SPECIFIC AND SPOILERY THOUGHTS~
A Clash of Kings
Ooomf, this book. I keep being like "what happened in this book?" not because it lacked events, but because it's the furthest back in my memory and because there are so many ridiculous checkpoints in the next one, but we'll get there. Also because my memory is entirely dominated by This One Thing, which of course I shall talk about last, but in any case, this book:
+ I was so right about Stannis Baratheon being the fucking worst. I mean, Ned's defense of him is pretty much what knocked me off Team Ned's Choices for good, because even in the first book before we met him, reading the descriptors gave me a creepy-crawly feeling of oooh you're going to be a life ruiner, and lo and behold! Life ruiner! Melisandre, you creepy bitch! I say with great glee, because while I am as opposed to team Baratheon as it is possible to be, I find that construction to be hilariously excellent—they bear the Monotheistic Seal of Evil, but their god is less Yahweh and more Chthulhu. These books get so much gloriously weirder the further and further you go into them. (The Starks? Psychic werewolves. WHAT NOW.)
+ Speaking of kraken-y funtimes, I kind of enjoyed Theon Greyjoy? There is something I reliably like about construction where a character's an asshole but you can tell exactly what made him what he is, and that's Theon. Plus delicious oceanic descriptions, plus the islands being, like, H.P. Lovecraft's version of Viking society, plus his sister. Asha was pretty much a fucking badass, and also: I shipped it. SUCH A DOUBLETAKE AT THE REVEAL, YO: George R.R. Martin, you ridiculous enabler. Whatever. In any case, I loved him quasi-poncing about the island and wanting to claim his birthright and being wholly unsuited for it and not having a place. We have established that I like the worst people in these stories, falalala.
+ Sansa being the ward of the court continued to delight my heart, and Cersei snarking about how there aren't songs about sacking towns was pretty much my favourite. I got a persistent vibe of antagonistic-surrogate-mommying from the two of them, and I always liked that, because it's perfect: both of their actions/lives are predicated on femininity in this really specific courtly way, and it's this conflict of Sansa's belief in lady-ing and courtesy and playing the maiden as an idea worth upholding, an idea that will save her, while Cersei's life has more or less been her lady-ing her way through a life she horribly resents, so of course she's going to want to use/abuse/corrupt Sansa alongside, and just—those two, I liked watching them interact. Joffrey was the fucking worst, though. Just, ugh, Joffrey. There are very few characters in this series that are uncomplicated to hate, you know, so I revel in the uncomplicated. Fuck you, Joffrey. Fuck you beaucoup. Oh, but back to Sansa—Sansa/Hound, oooh my goodness, such excellent dialogue and opposition and then the song and the kiss, THAT was fun. Coming off the deeply terrifying peasant mob, auuuugh. ("Brotherfucker!" Goddamnit, how is it that there's always some old crone out to ruin your medieval public parade? I guess that's medieval crones for you. Making their own fun.)
+ We met Brienne. She is nice. (Renly! Shenanigans! Shadows! I say again: Stannis, you are a life ruiner.)
+ But my most favored thing will not surprise anyone; as such: JAIME CHAPTER JAIME CHAPTER JAIME CHAPTER EVERYTHING IS GLORIOUS. That is the thing with me reading these books—I'm reading them, adoring them, wrapped in the narrative and the plot, and then we get something about the Lannisters and I stop being rational and go into emotional hyperdrive. Why. I read that book curled up on a couch in the student lounge, and when I read that chapter I bit my lip so hard it left a mark all the way until I finished the book. I think that chapter is my favourite thing to ever be—I mean, I can't play favourites between Jaime and Cersei, can't, won't, that would belie so much of the reasons behind my loving them anyway, but THAT CHAPTER. JAIME LANNISTER, YOU ARE MY FAVOURITE, and while I love his perfectly structured narrative arc (we'll get there), can we just:
"There are no men like me. There's only me."
FAVOURITE THING IN ANY OF THESE BOOKS. EVER.
ugh this fierce motherfucker in gilded armor is my favourite human and raise your hand if you were faked out by the end of the chapter, no, me either. These books and their death gambits. These books and their death count, tho. NO ONE IS SAFE. I love it.
