I know there are so many parts to what I have to say about a book I didn’t even like, but I have a lot of thoughts because I’m sort of being forced to continue thinking about this book. It’s my partner’s favourite series, and we’re often going back and forth about it. It’s more of a joke for us, but it keeps a lot of these ideas fresh in my head.

So I just need to say this: I can’t stand the Dothraki in this book.

It’s not because I can’t stand the culture or the few Dothraki characters but because I cannot stand the fact that they have no input in their own story, in their own existence, they’re the only people shown to be sexually violent (and directly called out for it), and that the entirety of their story is handled by Daenerys who doesn’t even give them decent characterisation.

Savages and Barbarians
They are often described in the racist ways that people describe indigenous peoples or nomadic peoples in Asia: savage, barbarous, and uncivilised. Even their own queen doesn’t take the time to really get to know them in her own chapters; even after she acknowledges and claims that they’re “her people now,” she doesn’t even defend them when people talk disparagingly about them.

And it’s no wonder, because they were inspired by both Native American peoples and Mongols(among other peoples). GRRM even focuses on Genghis Khan being cruel, though it lacks some nuance in the ways that towns were able to negotiate or surrender without there being some excess of blood. He neglects to realise that Khan was actually open to peoples he conquered maintaining their own religions and valuing religious tolerance, which runs entirely counter to the horrible ways the Dothraki talk about the ‘Sheep People’. (Yes, I also get that it’s a fantasy novel. I’m referring more to the interview, in particular, with hints toward the book as a result of his inspiration.)

That’s all without mentioning one thing, by the way: The Dothraki are among the few people in the book who are characterised as being not white and receive the brunt of the extremely negative (and generally unforgivable) characterisations, with very few exceptions. The only other explicitly non-white person who is mentioned is a prostitute in a brothel, who is explicitly a black woman without a name. This is one more case of the trope aimed at black women, even if in the minute: The Hypersexual Jezebel.

Sexual Violence
Most of the mentions and direct depictions of rape and sexual violence in the story take place in Daenerys’s chapters, ranging from the non-consensual nights after her wedding night (though, I’d make arguments to say that even her wedding night should be considered sexual coercion), to both Irri and Doreah either screaming or being bruised due to Qotho’s ‘having his way with them’, to the women being straight up raped and murdered during the raids on the non-Dothraki villages (and then being “saved” by being enslaved, though that’s a questionable form of logic). And even worse: One of the women, Eroeh, who was raped and then saved by Daenerys enslaving her was later raped repeatedly and murdered after Drogo’s death and Daenerys’s apparent illness (and may become some Call to Arms for Daenerys, without any genuine relationship between the two).

Sexual violence has often been something that has been used in war, though the Mongol Empire under Ghenghis Khan did have some laws regarding that, too. So I find it disigenuous that he names Genghis Khan as inspiration when discussing these topics, as he should’ve named Ogodei Khan, who blatantly violated the laws of his predecessors.

This doesn’t say that Genghis Khan was, you know, perfect. I don’t know the exact kinds of sexual violence that might have taken place under his rule, but this ‘barbaric’ empire actually had a lot more happening under the surface than most people are aware of. So often we’re getting the same kind of history about the Mongols over and over again, when they did a lot more than just going to war everywhere. Part of that is because there’s a huge problem with Mongol-related history in the Western world, and it’s largely that we have a lot of writing about them from those on the outside or those being who might have potentially been conquered or forced to surrender than we do from those inside of the empire itself.

That’s not to say that sexual warfare didn’t occur; I already said that Ogodei Khan was known for blatantly ignoring the laws set in place prior to his ascension. Rape as a weapon of war is far more common than we’re prepared to admit: indigenous women in Bangladesh are subject to rape due to land conflicts, women in Vietnam were raped or abused throughout the Vietnam war by American soldiers and officers, Korean ‘comfort women’ were used as sex slaves during WWII by Japan, there are accounts of sexual assault in Australia’s off-shore detention center for asylum seekers in Nauru, there’s a lot of information about sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide, also during the Bosnian War, and Native American and First Nations women have a long history of sexual violence being used against them (even now). It’s still used today, in Myanmar against the Rohingya and children being assaulted in Trump’s detention camps.

So, yes, I know it’s a thing that happens (back to GRRM’s ‘historical accuracy’ claims, I guess). But it’s interesting to note that it’s only depicted in this manner with the only non-white group of people; it’s described in far more ‘savage’ tones and has a higher frequency, with Daenerys being ‘so upset’ by it that she enslaves the victims to save them (only to ‘free’ them once she gains the Power of the Dragons and is in need of ‘her own’ people).

It’s frustrating because why did he make those decisions? Why does he directly call what the Dothraki do ‘rape’ while the actions mentioned of the other characters doesn’t even get called as such? (Which it should.) As the few non-white characters, it’s worth remembering that non-white people in our own world are often charged with rape when it isn’t even true. The alleged (and false) accusations of raping white women was a large reason for why Black men, like Emmett Till (whose accuser admitted last year that she lied 60 years ago), were lynched (especially after the Reconstruction era and during Jim Crow).

So even though it’s not a false accusation for the Dothraki, who were committing acts of sexual warfare on their victims, it still conjures an image that the only people capable of raping are not white. Tyrion clearly has a moment where he’s talking about his past and participated in a (forced) gang-rape of a girl he loved; at no point is this described as rape, and it’s used to make the reader sympathise with Tyrion while leaving the victim entirely nameless.

A Lack of Their Own Story
There’s a part of an interview with GRRM that I find bothersome:

Interviewer: People complain that the Dothraki are this one-dimensional barbarian society.

GRRM: I haven’t had a Dothraki viewpoint character though.

Interviewer: I guess it’s too late to introduce one now.

GRRM: I could introduce a Dothraki viewpoint character, but I already have like sixteen viewpoint characters.

Before I say what I have to say, I have to specify that I haven’t yet gotten to the other books (though I’m planning to). So just looking at the few viewpoint characters in AGoT, I feel like he did the Dothraki a disservice and made them less interesting than they could’ve been. We have Eddard, Catelyn, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Jon, and Tyrion all running around the same general locations with very little difference between their viewpoints. Of these, the most valuable viewpoints are Eddard, Jon, and Tyrion because they are mostly in different locations and they are doing things.

