It’s finally here! I only preordered the damn thing back in February of 2013, and now I have it in my hands.
Before I begin, a word about structure – I am not going to be writing a full essay per chapter, or at least not now. That would put a GRRM-sized dent in my progress in ACOK, and in the case of material we already know about, it wouldn’t be a very interesting essay to write “well, already knew this.” So instead, I’m going to write in bullet points, similar to how I did the Quick Analyses, in part because I’m going to be building on them for the sections of this book that we’ve been fortunate to see ahead of time.
So here goes…
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE. DUH.
- I liked the crossed-out names on the dedication. Nice touch.
- the Citadel operates a writing service for the poor, take in foundlings. Although not out of the goodness of the heart as much as out of enlightened self-interest and in this case,
- Archmaesters are ranked by ring, rod, and mask – what’s interesting about this is that we’ve yet to see Archmaesters wearing any element of this regalia, and given that we’ve met some archmaesters not wearing their regalia, I’m clearly wrong in my belief that the mask was used to establish an element of anonymity, a la the masked lords of Waterdeep. So maybe more like academic regalia in the old European universities? However, I still hold that it suggests an extent to which the Archmaesters of the Conclave and the Seneschal are the real powers in the Citadel, with the Grandmaester being a powerless figurehead.
- Maester Yandel (Elio and Lindaaa) got his first link at 13, and took 7 years to complete his chain. An early start and a quick learner for our maester.
The Dawn Age:
- I like the debate over the age of the world; very much //ing medieval debates.
- One thing that I noticed with the full book in my hand is which cultures are mentioned as having texts that the maesters know about – the Andals, the Valyrians, the Ghiscari, and the people of Asshai. The first three are to be expected, but it’s quite surprising that the people of Asshai have spread their ideas so widely, given how far away they are from Westeros, and it’s also surprising we don’t hear about the writings of the Qartheen or the people of Yi Ti (at least not yet) anywhere near as often.
- “The giants living uneasily alongside the children, ranging where they would and taking what they wanted.” This would fit in with the mythological portrayal of giants as emblematic of hunger and greed (see the Cyclops, the man-eating giants of Attack on Titan, etc.).
- Cregan Stark’s maester was into archaeology. Interesting…
- I would give many eyeteeth to read Maester Childer’s book on the Starks of Winterfell.
- Bran the Builder learning the True Tongue from the Children of the Forest, or “those who sing the song of earth,” which would explain how he built the Wall. So maybe the elemental theorists are wrong and the Wall = earth magic, not ice magic?
- “Wed to the Sea: Being an Account of the History of White Harbor” – possible connection between White Harbor and Pentos? More evidence of the Squisher/Merman Conspiracy? Seaside regions developing sea-based religions?
- The greenseers could speak with animals? Or even speak in animal form? Cool…and further convinces me that Bran’s going to speak with Stannis and tell him the secret of Winterfell’s walls.
- I like that seeing the future is more difficult than seeing the past. Consistent with my arguments about prophecy from BLAH Episode 8.
- The Children lived as far up as the Lands of Always Winter – possible evidence for the Others as Unseelie Children?
- The Children living in tree towns – how old is the hidden village that the Lady of the Leaves lives in?
- Gendel and Gorne mediate between the COF and giants, only 3,000 years ago! And that’s how they find the entrance to the tunnel….interesting. I wonder why Mance never sought out the COF?
- I love Septon Barth as the weird uncle the Citadel doesn’t like to talk about. And the things he’s interested in…if it’s true the Children can speak with ravens, does that mean the Children know about the Grand Maester Conspiracy?
- The third race? Squishers?
The Coming of the First Men:
- arrival between eight and *twelve* thousand years ago? There goes the timeline. Maybe the Andal invasion is later than we think, but the First Men are ooooold.
- Interesting that we see so little in the way of First Men presence in Dorne if they landed there first. You’d think there’d be archaeological evidence. And why so fast a move from the Broken Arm to the North? The ancestors of the Native Americans took around several thousand years before they moved off the Bering land bridge, and it seems like the First Men took a few decades at most.
- “brought with them strange gods, horses, cattle, and weapons of bronze” – who were the gods? Obviously the Storm God and the Sea Goddess and the Drowned God, but any others?
- Children of the Forest’s military caste known as “wood dancers” – I wonder how much Warhammer Fantasy Battle the authors played back in the day?
- Greenseer magic – foresight, warging, water magic? Odd mix. I do like the rationalist critique from the maester.
- Don’t think much of the art of the Children, they look way too human.
- The Pact seems more interesting when you consider that the weirwoods are both living gods, ancestor spirits, and the future burial place of the greenseers. No wonder the Children were willing to give up so much to keep them.
- Green Men extant on the Isle of Faces. I wonder who’s close to there?
- Also, I’m really curious how Howland Reed, Rhaegar Targaryen, and Lyanna made it to the Isle of Faces if the Green Men guard it with nature magic so fiercely.