A Storm of Swords
This is basically a book of HOLY SHIT WEDDINGS, innit?
a) HOLY SHIT SANSA/TYRION. Sansa is my girl, second only to Cersei (constructions of womanity!), and I love how she is the favorite of every scheming cynical weirdo in the damn books. Girl, what is your luck. Girl, your future is going to be so courtly and sly and badass.
b) HOLY SHIT RED WEDDING. I did not know about this wedding going in—I'd heard the phrase "red wedding" tossed about, but I figured it was going to be in regard to Joffrey's (because everything he ever does—did—turned bloody, the little shit). No. Nooooo, damn, I was NOT expecting that, and I think it was the biggest OH SHIT NOTHING IS SACRED the series has given us thus far. (Seriously. NOTHING.) Killing off two of the major Starks? OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT, I went into that scene calling that it was not going to end in an aboveboard manner; everything the Freys did had terrible idea! terrible fucking idea! in neon over their heads, but still. Two Starks down. The players with the most agency on the side of good. Mother. Fucker. There is something giddy about this much unsurety in a narrative. You think you are safe and you are not. Oh, and subsequently, holy fucking shit Catelyn Tully's reanimated corpse AUUUUUUUUUUUGH oh my god George R.R. Martin you crazy bastard what what what are you doing.
c) HOLY SHIT JOFFREY'S WEDDING WITH THE PIGEON PIE OF GREAT POISONOUS JUSTICE. (The Tyrell ladies are a coterie of fierce fabulous bitches, too—I love Lady Olenna the best, obviously, because hey hey pushy Dame Maggie Smith grams are my favourite.)
d) HOLY SHIT LITTLEFINGER PUSHING LYSA ARRYN OUT THE MOON DOOR. (Holy shit, the Littlefinger plot, you guys—to lapse into FfC territory as well, I can't even with the things the Sansa arc is choosing to be. Sansa as Littlefinger's creepy ward-protegé-proxywife is so many amazing things; I miss her being at court, obviously, but I am so interested in this girl's future. Like, straight up, her endgame is probably the number-one I've got my eye on. I think she's going to come out at the end, you see. I think she's going to be a success, in her fashion: all her ideals broken down and reshaped in ways that are invisible to the eye. Arcwise, she might just be my proper rational favorite.)
Conclusion: this is a book's worth of HOLY SHIT. Like, they are all like this at times, but you ain't seen nothing until you've seen this.
Also, on a related note, HOLY EVERYTHING, LANNISTERS FUCKING ON AN ALTAR. Ugh, I love them so much it makes me die. ON AN ALTAR. SO BRAZEN, SO RIDICULOUS, I LOVE EVERYTHING. Wholly inappropriate reaction to have to the structure of that scene? I don't care. Right next to Joffrey's dead body. What. What. What. I love these people, you guys. I cannot talk about loving scenes out of context without sounding like a psychopath ("...and then they throw a small child out the window! OTPtime!"). but god, again, it's the sheer brazenness of them, of the way they are written. The fact that they are constantly the most and the least sympathetic characters, usually at the same time. I can't. Lannisters, you guys. Motherfucking Lannisters.
OH BUT. THEY CUT OFF HIS HAND. THEY CUT OFF HIS HAND. Can someone explain to me why this is a pattern with men I love in fiction? It's starting to feel personal. (A physicality stan's favourite characters, there's a bit of perverse poetic justice to it, innit.) Speaking of which, speaking of patterns, I will say that I love the structure of his narrative arc to death, but the phrase "redemption arc" makes me want to throw up in the back of my mouth—in any context, and very much here. There's a connotation of apology in that, and I don't feel like he's apologizing or atoning so much as peeling away layers: he doesn't have to apologize for Aerys, as we learn. It's peeling away the layers and breaking him down to build him up again, and seeing what can be sloughed off and what can remain. What I love about it is that the more he—distances himself, I guess, steps back from "Kingslayer" and evaluates what that means—the more he realizes how inextricably wrapped in it he is, how much that title is wound around him, and how much it's going to shape him. He loses his sword hand and he was his sword hand but he's still called the Kingslayer and he is still a Lannister and he still bears the same obligations of weight and meaning—but he himself is differently shaped and has to learn to wear them differently. Same goes with Cersei. This is bleeding into FFC territory, and I need to talk about my kids in a FFC context, because FFC made me want to die, but it also gave me my most coherent (read: least keysmashy) thoughts.
Brienne, for the record, is a fascinating countermand, and I do like her, and I do like the things that relationship chooses to be. I don't ship it because my heart is myopic, but there's no antipathy toward it. It's like Sansa/Hound—and if I had to play predictor, I'd say that it will get something satisfying, like Sansa/Hound, at least one kiss, but that it won't be happy endgame redemptor ship. Because it's GRRM, because that would be too easy, because NO ONE IS SAFE (dear god, poor girl. For the FfC record, I would like to reiterate: ZOMBIE CATELYN AUGH), because while I do not think Brienne is dead at the end of FfC, I'm not sure going to back her chances to the end of the series, and I am definitely not backing his. (We'll get there.)
