catelyn is someone who deserves respect – she has courage, she’s intelligent, she’s loyal to Robb as both her son and king, she loves her children, and has both compassion and integrity. And Brienne sees all that, and so offers up her vow of fealty and protection to Catelyn. Not only that, but Catelyn returns Brienne’s respect for her own in acknowledging her unwavering devotion to Renly, her desire for vengeance against Stannis, and vowing that Catelyn will never force Brienne to behave dishonorably. Just… gah. The only downside is how they once again pulled the “mother” card for Catelyn and her desire to go back to Winterfell. I’m really feeling the loss of Riverrun and her father in the show.

Another lady being particularly savvy was Dany. First off, I was intrigued by the addition of what looks like a burgeoning conflict between Dany’s loyalty and obligations as a khaleesi to the Dothraki and her own personal ambition to conquer and reclaim Westeros. I really like the fact that in both last season and this one, Irri actually as more of a character! (Now if only the same could be said about Jhiqui…) But yeah, I hope this is explored a bit more. As of now, I greatly prefer this show’s Xaro Xhoan Daxos to that of the book. Here, he actually gets nuance, and I loved how he carefully paints his offer to Dany of gold and ships in return for marriage. He’s a self-made man who came from nothing and the woman he wed for love is dead. This marriage would purely be based on politics, self-interest and ambition, but according to him both would benefit. He’s careful to not portray himself as a threat, but merely someone who has ambitions that are on the same scale as hers. And yeah, he probably wants her dragons too, but right now he’s being careful and controlled in order to win Dany’s trust. Even though Jorah’s advice and warnings about Xaro are rational, it’s understandable why Dany fobs it off.

One theme I noticed running through a number of scenes was the question of power in relation to who’s pulling the strings. Davos advises Stannis not to take Melisandre with him to King’s Landing, saying that people whisper the Red Lady whispers in Stannis’ ear and he does whatever she says. The common people in King’s Landing distrust Tyrion as the “demon monkey” who’s pulling Joffrey’s strings. Dany has two men on either side of her telling her what she should do – Xaro Xhoan Daxos offers her money and resources to conquer Westeros in exchange for marriage while Jorah would have her set out on her own for Westeros and conquer the country from within. Arya is Tywin’s cupbearer and someone with seemingly no power whatsoever, but Jaqen H’Ghar’s repayment of his debt gives her an unexpected avenue of power, albeit through a secondary source of power. She holds three – now two – people’s lives entirely in her hands. In other cases though, such as with Theon and Bran, they give orders without taking into consideration the thoughts of others. Because he wants to be a Captain of his own ship and have his men actually follow him, he has to prove himself as one who can give orders that can be followed, which means being bold and decisive. Bran, on the other hand, is acting Lord of Winterfell and a Stark. This means when Torrhen’s Square is attacked, Bran doesn’t entertain any other option other than sending as much help as they can afford to defend them. To do otherwise is to fail in his duty as the protector of his people. Likewise, Margaery has ambitions of her own, beautifully demonstrated in the last line of her scene – “I want to be the queen.” Can I just say how much I LOVE Margaery in the show? Go on with your politically savvy badassery, you.

Things I did not like – Renly’s death happened way too quickly for my taste. The shadow was only there for a couple of seconds before it started knifing Renly. There was also no Sansa in this episode, which is problematic when you think about how there are only five episodes left and her story arc as laid out in A Clash of Kings has barely taken off the ground. No sign of Ser Dontos, nothing about any hopes and prospective plans about getting out of King’s Landing and going back to Winterfell. These things are *important*. In the book, she’s not just sitting around in the Red Keep trying to keep it together in front of Joffrey and Cersei – she wants to go home and in her own small way, she does what little she can do. She has fucking agency, goddammit. I’d sort of realized this already and tried to ignore it, but this episode made pretty clear that ten is definitely not enough to tell the entire story they want to tell this season. So many characters, so many storylines, most of them occurring in very different locations. It was always going to be tricky doing this, and while I loved a lot about this episode, it also made very clear how much the show is rushing through scenes to fit in as much as they can.

And yeah. I know I’m not doing a good job putting these up on time. This’ll probably continue for the next couple of weeks as long as I have final papers to write.