The Madness of Queen Dany

Hey, everyone! Now that Game of Thrones is approaching its final episode and, given the very mixed reception the penultimate episode has received, we thought we’d share some of our thoughts about that “twist” in Dany’s character.

KC: Well, it’s no exaggeration to say that the fans (and some critics) have taken vehement issue with the transition of Dany from savior to Mad Queen. I know that I’ve been seeing this coming since the very beginning, but clearly others haven’t been watching the same show.

Kellen: I can understand some of the problems people have had with everything being rushed this season- it WOULD have been nice for a lot of the other arcs to have had a little more time to play out than they were given. But I feel like this is the obvious and inevitable conclusion to an arc that started way back in Season 1. I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ve been watching a different show this whole time or something.

KC: Exactly. Like, yes, it is a bit rushed but, frankly, I’d rather have things be a bit rushed than have to endure the interminable side-tracks that have really damaged the quality in the most recent two books. Because, let’s be real, both A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons were not, despite the retconning by some of the fans, in any sense “good.” So, if that means that the pace is a little breathless in these last two seasons, I’m personally fine with that.

Kellen: I know the fandom keeps going on and on with “subverting expectations” jokes both in reference to the way some arcs are playing out and the pace, but honestly I would have been more shocked if Dany didn’t do at least SOMETHING horrible by the end of the show. How many time has she been on the edge of something and she only gets talked down because of one of the supporting characters? And it become more and more common for her to NOT get talked down by them in the last couple of seasons- see burning the Tarlys.

KC: OMG, so much this. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fans’ reactions to “The Bells,” and I’m actually rather disturbed by the way they’ve justified Dany’s actions in prior seasons. Basically, it seems to boil down to some variant of: “Yes, it was awful that she crucified the Masters, torched one (whether or not he was innocent), burned the supply wagons, and burned the Tarlys and the khals, but they DESERVED their horrible, ugly deaths for opposing her.” I, personally, find this line of reasoning repugnant and disturbing, and I think that it reveals a lot more about how we justify violence than it does about the strengths and weaknesses of the show or its writers.

Kellen: I think if nothing else the Tarly Torching should have been everyone’s big clue if they hadn’t figured it out yet. I mean yeah, I probably would have torched at least Randyll, but 1) I know precisely what kind of jerk he is in general and how he treated Sam, and 2) I am well aware that I am not suited to being a wise and noble ruler who just wants to make everything better for everyone. Tyrion tried to tell her it was a bad idea, but it didn’t work. Which brings me to another point about her: everyone complaining Tyrion and Varys got dumber. I feel like Tyrion and Varys realized they were past a point where Dany would only listen to them up to a certain point before she executed them next.

KC: I think, honestly, that part of the reason that people are responding so violently to this narrative turn is because it forces them to acknowledge that, all along, Dany has been a cypher for what they wanted her to be, rather than what she actually was. Relatedly, I also think that her turn into Mad Queen really challenges our deeply-held desire for a hero that will save us, either in the fictional worlds that we invest our energies in or in the real one. When that fantasy comes crashing down, either in fiction or reality, the response is often anger, both at the failure at the fantasy and at ourselves for failing to see it for what it was in the first place.

Kellen: I think the big failure and the big success of both books and shows is that everyone is either grey, fallible, an idiot, or a combination of any and all of those. Sure, Dany in the books and until the last season of the show- all of her Essos parts- is the Good Guy because it’s easy to say “Well, she burned slavers. So that’s a net good.” and coming up with reasons that it’s ok that innocents also got caught up in that. Through all of that, Dany has always said she wants to break the wheel, and she feels a little bad here and there, locks up her dragons, and so on. But she does nothing to actually change these things about herself. Like, ever. She just says she wants to be a good person and goes on mucking everything up. Maybe if she had stayed in Astapor for a little while instead of just kind of dipping out and leaving everyone in the lurch, Cleon wouldn’t have taken the city over almost immediately.

KC: Right. And, speaking of breaking the wheel. It’s worth pointing out that, brutal as her actions are, the reality is that the Westerosi are reluctant to ever acknowledge anything other than brute might. So, even though her actions are horrific, the reality is that burning King’s Landing to the ground and rebuilding may, in fact, be the only way for her to start over. I think that, at least in part, is what she realizes when we get that great look at her face as she gazes at the Red Keep. While some have read it as the moment when madness takes hold, I think it may also signify that this is the moment when she realizes that nothing less than absolute destruction will ever cement her undisputed claim to the throne.

Kellen: I think it’s at least the moment when it really cements for her that what she said to Jon about people loving him and fearing her was the best she’d ever get and she completely loses what little rein she had over some good old fashioned Targaryen madness. It’s also when we come back again this season to Season 1, as it turns out Robert was right about pretty much everything. Robert has been a better prophecy than any of the actual prophecies. Dany turned out to be precisely what everyone said she would turn out to be, and no one wanted to believe it because they were the bad guys or the drunk king with no interest in ruling. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the two biggest characters to have defended Dany to others in Westeros are Ned and Jon, both of who are idiots completely blinded to anything else by honor. All the rest of the Westerosi in Westeros have been saying this exact thing would happen all along, people. Foreshadowing.

Well, it seems we’re at least in agreement about Dany! We don’t know about y’all, but we’re pretty psyched for the final episode. Stay tuned for our thoughts on that, as well as other Game of Thrones stuff!

