This is a rework of a previous post I made which is fitting as we are now post-House of the Dragon’s first season. The events in the show are a very small part of Fire & Blood but I’d suggest reading on might spoil some far future events in that show’s timeline but aren’t directly related to anything that has happened thus far with the characters in the show. Even more, if you’ve only ever watched the shows this blog probably will mean nothing to you at all. I do want to be careful though so I will just say if you are someone who cares about spoilers and is waiting for House of the Dragon season 2 and beyond, you might not want to read on as I do talk about an event that could be VERY cool on the show after the dance of dragons.
George R.R. Martin, I think successfully brings what feels like a series of Wikipedia pages to life which will inform the hell out of any passive reader of the series or Game of Thrones tv watcher with more detail than they’d ever want while giving just enough new revelations and nuance thrown in for those of us who scoured those aforementioned forums for years and who’ve read World of Ice and Fire multiple times and recite GRRM So Spakes off like Tolkien letter numbers. It’s probably much more of the former than the latter but I can respect the attempt at balance even as I wonder if this could ever be a book for non-heads though Martin has more than diehards to make a Westeros-based book successful and give former Livejournal readers the hardcore minutia – what I call forum shit – that they crave.
There’s a playfulness in the writing, and turns of phrases, that gave off a distinct authorial delight that makes me think this was a bit of palette cleanser for Martin who I’d imagine, just going by how long it’s taken, and things told to me close to a decade ago when I was a book blogger, has found piecing Winds of Winter together to be a chore.
By the way I have interviewed George R. R. Martin in my life.
I took two things away from my reading of it, both of which are almost certain to not be of interest to anyone searching for write-ups about the book. That’s two great disclaimers already of this post.
“Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens.” – Tywin Lannister
One of the things, perhaps the biggest thing, veteran readers are going to be talking about from Fire & Blood is a letter Aegon the Conqueror received from Dorne that ended the war with Dorne, with Aegon and the throne conceding to every Dorne stipulation. This would be a continuation of a discussion that’s been had for years as this was detailed within World of Ice and Fire (2014).
As a fan, I’m interested in the details and the truth of this matter, and theories range from offers of mercy killing of a captured and tortured Rhaenys, ensorcellment, threats of Faceless Men, whispered truths about the legitimacy Aegon’s heirs and beyond but for the purposes of this specific post I was taken by the power of something more grounded that I can wrap my head around. Something that I have experienced. Even something I’ve wielded. The sternly written email, or in the case of Westeros the pigeon-sent letter, or if you want to add emojis of importance, send your daughter with a Dragon Skull.
This is a culture of conquerors and war, of lords with the exclusive privilege of dragons that can level armies and castles, of masses who prescribe to faiths that have them talking to trees or seven random character creator generator figures. Even just watchers of the show can see that this is more often than not a cruel and violent world. The words of the family is the title of the book: Fire & Blood. It’s a family, especially in this generation, who doesn’t fuck around.
Yet Prince Nymor of Dorne disarms them completely with a message sent via his daughter the Princess Deria. A message that ends in literal or figurative blood on Aegon’s hands.
The letter Aegon receives he destroys immediately, he takes a trip to Dragonstone, returns, and immediately acquiesces to every single one of Dorne’s demands. Deria would not only survive this night, a messenger unkilled, but would later become the ruling Princess of Dorne.
Martin is a writer and obviously, the power of words is not only something that means a lot to him, it’s his trade, it’s his art, it’s the thing in the world that resides with him that has set him apart. You feel the power he gives to readers within his world in A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin arms a dwarf and a rich fat soft kid in a brutal martial world with curiosity and power. Kings clash, swords will storm, crows will feast, and dragons will dance, but the power of putting thought to writing is powerful and as a reader, I was struck by this again and again in Fire & Blood.
There is an event in the history of King’s Landing called the Hour of the Wolf. It pretty much rules and takes place after the Dance of the Dragons and is more or less six days that epic badass Cregan Stark, who marched from Winterfell with his men, assumes the power of the realm, and starts handing out justice after the rest of the realm made a mess of shit. He would relinquish power immediately after he was done and head back North but not before he took off heads with his own sword, an echo from the future of words we hear from Ned Stark.
“Yet our way is the older way. The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”
It’s pretty hardcore and awesome and is a dose of Starks that makes you feel good inside mostly because they actually survive it but what I want to talk about is a throwaway line later in Fire & Blood regarding a straightforward letter from the North sent to the Throne by Cregan sharing that he wouldn’t view in a positive light a proposed wedding (when then Hand of the King Unwin Peake tried to marry his daughter to the Throne).
And the shit didn’t happen.
Sure, there were many reasons and many people who were against the idea, plots within plots, but the plainness and matter-of-fact way that GRRM wrote it had me, the reader, going back and recalling what Cregan did during the Hour of the Wolf.
In my head, it was very much Cregan saying: “Please don’t make me have to come down there.”
In the book, it was a single simple nondescript sentence by Martin. There was no illustration of a letter or a cliffhanger. It was just a random sentence that screamed at me.
In both instances, the messages came from opposite poles of the continent, and 2 of the 3 houses (along with the Iron Born) are markedly different from the rest of the houses on the continent. The people of the North can be viewed as heretics from the point of view of people who worship The Faith of Seven. Dorne often feels like it’s viewed in-story as a somewhat queer & foreign kingdom (which is probably why any sensible person of today would want to live in Dorne, minus the shit desert). These are distinct cultural differences that make both houses feel like much more exotic flavors anytime they are introduced to the mix of the rest of the Seven Kingdoms and the methods of both messages given to us by Martin fit both those distinct thoughts.
Dorne is mysterious, exotic, unbowed, unbent, unbroken. Their message may have been magical and carried a supernatural or clandestine threat. It came with the skull of a dragon.
The Starks were no frills. To the point. If they had to kneel they did. If they had to win a war they did. As much as we can ridicule the largest mistakes of both Ned & Rob Stark, both went to war and neither had ever lost a battle they commanded. They were undefeated on the field.
I just really loved how much the little, most base, things still get to me about Martin’s writing.