Among the Dothraki? We only have Daenerys, who is an outsider. The way her chapters were written do ‘her people’ a total disservice. She learns almost nothing about them and barely is shown interacting with their culture, other than what they wear, eat, and couple of traditional events that Drogo makes her do. She interacts with them on the most superficial level, giving the reader access to very little. We might get to see what they do in terms of their culture and traditions, but we don’t get how they feel about it or how they interact with it. And we definitely don’t see any attempt to create a fictional language for the people, but we have to pretend certain in-English lines are really said in Dothraki.

We don’t even get a Dothraki perspective on Daenerys being Drogo’s wife and a non-Dothraki ruler. Just basing this on the amount of ridiculousness that happened when Meghan Markle married Prince Harry this year, I find it incredibly illogical that we’d have a lot of Dothraki being pretty quiet about this outsider marrying into a high and powerful position. As far as we’re aware, the Dothraki just shrug and deal with it; the only person they seem to be fed up with is Viserys, especially since he ends up dead (due to his own actions). It’s weird, though, because they don’t want to interact with non-Dothraki peoples, cultures, and traditions; Drogo doesn’t even want to cross the sea until Daenerys is nearly killed. They’re very isolationist in many of their manners, so it feels weird to have them just be fine with their new outsider queen (and Jorah, other than teasing him for his armour).

So why don’t we get a Dothraki viewpoint? In many ways, even if it were from the perspective of Irri or Jhiqui, it would’ve provided a lot of information that would’ve built the world better and made the reader more sympathetic of the Dothraki (if done correctly), which is entirely lacking at this point. From Daenerys’s perspective, much of her story that connected with the Dothraki was very superficial; there’s no reason any of the Dothraki should like her because she’s not shown to be really interacting with any of them (including her servants and protectors). She doesn’t know anything about who they are, and this doesn’t even seem to bother her (as she’s kind of obsessed with dragon eggs).

And yet… those who remain pledge to stay with her after her dragons are born. This still leaves me with a lot of questions, most of which just lead to the same one: Why?

There are just so many things in this book that I feel could’ve been done better. We didn’t need some of the viewpoints we had; the viewpoints we needed to keep could’ve been done better, especially for characters that were often relegated to observation; there was too much happening in this book that so much of it feels entirely disconnected between the three primary stories; and there are elements that are used as plot devices, for whatever reason, that aren’t even necessary to the narrative.

I’m still going to read the other books, but it’s not because I enjoyed this installment of the series. It’s because I have an outside motivation to do so.

There are two tropes I’m generally bothered by, which both seem to sort of fit with the character that I found the most boring in A Game of Thrones. Thanks to the title of this post, it’s pretty obvious that that character is Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark, and it’s pretty clear that the two tropes I’ll be discussing are the Punching Bag and the Clueless Detective.

The Punching Bag is a character that basically never gets a break from anything; they seem to always take the brunt of whatever is happening, rarely (if ever) having something good or helpful happen to them. In some places, it’s also referred to as the Butt-Monkey. I hate this name, so I’m going to refer to it more as the Punching Bag (because, to me, that’s more accurate).

Typically, you can see this in TV sitcoms. One example is Meg Griffin from Family Guy, who can never catch a break from the many misogynistic and fatphobic jokes that are often directed at her. A better example, I think, is Ted Buckland from Scrubs. He’s a generally likeable character who was basically the butt of jokes told by Dr Kelso. You don’t often see it used in ‘more serious’ novels, though it’s still possible.

Eddard never seems to catch that break. Even the one ‘good’ thing that really happens – Robert making him the Hand again after the confrontation with Jaime Lannister – lead him down a chain of humiliation that ultimately ends in his own death. From the very beginning of the novel, Eddard has to deal with a lot of negative events after Robert makes him the Hand, many of which affect and impact his children (more than they do him). Those events that impact him more, in terms of the narrative, are:

  • Robert and Catelyn push for him to be the Hand, setting everything into motion in the first place;
  • In trying to question anyone about Jon Arryn’s death, it’s made obvious that everyone is gone (Stannis in Dragonstone, Lysa and her company in the Eyrie), and the one person who remains (Ser Hugh) is murdered in a joust by Gregor Clegane;
  • He’s ambushed by Jaime Lannister, watching as the men closest to him are murdered and his own leg is broken;
  • He’s made into the regent and a whole slew of connected events take place (the capture of the letter to Stannis to come back and take his rightful place, the betrayal by Littlefinger, his own imprisonment and the continued deaths of the Northern men, and finally his own death);
  • Eddard attempting to do well for his daughters, only to be betrayed by Sansa (who seems to take up her father’s mantle of being a Punching Bag).

With each link in this chain, it becomes more and more frustrating to read any of Eddard’s chapters (or those of Arya and Sansa) because the overwhelming majority of the situations that Eddard finds himself in are ones that could’ve been counteracted if GRRM had maintained his characterisation. Or, to be fair, actually characterised Eddard as more than Honorable, Loyal, and Justice-Seeking before Catelyn had a chance to observe Robb ‘being like Ned.’ (Maybe he should’ve been a Klingon. His fate would’ve probably been more favourably received.)

This leads me to…

The Clueless Detective is a detective, or a character that might act like a detective, who is trying to solve a crime or a sort of mystery. This one appears a little odd in my application for A Game of Thrones, I know. One of my favourite examples of this is the intentionally clueless Dirk Gently, the protagonist of both Douglas Adam’s novels: Dirk Gently’s the Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (courtesy of a horrible BBC reincarnation staring Stephen Mangan that flopped and a mostly entertaining Netflix series staring Elijah Wood, more people are aware of this character).

However, while A Game of Thrones is not a whodunnit novel (as that is the traditional genre for this trope), Eddard really kind of fits in this category because he spends so much time trying to figure out Cersei’s motivations for doing so, since it doesn’t appear to be the more logical thing to do. This is even the primary impetus for him accepting Robert’s proposal to be the King’s Hand, as Catelyn’s pushes him to go and figure out what happened after receiving the letter from her sister Lysa, Jon Arryn’s wife, while also wanting for him to help protect whatever is left to keep the peace.