Kellen and KC

We Ride the Storm Review, Part One

Hi everyone, and welcome to the first installment of our review of We Ride the Storm, the first book of The Reborn Empire by Devin Madson. First, we’d both like to thank the author for writing such a compelling book, and second, we’d like to thank Mark Lawrence for creating the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off (SPFBO), through which we discovered this book.

KC Winters: I have to say, I REALLY enjoyed these first six chapters. There’s a gritty realism to the opening chapter that drew me in at once, but I’m also very intrigued by the complicated politics that are already emerging.

And besides, who doesn’t like a kickass assassin who also happens to be a courtesan?

Kellen Darcy: I’m honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed the first six chapters, and how invested I already am in what happened. It’s not unusual for it to take me half a book or more to get into something, and I was definitely in by the end of the third chapter.

I’ve abandoned a few series that I ended up enjoying later in just the first bit- some of the more popular examples being The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire- but I made it through our allotted first part with pretty much a lack of drama on my part.

KC Winters: I feel like this is one of those stories where the enigmas are only gradually going to be revealed, and I like that. I relish the feeling of always feeling on the edge of my seat, wondering when the next shoe is going to drop, when the next aspect of the mystery is going to be revealed.

I also like that there is clearly a vast history to this world, one that is only gradually being revealed to us.

Kellen Darcy: I agree with that feeling of a vast world still coming out, and I want to add that I appreciate the pace that it’s unfurled so far. I love fantasy, but one thing that I think a lot of fantasy writers have a hard time with is a decent pacing when they’re unfurling that world in their writing.

I feel like quite a chunk of works I’ve read go too fast or too slow with relatively few hitting that sweet spot in the middle. I’m reading fantasy for the world building as much as the plot, to be clear. But you can’t dump a thousand years or more of your world’s history in my lap all at one and expect me to keep up or not abandon ship in frustration. At the same time, you can’t just leave the entire scope of the world out until halfway through the series.

KC Winters: Exactly. Like you, I find that it is very hard to find that in a lot of fantasy. Tad Williams is one who does it very well, and of course the greats like Robert Jordan. I also find it to be one of the things I struggle the most with as a writer, juggling the generic demands of fully-realized alternate world and engaging present-day plot.

Obviously, you’re going to discover aspects of your world that you didn’t know before (when you started writing), but you also have to make sure that you have a firm enough handle on your own mythos to bring it into your own work. Madson seems to have the knack of it.

So, who was your favourite character so far?

Kellen Darcy: I don’t honestly know yet. Miko, so far, especially by the end of Chapter 6. She seems so confident in herself and what she’s doing at so many points, but then at other times it’s obvious that she’s a flawed person and realizes that she doesn’t have all of the pieces.

I feel like I know more about her than I do the other POV characters at this point, so I feel more of a connection with her. That may or may not change as we go further through the book.

KC Winters: Yeah, I agree. She definitely seems cut from the Arya Stark mold, and it’s precisely because she’s so innocent (compared to the other POV characters) that I feel like she has a lot of room to grow. And, since I’m partial to the political part of a lot of fantasy, I always find myself drawn to those particular parts of a given novel.

Kellen Darcy: If we’re going with an ASoIaF comparison here, I don’t know that it would be Arya I’d compare her to. She seems much more aware of the reality of things than Arya was in the earlier parts of the series; of course, it turns out she isn’t as clever as she thought, but still. She lacks that almost innocence Arya seemed (at least to me) to hang on to until much later in the series, long after she should have lost it many times over. (I feel like it was hard for the lesson to soak into Arya’s thick skull all the way.)

I can’t actually think of a good ASoIaF comparison character. She’s tough like Arya, sure, but she also has a kind of naiveté like early Sansa did, but without the constant whining and victim complex even before she was a victim. And a lot less yammering about lemon cakes.

I feel like so far, ALL of the main characters have been lacking that poor judgement of literally everything pretty much everyone in ASoIaF exhibited for too long. Thankfully.

KC Winters: Oh, that’s definitely all true. I didn’t really mean to draw a one-on-one comparison, just to point out that she’s a certain TYPE of character, one that I usually find more appealing.

I really feel like Madson has a control over her characters that very few other authors of epic fantasy (ahem, Martin and Jordan) don’t seem to have. She allows us into their heads, yes, but she doesn’t allow them to be as self-indulgent as so many other epic fantasy characters. Which, let me tell you, is like a freaking breath of fresh air.

Kellen Darcy: Fair enough.  Even though it’s been over two decades I’m still easily irritated by how dense some of the ASoIaF characters were.

I enjoy the way Madson is presenting her characters to us. They’re not stuffed shells of blandness, they’re not acting like they’re in a vacuum, they’re not the only thing happening in the world. I like them as characters, even if I don’t know them well enough to like or dislike them as people.

KC Winters: I completely agree. I can’t wait to see where they go from here and, really, isn’t that the best thing about a fantasy novel?

Kellen Darcy: It’s precisely why I enjoy fantasy, especially compared to historical fiction- which I also really enjoy. I never have an idea where it IS going to go- I always know the world didn’t end with historical fiction. I don’t think.

I think this is as good of a spot as any to cut off this time- unless I have been reading historical fiction wrong and the world is over. Join us soon for the second installment!