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Old 06-22-2016, 11:44 AM
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Default A Song of Ice and Fire: Actually Good

The first thread is a decade old and hasn't seen a post in six months. Let's get a new one rolling.

SPOILER ALERT: Anything up to DWD is fair game. A Dance with Dragons has been out for five years. The Red Wedding is namechecked in WaPo editorials. &c.

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Originally Posted by The Raider Dr. Jones View Post
in general Dance is really obviously a book written in bits and pieces in random order over the course of like 10 years. Every so often you hit a one-off where you think "fuck dude was in the zone that night."

every year older I get the more Barristan Selmy's reflections on the waste of his life are gonna stab me like right under the sternum.
I have loads of respect for GRRM's ambition, even if it's hurt the work at times. All the stuff about the Iron Bank just sounds like noise, until someone pieces the mentions together and shows that it's a running narrative that actually impacts the main stories. It's the same with Asshai, and how that plays into shit like Yi Ti and the Empire of the Dawn, and a bunch of stuff that's right there on the page but easy to miss.

He's trying to show how nothing happens in a vacuum by pointing out all the intersections in that world, and unfortunately at times that makes for dull reading.

Like, I spent years thinking the entire story hinged on the tournament at Summerhall, and the political fallout from that. And I hated that story, because it seemed like every time we got closer to it GRRM would shift focus to Myr, to Braavos, to wherever. But when I broaden my viewpoint and think about cosmic and existential horror elements that have been there since page one, I notice that what I thought was a political tragedy is actually a tragic horror story.

Re-contextualizing the books has helped me enjoy them again. I'm looking forward to Winds of Winter.
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Old 06-22-2016, 11:55 AM
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It's a funny thing, when we're willing to tolerate or even enjoy digressions from what seems to be the real story. In Martin's case, I'm generally happy to follow anywhere he decides to go, even as I recognize it makes those books sag for others to the degree that they lose interest in the whole thing.
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Old 06-22-2016, 12:07 PM
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I don't know if it's a reflection of Martin's mastery of this trick, or something emergent from the books, but one of the things most notable to me is how much is left right there on the page that the reader skips right over.

A simple example of this without getting into the deeper readings or theories is Renly and Loras being gay. In Book 1, a character mentions sticking something so far up Renly's ass that even Loras couldn't find it, or vice versa, after which the party in question blushes fiercely. After Loras wins the tournament, Clegane (I think) calls him a bugger and a pansy. But he does so in anger so we think he's just mad and an asshole. Renly says Margaery "came to me a maid" and Stannis quips "In your bed she's likely to stay that way."

Like, when you go back and look for this stuff while knowing what you're looking for, it's all right there and it's really not even subtle. But on a first reading, a lot of us tend to miss it, skim right over it. I know I did. My first theory was that when I was originally reading over new fan theories after I had just finished my first read and finding forehead slappers left and right was that the book is so DENSE with stuff, so exciting with all the plots and characters and machinations, while the writing itself is simple and brisk and direct, that it serves as its own misdirection. It's like looking for your keys on the desk; they were right there all along, but there's so much stuff on the desk your eye just didn't catch them. He puts the sign right there on the shoulder, but your eyes are focused on the road ahead and barely register it.

Like, the prophecies Dany sees in book 2 basically symbolically lay out a huge number of future events and revelations, many of which haven't even come to pass as of book 5. But we're talking a dreamlike sequence with something like 10 symbolic images thrown at you in rapid succession; it's no wonder we miss the significance of most of them. When you go back and reread that sequence, Dany dreams of a bloody wedding feast of corpses where the king has the head of a wolf, and it's like "well shit, what did we think was going to happen?!" and yet we were still all shocked and gutpunched by the red wedding.
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Old 06-22-2016, 12:33 PM
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I learned really early to let my eyes slide past descriptions of helmets, banners, food, sex, etc for various reasons, but a lot of the story is wrapped up in those descriptions. He's never going to come out and say "House X is on side Y now! Pay attention to this!" so digging into those massive paragraphs is a must.

Or you could do what I do and let other people do the heavy lifting, then check out a tumblr essay about it.

