Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why Book 4 Is So Much Better on the Reread

CAUTION: This blog post contains many SPOILERS!! The spoilers go into Book 5 as well, so don't read this post unless you have read the ENTIRE Game of Thrones series as of 2013! (Including the shiny new paperback Book 5, which was one of the best packages I've received this year!)

The reason why I love Book 4 so much more on the reread can be summed up in this quote from the book: “Jaime's golden hand cracked him across the mouth so hard the other knight went stumbling down the steps. His lantern fell and smashed, and the oil spread out, burning. 'You are speaking of a highborn lady, ser. Call her by her name. Call her Brienne'” (Martin 583).

The first time I read through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I was averaging about two weeks per book...until I dashed into the ponderous tome of A Feast for Crows. I took a month to read through it, slogging through the Greyjoy parts, trying to hurry through the Brienne parts, latching on to any Arya or Sansa chapter like a drink of cold water, and missing Jon, Dany, and Tryrion like nothing else! Jaime kept me going, and Arianne was cool, but if I was forced to endure another Victarion chapter I was prepared to shriek and steal all of Martin's breakfast burritos. Most first time readers encounter such a roadblock. Martin has drawn them into his world with intriguing people, and without these people, readers can feel a bit like first time mountain climbers without a guide.

As devoted fans know, it's worth the effort, and Book 5 redeemed anything left wanting in Book 4. At least that's how I felt after my first read. Yet on my reread, I was startled to find that I was actually enjoying Book 4. I had been dreading Book 4 all through Books 1-3, but found that as I began the feared novel, I was eating it up like a waif with a bowl of brown in Flea Bottom.

After being drawn into the world of Westeros and Essos upon my first introduction to the series, I was eager for anything else Game of Thrones-related, whether it be Martin's short stories, the atlas of huge color maps, or fan theories from Reddit. And what better means to relay more detail than Martin's own books? Books 1-3 advance the story, but Book 4 lets us explore the world. Some of the exploration isn't much fun, like Aeron Damphair's dialogues about the Drowned God (easily the most flat and lifeless of the religions of the Seven Kingdoms. One might say the religion had drowned, but did not rise again harder and stronger), while other exploration leaves us breathless with excitement, such as Sam's chance encounter with Arya, or Arianne's startling discovery about her father's true purpose in the game of thrones. And while Cersei drives most readers crazy, her chapters supply a fascinating character sketch into the mind of a person who got everything she thought she wanted and ruined her dreams before she really had time to savor them.

It's truly astonishing how Martin can guide a reader from loathing a certain despicable man who pushed a child out of a window, to causing us to cheer for that very same man. His character development is at its best in Book 4. Jaime is still dreaming of Cersei at the start of Book 4, but by the middle of the book, he is already beating up knights who insult Brienne by referring to her as a “freak” instead of by her name. And Brienne finds herself thinking of Jaime as she passes landscape they had traveled through together, but finds it hard to recall Renly's face. Two characters who seemingly had nothing in common now find themselves caring about each other from afar, though whether this is for their boon or their doom no one can yet say.

Martin gives readers nuggets of revelation in Book 4, and one nugget that I really enjoyed came during Aemon Targaryen's final days. Easily one of the wisest men in Westeros, his death is one of the truly heartbreaking yet often overlooked events of the series. What if he had been with Jon as Jon allowed the wildlings to pass through the Wall? What if he had even been able to counsel Danaerys? What if he had reached Oldtown, and had reached out to the community of those who had lit a obsidian candle? Past what Aemon could have done, however, is what he reveals about the engrossing desire common to all Targaryens. The same man who counseled Jon by relating his own examples of staying true to his vows as Targaryens rose and fell reveals to Sam his deep obsession with dragons. “'I see them in my dreams, Sam. I see a red star bleeding in the sky. I still remember red. I see their shadows on the snow, hear the crack of leathern wings, feel their hot breath. My brothers dreamed of dragons too, and the dreams killed them, every one. Sam, we tremble on the cusp of half-remembered prophecies, of wonders and terros that no man now living could hope to comprehend...or...or not...Do this one last brave thing for me. Go down to the ships, Sam. Learn all you can about these dragons'” (Martin 545). Even Aemon, perhaps the man who suffered most to keep his vows, dreamed of dragons at the end. We hear of the Targaryens' passion for dragons, but I did not truly understand until this passage. It is a part of their psyche, so deeply inbedded that even frozen decades at the Wall could not uproot it. What will this character trait mean for Aegon Targaryen, since Dany holds the dragons as of the end of Book 5?

Martin alludes to several important people and places in the Seven Kingdoms that we only get a glimpse of until Book 4. One such place is the Vale. Of course we see the Vale briefly in Book 1, but we don't see the power of the Vale, only the madness of Lady Lysa, and then afterwards all we hear is mentions of the great, untapped army in the Vale that no one has been able to call forth. Littlefinger and Sansa/Alayne bring us into this hidden Vale, and I have a feeling we're about to see a lot more with Sansa's betrothal to Harry Hardyng. It will be interesting to see what role the Vale plays in the upcoming books...will they rally to the Lannisters? Will they ally with the Targaryens, and if so, which Targaryen?

Martin keeps us asking questions as well, questions that might escape a first time reader, but become much more vital on the reread. For example, what in the world happened to Tyrek Lannister? He seems like a pointless character, yet Martin keeps mentioning him enough to make me think that something will come of all that mentioning. If Tyrek was simply thrown into the Blackwater, I would be very disappointed. Also, do the Hightowers know something of Aegon's coming? They are a major house, yet we've heard hardly anything of them at all, and the same thing goes for the Daynes. I suspect there are many major houses that we've been only briefly introduced to who will become vastly more important when Aegon lands in Westeros (and is it simply chance that he shares the same name as the fabled Conqueror?) These are all small pieces, but I get the feeling that Martin is going to use all the small pieces to conclude his mysterious series.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments you agree with me about Book 4? Why or why not? And has everyone been persuaded to call Jaime their favorite character as well?

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  1. Nice read, thanks !

    I found all of the books equally in regard of it's quality, for one reason or another. Funny thing is, personally I take my sweet time reading any sort of books, large books like the in the ASOIAF series usually takes me 8-10 weeks, but AFFC? 2 weeks.

    I think it says a lot, at least to me about the thing that AFFECT offers, something totally different that you don't get from the other 4 books, something that a lot of people were looking out for but didn't receive until AFFC, I dont know what it is, but I'll say that it's just a bit below ASOS for me, just because ASOS is just way too fucking awesome.

  2. I loved book 4 for the context that it brings! Especially intriguing for me was the in-depth look at the religions of the Fire and Ice world... I'm interested to see if the Drowned God plays an integral role in subsequent books or falls into the background as a 'lesser' god. I'm excited to see where Martin takes the upcoming clash of religions!