Now, I want to make something clear: I do not think Lysa’s letter is true, and I feel like it will have a twist in later novels as we progress through this excessively overburdened story. This feels like something that GRRM would do because that’s kind of what he did throughout AGoT. He doesn’t really make his reader question the reality of what’s happening, asking them to look a little deeper into the text; he doesn’t really lead you that far astray from an answer.

He frequently takes the second most obvious turn, as opposed to the most obvious; it’s not the first person or people you’d think who did this Huge Event! It’s the next most obvious. What you expect to happen may not happen when you think they will, but it still happens. I’m pretty sure that, in later novels, it’ll be made into something else; Cersei will be vindicated of one murder because the reader is being intentionally misdirected, though the blood of others will still stain her character’s hands. (The other indication of this, to me, is that Cersei wanted to allow Eddard to take the black in order to decrease political tensions.)

Anyway, as far as we’re aware in this novel, Lysa has sent a letter to Catelyn specifying that King’s Landing is dangerous because Cersei is responsible for murdering her husband. Rather than staying away, as she advises Catelyn to do, Catelyn suggests that Eddard go to King’s Landing in order to find out what’s been happening and to protect Robert (and Winterfell, and the whole kingdom). He essentially is charged with solving a crime and figuring out the mystery, which he does… badly and without finding evidence (or even using good evidence).

The book fails (or intentionally neglects) to answer a lot of questions:

  • Who actually murdered Jon Arryn? What was their motive?
  • Why was Jon Arryn spending time with Stannis when it was made clear that they weren’t really fond of each other?
  • What actual evidence does Eddard have of Gendry being Robert’s bastard?
  • Why does Eddard assume that the father for Cersei’s children (Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen) is Jaime? What actual evidence does he have that they are not Robert’s children prior to talking with Cersei?

These are huge questions to better connect with Eddard’s chapters, which all deal with trying to find information and making connections that better explain the political intrigues taking place in King’s Landing. With regards to the first two points, these are also major questions to answer in order to build a world that makes sense and continues to build a world with cohesive links later in the series, when characters like Stannis (and later Renly) come back. (They have to; it makes no sense if they don’t.) If Cersei killed Jon Arryn, for what purpose? If someone else did it, what were their reasons for doing so? These are simple things to corroborate, and it’s never done.

These questions help build those connections with other characters in the novels, like Littlefinger and Varys. These are two characters that GRRM constantly has insinuating that they know something, while he never really shows that they actually are informed in any meaningful way at all. It would create a more cohesive narrative if, rather than having Littlefinger just show up with a piece of the puzzle or the whole answer, Eddard is forced to interact with him differently. Why not have Eddard figure out where Barra is on his own, realising Littlefinger knew all along, and questioning him about this? That would provide a form of characterisation that both of these men so desperately need.

Instead, Eddard haphazardly obtains information, seemingly bumbling around or doing one small thing that makes someone provide him with the puzzle piece he’s missing. He talks to Pycelle, who mentions that Arryn took a book from him, and he asks for that book so that he can stare at it and obtain no information whatsoever (until Arya says the right thing). He only learns of Gendry because some potboy mentioned that Jon was buying armour from Tobho Mott, who casually mentions that Jon ‘came for the boy’.

He learns so little on his own. He doesn’t find any real answers to Jon Arryn’s death, leaving the reader to presume it was because he ‘figured out the secret’; we have no confirmation of that in this book about anything he learns other than from Eddard going to someone saying, “This is it, right?” and the character he’s talking to going, “Yup, you found that piece!”

But it’s the last two questions that break the immersion and Eddard’s characterisation for me. With more frequency than is necessary, he is said to be insightful and strategic. These are two things that, through his actions, are never really presented well. His one moment of being insightful is realising that Gendry is Robert’s bastard because he “looks like him” and the position he’s obtained at Tobho Mott’s for a mere sum. Meanwhile, he makes the same conclusion about how Robert’s ‘true heirs’ are actually Jaime’s using the same kind of evidence, which is actually worse: “They have blonde hair.”

This is curious because while humans – and other primates – have the ability to recognise patrilineal relatives based on their phenotypes using characteristics such as their facial features, we’re not really sure to what extent we’re able to even detect these familial resemblances. Meanwhile, there are also people who look alike but aren’t related. While yes, there are visual cues that someone might be more curious about, this doesn’t really feel like the drama we’re led to believe.

It is possible, though not very probable, that the Cersei could have children with Robert that were blonde; it is possible that Gendry is the child of another high-born man who wished to remain anonymous. There is so little available in the text to make it obvious before Cersei provides the truth for her own children. The few hints we have are:

  • Robert really likes to party, for lack of a better word; he will drink until he is absurdly drunk, and he has many bastards;
  • In Ned’s fever dream, he remembers his conversation with Lyanna where she appears less than enthusiastic about the marriage to Robert because he’s more likely to be an adulterer, regardless of his feelings for her;
  • Robert states that Cersei ‘guards her cunt’, which indicates that he hasn’t had sex with her in quite some time (if at all) but provides no additional context;
  • While the reader is aware that Cersei and Jaime are sleeping together due to Bran’s second chapter, Eddard has zero information that he’s her lover because this information isn’t made available to any relevant character in the book.

As GRRM loves his historical accuracy argument (at least when it comes to depicting rape), there is not a lot that should even tip Eddard off to the paternity of Cersei’s three children, especially since there were no questions related to time between consummation between her and Robert; no one else would even think otherwise, as she’s married to Robert. It would require more evidence than what Eddard has.

(And, just because it’s interesting to note since this is part of the royal family these characters were based on, we weren’t even aware until 2014 that there’s a chance that the current royal family isn’t descended from Richard III until they ran DNA testing, which Eddard does not have in his world.)

This all feels like it discredits the characterisation Eddard receives. At no point is he being strategic, as Catelyn continually indicates as she watches young Robb lead armies of older men. When he goes to Cersei, he has no evidence of anything. He has no plan to force her hand, nothing. Perhaps that’s part of the Honor Before All (or Honorable Until Dead) characterisation, but he still seems like he would’ve found something that would’ve made her leave and take her children with her. He didn’t, and this really makes him seem weaker than you’re led to believe.