Another complication is how many head fakes GRRM uses: Victarion's been set up as a huge power player, but just beneath the surface you see that he's Euron's puppet. Oberyn Martell could carry a novel on his own, but he dies quickly and badly (and even Martin misses him, or else we wouldn't have to deal with so much Darkstar.) Euron doesn't appear in the flesh until Feast, but he could kick off the end of the world.

Definitely books that want you to work for it.
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Old 06-22-2016, 12:41 PM
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As far as the "real story," I think there are two approaches.

Like, again, Martin is an amateur historian, and approached his book as such. One could tell the story of the war of the roses in one or three tightly-paced laser-focused novels, or over ten volumes of immensely detailed history. In the latter, going in blind, you might have some of the "main characters" or ultimate victors or villains or whatnot right there on the page from book 1, but not realize their significance until much later. Probably because at the time they were in fact barely significant. Or you could introduce them from the start, tell the story through their eyes, and follow them along, signaling "this is the protagonist! Everyone else seems important, but this is the one you really want to keep an eye on."


Martin I think strikes an interesting balance between that, and again I'm not sure how much of it is a trick of misdirection he masterfully pulled off and how much is our expectations as readers simply not matching what we're reading.

On the one hand, it's pretty clear, not even in retrospect, who the heroes are. Jon Snow, who couldn't have a more heroic name if he tried (it's punchy, it's cool, it's elemental), is the all-black wearing broody outcast of a noble family with a magical white direwolf. He later wears One Black Glove to hide a scar and gets a magical sword, oh and he's the secret heir to the throne. Dany is the purple-eyed silver-haired exile princess reclaiming her right with dragons and magical fire immunity. Tyrion is the wisest and cleverest person in the kingdoms, yet is belittled and hated kingdomwide even by his own family for his deformity. Arya is a hard-edged tomboy who turns into a magical assassin (I'm still a little miffed she got her vision back, because I thought Martin was heading towards the semi-magical Blind Assassin badassery PLUS she would come back and reunite with Nymeria and have a literal seeing-eye-wolf with her warg vision). Bran is the cripple who will become the most powerful wizard in the kingdoms if not the world.

Like, list them out from the wide view and you realize that the main characters of this story are one half-orc berserker away from the most cliched D&D party you could possibly contrive.

But he introduces these characters, even though they're our viewpoints into this world, and tells a much larger story around them. Their growth and development is slow-dripped along with the very dense and complicated day-to-day of their lives over a long period of time. Unlike a lot of fantasy where a Plot is embarked on, and everything happens over a few months as they journey from A to B, he sets these characters into a spaghetti bowl of conflicts and subplots and intrigues with only binding glue to remind us that some of them are even connected at certain times. And meanwhile, while we've got a million names and houses and alliances and betrayals to keep track of, he gives us such a human look inside the minds of the characters that even we cynical readers lose sight of the bigger picture. That also has the fortunate side effect of turning even these most crudely-drawn cliches into real, sympathetic, human characters we love and hate.





It's funny when people talk about it as a more realistic, low-fantasy book. Literally the very first scene in the very first book—it's the prologue, so technically before the book even begins!—is rangers being murdered by magical ice ghosts.

Like I said above: it's right there. It's not even subtle by any sense of the word. If any of us forgets that this is all ultimately a story about magical evil ice spirits vs firebreathing dragons (the last scene in the book, lest we somehow think it was not the most important thing in the story), we have literally nothing to blame but ourselves. And as we go along we also get zombies and monsters and visions and shapeshifters and magical artifacts. But since it's not a literal wizard casually shaking a staff and saying a spell, since these are interspersed with a whole lot of people talking about political alliances and multiple-front wars, (and because like it exists on the fringes of the story, it also exists on the fringes of the world and many people don't believe or even think about magic as part of their world), it somehow on some level fails to register and we're shocked, shocked when we see someone give birth to a shadow demon. Ddddid you just see what I saw? That was magic! M A G I C!


