Most of A Clash of King’s excitement is past is and the next set of chapters will deal largely with the fallout of what we’ve seen over the course of the last book (and last year)(sorry). Dany’s final chapter in the book doesn’t really do much beyond set up her departure from Qarth and introduce Strong Belwas and re-introduce Barristan the Bold to the story. Her motivation to leave Qarth and head to Slaver’s Bay is questionable at best and it’s clear that at one point, Martin needed Dany to be out of the game for a while longer and stay out of the War of the Five Kings until it was past its zenith. We all know exactly how that structural decision turned out but then again, hindsight is always 20/20. Her time in Slaver’s Bay began with tremendous narrative promise. It could have fulfilled that promise had Martin not squandered the narrative momentum he had gained on a fruitless occupation of the region but since the series is (hopefully) not done yet, I guess I’ll reserve final judgement until the series is actually completed. Since it’s been a while since we saw Dany last, let’s just do a quick recap of her last chapter: she followed Pyat Pree the Warlock into the heart of the House of the Undying and was handed a whole bunch of cryptic prophecies in exchange. They wanted to keep her in the House forever in order to power their magic but a dose Drogon’s fire changed their minds quickly enough. In this chapter, Dany has to face the consequences of her escape as various factions within Qarth begin to agitate for her departure.
They know who I am, and they do not love me. Dany could tell from the way they looked at her.
I wonder if there is any reason for the peasants and non-aristocrats to hate Dany. Perhaps some of them followed the Warlocks’ religion/cult, or perhaps they are just angry that there is this strange, barbaric foreign queen with dragons and savages is walking their streets and burning their cultural heritage with impunity. Either way, the picture being painted here is one of increasing hostility against Dany. From Martin’s point of view, I get the feeling that he’s trying to create as compelling a case as possible for Dany to leave. The natural thing, for most readers at least, would be to think that Qarth would be a great place to stay and gather strength and allies and after her hellish march through the Red Waste, I’m surprised that Dany is so willing to leave civilization behind again. I’ll talk more about this in a bit, but for now, we should bear in mind that Dany’s place in Qarth is undefined and she is mostly a guest who is tolerated more than welcomed and there is growing resentment in the city towards her presence. Once she had successfully survived the House of the Undying, there was no way the warlocks would be comfortable letting her live, even if she didn’t burn the place down.
Xaro looked troubled. “And so it was, then. But now? I am less certain. It is said that the glass candles are burning in the house of Urrathon Night-Walker, that have not burned in a hundred years. Ghost grass grows in the Garden of Gehane, phantom tortoises have been seen carrying messages between the windowless houses on Warlock’s Way, and all the rats in the city are chewing off their tails.”
I didn’t take the whole quote but the above is enough to be going on with. We know now that there is an inherent connection between certain forms of magic and the birth of Dany’s dragons. I have suspected for a while that Dany’s dragons are special in some way because there were Targaryen dragons not that long ago yet magic was not so strong back then. Of course, there is a whole other conversation to be had about what is happening at the Citadel and how that factors into the relationship between dragons and magic but leaving that aside, it seems like Dany’s dragons have something special about that particularly stimulates whatever it is that the magic systems use. The signs of the burning glass candles we were already familiar with but the other signs are less commonly referenced when it comes to magic – the ghost grass, the phantom tortoises and the mad rats. Chances are, if one of them is accurate, the rest of them probably have some, probably indirect, basis in truth. Dany’s final rejection of Xaro’s advances just after the above passage had a ring of finality to it and it seems that Dany has burned another bridge. Of course, that bridge’s collapse had been a long time coming given that Xaro had eyes only for her dragons, but he is a terrible ally (for the lack of a better word) to lose in times like these and an even worse enemy to make.
“A dead man in the prow of a ship, a blue rose, a banquet of blood … what does any of it mean, Khaleesi?”
We’ve done this dance before but let’s give it another whirl, shall we? This time, I’m not really interested in what each of these mean and regardless they are fairly straightforward guesses – Jon Connington/Davos/Victarion on the prow of a ship, Jon Snow/Lyanna Stark, the Red Wedding – but more that these are the clues that Martin chose to highlight. Aegon VI, the mummer’s dragon, is a major game-changing factor in the series’ end game as is everything on Jorah’s shortlist. The reason I want to revisit this (briefly, this time) is because it indicates that Martin has had a plan for these elements right since the beginning which means that in predicting how all the plotlines come together, we will need to account for which portions of the next book were added in to make sure the narrative flows smoothly and which portions have been planned well in advance. Is there a point to doing this? No, of course not; regardless of whether Martin forecast his plotlines in advance, the books are what they are – this particularly division and over-analysis is just what I do for fun.
“Pay him before he kills himself,” Dany told Ser Jorah, wondering what she was going to do with a huge brass platter.
There isn’t much else in this chapter that is noteworthy. Strong Belwas, as expected, only has eyes on his prize while Barristan the Bold is at least making some attempt at subterfuge. I found the entire exchange with the brass merchant very amusing, especially given the contrast between what the seriousness of Dany’s conversation with Jorah and the everyday frivolity of the brass negotiation. The Sorrowful Man’s attempt was a good one, as good as the wine merchant’s attempt in A Game of Thrones but unfortunately for him, Barristan was on the case. I am tickled by the fact that after all her long travels and everything she has been through, the first thing Dany thinks of when someone mentions a fat man with smelly hair is Illyrio Mopatis. I am also glad to officially be reintroduced to Strong Belwas – he isn’t my favourite character, but he’s so thoroughly entertaining that it’s hard not to at least be fond of him and his one-dimensional simplicity.
Men did not often threaten Belwas, it would seem, and less so girls a third his size.
I’m just picturing Belwas trying to figure out whether he was insulted or not – Dany said he’d leave with more scar than he came in with but given how he always let’s a man cut him once before killing him, I bet Belwas thought that he would leave with a few more metaphorical notches in his knife. I also find Artan Whitebeard’s story to be a terrible one – there is no need whatsoever for him to claim to know who Jorah is. If nothing else, it risks blowing Barristan’s cover and gets him nothing in return. The rest of the chapter features a very sudden 180 degree flip in Dany’s fortunes – one moment she’s totally down on her luck, unable to find passage out of a city that she is no longer welcome in, subject to assassination attempts. The next thing you know, she has been offered passage on not one, but three ships, full of provisions, and has full command over her tiny fleet. At this point, it would seem obvious that Illyrio was planning on bringing Dany back to Pentos to introduce her to nephew, marry the two off and launch their grand invasion of Westeros. In fact, that would have been the perfect course of action for Dany and while it would have meant that she wouldn’t have retained total control over her dragons and army, in the long run I wonder if she wouldn’t have saved herself a lot of misery and anguish.
So, with that, we leave Dany here for now, in a considerable better place than we found here at the beginning of the book. Her journey through the course of this book has not been the easiest – she has had to brave the desert, dirty politicians, warlocks and everything in between but the payoff has been considerable as well. Her dragons’ prowess has improved and she now has considerably more resources at her disposal than she did previously. Her rising star will continue its trajectory in A Storm of Swords but that’s a topic for another time.