He never seems insightful, especially when it comes to his own children. He never seems to actually listen to characters around him, particularly Littlefinger who continually tells him that he’s not trustworthy (yet Eddard still trusts him, without having a good reason). He gets played by people who, if he were really as insightful (and diplomatic) as he’s made out to be, he’d never get played by.

He doesn’t even put together information from Varys and information from Arya about the same event (Daenerys’s marriage to the Dothraki Khal and her subsequent pregnancy); he has the same information as the reader, and he still misses that completely obvious connection that would’ve made him stop and think for two seconds about what was happening. (And it’s not because “Arya is confused and sounds like she’s making things up” because she’s talking about monsters; GRRM didn’t write her to be nearly as incoherent as he should’ve, if that is the excuse to be made.)

It’s frustrating because Eddard could have been more relatable and interesting character,* but he should’ve been used differently than he was. He should’ve been working at creating a story around Eddard finding things out, it should’ve shown more of Eddard talking to people to figure out what happened and making inquiries, and it should’ve been him doing more of the work toward finding people than the other council members. His chapters should’ve been doing better world-building, showing the intrigues of King’s Landing and the dangers people were really in.

That would’ve made for a better protagonist, even if he were to end up dead. In fact, it would’ve made his death all the more powerful because he had that fulfilled purpose that he ended up dying for.

*Note: I don’t subscribe to the idea that all characters should be likeable, but I do subscribe to the idea that characters should be made in ways that are relatable and make readers empathise with both their personality and their motivations; readers don’t have to agree with their actions, but they need to be able to understand them.

This book frustrated me for so many reasons. Some of that involved the blasé way in which rape was tossed in as a narrative element, the unnecessary use of incest-as-a-plot-device, the in-need-of-an-editor writing style that is overly clunky, the racism present in the handling of the Dothraki people… A lot of it really bothered me, and it’s all something that I’ll end up writing about at some point prior to reading the next sets of books (before my partner manages to relocate them to my home).

Anyway, still somewhat related to the infuriating writing techniques (and style) is the fact that this book felt like it was three totally different stories that were vaguely, if at all, connected to each other. A Game of Thrones really could’ve been three different books, if not three different series that were set in the same world.

The story follows, mostly, three story arcs: Eddard and the political intrigues of the King’s court, Jon and the Night’s Watch (and, once it was remembered 500 pages later, The Others), and Daenerys and the Dothraki journey to birthing dragons (unbeknownst to the people themselves). Though these people are linked to each other, they often feel as if they’re in totally different stories.

Eddard’s story is the core component of AGoT, with Robb and Catelyn taking up his mantel when he’s no longer around. The majority of the book focuses on House Stark and the intrigues of politics in King’s Landing, the ‘game of thrones’ that Cersei explains you either win or die trying. It stems from Robert’s Rebellion, one character exists at House Stark because he’s kept as a hostage/ward from Greyjoy’s Rebllion (Theon Greyjoy), and there are additional events that surround a lot of political intrigues that take place within King’s Landing.

Jon’s arc is entirely focused on the Night’s Watch and The Others. While he starts off his journey with Eddard (due to being his bastard) and is sent off to the Night’s Watch because Catelyn refuses to keep him at Winterfell once Eddar leaves. Other than that and a handful of unimportant mentions (Arya wishing he’d muss up her hair), he doesn’t really fit into Eddard’s story and is almost entirely separate.

Daenery’s arc is situated entirely in her marriage to Khal Drogo, their journey within the Dothraki lands, and her becoming part of their people (and then failing almost immediately). It’s heavily based on her dealing with Viserys’s abuse, on escaping that abuse, and falling in love with Drogo (though that part feels very off). Oh, and she’s also spending time bringing back dragons, though she doesn’t do anything other than carry around some stone eggs and snuggle them. Other than being mentioned in Eddard’s chapters (and having Aemon show up in Jon’s for no functional reason other than to ‘make him think’), Daenerys’s story is also nearly separate from the others.

All three of these arcs should’ve been a story on their own, and AGoT tries to take on far too much at one time. The time spent with Eddard (and Bran, Arya, Sansa, and Catelyn) often felt like it was one cohesive narrative; it felt interrupted by the inclusion of Daenerys and Jon’s arcs, even the with the few times that they coincided. It felt like a story that, in many ways, could’ve been a standalone novel, but it also showed that a series could’ve been made from it if done through a different structure (and without a lot of the details that ‘built the world’, such as slamming everyone in the face with house sigils over and over).

Jon’s story with The Others isn’t mentioned very frequently. It starts in the prologue, goes mostly forgotten (except for random hints of ‘myths and legends’ or ‘old stories and tales’), and doesn’t come back until about 500 pages later. It has zero connection with what’s happening elsewhere and really feels like it was shoehorned in to cause drama for Jon, when it really could’ve made a better side-series in the ASOIAF world, one where Jon and his fellow Hobbits help to develop defences at the Wall to protect against The Others and learn a lot more about them.

Daenerys, too, feels like she would’ve been a far more interesting side-series (or later series addition). Nothing she did was connected to the rest of the story, except for the exiled Jorah Mormont existing (who also connected her to Jon’s story on the smallest of threads, as the Lord Commander’s son), the fact that she’s a Targaryen and ‘should be’ the queen (and that was the ruling family that fell during Robert’s Rebellion), and that Master Illyrio – the man who gifted her with dragon’s eggs – is one of the nameless men that Arya describes seeing in her confused castle adventure (which is one of his few appearances, actually).

So how could Eddard’s story (and that of House Stark) been stronger as a standalone?

Actually have Eddard do more of what he was already doing: trying to figure out why Jon Arryn was murdered and help protect King Robert (even if he failed). Keep his story grounded in that w1ork, and keep the others’ stories grounded in helping provide additional evidence for things that happen that are relevant to Eddard (and might be more obvious or outwardly stated in later books).