A Feast for Crows
THIS FUCKING BOOK. MADE. ME WANT. TO DIE. I have had the most ridiculous day, you guys. The most ridiculous trajectory with this book, which actually started yesterday, in which I awkwardly quasi-spoiled myself—accidentally flipped to the last Jaime chapter, saw "I love you. I love you. I love you." and was heartened, god help me, because this book was decimating and I knew Cersei was going to get hers—which I do not object to; we'll get to my ~feelings~ momentarily—but I was like "oh okay at least my kids' hearts are aligned in the end," and falala'd my way through chapter after chapter of amazing character development/everything is terrible. And then—this morning, I ended up preemptively on the same page (I flip around to check page counts, because I like keeping track of how much I've read, and also in general I got into the habit of flicking to see who the next chapter was going to be as I read) and saw "in the fire" and like. I just—I was less than 200 from the end, I had hours at my disposal, and I stopped. Honestly considered not reading, briefly and irrationally, and not out of protest, just. I didn't think I could take it. Not the bad things happening to Cersei, not the imprisonment and trial and whatnot, but the lack of unity between the two of them and the way it was destroying them both senselessly from both sides.
Well, in any case, got over it, ate my food, felt like I'd been punched in the stomach during the Osney Kettleblack scene (I had the same reaction back in SoS when her father was talking about marrying her off—Cersei in the gender trap is the worst thing to me, you guys. I do not even care how evil she is, there is some part of me that loves her unapologetically and feels for her entirely in those scenes and THEY MAKE MY SOUL HURT), got to the end, finished my coffee and was basically okay—after you spend an afternoon emoting in your tumblr tags, you get to a certain point where you can think in proper sentences again. That awkward moment when you are almost in tears over your villainous incestuous OTP—had passed. Honestly, I react to these books ridiculously, and I have always reacted to the Lannisters on an unreasonably large scale, but there was always space: there would be a Lannister moment every, oh, say 100 pages. (Every chapter that dealt in any respect with either one of them had at least one moment of DECIMATED BY SHIP—at least one sentence, varying from throwaway to important—because the point of Jaime and Cersei's construction is that they are embedded in each other down to the core, and you can't traffick with one without paralleling or referencing the other.) Whereas this book is at least 75% ALL LANNISTERS ALL THE TIME (...hah, I'm going to be in such a bad way with A Dance With Dragons, whenever that chooses to exist: like, falala okay where are my kids? But it will be a decent breather from this), so it's all built to make me really emotionally volatile, and nothing good happens in it, and just—it's a gift, it is, but it's a gift in the same way that the dress Medea sent Jason's wife was a gift. And felt damn near personalized in the same form: was there ever a book designed to make me so invested and so deeply unhappy? I mean, I had to wonder: is this what it's like being a Stark stan? SORRY NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS TO GOOD PEOPLE. We're four books in and we're just starting to make our antagonists properly miserable in recompense. I am so sorry, you guys. Some things are beautiful, but everything hurts.
Except no, there's nothing quite like what's going on here, because this is a love story in senseless disassemble, and I want to say it's the only love story in the books. This sounds absurd, and yes I am clearly the most biased lady when it comes to talking about these kids—it's not the only situation where romantic love exists, it's certainly not the only ship, I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that both of these two have character constructions uniquely predicated on their relationship, because they are all mirrors and duality and one-soul-two-bodies at all times. And, thing is, even in this book, which is an exercise in pushing them apart and obsessively differentiating their lives, they're still all mirrors all the time. There are direct textual echoes when they're miles apart and emotionally opposed. They are intrinsically part of the same whole, even as the farther and farther apart they get the more separate and untouchable they become. She falls to pieces and she isn't conscious of it because she is the half that represses; he is peeling away his history layer upon layer because that is his arc and he is conscious of it because he's the overt half.
In the brief circuit I've run through fandom thus far, I've seen a lot of OH CERSEI WAS BEING A BITCH TO JAIME, and while that's not untrue in and of itself, it's not unique and it's not unequal, and that as a reason to stop shipping, as it were, strikes me as unearned. The fascinating thing—the thing that was weirdly emotionally redemptive within this ridiculously upsetting exercise of a book—was seeing the extent to which their behavior was still in-pattern. There's this one line Jaime has about how he would have stopped her mouth (to put it in the Much Ado way) before, and it gave such pretext to this: she's lashing out not because he's broken and she hates him blah blah facile facile; there is deliberateness to this. This is a game they've played before: they've established them really early on, as far back as the original reveal with Bran watching them, as a constant game of relent/persist. He persists, she relents, because he can. They both want, they both know as much, they know each other incredibly well, but part of being them is the gender-role divide, which is textually brought up a tonne of times. Cersei is always excessively cogent of her sex as a political device: the rules of women's roles are what stop her from acting on her ambition, she learned her limits and learned to resent them very early, and now she's aware of sex as a battleground. He has nothing to lose (which is why his sexual faithfulness to her is a delicious gesture, but just that: a gesture); with her, it's one of the only compensating power cards she has. She cannot be the one who asks; she cannot be the one who gives in. She's the woman, and it's the woman's job to give in, and she resents that more than anything in the world, and no one understands the extent of that but him. Their dialogue has to be driven by him. She has everything to lose in ways that he lacks. The minute he gives up, she can't bring him back, because him giving up isn't in their pattern. She loves him exhaustingly, inside out, even when she tamps it down and tells him otherwise: she has no language to tell him the truth; she ~seduces~ the people she needs, but she's not supposed to have to put on that farce with him; he knows her better than ought to need that. The minute he says "stop", she's not going to try to persuade him otherwise. That would be a loss of power, and in the dynamic she knows, he's not supposed to debase her that way.