I don't know if it's all something Martin decided to do and succeeded at, or it just emerged because of the scope of the story he wanted to tell. I'm leaning towards the former. The hints for something like RLJ are so numerous and ubiquitous, lying there in the open for someone to piece together, that careful readers did indeed have it pegged years ago, and yet there's nothing like a confirmation in the text so far. I think Martin as a writer is less of a mystery writer, planting devious clues and twists and red herrings, than he is a stage magician, leaving it all in plain sight but misdirecting us with equal parts sleight of hand and the knowledge that we see what we want to see.
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Old 06-22-2016, 12:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Ample Vigour View Post
I learned really early to let my eyes slide past descriptions of helmets, banners, food, sex, etc for various reasons, but a lot of the story is wrapped up in those descriptions. He's never going to come out and say "House X is on side Y now! Pay attention to this!" so digging into those massive paragraphs is a must.
good for instance: there is a vast array of clues setting up in detail what Roose Bolton is up to going way, way back into Clash of Kings (not just his general plan to switch sides, but very specific moves to undermine Robb and his other allies), but they don't really pop until you go back over those passages in retrospect.
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Old 06-22-2016, 12:46 PM
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I'm definitely going to enjoy seeing how many hints and clues I missed when I reread the entire series after it's finished in 2025.
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Old 06-22-2016, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Ample Vigour View Post
Definitely books that want you to work for it.
And, just as importantly, reward you for doing so.

The horror angle is interesting. A lot of Martin's earliest writing was horror, after all, followed by sci-fi. I'm interested in hear more of your thoughts about it.
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Old 06-22-2016, 01:13 PM
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The horror angle is interesting. A lot of Martin's earliest writing was horror, after all, followed by sci-fi. I'm interested in hear more of your thoughts about it.
The last page of the last book:

"The complicated scenarios the sand kings are acting out after being given an entire planet to play in are truly remarkable. I was initially scared that seeding statues of humans would corrupt the experiment, but I see now that providing forms to model provided the grit around which these scientific pearls could form. Their accelerated lifespans lead to dramatic societal change in a compressed frame of time.

SandPlanet Research Project, Day 5874, Head Observer's Log"
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Old 06-22-2016, 01:57 PM
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And, just as importantly, reward you for doing so.

The horror angle is interesting. A lot of Martin's earliest writing was horror, after all, followed by sci-fi. I'm interested in hear more of your thoughts about it.
The supernatural is not a pleasant thing in ASOIAF. R'hllor and the Many-Faced God demand human sacrifice. The Drowned God is explicitly Cthulhu, right down to the Deep Ones who serve him on the ocean floor. Valyria was irreligious up to the moment when burning all those slaves alive in the volcanic mines woke someone or something up and they got smited. The Empire of the Dawn fell when its people began worshipping a black stone that fell from the sky - black stone not unlike the stuff Euron's throne, Asshai, Hightower, etc are all made of.

The closest thing we've seen to a benevolent supernatural force are the greenseers. edit: Per kaisel, the Children used to water the weirwoods with blood. All magic is blood magic.

(and above it all you have George Martin, malevolent god numero uno, calling the shots)

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Old 06-22-2016, 02:05 PM
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The closest thing we've seen to a benevolent supernatural force are the greenseers.
And the TV series, for what it's worth, shows them creating the white walkers in an ultimately self-destructive bid for revenge/survival
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Old 06-22-2016, 02:08 PM
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And the TV series, for what it's worth, shows them creating the white walkers in an ultimately self-destructive bid for revenge/survival
And book-wise they watered their weirdwoods with blood. The closest benevolent gods in the series are the Seven who have the least amount of evidence for actually doing anything.
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Old 06-22-2016, 02:09 PM
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Poor Quentyn does some good Cliffs Notes style writing about what's going on. Even if his theories turn out to be dogshit he's done a great job tying the narrative together for those of us who can't do it ourselves.