Create a stronger connection between Tyrion’s story and that of the Starks: Tyrion seems to connect more frequently with Jon’s story because they spend time together at the Wall during Tyrion’s travels and Jon’s relocation (and, for five seconds, he has some interaction with one of Bran’s chapters). This isn’t entirely a bad thing because these are some of Tyrion’s best moments that build another side of his personality that nicely balances his ‘I hate my father and cope with this through lewd sarcasm’ persona, except for the fact that those moments don’t fit into the primary story. They don’t even really connect with the events where his story intersects with Catelyn’s.

Either Tyrion needs to focus in one area or another, but he can’t really fit into both; he could’ve been an interesting perspective to learn more about the knife that Catelyn took to King’s Landing. It would’ve been far more interesting to have him, not Littlefinger, be the person who captures Catelyn and Ser Rodrik Cassel, and keeps them away from the rest of the Lannister clan. Having him be more involved pre-battle would build up his central conflict, which really seems to be figuring out where he belongs.

If it was necessary to take him to the Eyrie, perhaps a better circumstance could’ve been that he goes with Catelyn willingly to discuss Jon Arryn’s death (allowing the reader to glimpse more details to this issue, since that’s supposedly a big issue that gets no resolution of any sort), getting wrongfully accused in the process by Lysa because of the letter that she’s sent to Catelyn and who she’s become, and then having the rest of the Lannister clan mistake his leaving being captured (or have someone note it as being a capture after Lysa throws him into the prison cell and sending a raven to Tywin or Jaime to indicate as much). Again, this builds up the conflict he seems to be having: an issue of loyalty and to whom (or, at the very least, with whom should he ally himself) much more cohesively than the chapters he gets, drawing him into the intrigues of the court.

Use Catelyn’s chapters to be about things she does instead of things she observes. Catelyn’s chapters are entirely under-utilised. There are minute hints spread throughout them, but they’re not made very clear or entirely obvious. Her interaction with Tyrion post-capture is awkward because she doesn’t interact with him at all despite the fact that she’s captured him, not once questioning him directly about the dagger. She gets all of her information from Littlefinger, which serves its own purpose in Eddard’s relationship with him (badly), but she never onces questions Tyrion during their travels. In fact, she doesn’t really do anything with him other than get attacked by wildlings. There’s no development.

Have her do something. Have her ask the pertinent questions, have her do more than get upset with her sister for releasing her prisoner and excluding her from the trial, have her realise something is wrong with her sister and try to figure it out. It’s clear that there’s something about Lysa that GRRM is trying to build into future novels, but AGoT really doesn’t make use of any of it other than to have a ‘crazy woman’ with ‘spoiled child’ ruling a region and causing some kind of drama (but not really succeeding).

Once she runs into Robb and goes to Riverrun, she takes on his perspectives while adding in a random moment of “Let’s have peace!” and getting made fun of for being a silly woman. She essentially is a narrator herself, so her chapters are frustrating moments of AGoT Inception.

Use Bran better for the Winterfell perspectives (and, if you wanted to include Jon’s story, as a connection). Bran has a hyper-focus on dreams and three-eyed crows. I’ve heard (from my partner) that ‘these are important in later books’, but they served almost no purpose for this novel. It really felt like more clutter in an already over-encumbered book. Also, once he wakes up, there isn’t much of an interaction with Winterfell; the focus is almost entirely in King’s Landing, making it seem like Winterfell should’ve just been an introduction to House Stark as they got forced into their no-win scenario.

Rewrite Sansa almost entirely. Sansa’s blame game literally doesn’t serve much of a purpose, even within the goal of trying to make her want to follow Joffrey and Cersei. The absolute most frustrating moments I had reading AGoT, especially as someone who was once a teenage girl and has worked with lots of teenagers (especially teenage girls), were when I was reading Sansa’s chapters. They were infuriating; I couldn’t see how she was the oldest daughter, how Arya was possibly younger than she’s said to be, how she could be written so poorly. She was meant to be shallow, but there are so many better ways to write a character that can be seen as someone who will follow leaders to their detriment, who acts entitled and is immensely shallow, and who acts against their own best interests without making them so unrelateable and unlikable at the same time.

Sansa’s good moments were only in relation to Sandor Clegane. The terror, and later the empathy, that she feels for him when he forces her to look at his face and tells her about his brother. When he helps her recognise how best to survive with Joffrey and seems sensitive to her needs, her responses were coherent to who she was. Those were her good moments, and those were moments that gave the reader much-needed information. They were both humanising for her and Sandor, but they were also helpful in understanding the world they both live in.

Don’t hit Arya with the ever obnoxious Not Now, Kiddo trope, especially when the very next chapter shows the same information being learned in a different way. Also, it would’ve been nice to see Eddard reflect on that moment and use it to his advantage in another fashion (even if he were to fail), rather than just totally ignore it. Doing this would’ve furthered Eddard’s characterisation (and connected it to everything people say about him, despite the fact he’s not really shown to be as intelligent, insightful, or strategic as he must be), it would’ve developed the relationship between Arya and her father (which was already growing in part to her being allowed to keep Needle and getting a ‘dancing instructor’ to teach her how to fight), and it would’ve helped Eddard’s goal of figuring out what is happening in King’s Landing. This felt incredibly under-used.

>>Note: So many people say she was incoherent, but she was written to be coherent enough that I think Eddard – who is supposedly really insightful – should’ve glimpsed that ‘the princess is pregnant’ and learning about Daenerys were one in the same. Her only real downfall was that she claimed to have seen monsters (which, you know, I still don’t feel is worthy of enough ‘oh, no, silly child and her imagination’ for Eddard to just shrug it off entirely in conjunction with other information).

Overwhelmingly, there’s a good story here somewhere with a lot of intriguing characters who have the ability to be connected in ways that build political intrigue without leaving the reader entirely in the dark (or even leaving some of the characters entirely in the dark while having them figure things out that were literally never mentioned or barely had associated clues to go with them), which is really what this story should’ve been about. But since it left so much open at the end without closing anything (or doing so in a really unsatisfying way by handing it to the reader on a platter without any build-up or hints), it just made it feel like there was too much here for GRRM to focus on.