Still, her text still echoes his; the text still says If I were a man, I'd be Jaime, just as his text in SoS said If I were a woman, I'd be Cersei. Now obviously they're both in a bad way come FfC, but at the same time, she's always been overtly crueler than he, he has always known as much—and I don't think that gives the lie to his statement. He's said that the only time he felt truly alive were fighting and sex (which he has only ever had with her). She's cut off from the form of catharsis he's offered by the world, knows as much, hates it: she's said repeatedly that she should be wearing mail and of course she would. They're the same brand of impulsive: Tyrion says as much (and if anyone's cogent of the disparities between them, it's going to be him). Neither of them are natural strategists. Cersei's entire life is looking for a fight, and she takes the battlegrounds she's offered. The only thing that's ever been "good"—same logic, same emotional context—for her was sex with Jaime. If Jaime was a woman, he'd never be able to be at ease in his skin. Cersei is that woman, and she isn't. Cersei has never known true power because, as a woman in this world, it's categorically impossible to. Of course she's power-hungry and curdled from the inside out. I'm not excusing what she does because of it; I'm saying that they are made of the same stuff, contoured to different ends.
This goddamn book trafficks in both of their POVs, and because of who they are, they are written into that. Her longing for him—"only ever good with Jaime"—pushes through even the worst of her paranoid spiralling, for all that she can't bear to acknowledge it to herself and nowhere near out loud. As for him, his litany throughout the book is "I love you too, sweet sister," and you know what, fuck, it's meant. What an unbelievably galling read this was—two sides wanting the exact same thing and communicating the exact opposite of what they wanted and needed. I just wanted to lock them in a room together, like DEAL WITH HOW WELL YOU KNOW EACH OTHER. TALK IT OUT. FUCK IT OUT. Fuck the pain away, okay, because it would have worked—we were constantly both told and shown how they were physically, spiritually, and mentally starving for each other, and the extent to which everything went tits-up around them was a direct result of their imbalance and failure to communicate. Cersei would not have been tailspinning if he was there, but she abraded him away. She expected him to understand and overpower her abrasiveness, but he looks at her and sees himself reflected as he wants to see himself, which right now is a pretty self-loathing image. So it's this conspiracy of emotional fail because for once, for the first time, he's seeing a self he doesn't want to see. The whole sexual battleground that I talked about above was supposed to always be implicit between them; it makes up for some of the inequality inherent in the world. It's the only time where they can—could—be calibrated; they were equals with each other. But he feels like he's lost power and she doesn't sense that loss in the same way, so she berates him and he shrinks away and then she berates him for shrinking and they say terrible things, they tell themselves terrible things about each other, and I JUST—I WANT TO SHAKE THEM. YOU LOVE EACH OTHER, YOU TWATS. YOU ARE BUILT INTO EACH OTHER. DEAL WITH EACH OTHER.
As it is, they're going to die together. Repetitive leitmotif, echoed internally by them both; that's a pretty reliable brand of foreshadowing, as well as glorious textual mirroring. For the record, I could see him being the valonqar (although because of the weirdo phrasing—"the", not "your"—and because it's GRRM, I'm inclined to call double-bluff and look for something coming out of comparatively nowhere. NOWHERE IS SAFE, remember), but if so, I'm calling suicide. These two are going to go out like they came in, no matter how. Which is why I'm going to scream if they don't work their shit out—neither's coming out of this series alive, okay, so the least they can do for themselves and each other is fuck one last time. Stupid fucking perfect gorgeous mirrors. Why must you do me like this.
AND THUS, I AM CAUGHT UP. Now to anticipate the series, to reread choice selections, to consider an actual textual breakdown of this ship, which is fancy-talk for QUOTESPAM WHEE, to write all the happier-times!fic (sorry GRRM), and to breathe at long damn last. What are these books to make me like this. It was not supposed to go this way, you guys. It was not.