The Age of Heroes:
- State-building among the First Men almost immediately, “forging the seeds of the kingdoms that are the ancestors of the Seven Kingdoms we know today.” Terrible mixed metaphor, but good to see social processes at work.
- Given what they’re about to write, I’m surprised the in-universe authors didn’t note the weirdness of Artys Arryn as listed as part of the Age of Heroes, given that the Andals came thousands of years later.
The Long Night:
- Btw, the attention to archaeology and anthropology in this book is wonderful. Really makes the imagined scholarship feel so much realer.
- I love the way in which the Long Night is a universal myth, with different variations among the Rhoynar, the Asshai, the Yi Ti, etc. Reminds me a lot of the universal Flood myth that Neal Stephenson had so much fun with in Snow Crash.
- The Long Night really was a world-spanning event – the Rhoyne freezing.
- The “secret song” variant of the Rhoynar makes me think of the COF’s “song of the earth.”
- Even more evidence that R’hllorism originated in Asshai, which makes complete sense. A people who live in permanent shadow would come up with a Manichean fire/darkness theology.
- Woman with a monkey’s tail – super-Saiyan in Yi Ti?
- Northmen definitely practicing voluntary euthanasia in winter. No wonder the population is more sparse up there.
- I love the debate over the seasons, the idea that the seasons once would have been regular is fascinating. Also note that Barth argues the seasons are magical in nature – this guy’s research agenda is absolutely fascinating.
- 6,000 years or 8,000 years ago, we’re still talking about a damn long time. And the Starks survived all that time?
The Rise of Valyria:
- Old Ghis vs. Yi Ti as the first civilizations! Remind me again how ASOIAF perpetuates Orientalism?
- Grazdan the Great // Gaius Marius?
- The Valyrians claimed to be part-dragon….o.O?! Paging Maester Mendel…
- The Archons were an elected executive from Old Valyria! Of course! I should have predicted that back in Laboratory of Politics Part I. Hell, I should have predicted that from Volantine triarch(ons)s! And of course the Free Cities would use the term (it’s like the Gaetians, the Genoans, the French, and the Greeks using the term Consul after the Romans)…so the main difference is between the republics is legislative vs. executive-dominated?
- I like Fomas’ Lies of the Ancients – very revisionist/Beardian analysis.
- Barth argues that the people of the Shadow woke and tamed the dragons! Gods, this guy had his fingers in every mystery. Certainly, that would explain the provenance of Dany’s eggs, Bran’s dream about the dragons stirring beneath the shadow, etc.
- If dragons were so widespread in their habitat, shouldn’t we have seen more of a cultural/sociological impact? Or is it just without dragon-riders that they function more like natural disasters?
- Confirmation of my theory that the Ghiscari culture was wiped out during the war and has been cobbled together like the ancient Italians aping the Romans. So who gives a damn about whether slavery is part of their “authentic” culture?
- Valyrian slavery came from Ghis! Interesting, sort of parallels arguments about how Rome “accidentally” acquired a world empire after the Punic Wars, and thus lost its pure republican traditions.
- How far east did the Valyrian Empire go? Further than the Ghiscari? How close to Yinishar and the Bone Mountains did they get?
- Qohor and Norvos were religious colonies! I hadn’t thought about it, but it makes complete sense, given the importance of religion to both those places.
- Lys and Volantis as colonies that bought self-governance makes sense – and of course they had been ruled over by appointed archons and bought the right to elect their own. It’s just like the way that provinces of Rome had proconsuls and then during rebellions proclaimed their own caesars and augusti.
- Pentos and Lorath as initially non-Valyrian is quite interesting, I like the influence of nationalism on history. I do wonder why they didn’t mention Myr, given how differently Myrmen are described from Lysene, etc.
- I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts, right now before I even read to the chapters on the Free cities, that Tyrosh was a military colony.
- The slaver fleet of Braavos! Well, that makes sense – you’re not going to get to a city with the population of Braavos from a single ship. Also, you can really see the multiculturalism baked in from the start: “scores of races, a hundred tongues, and hundreds of gods.”
- Interesting tidbit about the free vs. slave legions of Old Ghis. And no mention of the Valyrian legions…I wonder if GRRM regrets double-dipping on the Roman legions?
- First inconsistency: Valyrian steel as folding and spells vs. alloy and spells.
- Only 227 Valyrian steel swords in all of Westeros. Good to know the number.
Arrival of the Andals:
- Iron weapons – no mention of steel just yet. Inconsistency or what? Incidentally, if the Andals did have steel at this point, that’s a much faster movement from Neolithic to Bronze to Iron to Steel than in our history.
- I hadn’t really realized how long the Andals lived in Andalos.
- Interesting interplay between the Rhoynar and the Andals and the Valyrians. Kind of surprised the Andals went first.