Also old dude writes exactly like bungle used to post, which is disconcerting.
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Old 06-22-2016, 06:05 PM
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Liking this thread. My late teens were filled with reading threads and essays of ASoIaF theories. I don't watch the show, but it's weird hearing my roommate talking about certain characters being resurrected, when literally ten years ago I was reading theories that those events would transpire/were transpiring.
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Old 06-23-2016, 12:08 AM
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I have chosen to believe that the books end with literally everyone dying, given the tone of GRRM's previous works, and my own perception of the story.
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Old 06-23-2016, 05:58 AM
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everyone will physically die, but metaphorically they will gather around Jon Snow sitting in a folding chair and applaud and say "CONGRATULATIONS!"
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Old 06-23-2016, 06:17 AM
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I have chosen to believe that the books end with literally everyone dying, given the tone of GRRM's previous works, and my own perception of the story.
The books have that reputation, but think back to the first myth we're told in AGOT: The Last Hero's friends die, his horses die, even his dog dies, but he finishes his quest. Horror, sadness, disappointment, but at the end: Hope.

e: But I do think a lot of characters are going to die. My guess is a handful of them make it to the final chapters of ADOS

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Old 06-23-2016, 12:54 PM
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Dunno how many will make it to the last page. Part of Martin's sleight of hand is to make it seem like everyone is in danger, when actually a lot of people do have traditional plot immunity, it's just there are so many other characters who don't. Like Jon, Dany and Tyrion will all make it to the end. That doesn't stop them from dying, but dying in the final battle, probably heroically, is still in line with that.

Beyond that? Not taking any bets. People predict that this or that villains will live and get away scot free because Martin is a cackling evil sadist, but he's far from unwilling to give villains a proper cathartic sendoff. See Tywin not shitting gold, see the Frey pies (just the beginning). In many cases we just haven't gotten to the proper moment yet. Side support characters could be slaughtered in droves, but at the same time I don't know if he's actually the type to throw bodies on the pile just for the sake of bodies on the pile. I know that sounds weird, because so many people die for so many reasons in the series. But almost all of those deaths serve the story, very little of it has seemed gratuitous or out of place.
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Old 06-23-2016, 01:25 PM
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There are a few characters I'd lay money on seeing the final page, or at least making it through the climax. Davos is defined by his survivor's guilt, and serves as the common man's point of view in all this madness. Bran is the embodiment of the books' themes of connectedness, and as a greenseer will probably outlive Sansa's grandchildren. I also figure on Sansa enduring, especially now that she's learned nobility is all moonshine. Honestly I don't see any more Stark kids dying.

e: The writer I linked above pointed out the most obvious joke in the series: Rickon will come back at the very end because he's acting out a shaggy dog story. If that comes to pass then it's in the top ten literary pranks of all time.
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Old 06-23-2016, 01:40 PM
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There are a few characters I'd lay money on seeing the final page, or at least making it through the climax. Davos is defined by his survivor's guilt, and serves as the common man's point of view in all this madness. Bran is the embodiment of the books' themes of connectedness, and as a greenseer will probably outlive Sansa's grandchildren. I also figure on Sansa enduring, especially now that she's learned nobility is all moonshine. Honestly I don't see any more Stark kids dying.

e: The writer I linked above pointed out the most obvious joke in the series: Rickon will come back at the very end because he's acting out a shaggy dog story. If that comes to pass then it's in the top ten literary pranks of all time.
Agreed.

e: VERY AGREED
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Old 06-23-2016, 02:01 PM
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that's so horrible that I really hope it's true.
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Old 06-23-2016, 02:08 PM
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e: The writer I linked above pointed out the most obvious joke in the series: Rickon will come back at the very end because he's acting out a shaggy dog story. If that comes to pass then it's in the top ten literary pranks of all time.
Speaking of little jokes like that, one of Jon's lines to Arya in the first book is that she's going to die frozen with a needle in her hands, so if another Stark kid bites the dust, there's a chance it'll be her.
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Old 06-23-2016, 03:01 PM
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Is the world of the books more fantastical than the show? One thing that keeps bugging me is that the world of the show is Middle Ages Europe with Dragons and Ice Zombies thrown in. It doesn't feel like these elements mesh with the mundane War of the Roses-lite events that comprise the majority of the show.
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Old 06-23-2016, 03:33 PM
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Is the world of the books more fantastical than the show? One thing that keeps bugging me is that the world of the show is Middle Ages Europe with Dragons and Ice Zombies thrown in. It doesn't feel like these elements mesh with the mundane War of the Roses-lite events that comprise the majority of the show.
The magic in the books has much more breadth and depth.

