Top positive review
Suitors angle for Dani's hand - and dragons
Reviewed in the United States on October 31, 2018
This returns us to the main characters we saw little of in the previous book - Tyrion, Dani, Jon Snow - but meanwhile adds subplots not present in the TV series, or edited out for brevity. By the end the story lines are significantly different, although you can see where they might still converge with television’s.
The previous book focused on Westeros’s center and southlands, this one on its north and the eastern continent of Essos. The free cities, those of Slaver’s Bay, and the companies of mercenaries are all in upheaval with Dani Targaryen’s freeing of slaves. We learn just how subtly the eunuch Varys has plotted for years. We see Westeros, devastated by years of civil war, as the forces in its north sort themselves out.
Tyrion Lannister, a price on his head after murdering his father, heads east, aided by Varys, to offer his services to Dani Targaryen as he dreams of revenge against sister Cersei. Before he falls into Jorah Mormont’s hands he first encounters the merchant Illyrio and then a small group transporting him east, from whom he learns much of Essos. He finally realizes who the group is: yet another Targaryen claimant to the Iron Throne, protected by a knight once close to Dani’s older brother, the late Prince Rhaegar.
Dani, ensconced in Meereen, struggles to rule the fractious city she conquered despite acts of terror meant to destabilize it. Two of her growing dragons are chained up, but a third is loose somewhere and Dani bears the guilt of it having (allegedly) killed a child.
Suitors angle for her hand. As her rule teeters, she vacillates over whether to make a loveless match benefitting her subjects, or to hold out for something better. She yearns for the Dothraki warlord Daario, off on a mission, but when he returns she realizes he’s not king material.
A suitor from the Martells in Dorne — the family of Dani’s slain sister-in-law — secretly makes his way east to find and court her. Pro-slavery armies from other cities besiege Meereen. What all these suitors want is the Iron Throne - and Dani’s three dragons, the nuclear weapons of the era.
Jon, Lord Commander of the Night Watch at the Wall, coexists uneasily with Stannis Boratheon who bailed them out against the wildlings. Stannis prickles against Jon’s refusal to take his side, as the Night Watch must remain neutral in Westeros affairs. The watch is a shadow of its former self, its stores tapped to feed Boratheon’s army and the defeated wildlings, its numbers decimated by war. Jon must rely on enemies and surrendered wildlings for manpower to guard against the living dead they know are coming from the north. And many of the Night Watch brothers resent his having allowed wildlings through the Wall, his efforts to make peace with them, and to rescue a large group now starving and threatened by the undead wights.
Theon Greyjoy finally emerges as Reek, the hideous Ramsay Bolton’s maimed and cowed prisoner. Bolton plans on marrying Arya Stark to seal his claim to Winterfell and the north, but has no idea his intended is an impostor.
Theon’s sister Asha, having failed to become Ironborn queen, holes up in a captured castle. Her uncle Euron, the new king, has married her off in absentia to a fat old lord, is likely coming after her, and Asha must plot her future. (While sporting with other lovers. She’s a pirate queen!) The TV show had her sailing east with Theon to aid Dani Targaryen, but here that’s done by Euron’s brother Victarion.
Bran, wandering in the north accompanied by Hodor, the Reed children and his direwolf Summer, is now accompanied by a mysterious ranger, a wight somehow still human and devoted to protecting him. We learn what’s up with wargs, humans who can psychically inhabit animals’ bodies, and there’s much of this in the Starks’ relationships with their direwolves. Bran is openly one; Jon has warg tendencies which he hides but which others suspect, and his enemies taunt him with it. I have been impatient with Bran’s story line in the novels as well on TV, but after reading this, it and the whole warg thing make more sense.
This book, the last released so far, ends far short of the story line on TV, and with plenty of snow as far south as King’s Landing. Winter is definitely here.