It’s pretty obvious that, when you read a book, one of the most obvious elements is the writing. If the author creates a coherent story, if they spend a good amount of time on relevant details and building their worlds and developing characters, if they maintain logical consistency, how they use events that exist in the real world… There are a lot of things we tend to pick up on when we read novels.

A Game of Thrones is written using multiple-perspectives and third-person narration, which is something that can work. I’ve read numerous novels where this was done successfully, such as Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (so if you want to know what I think is a really good example of clear third-person narration in a multiple-perspective novel, I’d check that out).

One of the aspects that made this more difficult was that there were names thrown around in the narration that weren’t previously mentioned anywhere else; sometimes it was easy because they were obvious, such as how GRRM flipped between ‘Ned’ or ‘Dany’ in the chapters for Eddard and Daenerys, though it was still awkward that this was done because this isn’t typical of narration. Other times, it was awkward because he’d refer to someone as their first or last name in the narration when you’ve not spent much time with them.

When GRRM kept flipping between ‘Theon’ and ‘Greyjoy’ in the narration for Bran I, it forced me to have to stop and double-check whether or not they were actually the same person because it was done in a manner where a simple switch to a pronoun would suffice. He literally had just introduced Theon Greyjoy to the reader for only a moment before this happened, making it appear needlessly confusing. In later chapters, GRRM threw in names or nicknames for characters without linking it directly to them, and it turned into a few moments of trying to hunt down the information you felt you’d missed (and then realising that you didn’t really miss anything and had to try to start all over to immerse yourself in the world again).

Also, the use in multiple names typically happens in the dialogue. When the narration refers to Daenerys as ‘Dany’, nothing is being done with that other than making the narration awkward to read. Name changes in dialogue affect how we view relationships between people; it shows us the personality of the speaker, while also showing how they feel about the person they’re speaking to. It also helps to add emotion to the actions of the speaker, especially if their use of affectionate names contradicts the way they treat the person they’re speaking to.

If Viserys referred to Daenerys as ‘Dany’, it’d help characterise both him and his abuse of his sister. For example, if GRRM wrote Viserys using a nickname for his sister immediately before or during the abuse he made her endure, it would show the reader that he’s genuinely manipulative because he’s using tender moments to harm his own sister and to keep her under control. That would characterise him far more accurately than anything we receive throughout the novel; while it wouldn’t make him more likeable, it would make him relateable to people in our reality (and would also be a small comment regarding the ways that abusers use the people in their lives).

The same goes for Eddard. Using ‘Ned’ in the narration is awkward, but having Robert constantly refer to him as ‘Ned’ shows that they’re so close that Robert is able to affectionately refer to the incredibly serious and stoic Eddard by an informal name. This characterises both of them; it gives Eddard a soft side and can be close to people (including Catelyn), and it shows that Robert’s more likely to be less serious than Eddard.

The same applies to the Night’s Watch. With the Men of the Watch bandying about the nicknames they’re given (‘Lover’, ‘Pimple’, ‘Toad’, ‘Monkey’, ‘Lord Snow’, etc), it gives them a personality. For Thorne, it shows he’s an absolute horror to deal with for the boys because he’s apt to make fun of you for something and not let up on it; for the boys, it shows that they’re able to overcome what Thorne does to them and embrace it in a fashion that builds community. (However, nicknames also have to be brought up naturally, explaining who belongs to them and why. GRRM does this when the boys graduate to Men of the Watch, adding nicknames that haven’t been said earlier in conjunction with another character.)

When the characters refer to Jeor Mormont as ‘Old Bear’, it has multiple uses. It reminds them of who he is (both symbolically in reference to his personality but also literally in reference to his origins); it grants him an air of being strong, of being formidable in battle, of someone who is outwardly fearless when he’s faced with a problem. When the narration does this, it doesn’t have that effect; it just feels out of place or strange.

The relationship dynamics are told instead of shown. One of the things I most remember GRRM for is having said that you should show instead of tell, but it often feels like he’s bludgeoning his readers over the head with details and obvious signposts that show nothing but tell everything. There are very few moments of interaction that make the relationships feel authentic.

When Catelyn learns that Eddard is taking Bran to King’s Landing, she gets really upset over him; it’s almost as if he’s characterised as her favourite child, and she says that he’s the most tender-hearted and sweet of all her children. At no point has Bran shown these traits with anyone he’s interacted with, other than a direwolf pup; he doesn’t show this with his siblings, and he doesn’t show it with the people in Winterfell.

The character who does this? Who shows they’re more empathetic of people and understanding of the people around Winterfell because she’s characterised as being ‘underfoot’ and interacting with people of ‘lower classes’? Arya.

When Bran goes into a coma after being pushed from a tower window, Catelyn is there the whole time and almost acting like a zombie; it’s understandable that she’d be checking on Bran because he’s her child, but there is nothing there that show she’s going to be the kind of person to forego her duties in all ways to sit at her son’s bedside until he ‘comes back’ (or, for as long as she did, since she finally snaps out of it once attacked by the intruder).

It’s a weird thing to have Catelyn do at such an early point in the novel because we don’t have any information that characterises her in this way, we only know her from a few brief moments of convincing Eddard to be the King’s Hand due to her sister’s letter and a desire to ‘learn the truth’ of Jon Arryn’s death. She’s showing herself to be calculating, strategic, and honourable (to the realm); she’s showing that she has faith in her husband’s abilities and believes that he can help right these wrongs.

When she suddenly hibernates in Bran’s room, it’s not even functional within the narrative because it’s suddenly contradictory in the most awkward way with what little we know of her. It’s almost as if it was a stereotypical way of handling a woman grieving the serious injury of her child. A simple change could’ve easily been that she happened upon someone trying to murder Bran as she was coming to check on him, was attacked in the process of protecting him, and then ran off to King’s Landing to warn Eddard.

That provides consistent characterisation for the rest of her time in the novel, even when she edges toward peace at the end because she doesn’t want to lose her family, though I also find that the way this was handled was poorly done as well because it really didn’t connect with things that had happened to her; it didn’t connect with the fact that she had almost lost Bran, it doesn’t connect with her own injuries, it doesn’t connect with anything well. Even what she mentions, it’s weird because we didn’t see her reactions to those events; she just knows they happened.