- The Andals took a weird as hell path to Westeros though, back to the Axe, then northwest? There’s not a lot of Axe to go through before you hit the ocean.
- The Andal invasion of the Vale being followed by a period in which Andal adventurers pour out of the Vale in search of kingdoms of their own does help to explain Lann the Clever.
- What happened to Erreg the Kinslayer? I wonder if the ghosts of High Heart drove him mad.
- Pour one out for King Arthur Tristifer the Hammer of Justice. Fighting the good fight.
- Children of the Forest in the Neck?
- I have no idea what the deal is with the Swan Maidens.
- From conquest to consolidation – very much Saxon/Celtic interbreeding going on. I wonder why we didn’t get more religious lapses // the Ironborn in remote areas?
Ten Thousand Ships:
- opening of the Rhoynar-Valyrian war seems very similar to the Punic Wars, with both groups brought in through their satellites.
- the Rhoynish civilization seems…a bit Star Trek utopian, everything “lovelier than the last.” Is this being written by a Dornish maester?
- Water magic! Ok, all of the sudden we’re in Avatar: the Last Airbender territory, and I’m kind of liking it. Watery walls – man, if only the Rhoynish had migrated to the Riverlands…Water wizards sinking entire towns, giant waterspouts raised against dragons.
- Political disunity is never a good thing up against a militaristic republic. “In these conflicts, the Valyrians emerged as victors more oft than not. The princes of the Rhoyne, fiercely proud of their independence, fought alone, whilst the Valyrian colonies aided one another, and when hard-pressed called upon the power of the Freehold itself.”
- Rhoynish-Andal conflict predates the Rhoynish arrival in Westeros. Interesting.
- Seems like a very extended conflict: “ the War of Three Princes, the Second Turtle War, the Fisherman’s War, the Salt War, the Third Turtle War, the War on Dagger Lake, the Spice War, and many more, too numerous to recount here.” 250 years all-told, that’s almost as long as the entire Targaryen dynasty.
- Old Man used to be Old Men. Amazing little synecdoche of loss there.
- Sarhoy gets the Carthago delenda est treatment – three dragonlords are enough.
- so that’s why Garin was known as Garin the Great. Hannibal parallel, with a bit of Phyrrus.
- So the Valyrian colonies get virtually wiped out and then the Valyrians send in the cavalry – wonder why they didn’t send in more to begin with. Arrogance?
- this account definitely makes the legend that Nymeria’s escape was enabled by a heroic sacrifice sound like gilding over a massive blunder.
- So, ten thousand ships…a million people on board? Maybe two?
- My god, the Rhoynar were unlucky on the way to Dorne. Reminds me a lot of the Odyssey crossed with the Aeneid.
- Interesting that the Stepstones are Rhoynish. I wonder if we’ll hear more about Dornish involvement with the Stepstones in later chapters?
- Nymeria’s mass marriage sounds a lot like a consensual Rape of the Sabine Women in reverse.
- Possible Inconsistency: Dornish metalwork in advance of the Andals, yet the Andals are described as having steel in the Vale section.
- On the other hand, let it be clear: the Rhoynish were more advanced than the Andals, who were more advanced than the First Men. Westerosi supremacy is a myth.
- What happened to the Dornish water witches? You’d think that would come in handy in the desert.
- The Yronwoods loved their titles, didn’t they?
- So we have the Yronwoods backed by the Jordaynes (Sandy Dornish?), Blackmonts (Stony Dornish), and Qorgyles (Sandy Dornish) vs. the Martells backed by the Fowlers (Stony Dornish?), Tolands (Salty Dornish?), Daynes (First Men?), and Ullers (Sandy Dornish). Definitely not the Stony vs. Salty conflict I had thought it was.
- The Daynes married into the Martells?! Fascinating!
- 3 invasions and 2 rebellions. No wonder they call Nymeria a warrior queen.
The Doom of Valyria:
- Increased trade right before the Doom; probably due to the Dragonstone outpost. I wonder what the pre-Targ “schemes and intrigues” were?
- The Valyrians delved too deep! Groan. Should have expected that.
- Barth thinks it was a collapse in blood magic! Well, the Faceless Men whacking the fire mages would explain things.
- The R’hllorites as anti-Valyrian is fascinating! And totally unexpected, given the mutual interest in dragons and fire.
- The Free Cities took out dragonriding Archons? That’s gutsy.
- Emperor Aurion – a fascinating lacuna. Very much getting the impression that: a. people who go to Valyria don’t live very long, and b. Euron is full of shit.
- The Sealord of Braavos provided a hundred ships to the Lysene! Called it.
- So Aegon torched a Volantene Fleet that was going to take Lys…
- Man, the Volantines have terrible luck.
- The description of the emergence of the problematic presence of the Free Companies is pure Machiavelli. Always nice to be right…
- Mantarys – suffering from effects of magical radiation?
And we’ll end it there. See you soon for Chapter II!