Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Review, 9/23/2011

First up, the Amazon widget I've been using to share links and cover images seems to have abandoned me. Until I can figure out what I did, we'll all have to do without. :(

Only one book this week:

George R.R. Martin - A Storm of Swords

I continue my re-reading of Martin's epic (yes, it qualifies; there are gods involved) fantasy series. The series continues bleak and grim. The prevailing colour is grey, with tones of black and snow white, and highlights of fire red, where people are getting consigned to the bonfires. Plot moves slowly forward, and Martin continues to muse on the meaning of civilization, and the role of a monarch/leader. Daneys continues to be the most viable candidate for legitimate ruler, on the basis of the fact that she is a) alive and b) not a complete monster and/or a child. Stannis finally steps up and does something kingly towards the end of the novel - a fine quote ensues. "I was trying to become king so I could save the kingdom. Now I've decided to save the kingdom so that I can be king." Or words to that effect - the book is in the bedroom with the sleeping baby. Will all this be enough, or will frost demons from Beyond the Wall destroy everything? That remains to be seen.

For the last book, I looked at the roles that Martin had given to women. For this book, let's take a quick look at the roles for men. Trigger Warning - some discussion of rape, towards the end.

Men in Martin's books can be found in a wide range of interesting roles. They can be king, for instance. There are no less than six different kings at one point (seven if you consider "monarch" instead of king and include Daneys). By the end of this book, however, four of those kings have died and one has been captured. One of the dead kings has been replaced, leaving two - Stannis and Tommen. But Tommen is an eight year old boy, doing what his council tells him to do. Being king is clearly not a career path with a great deal of depth to it.

Men can be knights and lords, too. Most of the male characters in these books are knights or lords. A lord might aspire to become the Hand of one of the Kings - his viceroy, his strong right hand, his chief lieutenant. Like king, however, Hand is not a job with a high survival rate - by the end of this book, two of four hands have died, and one is imprisoned and probably awaiting execution for treason, by bonfire. So that's not a lot of fun. Knight might aspire to join the Kingsguard (or, in the case of King Renly, deceased, the Rainbow Guard), a job which they can hold for life. In peace time, that would be nice, but the Kingsguard seems to be in a state of flux through most of these books - it's a dangerous job, and they make you wear a white cloak - an easy target. Run of the mill knights get thrown into battle, and that's a good way to die. Plus, the war that Martin is describing is a nasty, messy sort of war. Knights get captured, and, once captured, they are often subjected to painful situations - like spontaneous amputations. Men have a high mortality rate in these books.

Men who are not knights might well be soldiers. Martin hasn't really told the story of a run of the mill soldier yet - that might be interesting. Additionally, men who do not want to be soldiers might end up as outlaws - a band of outlaws (lead by the reanimated corpse of one of the Kingsguard, no less) features prominently in this book. That's a life of adventure, where adventure means running away a lot, and getting shot at by everyone.

Criminals, if they are not executed, might find themselves in the Night Watch, on the Wall, guarding the entire kingdom from frost demons, zombies, and Wildling barbarians. The Night Watch, through these books, are continually under staffed, under supported, and under appreciated. But, Winter is Coming, so that might change rapidly; we shall see. Anyway, life in the Night Guard is no picnic - it's cold on the Wall, and the chief cook is not very good at cooking. Plus, there's a good chance that someone will kill you, which is unpleasant.

Outside of that, men are sons and fathers and grandsons and grandfathers. They are husbands and brothers, as well. As such, they see their children die, or are used as hostages to keep their fathers in line. They see their sisters raped and killed, and feel obliged to avenge them (and/or die trying). For most of the men in these books, life is outside of their personal control. When kings battle, the common folk get trampled.

Men die, I think, more often than women in these books. However, no man, as far as I can recall, is ever threatened with rape. Women, however, are routinely in fear of rape. Martin presents an interesting contrast in this book. In the first book, Daneys is raped by Drogo, her husband, on their wedding night. (Arguably. I would call it rape. She didn't really want to get married, and she clearly isn't ready for sex, even though she recognizes that it is a part of the relationship she has entered into. The relationship improves from that point, but I'm not sure that changes the circumstances. In fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't.) In this book, Tyrion is married to Sansa, under very similar circumstances, and does not rape her. Indeed, throughout the book, Sansa is not forced into sex at all - she begins and ends the book a virgin. I'm fairly positive this was deliberate; comparing Drogo who is described as tall and a warrior with Tyrion, who is a stunted dwarf and not a warrior. Perhaps Tyrion is the most civilized person in these books?