There are a lot more obvious situations where this happens. Eddard feels inconsistently written; he’s said to be smart and strategic; he knows how to be diplomatic. Catelyn makes constant reference to this during Robb’s war, as she’s watching Robb lead this army to take down the Lannisters. She says this, but it doesn’t make sense when paired with Eddard’s chapters. He’s smart in some ways; he notices things that other people haven’t caught on to (like who Gendry is and who Joffrey actually belongs to). Yet none of his strategies work at all, which feels weird. He also fails to take information given to him by Arya and integrate it with the information about Daenerys that directly links up to what she said, which makes me wonder why he’s described as ‘someone who listens’ when he doesn’t actually listen. Littlefinger literally tells him multiple times not to trust him, and he decides to do it to his own detriment (despite the fact that Littlefinger literally didn’t give him many reasons to do so, even in the few times he desired to ‘help’ him, and everyone said he was ‘out for himself’, which Eddard even accused him of).

Characters seem to have a lot of information we don’t see them acquiring and have no idea how it actually affected them. Jon knows about Lady being put down, though he doesn’t mention who wrote to him about her; Catelyn and Robb are aware of Eddard’s death, but they’re not seen reading a letter that they received about this (or even acknowledging it before the meeting of the bannermen at Riverrun). It’s obvious that, yes, they probably received a bird carrying a note explaining what happened or a lot of the people fleeing away from King’s Landing in their direction are bringing rumours.

But it’d be better for both of these characters who have a lot more than just having an attitude of “I’m just angry about this.” It would allow for Robb and Catelyn to bond more over this; it’d be more of an emotional connection to all of the times that she has said Robb reminds her of Eddard. It would build something more cohesive than what’s available because it would show clear motivation for the war and what’s to come. It would enhance what happens to Robb at the end of the book, making it much more powerful.

If done as a small and intimate moment prior to the meeting with only Catelyn and Robb, it would further develop their relationship and characters. It’s easy to see that Robb’s immediate reaction would be anger; it would be to march on the Lannisters and take his revenge, but he’d then have a moment of uncertainty about whether he’d be doing the right thing or if that was something Eddard would respect. This is something that is characteristic of him, while his mother would be that source of strength who guides (but doesn’t push) her son to the best answer, to the best response. Even if she’s angry and upset, it would be so much better for setting her up for her speech that she gives about ‘choosing peace’ at the meeting instead of war.

Sometimes it works when you don’t see the characters immediately receiving information, but these moments continue to explain what that information is and where it came from. GRRM did this with Eddard, Robert, and the council when they all find out about Daenerys being with child and married to the Dothraki. It explains a large extent of the information, how Robert feels about it, and how they learned of it; it’s not done in that order, but it’s all there. Being at the start of the chapter, it makes the reader feel as if they were dropped into the corner of this meeting but as if they didn’t miss anything and aren’t lacking information. This is one of the few times he uses a scene like this well.

The use of euphemisms for gentialia and semen is so frustrating, and the sex scenes could honestly have been placed in the background. I hate these euphemisms so much. I hate having labia referred to as ‘the lower lips’, I can’t stand people calling penises ‘manhood’, I really never want to hear about a vagina being ‘her sex’, and the amount of ‘seed’ that was planted in someone really became absurd. They become more ludicrous because these are things that often make people shake their head and close their book momentarily. I started feeling inundated with ‘manhood’, when I would’ve happily read any other euphemism for a penis (‘member’, maybe?).

I also do not care about sex scenes, especially when they’re not nuanced; they’re generally really bad. (And the sex scene that could’ve been made with interest is Tyrion’s with Shae because it could address more than him just ‘being a monstrosity’; it could’ve addressed, through the detail, the ways in which sex is adapted to a person with dwarfism.

Honestly, that would’ve been far better than just a lot of talk about his cock, especially since Tyrion spends a huge chunk of his time getting made fun of or being mistreated for being a Little Person; this is a character whose best moments are coaching Jon in adapting to the Night’s Watch or helping Bran to ride a horse again. It doesn’t negate his moments of sarcasm and lewd responses, but it does add something to show that not all people are there making fun of him. (Add this, by the way, to my complaints about characterisation and use of scenes to add depth.)

Details were inappropriately used. GRRM either beat the reader over the head with ‘world-building details’, such as repeating a dozen times over which house sigil belonged to what family or describing the inane details of a battle scene that most readers are capable of imagining. I mean, honestly? Braveheart came out in 1995; I’m sure we can figure out what a war looks like without having to know every single placement of the soldiers. Also, I’m sure readers have the ability to keep track of sigils that are important and serve function. It’s easy to remember Redwynes are grapes because of their name; the same goes for Glovers and their gauntlet. We know the Starks are direwolves, Baratheons are stags, and Lannisters are Lions; it’s even pretty obvious that Mormonts are bears, and it’s simple to remember that the Tullys are a trout because of Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully. These are all the ones off the top of my head, and if the others made an appearance that was either relevant to the plot or directly linked to their names, it would’ve been easy enough. Instead, there are so many descriptions of these things, as if the reader could possibly forget them.

Yet, details that we need are missing. Details that give each person proper characterisation, that make their motives more clear (not obvious), that make them relateable and understandable are entirely missing from some people. What was it that tipped Eddard off about Cersei’s children being Jaime’sWho started Jon Arryn asking questions, since he’s not characterised as the curious type (by anyone at all)? How did Jon find out about the death of Lady, and why does he mention this? What’s the relevance to his story? How and when did Catelyn and Robb come to find out about Edddard? When Ser Thorne lists off the graduates, who is ‘Stone Head,’ ‘Lover’, or ‘Pimple’? (All names not previously made obvious, but all names that I looked up to know their connections.)

Those details are missing, among others. But, okay, thanks for sportscasting a jousting tournament with literally one important development that led to a really good scene (between Sansa and Sandor Clegane).

This really is the tip of the iceberg. The other issues I had were the casually tossed out statements regarding rape with very little commentary, the racism in how the Dothraki were written, the unnecessary use of incest as a plot device, Eddard’s entire existence as a punching bag, and the fact that there is way too much happening in these books. Those are all coming up.