e:

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Speaking of little jokes like that, one of Jon's lines to Arya in the first book is that she's going to die frozen with a needle in her hands, so if another Stark kid bites the dust, there's a chance it'll be her.
She doesn't have to die young to die cold with Needle in her hand.
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Old 06-23-2016, 03:55 PM
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The show does have more magic in it than that. Not a lot, certainly. But Melisandre's stuff started in season 2, and Bran's warging started early too. There's also Beric's flaming sword, Thoros bringing Beric back. The Faceless Men and their shapeshifting. Lately the children of the forest, too. The Mountain being turned into a giant obedient zombie. All of that made it into the show.

In the books and the show alike, Magic is (especially at the beginning) very much lingering at the outskirts of the world. It's been 150 years since the last dragon died, young and weak and sickly. Magic had been declining for some time and basically snuffed out then. The Maesters of Oldtown started to realize that it was coming back, that suddenly the spells they were dicking around with began to work to everybody's complete shock. Even Melisandre feels like she's become more powerful than ever, lately. And of course dragons have returned to the world, and the Others north of the wall have stirred and threaten the living. So the story happens in a time when magic is coming back into the world.

I think this is one thing that we'll never actually get a confirmation of, related to how Martin said that the reason for the long seasons is magical in nature; the various gods' struggle or balance of light and dark, hot and cold, etc. He's never going to come out this or that god(s) is or isn't real, there won't be a moment when it's all sat down and explained. Magic is the background for the story, largely political in nature.


I find it interesting that even in the face of a magical existential threat, politics remains the concern of the characters. Jon tried to turn attention to the white walkers vs humanity as the main struggle, and got his ass killed because people couldn't let go of the kingdom vs the wildlings, meanwhile Stannis is solely playing for the throne, the North is fighting Boltons and the South by proxy; Dany's dragons are a means to recapturing the throne. And while it's what we all expect, and what will probably happen, I'm not sure if there will be a moment when all hell breaks loose and everyone finally turns to the magical threat, or if it will all be resolved via and vis-a-vis the Kingdoms' political struggle.
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Old 06-23-2016, 04:06 PM
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I find it interesting that even in the face of a magical existential threat, politics remains the concern of the characters. Jon tried to turn attention to the white walkers vs humanity as the main struggle, and got his ass killed because people couldn't let go of the kingdom vs the wildlings, meanwhile Stannis is solely playing for the throne, the North is fighting Boltons and the South by proxy; Dany's dragons are a means to recapturing the throne. And while it's what we all expect, and what will probably happen, I'm not sure if there will be a moment when all hell breaks loose and everyone finally turns to the magical threat, or if it will all be resolved via and vis-a-vis the Kingdoms' political struggle.
In some ways I think it's both true to life, and might be a point Martin's trying to make. When looking at an existential threat, it's easy to turn inward and just ignore it for things that are more immediate. Not to get too political, but in reality we have things like climate change and mass extinctions, things we can probably do something to stall, but instead the powers that be bicker with themselves. I'll be interested in what the aftermath is, if the White Walkers don't make it all the way to King's Landing, will the political powers that be just go back to good old politickin'?
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Old 06-23-2016, 05:56 PM
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The Tyrion arc writeup on the blog AV linked has got me thinking, maybe it's time to give books 4 and 5 another spin. I reread the first 3 last year but then stopped (I was on vacation and vacation ended).
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Old 06-23-2016, 05:59 PM
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The Tyrion arc writeup on the blog AV linked has got me thinking, maybe it's time to give books 4 and 5 another spin. I reread the first 3 last year but then stopped (I was on vacation and vacation ended).
It's easier to take Feast and Dance if you follow a character, I hear.
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Old 06-23-2016, 07:53 PM
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I looooove Jaime's chapters in Feast. It's been a while since I read them, but I recall them being some of my favourite stuff in the whole series.
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Old 06-24-2016, 12:18 AM
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There's a Mashup online called Ball of Beasts, an ebook format of the two books spliced back together Instead of the weird stupid way it was divided. That's how I intend to read it when I go back.
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