With my (current) partner’s children running around, it’s been difficult to write anything. Between the noise of absurd fights over nothing (as an only child, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever understand sibling fights over trivial nonsense) and just feeling generally uncomfortable because of a severe lack of time alone, I pretty much gave up writing anything; I couldn’t hear myself think most days. So I’m going to do a quick round-up of some of the books I’ve read. It might take a while!

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox

The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox

The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox
Knox’s novel has an interesting concept that is poorly executed: The story is about a man, a vintner named Sobran, who meets an angel called Xas who changes his luck. He leads a prosperous life that is helped by this angel’s intervention, but he ends up falling in love with him. Throughout the course of their friendship, Sobran learns that Xas is not a heavenly angel but one from hell and is thrown into a state of grieving and confusion. Some of this is related to the views on queerness and the struggle to understand both their mutual and individual feelings for each other.

The first half of that is interesting; I was expecting the novel to be much more intriguing, but it started off far too slowly and tries far too hard to do … well, anything at all. It’s as if the author is trying their best to do something different and ‘more elegant’ than other stories in the same genre. Most of the characters are entirely forgettable, which sadly applies to every single person who isn’t either Sobran or Xas; I often found myself confusing some people for others, either having to search for them in prior pages to remember what their role was or hoping there would be a reminder somewhere in future passages. There is such a lack of depth for the stories that weave the characters together that you could delete much of this novel and be left with a short story that achieves the same goal.

Regarding the queer relationship, I was initially excited about it. I’d read multiple reviews that described the ‘gay’ relationship, but it seems that every single person who described the relationship as gay is from a world where Bisexuality Isn’t A Thing. As a bisexual woman, that is entirely frustrating. It’s quite clear that Sobran is not a gay man, especially with regards to modern terminology. He’d once been happily engaged in a relationship with his wife Celeste, producing multiple children (which the reader has to keep straight or just shrug off because none of them have personalities), but his history with another man known as Baptiste Kalmann is sometimes mentioned; though he was engaged in a relationship with Xas, it was later shown that Sobran had a deep relationship with a Aurora, a woman for whom he worked.

But these relationships lack depth, especially that of Xas and Sobran. There are far too many things that are completely glossed over, which leaves a lot of it feeling completely unfinished and needlessly confusing. I can’t say that I’d recommend it happily, even with the complete dearth of novels specifically about bisexual people.

The Accidental After Life of Thomas Marsden by Emma Trevayne

The Accidental After Life of Thomas Marsden by Emma Trevayne

The Accidental After Life of Thomas Marsden by Emma Trevayne
I was so looking forward to reading this novel after having finished Coda; I loved the way that Trevayne had written that novel so much that I was expecting something similar from this one. I was rather let down.

This novel is about a boy, Thomas, who finds a corpse that looks a lot like him while he’s looting graves searching for valuables with his family to hock in order to survive. During that time, he learns that he’s actually a faery with a special power that could potentially save all of the others. It’s a story concept that I was rather intrigued by, as I thought it would deal quite a bit with minor areas of classism; it would’ve been nice to see that, especially as it’s written for a younger teenage audience, and that seems to be a theme that’s often overlooked for that particular demographic.

The biggest let down was that it was such a slow story and so repetitive. It often felt as if Trevayne believed her readers have the memory of a goldfish with the amount of times she reminded us of what she’d written merely pages before. I couldn’t forget Thomas’s fear of helping the faeries and losing himself because she kept giving me slightly reworded complaints about how he didn’t know if he’d die; I couldn’t forget the faeries being hurt by metal because it seemed that one would flinch away from the ‘feeling’ of iron every other sentence.

It was just… boring, which is unfortunate because there was a nice backbone that could’ve been better utilised.

American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men by David McConnell

American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men by David McConnell

American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men by David McConnell
I was looking forward to reading this particular book, especially since I received it after the news broke about the Pulse Night Club Shooting in Orlando. It seemed strangely appropriate because of the amount of homophobic sentiment that was taking place (not to mention the amount of racist rhetoric that was simultaneously occurring), and I was hoping there would be adequate discussion about toxic masculinity and how it often results in what we’ve annoyingly termed as Gay Panic.

It didn’t do that at all, and there were far too many questionable elements to even make it feel like a decent discussion regarding how sexuality and masculinity interact.

In particular, there was the discussion of Steven “Scooby” Parrish‘s murder, which took place because he was believed to be ‘gay’ after his murderers discovered ‘gay’ text messages on his phone. The biggest problematic aspect of McConnell’s retelling of that story is that he’s neglecting the intersections with race; he barely mentions the fact that Parrish was a Black man, and he barely touches on how queer people of colour are often treated much differently than queer white people.

That difference in treatment is made even more clear when Deray Mckesson, known for his activism with Black Lives Matter and his mayoral campaign in Baltimore, came out as gay and many Black men stopped standing with him; it’s been seen with the unnecessary questioning of Odell Beckham Jr‘s sexuality. It isn’t to say that this only happens within the Black community; it doesn’t, but it does take shape in different ways that need to be discussed in order to adequately address the issue that happened in Parrish’s murder. He needed only to include someone who could provide him with first-hand information on how race and sexuality intersect to address that issue.

When it came to the other murders, they were described a lot differently. Those focused a lot more on Gay Panic, which was especially true when he discussed the murder of Scott Amedure. It felt as if there were similar messages written about the murders of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, which was slightly more awkward as the primary theme running through that story was related to how fanatical religion could potentially cause violence towards people it refuses to understand. It seemed to be a major part of Steven Domer‘s murder, even when a larger theme that kept running through his narrative was that being forced to keep your identity hidden could lead to creating potential danger without obvious motives. The same could even be said of the description of George Weber‘s murder, which also included aspects of the ‘closeted’ narrative without discussing the reasons for why a person might hide their sexuality.

Overall, there were so many aspects that could’ve been discussed about each case study that McConnell chose that he completely neglected. There are so many things about the combination of masculinity and heteronormativity that can potentially lead toward this violence, and he misses so many of them.

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